Interview with LINDSAY McDOWENS from FRENZAL RHOMB
Frenzal Rhomb (yes – they are still around!) have just finished recording their 9th studio album, Hi-Vis High Tea and we spoke to Lindsay McDowens the other day about their new album, Bunbury, laxatives (sorry Tom) and various other controversies.
You guys have just finished recording your 9th studio album. How did the recording go and are you all happy with how it sounds?
Well, I’ll answer the second part first. Yes, we’re very happy with how it sounds. We recorded our last album at the same place (The Blasting Room) which is in Colorado at a place called Fort Collins which is an hour outside of Denver and the guys that run it, Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore; Bill Stevenson plays in The Descendents and played in Black Flag and they just know how to get good sound.
That’s the thing. We’ve made so many records and we’ve always enjoyed how they sound – well, we’ve loved how most of them sound except for one which didn’t go as we hoped. These guys, they just know how to make punk rock sound really fucking angry but still good, like you can hear all the notes which is good but also bad because it sounds great but it also means you have to play a lot better.
In previous albums I could get away with just fudging notes and being a bit out of time but with this, you can hear even the hesitation, even the nervousness in your guitar playing. You can hear because they record so fucking well so you have to play really, really good and they make sure you do. So it’s quite hard work but it’s definitely worth it.
When we got the record back, we got the digital files and then getting them mastered and sending all these ideas for mastering back over to Fort Collins because they do it all there. Then when we finally got the reference record, like the test pressing of the record and put that on it was like, fuck! This is like, you can feel the rock, for want of a better word, the fucking rad rock n roll coming out of the speakers of my record player and I’m like, man!
This is like, you know, you still get excited just hearing your records but this, this was just very, very exciting. So that was the second part so yeah, we are very happy with how it sounds.
I loved recording this one because it was the first time that, for the last couple of records, I had been working at Triple J so I could only take a couple of weeks off so I’d go in there, play my guitar parts, drink as much beer as I could, bad American beer and fly back to Australia.
This time, I could take my time, play my guitar parts, lazily drink as much cheap American beer as I could and then also go there for the recording of the vocals, be there for the vocals, be there for the bass playing and the mixing as well which is so much fun so I had an absolute ball.
I really enjoyed the album
Yeah I did notice one thing in the review, the three questions people ask about Frenzal Rhomb and the last one was ‘Who the fuck are they?’ which I might suggest an addendum to that or to change it from ‘who the fuck are they?’ to ‘are they fucking still here?’.
Like seriously, I’ve been touring Australia – my wife and I are currently on this little three month tour around Australia. We are down the bottom on Victoria at the moment at Wilsons Promontory at this eco village so you don’t come in and go ‘Hey, it’s Lindsay from Frenzal here’ at this eco village.
After a couple of days one of the dudes worked out who I was and he was like “Oh Frenzal! Yeah, right. Didn’t know you guys were still around!”
Yeah dude! We’re just always kinda around. We just fucken, pop up every now and then. We’re not always just in your face. We fuck off for a bit, then we come back so as a result, people don’t usually get sick of us and maybe it’s that element of surprise – that people are surprised that we’re still around that gets us across the line.
One of the tracks on the new album is called Bunbury? What is it about Bunbury that it has earned its own song?
Well it fits perfectly into the rhythm of a punk rock song, Bun bur y – easy to sing. I remember when we first started going to Western Australia, about 1996 I think, or maybe 1997 Big Day Out and like, Perth’s wonderful, you know, it’s just Perth.
Then we started travelling and we’d go to places like Margaret River and Rockingham and then Bunbury. Bunbury just stood out, I mean, Margaret River is this crazy place where the cops tried to beat us up and we can’t even book accommodation there any more because they hate us.
But Bunbury, is this beautiful little punk rock hamlet in the middle of, I guess, rural Western Australia, semi-rural, and people there, are fellow travellers that all think the same way we do. They believe in live music and they believe that at the end of the gig, the members of the band should be forced to work behind the bar for a bit and they believe in bringing out a large, now this is kinda weird, stump of wood with a bunch of nails.
They will make you all play this nail game where you have to try and smash the nail into the wood and the person who smashes their nail in last has to buy a round of drinks. I believe also, though possibly illegal, money can be won around it.
So there’s a lot of beautiful things about Bunbury and specifically, the Prince of Wales Hotel that kind of caused us to think up a song about the place.
