Interview with The Rumjacks
Prior to their set at The Star and Garter, our writer Mick Birchall sits down with singer Frankie and bassist Johnny from Aussie band The Rumjacks to talk about life on the road and their approach to making their music for their upcoming 3rd full length studio album. Photo: Laura Piggford
You are back in the UK & Europe after your run of dates last year. What’s new with the band and what made you want to come back the most?
Frankie: Our attitude is new and improved. To be honest though, we only only just managed to sneak in a few UK dates on the last tour as it was only going to be mainland Europe only but we came over and it was us just testing the waters a bit. We liked it over here so we decided to come back in full force.
It’s safe to say you enjoy the UK and European crowds?
Johnny: A hundred percent, without fail. Considerably better than Australia.
Frankie: Choose your words wisely mate.
Johnny: No, we’re putting it in. The major difference is that Europe and the UK have venues. They have clubs that will put you on and the people will come out and enjoy their night. That’s the difference. Quite a significant difference in comparison. All of that is quite minimal in Sydney.
Frankie: It’s dyer over there. Apart from Melbourne there’s not a tonne to do over there, involving the music scene.
After you’ve done your run of shows over here, where would you like to tour next, that you haven’t been to yet?
Johnny: Well we really wanted to come back here, without fail. Do more shows, come back to the places we’ve been to and do some shows in the places haven’t. However in terms of the question it’s hard to answer that at the start of a five month tour. We’ve just finished recording the album which is coming out really soon but for most part we’re here until the end of September. As for what’s next, I think the US is next on the bill for after all of this.
Frankie: Yeah definitely the US and parts of Asia as well. Yet there are places that are just massive territories for us like Argentina. To be honest we want to do is open up our touring circuit so we get to go to all of these places once a year and keep the tour bus rolling. We don’t even need a home we just need a case with our gear in it and let us keep going. You know we don’t even need a house.
Well it’ll be cheaper living expense wise.
Johnny: Yeh, cheaper but there are just a few more expenses to touring [all laughing]. But it’s better than sitting in Sydney doing nothing.
Frankie: It’s really good just hanging out before and after the shows with people coming up to us saying that they enjoyed it. So it’s not even about having a favourite place to go as much as being out there with the fans having a good time. I mean having that personal connection is great, we’re only a few shows into this tour and people are coming up to us from the last time we were here and it’s like meeting with old friends. It’s all very well and good thinking where you want to play. You’ve also got to think of where is actually going to be better for you to play. You know, you have venues where it’s a shit hole but it’s always a good crowd, then you go somewhere really nice but only five people show up. It’s finding a balance between what you want and where is more practical.
You have a new album coming out as you’ve mentioned. I felt that Sober & Godless was a very different album to Gangs of New Holland. Is there a big difference with this new album coming out?
Johnny: Now that’s a good question.
Frankie: Yeah that is, can we go back to “What's your favourite colour?”. Seriously, I think it takes elements of the first two albums and mixes them together. In that it was taken, from a production standpoint, in very gung-ho manner. There’s different production qualities, as it we were slammed in a room with older equipment. We specifically chose not to use some of the studio space and gear we usually use. We were under pressure of making the album before we went on tour because we didn’t know when we would be coming back so a lot of the songs were written there and then. I literally finished the last couple of bits before getting on a plane to come here so that’s how fine it was. So overall there was more of a punk rock approach to this album. It’s got a lot to it, with the acoustic and folky aspects and in that sense it going back. So the end result will be interesting.
It will be different with familiarity?
Frankie: That’s bang on and I’m going to write that down. [All laugh] That’s great I’ve actually got an answer if someone asks me that again. So we’re quietly confident that it’s going to do well and that people are going to like it. The first single is already out, it called “A Fist Full O’ Roses”. But it gets pretty varied from there.
Going into this new album, from the production and songwriting standpoint. What was your thought process and what themes are on this new album?
