Interview: Frenzal Rhomb

Published in:

 Drum Media (WA) | 16.05.13 | Issue # 338

 Drum Media (NSW) | 09.07.13 | Issue # 1168



Back to his “normal crap fitness”, Frenzal Rhomb frontman Jay Whalley is gearing up for his first shows behind the mic since having brain surgery. He tells Daniel Cribb all about the ordeal and his new appreciation for life.

When Frenzal Rhomb had to pull out of Descendents’ Australian tour in February because of a “sudden and unexpected illness”, fans around the country didn’t expect to be hearing tales of a pig tapeworm a few weeks later. A week before the national tour, vocalist Jay Whalley began having seizures and was rushed to hospital, where doctors initially said a tumor in his brain could be a melanoma.

After waiting three weeks, he finally had a biopsy and the results that came back were somewhat disturbing. On a trip to Central America four years ago, Whalley had picked up a pig tapeworm (via what he believes to be a burrito made by a chef who didn’t wash his hands). It made its way into his brain and lived in a mucus cocoon until it died and the body rejected it – which is where the seizures came into play.

He waited until he had an exact diagnosis before going public to avoid crazy rumors circulating the internet. “I didn’t want people to be spreading crazy rumors, because these sorts of things – when you have these big life events – they tend to kind of define you for a while – like, ‘Aw, there goes the pig brain guy,” Whalley tells.

Now, as he sits in the stands of a vacant rugby field, it’s clear he is eagerly anticipating his first shows with Frenzal Rhomb since his Valentine’s Day brain surgery to remove the tapeworm. “It was a really stressful time for my family and for me, and I dealt with it quite badly at that point. I was really miserable, pretty depressed. Every time I think about it I think, ‘Man, a lot of people have to go through that and they get the really bad diagnosis’. I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.”

“I’m just looking forward to getting back to something normal – swearing at people,” he continues. “Frenzal Rhomb is like my favourite thing ever to do, and so being able to get back to it after they said, ‘You could have brain cancer and we don’t know what kind it is, but we think it’s probably a melanoma or something horrific like that’, to playing shows again about 12 weeks later is pretty amazing, you know.”

Earlier this month he hit the stage with his other band, Chinese Burns Unit, for which he plays bass, when they supported The Bronx in Sydney. “That was good. I mean, that was easy because you just have to strike one pose and sing every five minutes. But with Frenzal, it’s a bit more of an extreme sport for me. But I’m feeling like 100%, back to my normal crap fitness before all this shit happened, so I think [this tour] is going to be really fun…I was heaps buff before, and I could bench like 190-195, so now I feel like I’m pretty much back to my normal glory,” he jokes.

Anyone familiar with Frenzal Rhomb’s back catalogue will know no subject is off limits when it comes to taking the piss. And although in his original post on Facebook explaining the situation he labeled himself “Ham Solo”, “Notorious P.I.G” and “Oink182”, the band’s next record probably won’t deal with the subject in such a comical way.

“I didn’t really document that time. I felt so miserable at first. It was a really full-on experience, and a really heavy kind of time, and a very unusual experience too. I feel like I should have documented it through photos and what music I listened to, but I was just so miserable I kind of didn’t want to.

“I’m kind of now looking back on it and thinking, ‘How can I express this creatively?’. I’m not going to write just some dumb song about whatever. But like I said, even though it was a pretty weird and disgusting outcome, it wasn’t the worst and there’s definitely people going through worse shit than me.”

Between their seventh studio record, Forever Malcolm Young, and most recent record, Smoko At The Pet Food Factory, there was a five-year break. Hopefully fans won’t have to wait so long for another. There was a Facebook post recently that hinted they have half an album’s worth of material.

“That’d be Gordy [Forman, drums] being pretty drunk, I reckon. It depends, maybe he writes more songs than I realise. Most of the time, for every eight songs that I write – or that any of us kind of come up with – about seven end up in the bin. And then we sort of do it all again and get one song here, one song there, another song here, so it’s quite a process, but we’re getting there.”

There may not be any plans of a new record, but they’ve recorded a punk version of Tony Sly’s (No Use For A Name) Flying South for an upcoming tribute CD. The iconic punk rock frontman passed away in August of last year, and the CD will see close friends, fans and some of the genre’s best commemorating his memory.

“We just recorded it last weekend, and I have a feeling that our song may sound the worst out of all the songs because we did it at my studio. We sort of freaked out with the bands involved – Dropkick Murphys, NOFX, Bouncing Souls – we were like, ‘FUCK!’,” he laughs. “You know those bands that are like, ‘Aw, we recorded it in our basement’, but then you find out that their basement’s got like a million dollar studio, or Dave Grohl saying, ‘I recorded it in my kitchen’, and I’m like, ‘Fuck you, your kitchen’s got a massive fucking Neve desk in it’.

“The last time we saw [Sly] was after a show in Jindabyne where our paths kind of crossed, and a few months later we were thinking about that last kind of hangout that we had. Yeah, you never know, you just don’t think about these things at the time, you’re just sort of hanging out, swapping some stories, putting rohypnol in each other’s food, and the next thing you know, these people aren’t with us anymore, and it’s really sad, and he left behind two kids. Hopefully people will buy this record and they get some cash.”


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