There’s a few bars around Australia that we always go back to – The Crow Bar in Brisbane or The Brisbane Hotel in Hobart (which is kinda confusing I suppose), places like the Annandale in Sydney (which is gone now), The Rev in Melbourne. They’re just bars that we love and the Prince of Wales is one of those.
Anyone who’s played there knows that it’s one of the places that has such a rich history of supporting live music and out of the city, yeah, it’s worth writing a song about.
I’ve seen that nails game and there is no way in hell that anyone should ever get me to play that!
No! It’s the most un OH&S thing and that’s why I feel bad talking about it. I don’t imagine that talking about it in interviews will bring an end to it but obviously, it’s amongst friends and consenting adults but there is something about that pub that makes you feel so safe.
I remember the first time we used to played there, there was this father and his daughter who would come to see us play, (the daughter STILL comes to see us play), she was under-age so her dad would bring her into the gig and he was a biker and, I’d never seen bikers before, you know, they’d never talked to me before.
This guy was so tough, he’d lost two fingers on his hand so that he was forced to forever throw the horns sign. They would come to Bunbury, this biker comes up to us, angrily introduces his 16 year old daughter and then goes to shake my hand and instead, throws horns of the devil.
Now that is a beautiful introduction to a town so I’m glad that we have now semi-immortalised the place in song.
Yeah, Bunbury definitely needed its own song
I think so.
You would have seen a lot of changes in the music industry – how do you think the band would go if you were just starting up now?
Well, we’d be four mid-30, or 40 year olds trying to make music, that’d be embarrassing. I don’t know, it’s such a weird thing to try and make music today. The difference being, that for a band at our level, you don’t have to worry about…like selling records isn’t a big thing you worry about doing.
What you want to do is play as many gigs as possible and get your name seen by as many people as possible and that’s the same as in the 90’s as today. The difference is, now people all over the world can find out about you immediately or, ignore you immediately through the internet.
So, the whole change in the way that people buy music, affects bigger bands a lot more than us. I’m sure that people at our level will disagree but we still sell the amount of records that we are always going to sell and we still play the shows that we are going to play and it’s because we never hit the heights of rock n roll super-stardom.
If we were starting today, I imagine that it would be quite similar. The difference is, there’d be different gigs to play. There’s not as many illegal house parties that we could play as everything’s a bit more regulated in Sydney, at least, where we started.
There used to be a lot of places to play around Newtown that were not official gigs or whatever. But there are, just outside of Newtown, there are quite a lot of gigs around Marrickville and stuff that are kind of like, 40s Speakeasies.
There’s still quite a lot of punk rock happening at the grass roots levels, away from the prying eyes of mainstream music so that’s still definitely happening.
Jason runs a studio and he’s always recording punk rock bands and they’re great. You see them a lot and there’s a lot of venues for them to play in so I think that the idea would be the same – just play as many gigs as possible.
The temptation these days is to write your music; get it recorded; get it as shiny as possible; get it as pro-tooled, as auto-tuned as possible; stick it up on the internet and hope that someone discovers you and gives you a sweet spot on American TV show but that’s not something that Frenzal has tried to do so I don’t imagine that we would try to do it now.
Having said that, someone was live tweeting that they were watching Looking For Alibrandi the other day as it was on the telly and I think it was like, Buzzfeed or something like that and I was like ‘Fuck yeah! We had a song on that.’ There’s a bit where Pia Miranda’s character gets all angry, has a fight with her boyfriend, slams her bedroom door and throws herself down on the bed or something like that, in tears, and then one of our songs comes on! So you know, I don’t think we’d be trying to do that these days.
You guys have been around for a long time now. How do you keep coming up with ideas for songs while still keeping them fresh and topical?
Well, I think it’s because we actually live fairly normal lives where we interact with quite a lot of people. You have these issues with bands that are either massively popular or just work all the time – they’re always touring so they don’t live the life of a normal person.
The new Smith Street album, it’s fucking rad, it’s wonderful but it seems to have been written backstage or at various places whilst on tour because he’s literally singing about texting people or FaceTiming people backstage at gigs. I know it’s like, a break-up album but he’s literally writing about where he is and I guess he was writing while backstage or out the back of a tour van because that’s what the lyrics are suggesting.
But for us, we’re just going to the shops and seeing, you know, that we live in vaguely suburban places and seeing how life is changing in Australia and we’re watching the youth of Australia fall into this, fly-in/fly-out life in the mining industry and that’s why Hi-Vis High Tea came about, the name of the album coz it’s like this vague concept of the mining workers being the new royalty because they’re getting so much money but it’s such a short term industry.