Frankie: As far as the themes, you can tell from the first album Gangs of New Holland that this is a band that in love with it’s home town and that was something that continued through the second Sober & Godless. It’s no surprise as we’ve written some of these songs on the road and then some were written back at home with the theme of “Look at the shitty state that our home has been found in”.
Johnny: It just got worse this morning as well. You know the more news that you hear from back home the worse it seems to be getting.
Join the party! This country is fucked too. [all laugh]
Frankie: This is it, our guys are using your guys as a preset to fuck us over.
Johnny: Yeah, everyone is just out doing each other over.
Frankie: You know they say that “It’s based on a model in the UK”. That doesn’t mean that it worked well in the UK. Which it clearly hasn’t. You guys are the labrats for our misery.
Well we’re the lab rats. At least your government thinks more of you.
Frankie: So yeah there’s a lot of that on this album. It’s just open to that mindset. However by getting out there and meeting different people, the album is almost about us falling out of love with our original muse and expanding our horizons beyond.
Fantastic! As far as your sound goes you have a pretty unique setup, was this intentional or did you just fall into it?
Johnny: It was completely accidental. How accidental? I met met Frankie in the Blue Mountains, far outside of Sydney in the country, that’s what it’s considered. The pub where I used to drink, I met Frankie there one night and I started chatting to him, I don’t know what about...
Frankie: I think it was my hat...
Johnny: Something like that. It was a nothing pub, it wasn’t a place where all the musicians hung out, it was a pub in the middle of nowhere. We started talking and thing happened. I mean I was playing the double-bass in a rockabilly band at this stage. Adam (Mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, bodhran, acoustic guitar, vocals) had left a ska-punk band and was about to move to Canada. Gabriel (Guitar) wasn’t even on the scene, he lived out on the coast.
Frankie: Adam was supposed to be the drummer but someone said he could play guitar better so he came in as a guitarist and then left for Canada. He came back, via Japan, and watched our rise. I remember having a mandolin on the wall for decoration, and he came back and I said “you want your job back” and he said “yup” to which I replied “tough tits, we already have a guitar player. Can you play mandolin or the banjo” and he said that he could.
Johnny: He couldn’t play them. He went away and learned it in two weeks, came back and joined the band again.
Frankie: As far as the musicianship aspect of the band. It was all an accident where everyone landed on their feet and we hit the ground running. It’s a different and deliberate approach to writing the songs because want to stand out from the rest of the scene. You know as folk-punk is becoming more popular there is a need to be different. As there are many different type of band like this. There are the bands that good because they’re stupid and don’t take themselves all that seriously. Then you have the real musicians who are real game changers and really create amazing music. So there’s a difference in how we make and prepare music because we want to incorporate the silly with the serious and be a good blend of everything that this music has to offer.
Just to bring things to an end, what was the hardest thing you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
Johnny: Wow, that’s heavy do you want to take it or should I?
Frankie I can’t take this one because we’ll be here for five hours and everyone will be in tears
Johnny: On a personal sense. It’s the immense level of self doubt. The fact you are putting yourself out there and that people will not respond to it and won’t like. To stand up and actually do something for complete strangers.
Frankie: That’s an important one for me too. I got to about twelve years old and I had spent those first years being a terrified little kid who stuck his head in books. Then I realised that this, all of this, was out there. I then realised that I had to find a way to do this. I went from this dark corner to just saying “fuck it”. I’m always afraid that someone is going to call me out and call me an imposter. You know so I don’t feel like I belong.
Johnny: That’s the best thing though. When you do play a set and people buy your merch and they stick around to chat to you after the show. That fear, subsides a little bit.
Frankie: As a band we have been through a hell of a lot. We come from a society of, what we call knockers. People that just love to tear you down and drag you name through the mud. To get through that is a great feeling. You know we just go home for a rest and we can say, we’ve proved you wrong. That’s brought us closer and ultimately made us stronger.
Thank you both for chatting with Manchester Rocks this evening.