Celebrating the 21st anniversary of their legendary debut Marvin The Album, pop icons Frente talk of American stadium tours, ‘that’ Juice cover and feeling “stabbed” by the Late Show, but as ANGIE HART and SIMON AUSTIN tell ANDY HAZEL “as an Australian, you just have to suck it up”.
Even if you weren’t alive in the early 1990s or have never heard of the Punters Club, listening to Frente sounds like eavesdropping on another era. When acoustic pop played by talented musicians sold in droves and international influences were filtered through a local scene instead of downloaded directly. The innocence, musicality and vibrancy of the Melbourne quartet still impresses as they prepare to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their million-selling debut Marvin The Album.
Looking back, Frente’s signature songs Accidently Kelly Street and Ordinary Angels could be seen as ripostes to the overtly masculine Aussie rock of the era. “It definitely wasn’t a conscious reaction to anything,” says guitarist Simon Austin, sitting at a Bourke St café, over the sound of a passing tram, “but it was different.”
“We weren’t capable of playing anything else,” adds singer Angie Hart, beginning a habit of completing Austin’s sentences.
“When we started rehearsing in earnest,” says Austin, “we would actually arrange a song. We’d take a day or a week to arrange it. I put these guys through hell!”
“Simon had a really strong vision,” says Hart sipping a beer. “It was never ‘I’ve got a vague idea for a song, let’s see how it works out.’ We’d work on one line until that was completely finessed then move onto the next.”
“I thought we were a polished pop band, but I guess we weren’t,” she continues. “Now people talk about how ‘ourselves’ we were, which I guess we just couldn’t not be – I was trying really hard not to be!”
With ARIA awards in the bag, Ordinary Angels still charting, Accidently Kelly Street riding high and Marvin The Album on its way to selling over 1.2 million copies worldwide, Frente were riding high. When ABC’s The Late Show joined in the fun with the bullseye pisstake Accidentally Was Released, their local reputation never fully recovered. “I had a real moment of feeling…stabbed,” says Austin. “Then I thought, you know what? It’s an Australian thing. I know all those guys and they mean it lovingly - they’d never say it, but they mean it out of love. Once you get that it’s OK. To a certain extent, as an Australian, you just have to suck it up. And it’s good. People don’t allow you to get too full of yourself, or full of yourself at all, or even half full of yourself,” he says laughing.
Several months after the success of Accidently Kelly Street, Hart posed naked (but for some carefully arranged necklaces) on the cover of now-defunct music magazine Juice, an image burned into the minds of many teenagers. While the cover doesn’t bother her, the accompanying interview is “a massive cringe”.
“I spent a lot of my time justifying it and saying it was great, but I look back on it now and I didn’t really understand what that meant. I wasn’t a particularly modest person so it wasn’t a big deal to get my kit off. But I look back now and think ‘oh yeah, I was a 21 year-old female artist who was fed up and looking for a ‘fuck you’ - it was a great opportunity to talk about what’s going on in MY life!’” she laughs derisively.
Is it something she’d do again? “I doubt I’d be asked!” she laughs. “Probably not in that context. At this point in my career, I’d like to do anything that furthers people’s awareness of themselves and makes them feel something about who they were. If I have any foibles I could put forth and have people identify with, I’d be more happy with that.”
Temporarily relocating to London at the behest of their label, British audiences turned out in their thousands as promotional difficulties scuppered their chances of a big breakthrough. In the US the band’s pithy take on New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle cracked the Top 50 and an opening slot for Alanis Morrissette’s first major North American tour brought a whole new audience.
“At a certain point those tours get very, very surreal,” says Austin with a sense of awe. “That Alanis tour…there were some very strange science fiction moments of people walking her on stage, it was all very religious. You’d look out into an audience of 30 000 people and there’s 29 900 girls with straight hair and 100 boyfriends standing there like this [impersonates bored tough guy]. It was bizarre. We’d do these huge outdoor shows, and you might as well put the music on the PA and go home because there’s 60 000 people and, it’s great fun, but it’s not even terrifying. It should be, but it isn’t because you have such a disconnection.”
Conversely, the opportunity to connect with their audience was behind the reunion. “We all got on the phone to each other around the same time and it was just…now. It’s time,” says Austin. “We’re making it as polished as it can be, but mistakes are going to occur. It’s going to be great, we’re going to trip over each other, but that’s Frente.”