Frente!’s accidental smash

You know you’ve made it in Australia when the most successful thing you’ve done becomes the butt of jokes. For Frente!, the indie-pop band formed in Melbourne by Simon Austin and Angie Hart, their moment came when Accidently Kelly Street – the accidentally misspelled song that became their best-known tune after its release in October 1992 – was the subject of a savage parody, Accidentally Was Released, by ABC’s The Late Show.

Initially hurt by the backlash, Hart struggled to reconcile with the song. Its author, bass player Tim O’Connor, left the band shortly afterwards, citing exhaustion. Jane Kennedy, who impersonated Hart in The Late Show (which included her fellow D-Generation and Working Dog alumni Tom Gleisner, Mick Molloy and Tony Martin) stresses to Guardian Australia via a spokesperson that she loved and still loves the band.

Thirty years later, Frente! are celebrating the anniversary of their full-length debut, Marvin The Album, with a national tour. The album’s winsome folk-pop, topped by Hart’s sweet, sincere vocals, was a breath of fresh air amid the prevailing grunge and hard-rock sounds dominating radio at the time – particularly Triple J, which broke the band via airplay of the band’s earlier hits, Labour Of Love and Ordinary Angels.

Frente! enjoyed their biggest hit overseas with an acoustic version of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle in 1994, but only made one other album, Shape, before dissolving. There have been occasional reunions between Austin and Hart as Frente! since, with other musicians filling in on bass and drums. They chatted to Guardian Australia about Marvin – and revealed they’re working on what would be their first album since 1996.

Marvin in the making

Angie Hart (singer, songwriter): I think of all the things that we did, Marvin was the least turbulent. I think it was vigorous – it was really hard work, in a very exciting way.

Austin: We were signed to Mushroom, and they weren’t really known for doing bands like us. For them to give us all that money, and for them to make [US music producer] Michael Koppelman available to us, and to be in a big studio doing that – it was so exciting. For me, as a nerd, it was like being given the keys to the car.

Hart: We were very genre-based at the time in Australia. There were musical tribes and teams, and I think we felt very out of step with that. But we were like that anyway. We were loners that all came together to make a band that was really odd.

Ian Rogerson (broadcaster, host of Triple J’s Hard Coffee 1990–1995): Angie’s voice jumped out of the speakers. It was a counterpoint to a number of the harder-edged vocals around then. She brought a sweetness to their songs that wasn’t saccharine, but young and positive.

Austin: It was very special when Ange came in to sing. We’d all look at each other and it was like, “Riiight – this is why we’re here.” It was awesome.

Hart: Making both Marvin and Shape were some of the most joyous things that we’ve ever done; that was the reason for it all. The rest was like, what the fuck am I doing here? They were really satisfying times.

‘Suddenly we were on fucking Hey Hey It’s Saturday

O’Connor: Frente! were basically playing at the Punters Club and living in share houses in Fitzroy, and suddenly we were on fucking Hey Hey It’s Saturday. It was a big jump. In some ways it was too much too soon.

Hart: Tim left the band when we were touring overseas quite heavily. We were all really fucked to be around at that time, so I can totally understand why he did that, and it was a very gracious stepping away. We got on stage with him the other night and did the song and it was the most beautiful thing. It was very hard not to cry on the stage.

I was very young, very sensitive, and I didn’t take it well’

Austin: [The Late Show parody] was a fairly thorough dusting. It was hard! I thought, should I get really upset about this? And then literally a day later I walked into the Punter’s Club and a couple of the guys from The Late Show were there, sitting at the bar. They looked at me with sheer terror in their eyes, and at that moment I realised, they’re doing what they’re doing because they love it.

Hart: I had no tools to deal with that at that time. I was very young, very sensitive, and I didn’t take it well. It was always a good-natured thing, but at my age – a girl in her early 20s, in the public eye – I didn’t know what to do.

O’Connor: Angie was 19, 20 years old, a bit sincere about what she’s doing, and these university-educated wankers were taking the piss out of her. Later I met them at the Logies and they were apologising to us!

Hart: We got an apology, which there was no need for. I felt quite looked after, because they saw how that might have affected somebody like me. I tried to shake that song off for a long time, but I’ve come full circle, to the point where I feel a bit protective of it. Now it’s like, leave the fucking song alone! I think it’s a really positive thing that we did.

Together again

Hart: We celebrated Marvin’s 21st years ago, but for some reason the 30th has really brought up a lot of processing. I feel like we’ve really squared a few things away this time, had a proper look at our dynamic, and I feel like I hear the songs differently, too.

Austin: We’re writing new songs – we’ve just started – and we aim to have a record out by the end of next year.

Hart: We’re starting from scratch, and it’s feeling good so far. It’s been really healing, as far as looking back at the way some things have happened. I’ve been joking about mid-careerism for women in the Australian music industry. It starts at about 25 and goes until you’re 65 – so I’ve been in my mid-career for most of my career.

First published in the Guardian, 22 April 2023

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