INTERVIEW: Jason 'Jay' Whalley (FRENZAL RHOMB)
They're the Aussie icons your mother warned you about, wielding hilarity and anarchy for over 25 years in the music world - and for lovable punk rock larrikins Frenzal Rhomb, time has only strengthened their frantic tunes and working class lust, seen most recently on their 2017 release 'High-Vis High Tea'.
The road from uni mates to bona-fide lords of thumping musical chaos certainly wasn't smooth sailing, with some heavy-handed controversy, lineup changes and considerable ailments rocking the Sydney quartet over the years. But there's no stopping the Rhomb, and 2018 is already proving to be yet another cracker for the gents, including a headline slot at the upcoming epic Dead of Winter Festival in Brisbane. But before Frenzal lead the monster lineup of close to 50 bands, frontman Jay (aka Jason Whalley) gave The Soundcheck a buzz to chat Canadian hitch-hikers, time travelling witches and potentially playing in every band at Dead of Winter this weekend. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Jay, how are you?!
JASON WHALLEY: Oh hey Tiana, how's it going! I'm doing pretty good, all things considered!
TIANA: So let's get right down to business shall we, it's a typical freezing morning here in Sydney, but the weather does seem appropriate because this Saturday yourself and your fellow Frenzal rapscallions will be storming the stage at Dead of Winter Festival in Brisbane!
JAY: That is correct!
TIANA: And how keen are you guys to go kick winter's icy butt up there?
JAY: Ohh look, how good's it gonna be?! Just to get outta this shithole! I'm in Sydney too. No, it's actually a pretty nice day today, it is brisk. But I'm looking forward to going to Queensland, any chance you get to go to Queensland in winter, if you're from the south...it's gotta be a good thing. And so many bands!! So many good bands, and I think I'm playing in all of them.
TIANA: I suspected as much. I also spied a few on the lineup I'm hoping you're playing with, please tell me you're secretly playing with Dicklord or Goon On The Rocks??
JAY: As much they are my favourite bands, I'm not playing in them (laughs). I am playing in the group Nancy Vandal, and I'm also playing in The Neptune Power Federation, which is a band that I play in with my wife (Lauren Friedman - vocals, The Neptune Power Federation). So I'm playing in 3 bands at this festival!
TIANA: So you'll pretty much just be bolting back and forth between all these stages all day long?
JAY: I think so, my challenge is not to drink all the beer of all the bands, and just to try and retain some level of focus.
TIANA: Sounds like a challenge! And Frenzal is headlining the biggest year yet for Dead of Winter, spreading across two venues for the first time, and they've labelled it as being bigger and better than ever - but I daresay this is a sentiment we could lend to Frenzal Rhomb as well, obviously still riding high after 'High-Vis High Tea' was released last year, and you guys snuck in a pretty substantial tour leading into this year - how has the reaction been from the fans of late, it clearly seems people absolutely can't get enough of you guys!
JAY: Yeah, it's a very strange phenomenon, the old Frenzal Rhomb. People like it?! We're playing some shows in Sydney in a couple of weeks that sold out really quickly! And we played a few weekends ago down in Adelaide at this festival called 'A Day Of Clarity', where they kind of block off a street down in the central business district of Adelaide. And it was mad! There were like thousands of people!.....Admittedly, it was free. I think that's probably the ideal Frenzal Rhomb price point. But it was good! And people seemed to like it? I mean, we try hard with our albums, so we try and make them good.
TIANA: (laughs) A good starting point!
JAY: It IS! It is, cos we have done bad ones, and you can really tell (laughs).
TIANA: Well your latest album definitely had a great response - and it's an interesting time with the whole nostalgia-fever going on, all these "alternative" Aussie bands resurfacing or still going strong, there is just so much love still kicking around between you all and from the fans too...
JAY: Yeah! You see bands far more popular than us that are wearing our T-shirts, and I'm like "Wow! That's bold!" (laughs).
TIANA: Speaking of clothing, on the Dead of Winter theme, I recall the last time I attended it there were people wearing what I hope were costumes...maybe it was their day-to-day attire...but people are "encouraged" to dress to match the horror theme. Will you be teaming with the theme this year? Or perhaps wearing another band's shirt?
JAY: Well in the Frenzal Rhomb group, I probably will be wearing a band shirt. In The Neptune Power Federation we've got a lot of rules. So my wife plays the part of this time travelling witch that's come back through time to destroy the patriarchy. And we're sort of her minions who are doing her bidding, we're from this utopian planet, so there's no other bands on this planet. So, we can't really wear band shirts. And she wears very theatrical sort of headdresses, and there's a "no smiles" policy. Cos it's very serious business. So, as far as costumes go, Lauren will probably be outdoing everyone there I'd say!
TIANA: It sounds very appropriate for the theme without even trying! That's a win!
JAY: Yes, it is, very much so! I think she'll be in her element.
THE NEPTUNE POWER FEDERATION IN ACTION (PIC BY BARRY C. DOUGLAS PHOTOGRAPHY)
TIANA: So it sounds like you may not even have time to check out any other bands, but given it is such a brutal lineup, are there any other bands you're quite keen to catch in action in the 2 seconds you'll have spare?
