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The Datsuns Interview
Interview with Dolf De Datsun
by Alexander Laurence

I saw the Datsuns for the first time six months ago at the CMJ festival in NYC. They blew away everybody in the place. The next day I ran into some of the band members at another gig in town. Dolf told me that they had just signed to V2 Records that day. We talked about doing an interview then, but their album wasn't even out in the USA. So I waited. Dolf De Datsun, Christian Datsun, Matt Datsun and Phil Datsun are friends from Cambridge, New Zealand. The band have been playing together since high school. Their first band was called Trinket.

After changing their name to the Datsuns, they started their own label, Hell Squad Records, and released a few singles while developing a reputation for their furious live performances. They were compared to early 1970s arena rock. They reminded me of Thin Lizzy, Fastway, Motorhead, and even Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. In early 2002, the band opened a handful of dates for the White Stripes and the Von Bondies. A tour of the U.K. and the U.S. followed, and much interested formed in the USA. They created a buzz for themselves at CMJ and at SXSW.

I finally spoke to Dolf after six months of contact through emails. They are coming back to the USA for a monthly tour to play some bigger venues like Irving Plaza on May 18th with The Star Spangles and The Paybacks. The Datsuns will also play the Siren Music Festival this summer in Coney Island.

******

AL: Were you in college when you started the band?

Dolf: I did go to college. Christian did. I am the only one who graduated. We have been playing since 1995. We learned how to play our instruments playing together.

AL: Did you have music lessons?

Dolf: No, not really Phil and I went to a few instructors when we first started out. But all we did was say to them "There is this really great song by this band. Can you teach us to play it?" We went to three or four of those meetings.

AL: Was there a lot of live music in New Zealand in the 1990s?

Dolf: Hell no. A trip to Australia was really expensive. Nothing that kids could do. It's a three hour flight. It's very far away. It's like going from San Francisco to Chicago. Bands started to come through as I got older. Music started to get better. Before that bands hardly ever came through to New Zealand. They only started having festivals around 1994 with bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden. There was only one a year.

AL: You had to follow things on the internet?

Dolf: We totally missed the internet, totally dude. I am 23. The internet didn't really happen till 1998 or 1999. I was out of school by then. We come from a town of eleven thousand people. I think that I saw Green Day once. I saw the Foo Fighters once. That was pretty much it. We would go see local punk rock shows. We saw The Smugglers, from Canada, and Guitar Wolf, from Japan. In 2000, we saw The White Stripes, before they became popular. The more we got into music the more we realized that what we were into wasn't part of the mainstream. We focused on a lot of smaller bands like The Hellacopters who would come through.

AL: Was your influences mostly coming from your record collections?

Dolf: Of course. Yeah. What music you are into is obviously an influence.

AL: When I first saw you guys play I thought of bands like Thin Lizzy, Fastway, and Motorhead.

Dolf: We like those bands. I have been listening to those records for years. Recently I have been listening to The Sweet and the early Alice Cooper. The Sweet live was awesome. I have some film footage of their shows. I love Cheap Trick too. We play a song by Cheap Trick in our set now.

AL: Thin Lizzy was not really a glam band or a heavy metal group. "Whisky in The Jar" was this folk song brought into a modern rock context.

Dolf: I like bands who are not just into one thing. For us we try to play pop songs in a heavy way, or we play heavy songs in a pop way. Like with Thin Lizzy, it's not quite heavy metal and it's not quite glam. I like songs that are heavy but catchy as well.

AL: Are these songs on the album fairly new or old?

Dolf: "Harmonic Generator" we have been doing for a long time. Two-thirds of the record we have been playing for a long time. The rest is about a year old.

AL: How do you write a new song?

Dolf: Christian will write a riff. I'll sing parts of it and that will develop into the chorus. I could sit down and write a song. But by the time I take it to the others, it evolves and changes. We are four-way songwriters on everything. But it all comes together when we get in the practice room.

AL: Since some of these songs are four years old, do you have a few albums of new material?

Dolf: We only play about two songs from four years ago. We wrote about thirty songs before we got anything. They were bad. In the first four years we were just learning how to play. "Harmonic Generator" came along about 1999. Since that time and this record there are another thirty songs we wrote that I love. We never recorded them and they will never see the light of day.

AL: What is Hell Squad Records?

Dolf: It's our label. It came to a point in New Zealand where there was nothing going on and no labels were interested in new music. You have to realize that Australia is whole different country. It has nothing to do with us. It got to a point where we were thinking "Hang on. We are not part of this. We don't want to be part of the mainstream. We don't want to write songs for the radio. We don't want to create a look for ourselves. We don't want to pander to a market. We want to be ourselves. No one is going to put out our records, so let's do it ourselves." It wasn't a bitter thing or angsty. We wanted to do this and so that's what we did.

AL: Were there a bunch of singles first?

Dolf: Yeah. Before this album we did four singles. We did four 7-inch singles for us. We did another EP for another band on vinyl too. We recorded the album in May 2002. It came out in the UK last October. It contained songs from the early singles like "MF From Hell," "Lady," and "Fink For The Man."

AL: It does sound like songs written over years. Some bands write a bunch of in a month and take another month to record them.

Dolf: That's what I like about it though. For a rock record goes, it sounds different from song to song. I think that is important to have diversity in rock.

AL: What is your live set like?

Dolf: Since the record has just come out in North America, it makes sense to play songs from the record. Let me see. We do about eight songs from the record, and plus seven other songs, in the live show. We do a few b-sides, a few new songs, and a few covers.

AL: How did Hell Squad Records and your band get noticed in other parts of the world?

Dolf: We started putting out our own singles in 2000. I had just finished at University and I had more time to take than ever the music more seriously. The rest of the band had day jobs. After school, I decided to be a bum and do the label. It was only about sixteen months ago that they quite their jobs to do the band.

