If you haven’t heard of Frenzal Rhomb, I can guarantee that your Dad or Uncle probably has. With 26 years experience under their belt, Frenzal Rhomb are just weeks away from releasing their 9th studio album ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’. I was lucky enough to catch up with lead guitarist/backing vocalist Lindsay McDougall (you may also know him as former Triple J host ‘The Doctor’) to have a chat about what the band’s been up too lately.
First off I’d just like to say that this is probably the most nerve wracking interview I’ve ever had to do, interviewing a previous interviewer has me feeling a little bit insecure about my abilities!
Oh no, don’t you worry about that! I basically just learnt over time to be nicer in interviews. We were absolute pricks when we interviewed, before interviews we’d start writing the questions and be like “oh this is actually really hard”, so you’ll be just fine!
Well that makes me feel a little better, thankyou! What are you up to today besides probably answering the same questions over and over again?
No worries! I’m currently at the very bottom of Australia at Duck Point looking over Wilson’s Promontory, it’s kind of vaguely facing Tasmania so it’s freezing, but it’s pretty nice to look at.
It sounds a lot nicer than the view I currently have of my lounge room wall!
I’m sure it comes close! (laughs)
So Frenzal Rhomb recently celebrated 25 years as band, which is a pretty long time to survive as a punk band in the Australian music scene, what do you think has kept people interested for so long? Because it seems like people just keep wanting to hear more music from you guys.
Yeah it’s weird! The thing that we always talk about is because we were never particularly popular, we can’t really become un-popular and if you’ve never been in fashion, you’re probably not going to go out of fashion either. I guess that the other thing is that we don’t really care about smashing through any particular sales records either, we’ve never wanted to do any of that. We’re basically not trying very hard, we’re not trying to be everywhere, you don’t see us on every red carpet, you’re more likely to see us at the shops and I think people like that a lot more. We’re not always in people’s faces, so every couple of years when we do something people are like “ah yeah, I guess I kind of remember those guys, they’re alright”, as opposed to “there those fucking guys are again, for fucks sake”. It’s basically just laziness, it’s the key to keeping people interested I think.
So over the 26 years you guys have a band, you’ve all suffered some pretty gnarly injuries, things that would probably hold any normal person back, have you ever thought to yourselves “oh maybe we need to slow down”?
Absolutely! Every time we have an injury, we try to slow down and change in some respect. The most recent big injury was that our drummer Gordy broke his arm a couple of years ago, and as a result we couldn’t record this album until the end of last year when it was meant to be finished a year earlier. The big change we made was to remind Gordy that he’s a drummer, and that he should stay behind the fucking drums and not bloody jump out and try and stage dive like a young person. At the time, it was pretty annoying because we were just about to record, but in the end we ended up writing a bunch more songs. It was kind of like Gordy had to break his arm badly and spent 9 months recovering, affecting his mental health and really fucking him up badly, but if it didn’t happen we wouldn’t have made a bunch more cool tracks, so it was sort of worth it (laughs). It was kind of like a really shit deal with the devil.
Image courtesy of Blue Murder
So that leads onto my next question about why there was such a wait between albums (laughs), what was the rest of the writing process for ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’ like for you guys?
Yeah it took us a fucking long time to record it, our last album was put out in 2011 and we’ve had no schedules to stick to, so we just kind of write whenever we feel like it. Jason’s been kind of busy producing some other bands in the studio he runs, I was working up until 2 years ago, and then Gordy broke his arm, so things were moving quite slowly. We also all live in different places, Gordy lives here in Victoria, Jason and I live in Sydney and Tom lives in Adelaide, so we kind of only really get to see each other when we play shows because we can’t afford to fly ourselves to exotic writing retreats, no one wants to send us to one of those secret Bali writing locations that all the younger songwriters on the publishing rosters get to go to. So we basically just set aside a couple of days at the start and end of the tour to write, as well as writing in our own time by ourselves. We basically then just get into the studio and show each other what we’ve got and sit around and look at each other until we think of something good to do.
What about the recording process itself? How was that for you guys?
We recorded in Colorado last October with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room Studios, which is where we recorded out previous album, and basically it was just bloody fun. It was pretty much like a summer camp for alcoholics and idiots. We already knew all the songs, we just had to get them right, and the producers are very good at making sure you get the guitar parts and stuff right, they like cracking the whip real hard.
So you guys released ‘Cunt Act’ as the first single off ‘Hi Vis High Tea’, why did you choose it to release first?