Even now, we’ve got friends that work in mining and new people coming into the industry now are being treated much shittier, the pay’s not as good and it’s just not as secure any more. That high tea party’s not going on for so much longer.
But we see that, and we see the people, we interact with people in Suburbia that we get to write about. We worked out that this album is a concept album but it’s literally about heaps of different concepts but they’re all based around just working in Australia. Whether you are in the mining industry, whether you are in Suburbia and wanting to start a Storage Unit Pill Press to get away from your shitty job at the supermarket where you are, to relieve the boredom, shelving pills while stacking shelves so – Shelving Stacks While Stacking Shelves.
I reckon this is our American Idiot except we’re not American and we’re not as idiotic as Billie Joe so this is like, suburban male of all these things, dispersed with a couple of songs about Jason having a pigworm in his brain and weird, vaguely earnest love songs about our wives and our friends.
You guys would have seen so much while being on tour. What are some of the more disgusting things that you have seen? And have there been any special moments that stand out in your mind?
Lots of arses – arses and dicks, arses and dicks and things is something that stands out in our minds a bit but I wouldn’t necessarily call that disgusting.
I mean, we were in South Africa once and our drummer decided it would be funny to hide laxatives in our food.
This is what kinda happens when you are on the road for awhile and kinda why we don’t tour for that constantly these days because the cabin fever sets in and weird shit starts happening, literally; weird shit. Our poor bass player had just joined, was given two headache tablets by our drummer which, of course, weren’t headache tablets and then we were driving between Pretoria and Durban in South Africa and he had to run into the bushes.
Then, our drummer was also into BB guns at the time and decided to shoot him in the back with a BB gun and when you are trying to hold onto laxative induced diarrhoea while being shot by a BB gun: well…you’re not gonna win that battle and I don’t think it was very nice but anyway.
That’s kind of a literally disgusting thing but other things that you see; when you see racism and homophobia and stupid things like that and just people being douches and it’s something that seems to happen more and more.
I don’t think it happens at our concerts too much but I was at the merch desk after a gig that we were playing because I’m always at the merch desk after we play, not before and someone came up and she’d been felt up in the mosh pit and there’s just that whole thought of ‘what the fuck!’ Who the fuck is thinking about that in a Frenzal Rhomb mosh pit.
There is nothing sexy about a Frenzal Rhomb mosh pit and some fucking entitled dickhead…but of course, it’s not about sex. It’s just about some entitled dickhead who thinks that he should be able to do whatever the fuck he wants to another living, human being.
I know it’s a thing that’s coming to the forefront now but I don’t know whether it’s actually increasing in happening or whether people are reporting it more, feeling more brave and courageous to actually report it. I hope that’s what’s happening.
I think it’s actually happening more because this kind of thing didn’t happen back in the day, but it’s happened to me a few times now
Yeah, it’s fucked! I’ve been in quite a few mosh pits growing up and female friends of mine would occasionally get held weirdly and stuff but that idea that men have the rights to women’s bodies is just fucking so dumb and it’s something that, thankfully, at the moment, there’s a big push back from it.
Hopefully men are going to realise that it’s not about teaching women to be careful. Fuck that. It’s about teaching men that you are a fucking human being and you are interacting in a society that, despite what your leaders are doing because they’re all fucking fucksticks who are fucking probably more responsible for this than anyone, despite what they’re doing; you have to act like a human being and be nice and respectful and stuff.
I think that message is starting to go out and I think that people, apart from the initial fucking reactions from some of these MRA fucktards that they are rights are being encroached upon; it’s only snowflakes that are getting angry at them; white knights who are defending women and all that bullshit.
Apart from those idiots, there seems to be a little bit more understanding that maybe the world can be a nice place for everyone. Not just, fucking white male dickheads. So that’s been disgusting.
You guys have had troubles in the past being played on most radio stations. Do you feel that has hampered your career at all or actually helped you guys in that you would be free to write whatever you want?
That’s the thing. We obviously have had problems with various radio stations and various songs and I mean…the first song we released from this album is called Cunt Act so it’s not like we are doing ourselves any favours.
I like the idea that we are doing that subconsciously so that if people don’t play the song, we can blame the swearing and not the quality of the song.
For us, being played on a radio, apart from Triple J; I mean obviously Triple J has been very beneficial for reaching everyone out to regional Australia. The fact that we can go to regional Australia, like Bunbury for example, is rad and that’s definitely down to Triple J but when it comes to other radio stations, it’s never been an issue for us at all, like, it just doesn’t matter.
