Disturbing the peace

Frenzel Rhomb, one of Australia's most aggressive and obnoxious punk units, comes to Taiwan for the first time to headline this weekend's 'Say Yes to Taiwan' concert

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fri, Feb 21, 2003 - Page 17

Frenzel Rhomb, the self-proclaimed "punkest band in the world" headlines this year at the Say Yes to Taiwan concert. They formed in 1993 in Sydney and named themselves after a scientific gadget. Then they shot to popularity for rowdy performances, obscene lyrics and the pure punk sound heard on early CDs, like their 1994 debut, Dick Sandwich. After touring with Offspring and NOFX in 1997, they saw successful releases in the US and established themselves as Australia's top-selling indie artists for that year, putting out an album that stayed on the indie top-20 sales charts for more than 100 straight weeks. If you're wondering where to chart the band philosophically, songs titles like Let's Drink a Beer, All Your Friends Think You're a F---head, and the recent release Bucket Bong may give you a fair idea. Earlier this week, the Taipei Times caught up with Frenzel Rhomb vocalist and founding member, Jason Whalley, on his cell phone in Sydney to clarify a few more things about what to expect when they play this weekend in Taipei and Taichung.

TT: Is it true that you had a heart attack due to substance abuse?

JW: That was greatly exaggerated. Actually, a lot of things on our Web site are greatly exaggerated. There was also a thing about my having trench rot, the World War I disease, but that's not true either.

TT: What's Frenzel Rhomb been doing lately?

JW: We just finished the Big Day Out, which is a big summer festival here [in Sydney]. It's a 50,000 person show. Now we're embarking on this tour where we may very well lose our limbs or our lives. One news channel here actually went through all the places on this tour and talked about all the terrible things that were happening in each place. After Taiwan we're going to Israel, and we expect to get at least some sort of chemical burns. Then we're going to go from there to London, which is currently being surrounded by its own troops. Then we're going to South Africa, where we're looking forward to getting carjacked or something like that. Actually our illustrious cricket team is over there right now, but half of them have been sent home for positive drug tests. Then we come back here and our new album comes out. Then we'll tour all the normal places like Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

TT: What's a Frenzel Rhomb show like? Do you abuse the audience a lot?

JW: We like to use the carrot and stick principle, kind of like they did in the Russian Revolution. You tempt the crowd with some nice things, then you take the stick and slam 'em down. It's sort of how you treat a donkey.

TT: Do people get injured at your concerts often?

JW: Sometimes. Actually the other day we played a show up on the Gold Coast in Australia, and they wouldn't let us play a couple of songs because the kids went a bit bananas. But we haven't had any serious problems so far except for ourselves.

TT: Did you really break your collar bone from jumping from a second -- story balcony?

JW: I did, I did. That was a true story. I also snapped my arm back at the elbow about ninety degrees -- that was hideous -- when we were in Canada one time. That was my fault for trying to crowd-surf and sing at the same time. But you could tell the Australians in the audience, because they kept yelling out the names of our songs they wanted us to play, and my arm was just sort of dangling.

TT: What's the difference between you and people who are actually suicidal?

JW: People who are suicidal probably eventually end up killing themselves. I think we're all on the slow suicide in our band through lifestyle or putting ourselves in dangerous situations.

TT: Your Web site said that at one early Big Day Out fest the crowd tore down the tent you were playing in. Is that true?

JW: Yeah, that happened too. I can't believe how many facts are on our Web site. It was one of those massive big tops, and I think the ones who did it had some sort of knowledge of engineering or something, so they managed to figure out the right stress points and pull the whole thing down on top of everybody. There were 15,000 people inside, but no one seemed to get hurt. It was pretty funny more than anything else.

TT: What's your most interesting recent tour?

JW: We did a crazy tour of the Outback last year. We did 76 shows across the Outback trying to beat Midnight Oil's record. We went out to these dogass towns in the middle of Australia, these mining towns with populations of 25- to 30-year-old males who have pretty high incomes with nothing to spend it on except beer and prostitutes. Our guitarist wore a dress every night. People really didn't know what was happening.

But that's what we've been about for a while now. We've gotten to that realization that you have to have a good time being in a band, that it has to be fun and it has to be interesting, because you get pretty soul-distraught in this industry. So we've been endeavoring to get as many far out shows in whacked out places as we can, where we can just go and sort of swear at people and drink beer.

TT: How old are you guys?

JW: I'm the granddad at around thirty, but the new kid [bass player Tom Crease] is only 18, so that brings our average age down to around 25. And the other two kids [drummer Gordy Foreman and guitarist Lindsay McDougal] are 24 and 25.

TT: Have you ever been banned for obscenity or profanity in your lyrics?

JW: We have been banned a few times, but mostly for pretty boring kinds of things. But it's not like we're saying anything that's racist or homophobic or that's actually bad. I often get quite amazed how offended people get by language, especially in Australia when it's nothing you wouldn't hear in your local office or schoolyard. But we do make a point of shaking things up wherever we go. Like the other day we went into a radio station and started talking about shit-eating porn, and they just went nuts.

TT: A lot of your lyrics are about fighting, like the song Punch in the Face for example. Do you fight a lot?

JW: We used to. I haven't been writing many fight songs lately, but there was a period when the blokes who'd come in from the suburbs would want to pick fights with us because we had stupid haircuts. But now what we do's more accepted and the blokes from the suburbs have stupid haircuts too.

TT: Would you say that violence that you advocate is mostly directed towards yourselves?

JW: Yeah, we're peace lovers. I actually got arrested the other day at a peace rally.

TT: For doing what?

JW: Disturbing the peace, ironically enough.