JAY: We've got a lot of mates playing, I'd love to see Pagan, I'd love to see Hightime from Adelaide, Goon On The Rocks would be good! Pangaea would be nice, I haven't seen them in about a hundred years. And Lo! Oh, there's so many bands. I'm saying that, and then the reality is I'm not gonna see any of them (laughs).
TIANA: For Frenzal, you guys are obviously headlining...but you guys have such an extensive back catalogue, it's insane how many songs you could pick from. Can you give up any of the set-list, or is it all top secret?
JAY: We do work in a very secret environment, usually. But I'll let it slip that there will be plenty of hits and memories, and a couple of surprises! And by surprises I mean, just songs that we've written that we're gonna play. So LOOK OUT!
'WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME I GO TO REHAB' (FRENZAL RHOMB)
TIANA: On the note of live shows, you are someone who has played countless shows amongst a pretty insane array of bands, I don't even know if I could ballpark how many you've played...but do you have a particularly memorable gig experience you can impart?
JAY: Well last year we played a show in Montreal at the Montebello Rockfest. And we found out the story behind why we were there, which was pretty cool. We sort of thought "oh there's some Fat Wreck Chords bands playing" and we hadn't been to Canada in a long time and stuff. But this guy who runs the festival was paying for all of our tickets. Anyway, how it happened was that there were these two Mexican kids who were driving their car in the south of Mexico on their way to the beach, and they picked up a hitchiker and they were listening to 'Smoko at the Pet Food Factory' in their car. And they were like "oh, this is our favourite Australian band, they're never gonna come to Mexico, we're never gonna see them". So the guy that they picked up said "I run this festival in Canada, and it's the biggest festival in the whole country and I'm gonna pay for the band to fly to my festival, and I'm gonna pay for you two guys for giving me this lift to fly to Montreal and see your favourite band". And so we met these guys when we were backstage at this festival in Montreal and (laughs) it was wild! What a wild story!
TIANA: That's insane! Also, I love that he runs this huge festival and he's hitchhiking in Mexico, what a baller!
JAY: (laughs) Yeah, I think he won some Quebec lottery which is how he put on this festival in the first place?
FRENZAL RHOMB KICKING ASS AT THE MONTEBELLO ROCKFEST, 2017
TIANA: Well god knows where you guys will end up next after that! Thank you hitchhiking!
JAY: I know, right?! Well, there's some guy in Austria who seems to like us a lot, so we're gonna go and play his festival in October, and play a bunch of shows around Germany and I think the Netherlands and France?
TIANA: A very busy year already, and sounds like that's only going to continue. Now to throw a pretty broad question your way...for someone who has been so heavily involved in the industry for well over a quarter of a century, and probably beyond that before Frenzal days...can you possibly pinpoint one particular thing you personally have noticed has changed the most in the music industry over the years? Or perhaps what's changed the least?
JAY: The obvious answer I guess is the internet. But, I feel like things don't change that much, you know? The fundamentals, people get together with their friends to make music and they can jam out, they can put on shows and they can record music - that's sort of always been happening. And trends kind of come and go, and ways of doing it sort of change, and venues change and all of that. But it's fundamentally still sort of the same stuff, people having a party, and I don't know how much it really changes. Having said that, I know I'm gonna get off the phone and go "oh!! Why didn't I talk about that!" (laughs).
TIANA: I think that does sum it up well though, I mean essentially the distribution and all that kind of stuff has rapidly changed, but realistically strip it all down and it's still the same framework, just dressed up different. In vintage band shirts.
JAY: Yeah, I find I have no real nostalgia around anything, really, with venues or ways of doing things. I feel like whatever's happening at the time is kind of exciting and there's lots of stuff going on, so it's good!
TIANA: Final question to wrap things up - in honour of the heavy music and horror theme that we will all be partaking in at Dead of Winter this weekend: would Frenzal Rhomb survive a zombie apocalypse, and why or why not?
JAY: Oh, yeah! Well, I'm really skinny so I'm assuming that I'm not gonna be good fodder for a zombie breakfast. Lindsay (Lindsay McDougall - guitar)...not so much, he's gonna be a target to be honest, he's got a bit of a winter coat at the moment. So, he's in trouble. I'd be fine, I think? I've got some street-smarts about me. I'd give it my best shot but, you know, as much as I like everyone else in my band I feel like at that point it would be every man for himself.
TIANA: Oh, 100%! First rule of zombie apocalypse. Well, thank you so much for your time today and I am absolutely mortified to admit that I missed seeing you guys live so many times in the past, but I can't wait to finally see you in action on the weekend!
JAY: Aww, unreal! Cheers Tiana!
TO CATCH THE LEGENDARY FRENZAL RHOMB AND MANY, MANY MORE BANDS RIPPING BRISBANE SOME NEW EAR DRUMS, GET YOURSELF ALONG TO DEAD OF WINTER. FOR TICKET INFO HEAD TO: www.deadofwinterfestival.com
AN EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO JAY FOR BEING THE SOUNDCHECK'S 300th ARTICLE!
(PIC BY TRACIE TEE LIVE EVENTS)
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BY TIANA SPETER