Doctors’ orders: Frenzal Rhomb tackle live music hesitancy this summer

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Doctors’ orders: Frenzal Rhomb tackle live music hesitancy this summer

frenzal rhomb interview
Words by Niam Hegarty

Frenzal Rhomb are getting ready for a doctor-approved summer announcing a slew of Australian tour dates including ‘Full Tilt Festival’, ‘Spring Loaded’, regional shows from Ipswich to Bunbury, with a bunch of club shows around Australia

The coronavirus and associated lockdowns have carved their torrid path throughout the country. In line with advice from Chief Health Officer Doctor Lindemans, Frenzal Rhomb have decided to take some concrete steps to tackle live music hesitancy, legislating a raft of new gig dates.

Frenzal Rhomb are one of the most enduring bands in Australian punk and they’ve just reissued their second record Not So Tough Now on vinyl for its 25th anniversary, and booked a shit-ton of shows around Australia including appearances at the upcoming ‘Full Tilt Festival’. On top of that they have a new album waiting to be recorded!

Mixdown caught up with vocalist Jay Whalley to find out what is going on in the wild world of Aussie punk legends Frenzal Rhomb.

With the Not So Tough Now 25th anniversary reissue record out now, do you have fun memories from that recording? What do you recall from that time?

I wouldn’t say ‘fun’, we definitely have memories. We got Tony Cohen (Beasts of Bourbon, Nick Cave) who was a bit of a legend of that era so we really wanted to use him and he kind of pegged us straight away, ‘Here’s a bunch of kids from Sydney who think they’re tough and they’re actually not’.  And we’re like, ‘That’s us dude’.

So he kind of had this idea to make the record really loud and distorted, but rookie mistake, don’t give 15 thousand dollars to a known heroin addict.  He would go missing for days on end and we were kind of scrambling to get it done and I think he ended up mixing one song on that record but we mostly recorded with the studio engineer. It turned out okay, it’s hard for me to listen to those records because they sort of sucked but as I get older I’m like, ‘you know, it’s of the time and all that stuff’, and there’s some good songs on there but there’s not a lot of good songs. It’s kind of nice that people care more about it than I do.

For that record I think I wrote the lyrics in the studio, like, sitting out the front with a longneck on the footpath whereas now I would be absolutely terrified if that was the recording situation.

Was the band doing well at that point or was it kind of, like, you were still a new thing?

No, we were doing pretty well, we would do a lot of all ages shows, like under-age shows in the evening and older ages shows later on in the night, two shows a night. There was a really big all ages scene at that time and that was the record that enabled us to grow and tour a bit more.

I feel bad because Tony passed away I think last year or the year before and he was a legend of his time and I think if we were more in his world then he would have stayed around for that recording process, y’know?  But we were just sort of these young whippersnappers that he didn’t really know so as a result he would take off for days at a time, but he was a really special dude. It kind of made for good stories in the end and we were probably too drunk to realise how stressful it was.

Why do you think you guys have endured for so long when so many other bands from that era are not around, not in the realm of popular culture or punk rock?  What do you think has made you still relevant?

I don’t know about ‘relevant’, but I think the live show just seems to be always a reason to do it. There’s an audience there that wants to go out on a Friday night and spend some money and have a super good time. The feeling in the room is always super positive and highly energetic and it’s kind of addictive. And the kind of camaraderie in the band, we never really see each other outside of that band context and it’s a very fun time. It’s a weird thing to do, you get to travel and have friends in different cities and see lots of other bands. It’s an exciting thing to do still.

Onto more recent work. The most recent Frenzal album Hi-Vis High Tea, I think is the best record you’ve released.

Good on YOU.

You’ve just nailed something with that record and I think the last couple of records as well, production wise.

Well, the next one will be only disappointing for you.  We recorded (Hi-Vis High Tea) at ‘The Blasting Room’ (Bill Stevenson’s Studio in Colorado) and they’ve really sort of dialled in that sound, I think it’s a good kind of combo.

All the records have got their own spark I guess but, yeah, the last couple I reckon have been super kind of fun and I guess we’ve dialled in the demoing process where once we get there to record there’s no little decisions to be made, we know exactly how all the songs go, pretty much down to every drum fill, give or take a few things, and every harmony. Even the tempos are basically worked out so we’ve sort of plugged ourselves into their thing over there.

Having your own studio, what have you learnt about music production and recording by working with people like Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room?

I’ve learnt that to have the same snare drum channel would cost me like 80 grand you know, they’re in some whole other different world over there but it’s fundamentally similar in that we try and get like-minded bands in and try and help them out to sound as good as they can. 

I have also learnt to leave at six o’clock in the evening because studios are notorious for late night sessions and it’s no way to conduct a life.

With your recording studio, The Pet Food Factory, what’s your kind of general approach to recording and producing a record?

I generally like to encourage bands to be themselves. Ideally bands will come in and have good songs and an exciting sort of vibe about them and you try and capture that as accurately as possible ,even if bands can’t play that great. Sometimes if there’s a spark you can just chuck four mics in a room and then there’s a record there.

Frenzal Rhomb are taking their killer live show around Australia this summer. They are playing everywhere From Ipswich to San Remo, Melbourne to Bunbury – get your ticket.