Despite what you probably think, it wasn’t just because it has the C word in the title and 18 times throughout the song (laughs), although the good thing about that is that when radio stations refuse to play it, we have a good excuse as to why, which means that we don’t have to entertain to the idea that’s it’s maybe just not a good song and that’s why they’re not playing it. Truthfully thought it was mainly because our mate Fox put a video together for it, he does a lot of art for us and he came up with an idea for the clip, so we were just like “yeah yeah do it man!” and because that video clip was ready first, we figured it would be the best single to release first.
I’ve got to ask though, what’s the story behind ‘Cunt Act’, do you just have those hilarious thoughts 24/7?
Well for this particular song, I play in a band with Briggs as well when he’s not doing his AB Original stuff, and I was on an aeroplane coming up with lines for the song, which is how I actually came up with the very first line “when you’re sitting on a flight, everyone’s packed in tight and you push your seat back, cunt act”. So I was basically just texting Briggs as the flight was taking off and landing with ideas and lines for the song, and he would just reply ‘haha’, and as long as Briggs was laughing at lines of this song, then that’ll do, that’s all I needed, it’d passed the first test.
So it was Briggs approved basically?
Yeah basically! It’s just great to see it go from me texting him bad, bad rhymes on an aeroplane, to finally seeing the light of day and being the first single off the album.
So speaking more about ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’, you guys are heading on tour in the coming months to celebrate it’s release, what’s your general attitude towards touring? Is it still fun for you guys or does it eventually just become sort of ‘a part of the job’?
There’s shit bits of it honestly, like a lot of sitting around doing nothing waiting for our sound guy to make the kick drum go from one sound to another sound, that to our ears sounds exactly the same, but somehow takes him an hour to do. But in all honestly we really don’t play enough to get annoyed and sick of being on the road, we really just do the bare minimum (laughs). We did a bunch of shows at the start of last year and a fair few others throughout the year, but not up to our usual standard. We used to do massive 3 month tours playing five shows a week, sometimes two shows in one day, which makes it easy to fall into bad routines. Now though, playing less shows is good for so many reasons, one of them being that we don’t have to see each other as often which means we don’t get sick of each other and enjoy hanging out together. Doing less shows though means that you never get match fit, so by the second or third show, your body starts to go “what are you doing?! Why are you jumping around like a fool, screaming into a microphone and getting beer thrown at you for an hour every night”, and if you’re doing that for five or six nights in a row, your body starts to get used to it, but when you’re only playing two or three shows a week, your body just hates you. We usually then end up stopping for a week and starting again with another couple of shows, and my body is generally like “really Lindsay, you’re doing this again? You’re an asshole.” But as for the upcoming tour, we’re really excited about getting to play these new songs for everyone and hanging out with all the lovely weirdos from the ends of the train line who always come to our shows, who we then end up writing lots of song about, who still come to our shows despite us writing about them. It’s a vaguely abusive relationship, but we seem to come out full of love from our audience, even though we treat them terribly.
I feel like that’s one of the many reasons people like you guys, it’s sort of new and exciting for people to not be praised as an audience by bands for everything they do.
Yeah! There’s always so much talk from bands on stage about “you guys are the best crowd ever, thank you so much for coming out” whereas we’re just like “stop throwing beer on us you fucking assholes”
It sounds like your shows are pretty memorable for your audiences then!
Yeah, I’d like to think so! They’re also pretty memorable for me as well though, I tend to remember every gig we’ve ever played based on something weird that happened, whether it be signing someone’s testicles at the merch desk or having exactly $6.80 at my head while I’m stage, and then being able to go to the bar afterwards and buy a drink with it after I’d put a band aid on my head. All shows and all tours are exciting for us, which sounds like that “you guys are the best crowd ever” stuff, but the fact that we’ve been doing this for 26 years and we’re just about to release our 9th album, and we can still play shows to people who actually like our music makes us feel quite chuffed.
Unfortunately our time is nearly up, so do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Just come to our shows and get our record, there’s a message of workplace safety with our album, hence the name ‘Hi-Vis High Tea’, so if you buy the vinyl it comes in fluorescent hi-vis yellow so that you can listen to our album in safety, in a safe workplace environment. So I suggest that you get your steel caps on, take your fly-out week off after your week of fly-in, put the record on, take all the crazy drugs you can afford because you’re a member of the mining elite, and enjoy our record.