AL: When did you do the bigger festivals?

Dolf: We played in Australia first. That was in 2000. We would take out a loan, go to Australia, come back and work it off. We did that a few times. We did an American tour a year ago. We played SXSW twice and CMJ. When we played in London and the UK last summer and things blew up there.

AL: You became popular with other bands?

Dolf: Yeah. We haven't seen anything like this before.

AL: The "New Rock Revolution" started in the summer of 2001. Bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes went over to the UK and became bigger than they were in the USA.

Dolf: What set us apart from all of that was, because we come from this small rural town from the bottom of the world, our influences aren't as cool. We didn't know about the MC5 or Johnny Thunders until we were twenty, because we couldn't find those records. I love The Stooges but I didn't know anything about them until three years ago. The roots of our music is a lot more deep seated in music from the early 1970s or late 1960s. Things like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and T. Rex were things that we could find when we were growing up. We liked Thin Lizzy because we could find those records. Our influences are not hip. They are not cool.

AL: Do you get bikers with mullets coming to your shows?

Dolf: We do. But in the UK we get kids coming to our shows. We get young boys and girls who haven't seen rock and roll before. They think: "What the hell is this?" Someone performing on stage. Someone getting wild at a rock show. They have never seen anything like it.

AL: Did all the people who were listening to boy bands and Britney Spears a few years ago, grow up and start listening to rock and roll?

Dolf: They still listen to that junk. In my book, if a kid likes Avril Lavigne, Britney, and The White Stripes too: that's a cool thing. That means that there is one record in their record collection that is passionate and actually makes sense. Maybe that one thing will get through to them and maybe they will discover others records. People get scared about homogenization: about something that is underground coming into the mainstream. I think that good stuff will last.

AL: There is a snobbery out there too. Some people will only like The Datsuns, The White Stripes, or Interpol because these are the cool bands.

Dolf: The kids like them. What I was getting at with the snobbery is that you could love a record, and it could be amazing, and only you and your friends could know about it. All of a sudden it becomes popular and you don't like it anymore. I think that is fucked up. The songs are still good. Just because there is a fifteen year old kid standing next to you at the show doesn't mean it sucks. Get over it. Be there for the music.

AL: What's up with The Datsuns website and the messageboard?

Dolf: We do that ourselves. I don't go anywhere near the messageboard. I haven't looked at it for a year. I think it sucks. I vote to take it off. It's pretty funny and amusing. But at the same time you think "Get a life" and do something else. These kids live on the internet. It's sweet that kids are on the internet. It's cool for them because they can find out a lot about new music really quickly. The other side to that is there's no specialness. Before the 1980s, the only way you could find out about a band was to listen to the record. When you went to see them that was the only time you would ever see them. Now you can pick up a magazine or go on the internet and find out everything about that band. You can find out the dude's birthday or who they are sleeping with. It takes away all the mystique away from the music. Not that I am trying to have mystique myself. When you got a record, you would studied it and create a special relationship to it.

AL: You can't have a special relationship to a record when you are writing about it in messageboards.

Dolf: Even if you are a band who hasn't sold any records, you can have a huge amount of information out there. You can be a new band and have all this information and an elaborate website like you are a big superstar. I think that's fucked up. There is this website that I found out about where people pretend to be celebrities. People pretend to be Julian Casablancas. It's supposed to be his journAL: "Hi, I'm Julian. I met up with a friend." Blah blah....

AL: I was reading the fake journal of Marcie Von Bondie the other day. I was looking for reviews of Von Bondies shows.

Dolf: We are really good friends with them. And it's not her, dude. Their idea of a good time is to pretend to be a celebrity or a person in a band. That's fucked up. All I do is email. It's all bullshit.

AL: When I bought The Datsuns CD I got a DVD with it. Do you see yourself as a band that makes videos?

Dolf: All our videos are live shows. That's what we do. We are not actors, dude. We don't have a video with a little story. We are a rock band, so that's what we are going to put in the video. The one for "Harmonic Generator" has a color machine.

AL: You are coming back with The Star Spangles in June.

Dolf: I just heard about that. I don't know all the details. It's with those guys, but also we playing with The Paybacks and the Forty-Fives. I don't know all the dates right now. We are doing the last two shows in LA. Then we are going to Japan. We are playing in Australia with The Sahara Hotnights. Then we have nine days off. It will be the first break we had in sixteen months.

AL: This headlining tour in June, you will be playing bigger venues.

Dolf: Come on. Things happen so fast these days because things like the internet. The way modern life is, people expect things to go up and up all the time. We are just going to show up and see what happens.

AL: How did you end up recording "Harmonic Generator" with the Von Bondies?

Dolf: They were in between shows, and we had a place where they could stay. We were trying to make things as fun as possible. Come into the studio and sing on this. The early version of it sounded new wave. We had a drum machine and we had a robot voice on it. It's way different now.

AL: What should people coming to see you this summer be expecting to see when they come see you on tour?

Dolf: We try to put as much energy as possible into the show. We are loud. People should bring earplugs. People should drink more. People need to loosen up more over here. We need to do more all ages shows. We played two shows at the Bowery Ballroom. Both nights sold out. The first night was eighteen plus and everybody was dancing and shaking. The next night was totally different. Just that three years difference.

AL: Does it piss you off when these hipsters stroke their beards and sit their and try to decide if it is cool to like you or not?

Dolf: I am passed that point. I don't care because they already bought the ticket, dude. When I see a show, I don't always dance. So I understand if people don't want to move around. It's cool when people are shaking it around a little bit and tapping their feet and getting into it. The harder we work and more the audience gives back: it's an exchange that's gets better and better.

Website: www.thedatsuns.com

 

AL


--Alexander Laurence



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