The Datsuns – Interview

December 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, December 10, 2008.

A change of line-up has given new life to New Zealand garage rock kings the Datsuns.

Dof de Borst couldn’t sound happier. “It’s been like a revelation man!” he giggles over mobile static from Gothenburg. “It’s like, we don’t have to just make a rock ‘n’ roll record and we don’t just have to make a psychedelic record or anything – we can just make whatever the hell we want to make.”

Whether it’s the tearing gutter-punk of opener ‘Human Error’ and ‘Yeah Yeah Just Another Mistake’ or organ-steeped pyche-rock of ‘Hey! Paranoid People!’ and ‘Eye of the Needle’, it’s hard not to notice the transformation in the Datsuns’ happily schizophrenic fourth album Headstunts.

The further the record plays out, the more obvious it seems that New Zealand’s premier analogue rockers – de Borst, guitarists Christian Livingstone and Phil Busch, and drummer Ben Cole – have entered a new and very fluid creative era.

It’s an assertion that sits comfortably with their front man. “There has always been a bit of a polarising thing about the band,” says the 29-year-old. “We’ve worked with producers in the past who’ve always liked and wanted to accentuate a certain element of our sound and we’ve always been quite anti that.”

It seems an unusual statement from a band that have rendered such a singular identity. When they exploded onto the Australian and UK scene with their guitar-lashed self-titled debut, the Datsuns were widely touted as the saviours of old school rock ‘n’ roll. That same album had them supporting Metallica on an Australia-wide tour, appearing on legendary BBC broadcaster John Peel’s show numerous times, and being voted the best live band by taste-making British music paper NME. To top it off they were signed to high-ranking British label V2 and relocated to London.

It was a meteoric rise, but also the beginning of a troubled time for the group. They set about recording 2004’s Outta Sight Outta Mind with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, but the record coasted, garnering lacklustre reviews and little in the way of public response. By 2006, they had released Smoke & Mirrors to a similarly lukewarm reaction and parted ways with their founding drummer Matt Osment, to be replaced old school friend Ben Cole.

De Borst is candid on the matter. “Matt is a really good drummer and he’s got his thing that he can do very well and play to that strength,” he says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, let’s make a diverse record’ or ‘Let’s do something different’, but if you’re not really nailing the idea and you can’t really pull it off, then it’s not really worth doing.”

If Headstunts is anything to go by, the change has paid off. The album – which was written in a barn in Germany – manages to skirt power-pop hooks as closely as it does garage grit. “We suddenly starting thinking about these different ideas, or revisiting ideas that had been lying around for a while,” he explains. “And Ben kind of helped us realise a lot of those things.”

But de Borst, who these days lives in Stockholm (Busch currently resides in Berlin, Livingstone in London and Cole in Wellington), attributes the shift to personal dynamics as much as musical ones. “You tend to behave better when you’re around people who haven’t been in that situation for that long,” he says. “We’ve given each other a lot more space, and that just kind of refreshes the group situation and politics.”

The Datsuns, it seems, have been born again. “There’s just such an enthusiasm now. Like we’ll be going to a city for like the fifth time and Ben will have never been there and he’s like ‘Aw, I gotta see this and check out this amazing architecture’ and whatever.”

Even the most unsavoury of gigs – like at recent 24-hour motorcycle race in France – have taken on a new sheen. “Oh man, that was really, really, really bizarre,” sighs de Borst laughingly. “It was pretty much exactly like Mad Max but French.”

“The quote from organiser was: ‘Oh yeah, it was a pretty good year, only 17 cars got lit on fire’,” he giggles. “It was kind of like Burning Man meets Mad Max meets rock festival. And you know what? It was actually pretty good.”

Dan Rule

The Datsuns – December Tour

Dec 11 – The Zoo Brisbane, Queensland
Dec 12 – Manning Bar Sydney, New South Wales
Dec 13 – Meredith Festival Meredith, Victoria
Dec 14 – Corner Hotel Melbourne, Victoria
Dec 28 – Coroglen Tavern, Corglen
Dec 30  – Rhythm & Vines Festival, Gisborne

Headstunts is out through Etch n Sketch/Inertia

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