The fact that we ever got played on Triple M is hilarious because we’re not the Foo Fighters or Nickelback because I’m pretty sure that’s all they play.
Any other radio station that we’ve ever been played on has been when we’ve come into town so we’ll arrive in some sort of seaside coastal town and we’ll go on, fucking, Half-Beach FM and that’s the only time that we’ll get played as, we’ll talk for ten minutes and they’ll ask us questions like ‘So what do you think of the town?’, ‘Man, man, the fucking chicks are alright hey!’ and then they’ll play a song that we released like, 5, 6, 10 years ago so it’s not like it’s ever been a particular part of any marketing plan.
Obviously people talking about us getting into fights with people is always funny coz I guess it pops our name back into the internet for a little bit. Last year, we found out that we’ve been banned in China because we played in Taiwan, at a Taiwanese Fringe Festival in 2003 – those kind of things.
For everything that has helped us, we’ve probably hindered ourselves by writing songs with so many swear words and just not that many chord changes.
You guys about to head to Canada to play the Montebello Festival in Canada. Who are you looking forward to checking out the most? And do you have any room in your suitcases for a stowaway?
(laughs) I think I am only taking one guitar. This is the funny thing – we last played in North America in 2001. We toured with NoFX and the Mad Caddies in 2001 and soon after that, life kinda took over. Jason and I got jobs in 2004 at Triple J and we haven’t been back except for recording in America a three times since and playing one gig once when we recorded once.
We haven’t actually played a gig in North America until, next month, June, and we are playing one fucking gig in Montreal. It’s hilarious! We didn’t even bother trying to get a visa to work in America because you just won’t get one these days and we can’t play near the festival for obvious reasons so it’s hilarious!
Luckily, it’s a two day festival with pre-parties, after-parties and Rammstein are playing – I can’t fucking wait to see them. Iggy Pop’s playing as well. I think The Smith Street Band is playing as well.
I think Living End as well
Oh that’s awesome yeah!
And Queens of the Stone Age
Yeah I don’t like them so that doesn’t bother me but the annoying thing is that fucking Homme will be playing with Iggy Pop because Iggy Pop’s last album was great but it stunk a bit of Homme because Josh Homme and one of the guys from Arctic Monkeys played on it so I imagine that Homme will be there fucking stinking up Iggy’s beautiful stage but that’s alright, it’s alright, it’s fine.
It’s Iggy Pop. I’m sure that Iggy Pop’s amazing, fucking, beautifully centred and lovely nature will downplay the Alpha Male bully that Josh Homme is on stage but that’s fine, that’s fine and before you think it’s a redhead thing, I married a redhead and she’s beautiful.
Honestly, once we said yes to that festival and we saw the line up…I can’t even remember the full line up. I guess, Teenage Bottle Rocket are probably doing it as they play every festival that we do but yeah I can’t imagine doing much else but watching a lot of bands and catching up with some friends and yeah, probably getting yelled at by Josh Homme. It’s gonna be wonderful.
I would sell my soul to go to that festival
Yeah it’s good isn’t it! This is the thing! We had it! We had it and we kinda fucked it because I guess, the festivals were trying to outdo each other all the time. Oh man, the Big Day Out, then Soundwave and then out-pricing other festivals and obviously our population being pretty small in the scheme of things as well and the space between everything that we can’t put anything on but yeah the Northern Hemisphere, fuck, there’s people everywhere– chuck a festival on. Get Iggy Pop there, it’s gonna be a winner. It’s in the middle of nowhere! There’s like, two hotels in the town.
I need to find a job so I can afford to go to these places
I need to find a job too but just so I can afford to pay rent over the next year but that’s a problem I’ll worry about after this album thing has been finished.
It’s just one of those times at the moment. It sucks
Yeah I finished work two years ago at Triple J and I’ve been filling my days a little bit. I’ve been playing in Briggs’ band and playing with my friend Katie and playing in a few other bands. Occasionally, I get to be on the radio again and write stuff for people so it’s alright, I fill my days and I get to go and spend a whole bunch of time recording an album with my best friends.
You guys have toured with some pretty massive bands. Which bands were the best to tour with? And who were the worst?
Best bands, oh so many bands! The band that we are taking on this next tour, Totally Unicorn, we’ve played a lot of shows with them and they’re the funnest bunch of people although, they have a new drummer now so we’ll have to see if he stacks up to the level of fun.
