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With Brisbane’s annual legend-fest Dead of Winter fast approaching, it seemed about bloody time for Hysteria Mag to get vocalist and top bloke Jason ‘Jay’ Whalley of Frenzal Rhomb fame on the blower to get down to business.
Jay gives us his run down on his top picks of the festival line-up, discusses the band’s best/worst fest sets, and we shoot various kinds of shit about corporate sponsorship, French Canadians and surviving the festival punisher.
HYS: First things first: Dead of Winter 2018. Frenzal Rhomb are a band, and you’re playing. Are you excited?
Whalley: I’m very excited. I’m also a little daunted that I’m playing in three bands, so that’s going to be difficult to remain sober for the entire day.
HYS: Woah. Three bands? You’re pulling triple duty. How did you come up with that?
Whalley: Triple duty? I don’t know. I think that whoever booked it really likes me. Or they hate me.
HYS: It might be the “Dead of Jay” festival by the end of it.
Whalley: Yeah, it could be. That would be terrible for me. So, I’m playing in The Nancy Vandal Group; then I’m playing in The Neptune Power Federation Group; and then also The Frenzal Rhomb Group.
HYS: Right. Are you doing vocals for all those Groups, or are you some kind of closet multi-instrumentalist?
Whalley: Ah, by multi-instrumentalist, do you mean I play bass?
HYS: Yes. Absolutely.
Whalley: Well, I sing a little bit of back up here and there in those other bands, but mainly I just wanted to be in the bands, so I was trying to pick the instrument that people notice the least. And it’s always the bass.
HYS: Bassists the world over are now crying at you deriding their instrument, Jay.
Whalley: Well, in their defence, now that I’m in bands playing the bass, I realise how integral and important it is. And without us bass players, the entire industry would collapse. So, take that, [The] Hard Aches!
HYS: Excellent. What a show of solidarity.
Whalley: Yes. What a back-pedal.
HYS: In terms of the line-up, who are you looking forward to seeing at Dead of Winter this year? If you’re not going to be, you know, whisking around from stage to stage pulling triple duty?
Whalley: Yes, well, if I knew exactly who was playing, I’d just like to see Clowns, but I’m playing at exactly the same time as them with The Neptune Power Federation Group. I’d also like to see Dad Religion, which is the band Lindsay [McDougall, bass] and [Gordon] Gordy [Forman, drums] from The Frenzal Rhomb Group play in, but I see them enough, so I probably won’t see them.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing Goon on The Rocks and Hightime. Nerdlinger is going to be a good time. Topnovil for your street punk. Le Suits, because I enjoy anything French. The Gutter Birds, who I believe did a beautiful acapella version of our song Bucket Bong at some point…
HYS: I had the pleasure of listening to The Gutter Birds perform that cover at last year’s Dead of Winter, and it was fantastic.
Whalley: Cool! Ah, Dicklord are great. The Cutaways of course, as a Brisbane band. Pagan! Oh my god. Flangipanis! Shit! What a line-up. Lagerstein!
HYS: You’re going to be so busy, Jay.
Whalley: I know. Maybe I won’t play.
HYS: Just bail. Bail on your sets.
Whalley: Yeah, I might just wander around and watch bands. Pangaea! Haven’t seen them for twenty-five years. There’s one band from the U.S.A., Radio Moscow, and also one from New Zealand too. Alien Weaponry. Just snuck in there. I see we’re also playing the Hysteria stage?
HYS: Yeah that’s right. And we are sponsors too.
Whalley: What does that mean? How much does it cost to get a stage named after you?
HYS: I honestly don’t know. There’s likely some back-room deals going on, but if it’s anything like last year, it’ll be a regular stage with a Hysteria banner on it. That’s kind of how it works.
Whalley: Yeah right. Get a couple of free tickets, a couple of drink tickets.
Whalley: Get to hang out in the VIP area.
HYS: Otherwise known as the concrete section out the back of the stage.
Whalley: Yeah. That’s it. That little triangle of white sandwich with ham and cheese on it.
HYS: Let’s run through some more general festival questions. Now, the first time I ever saw Frenzal, was at Big Day Out in 2005, and it was sick. But I want to ask you: what’s the most memorable festival set Frenzal’s ever played?
Whalley: Ah goodness me!