They are a bunch of dudes in their underwear playing crazy, metal hardcore with no discernible time signature so very, very fun. Obviously playing with people like NoFX and Teenage Bottle Rocket are good friends of ours from America and Clowns are great, a band from Melbourne who we played a bunch of shows with. The Bennies, they are really good and they’re kind of punk-rock and they’re from Australia. It’s great that we get to play with smaller bands and we’re definitely looking forward to seeing all the bands on the next tour that we get to play with.
In terms of worst, we play with so many bands that it’s like, whatever, who cares. We played with Nickelback in Germany once and that was quite funny. It was at a festival and it was funny watching the guitar tech put candle wax on the end of Chad Kroeger’s guitar strings to protect his pretty little fingers so that was quite funny.
I don’t know, people in bands, it’s just fucking whatev’s you know. There’s no real dickheads I think. I mean, we did tour with some racists and stuff and that wasn’t fun – in Europe once – some big fucking silly American band.
But really, we are good enough friends that any other that shit happens, it’s like whatever. Oh actually! It wasn’t a band but our tour manager about a year ago; we played some shows in Tasmania and he ripped us off and stole a whole heap of money so that was pretty annoying!
We couldn’t find any evidence that he was buying massive amounts of ice with it but that’s probably what happened. And that’s after 25 years in the industry and we’re still making that mistake.
Last time we employed a thief was back in 1998 on the Warped Tour and he was Bodyjar’s merch guy and we got him to sort the merch for us and then he stole all our money and we told Bodyjar and they were like, ‘no way! He wouldn’t do that! He’s a good dude!’ and then he stole all their money and stole one of their hire Taragos and drove it out to the middle of the country so, we sure showed them!
You guys recently did a tour where the fans picked their songs. Were there any songs on there that really surprised you? And were there songs on there that you guys wish would just die?
(laughs) Jason would definitely say that he wishes there were songs that would just die, that he fucking hates. Songs like Methadone from A Man’s Not A Camel but people fucking love it. It’s very silly because, Jason, when he sings it, realised that all he did was find 15 words that rhymed with Methadone and that was his entire song. Then again, when I wrote Cunt Act, I just found 18 words that rhymed with act and that was that entire song.
Every time we do it, Jason is like, I don’t wanna do it, fuck! But then he worked out that he could play a Tamborine during the guitar solo so he came good in the end – it re-ignited his passion for it.
But yeah, there were a few songs, like, Who’d be a Cop from Sans Souci and it was like, fuck! We gotta learn this song again? It’s really hard! Apart from that, there weren’t many surprises, there weren’t too many out of left field.
We know our fans pretty well because we are kinda the same people so we kinda know what songs are winners and what songs are losers and there weren’t too many. We are just hoping that the new songs will slot in just as well.
I mean, these songs are even shorter on this album than the one before. We have 20 songs and the record goes for 30 minutes. That’s a very small, average album. There’s a 3 minute song that blows it out so we are hoping they will slot in beautifully into the set and if people don’t like them, they’ll be over very quickly.
You guys have caused a lot of controversy over the past. Is there anything that you guys have done that you wish that you had the chance to do over?
Oh god, not really! Nah, like, do over as in do again because it was so much fun then yeah! But yeah, there was one record that we did, that we recorded for Sony, Shut Your Mouth that we recorded in 2000, I think it was and it sucks. It’s well established that that album sucks even though some people seem to like songs from it.
I imagine that if we were suddenly going to do it all over again, we might record it differently or not use the arsehole producer that we used. Maybe not write such shit, horrible songs but then, as a result of it, now we’ve got that album that sucks so it makes every other album better.
So this album, High Tea, is that much better because we had a fucking horrible album at the beginning of the century to use as a base line, as a benchmark. Also, during the recording of that album, I got to meet Wesley Willis who was my favourite, mentally ill, keyboard playing, busking song writer and bang heads with him so it was a really nice time and I wouldn’t change that.
Three of us are 40 or almost 40 – I’m almost 40 and one of us is mid-30s and I still get to do this stupid good stuff which is essentially writing very immature tunes, very infantile songs and people keep coming to our concerts so I wouldn’t want to fuck that up by changing everything. You know like killing a mosquito back in the time of the dinosaurs and then the whole world changes – I think that was a Simpsons episode isn’t it, when you come back to modern times? Something like that.
Thank you so much for talking to me.
No worries. Thank you!
Is there anything else that you want to say that I may have missed?
No, I think we covered a lot of things. I’m looking forward to reading it! Just bring some nails, bring some better nails down!