HYS: Take me back, Jay. Take me back to a time.
Whalley: Well, last Saturday, we played the A Day of Clarity festival in Adelaide. And it was actually magical, because for a start, it was free. And so, basically, we realised the perfect price point for a Frenzal Rhomb concert…
HYS: You finally realised your worth.
Whalley: There were a lot more people there than if we were to do our own show with money on the door, so we figure that, if we can swing it from now on, we’re just going to play free shows and we’ll be way more successful. Monetarily, not so much. But…
HYS: Not really economically viable, but also, probably a lot more fun.
Whalley: Yeah, I reckon. We just need to work out how to monetise it, like everything else in this day and age. So, we’re looking at sponsors basically. I’m thinking shoe companies, sunglasses, alcohol—anything like that …
I tend to be able to last probably a couple of songs before someone will come up to me, get me in a head lock, and while spitting beer into my ear, regale me with the story of when we met in 1996, at Homebake, and did lines of speed in their car.
[ Jay Whalley ]
We also played a festival in Montreal last year, and the way that we got to play it was because–see if you can follow this–these two Mexican dudes the year before, so 2016, were driving in their car towards the beach, somewhere along on the Pacific Coast of the South of Mexico, and they pick up this hitch hiker, who gets in their car and they’re playing one of our records, [Smoko at the] Pet Food Factory, in their car, and they’re saying to this guy: “This is our favourite Australian band. We’re never going to get to see them and they’re never coming to Mexico.” And the guy they picked up said, “Well, I run the biggest rock festival in Canada, so I’m going to pay for both of you, and all of the band and crew, to fly to Montreal and play my festival. And you can all come.”
HYS: Woah. That’s pretty wild.
Whalley: Yeah, but we didn’t know that. We just got offered this festival in Montreal and thought ‘Yeah sick.’ There were all these Fat Wreck bands playing and what not. And we get there, and we’re about to go on stage, and these two Mexican guys come up and go, “Do you know why you’re here?” And we’re like, “Nuh.” And then they’re like, “Because of us!” And I think, “Wow! What a good story!”
HYS: That’s an excellent story. How was the set though?
Whalley: Oh, it was terrible; it was fucked. We’d been traveling for 35 hours. It may have been the worst performance of our lives. Actually, I stayed there camping for a few weeks. It was a good time. Canadians, you know. And the French.
HYS: In terms of festival punters, think back and tell me about the most cooked person you’ve ever seen at a festival.
Whalley: Oh God. Again, I’m thinking back all the way to last Saturday. We did quite a public sound-check, and there was this guy, the only guy standing at the barrier early in the day, and yet he had his wrists crossed in a kind of X shape the entire time we were doing the sound-check. He was sort of yelling something, and it was clear by his body language that whatever it was, we weren’t pleasing him. And, he was pretty ruined; he was fucked. And he goes: “NO COVERS! NO COVERS!” So, we played some Huey Lewis [and The News] and fucked off.
HYS: What’s the weirdest object you’ve ever received in a rider?
Whalley: Back in the day, we used to have ‘smoking jackets’ included on our rider. And I think we got them once … In Darwin …
HYS: [Laughs] Darwin?
Whalley: Yeah, it’s a big leisure town. They like reclining in tweed.
HYS: I feel like that’s something that could only happen in Darwin. Now, outside your performance aspect as part of The Frenzal Rhomb Group, if you’re just a regular punter, what are your survival tips for a festival, Jay? How do you power through?
Whalley: Look to be honest, I wouldn’t go, if I wasn’t playing to be perfectly frank. And even when I am at these festivals, I find that when I go out to watch bands (especially if we’re one of the bands on the bill), I tend to be able to last probably a couple of songs before someone will come up to me, get me in a head lock, and while spitting beer into my ear, regale me with the story of when we met in 1996, at Homebake, and did lines of speed in their car. Because people like to make up their own history.
HYS: That does sound stressful.
Whalley: Generally, festivals are fucking awful. BUT, I find looking at the new line-up here for Dead of Winter festival, that this could actually be the exception to the rule. There’re a lot of legends on this bill, and I feel that anyone who likes these types of bands, is going to be a good type of person. So, there’s a high chance that the entire festival could be filled with absolute legends and you could have the time of your life.