The Datsuns invaded the land of Volvo this past week. Rebecca Barry was along for the ride with the once-feted Kiwi band as they racked up the first tour miles for their new album
There are two rules on the Datsuns' tour bus. One involves not giving in to a certain ablutionary urge, a necessity spelt out with a crude sign that overhangs the toilet. The other, is that you must sleep with your head to the rear of the bus, "so if it stops suddenly," explains lead singer and bassist Dolf de Borst, "you'll break your ankles and not your neck. Have a good sleep."
This is meant to be a reassuring welcome to their second home, a two-storey wheeled behemoth emblazoned with the slogan, 'There's no rock without roll'.
And while TimeOut is warned that it can take a few nights to get used to being in transit as you count sheep, it's enough to keep their guest awake during the four-hour night drive from Gothenburg, Sweden to Oslo, Norway. That, and their snoring roadie, Steve.
Still, it's a pretty cool way to do your OE. The boys from Cambridge are playing 41 dates in 47 days, a week of which is dedicated to their favourite band, the Hellacopters.
The Swedish rock institution asked them to play support on their final tour, along with Demons, a band from Stockholm whose hairstyles are the brylcreemed antithesis to the Datsuns' thrash-worthy 'dos.
"Everything's a mad rush," says Datsuns lead guitarist and vocalist Christian Livingstone.
"You play the show, it's all over in 30 minutes and everything has to come off really fast. Plus it's not your audience and often people don't really care who plays before so it's a tough crowd. Some nights it can be like playing to a library or a mausoleum. We much prefer to do our own shows, somewhat to our detriment. We're doing this because we love these guys."
They're also doing it to promote their new fourth album, Headstunts (an anagram of the band's name). Recorded in Gothenburg at a studio owned by their Swedish mates from the Soundtrack of Our Lives, it's the power-pop evolution of 2006's Smoke & Mirrors. That album elevated the Datsuns from brazen live act to confident songwriters, incorporating different textures, gospel and a dash of psychedelia. Headstunts is also the first album to feature drummer Ben Cole, who replaced Matt Osment two years ago when he left to concentrate on family.
"My life before the Datsuns was completely different," says Cole. "I was working in a cafe. I didn't even have a passport. I had, like, a week-and-a-half to get everything together, listen to their albums as much as I possibly could, write myself cheat sheets, then fly off to London. It was crazy. I'd only flown twice, just around New Zealand. Two years on I'm up to about 21 countries."
A lot has happened since the Datsuns were held up as poster boys for the so-called New Rock Revolution in 2002. There was the release of their self-titled debut on Richard Branson's V2 label, the (critically slated) sophomore album Outta Sight, Outta Mind with John Paul Jones on production duties, the countless headline tours through Europe where their popularity has continued to grow.
After a four-year stint living together in London and nine months in small-town Germany, the band are now spread across the globe - de Borst lives in Stockholm with his Swedish girlfriend, Livingstone in London, and Cole and guitarist Phil Buscke in New Zealand.
After the disintegration of their relationship with V2, who the band say no longer see them as commercially viable, the self-produced Headstunts (released on Cooking Vinyl) represents the Datsuns at their essence: a Kiwi rock'n'roll band, getting on with it and playing as many knock-out shows as they can.
Forget the misconception that these international achievers are milking it. Touring is so expensive they barely break even, and the profit they're likely to get from the albums is through publishing and royalties rather than sales.
"We've always been quite frugal because we come from a DIY ethic," says de Borst. "Any money we've been pretty smart with, and we always bet on ourselves - what's the next thing we're going to do? It probably sounds trite but my goals have always been quite humble, and that's just to be able to make another record and have people come see us."
Which brings us to Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city. After headlining their own gigs in London, the Datsuns headed to Lund, Sweden, last Tuesday and arrived at tonight's famous venue, Restaurang Tradgar'n on Wednesday. The band's sound engineer Scott is trying to figure out how not to break Sweden's 100-decibel limit - even without the PA, Cole's drums exceed it.
"Is it Wednesday?" says Livingstone. "I lose track of time. Every day's a Saturday on tour."
A few hours after, the venue puts on a dinner fit for dignitaries - steak and jacket potatoes for the carnivores, chargrilled veges and risotto for the vegetarians, strong Swedish painkillers and whiskey for Livingstone, who's suffering from gingivitis and emerging wisdom teeth - the Datsuns take the stage to chants of "Go Australia!"
The mostly blonde crowd are here for the Hellacopters but with a little help from an incendiary Who Are You Stamping Your Foot For?, the mosh turns into Ground Zero: bottles are stomped on, punters pushed, fists pumped.
During frenzied new song Human Error, de Borst swings his mic like a weapon, Livingstone solos like it's 1979, Buscke gets epileptic with his axe and Cole plays as though he's out to destroy his snare. But at the end of new song Eye of the Needle, disaster strikes. He has destroyed his snare. The crowd chants for more, the band shrug, and after a desperate huddle, they say their goodbyes.
Off stage, the tension is palpable.
"Don't get mad at me just because my shit breaks," says Cole as the others give him grief for not continuing with the Hellacopters' gear. "His snare is too high. You wouldn't play your guitar if the strings were higher."
"It's just sooooo frustrating," says Livingstone. "I'm feeling really stressed right now."
They were short-changed two songs but the anti-climactic mood doesn't last long. The band reunites to watch the Hellacopters' set, grinning like lovesick teens as their heroes hurl themselves around like a camp MC5.
"These guys are Just. So. Great," says Cole, not for the first time that night. "It's like rock university seeing them play every night."
"Incredible," agrees de Borst, who proceeds to give a song-by-song appraisal of their performance. "Absolutely incredible."
The feeling is mutual. The Hellacopters first met the Datsuns in New Zealand in 1998 and toured with them in 2002.
"We've been fans of each other ever since," says drummer Robert Eriksson. "We just had a blast. They were bigger than we were in England, so we supported them and they supported us in Europe. We're on the same wavelength. They seem very honest and true with what they do and they're four unique instrumentalists and people."
A few beers later, as Livingstone and Buscke sleep off the after-party, de Borst and Cole continue to dissect the excellentness of the Hellacopters as the bus lurches to the next unpredictable show.
Well, not entirely unpredictable.
"Welcome to the glamorous world of touring," deadpans de Borst as the band unloads the gear the next day and prepares for the monotony of sound-check. But once Cole's snare is fixed, there's a chance for a rare spot of sightseeing. Late afternoon we wander through Oslo, the sun so low it feels like 8am, past the fountain where de Borst once went for a swim while touring with the Von Bondies, through tree-lined, cobbled streets to Akershus Fortress by the sea.
"I enjoy the process of getting up, finding somewhere to eat, finding where the hell you are, what kind of currency you have to use," says Buscke. "It's just what I always wanted my life to be. I wanted to travel around the world, play music with my friends. So I make sure I enjoy everything about the day, even if I'm sleep deprived."
The Rockefeller is grungier than the last venue, smelling of vinegar and bad feet, but at least it has showers, unlike some of the venues they've played. It's also bigger, with three levels allowing for the 1200 capacity sell-out crowd.
Buscke slinks off to watch the other bands soundcheck as Cole does some pre-gig stretching, Livingstone plays virtuoso unplugged and de Borst, self-appointed tour manager, sits behind a laptop, playing Cheap Trick and discussing logistics with his little brother, Tom, the band's guitar tech. Lizzy, Tom's Austrian girlfriend, is busy setting up the merch stand.
"Same start as last night, Christian?" says Cole, arm bent behind his head.
"Yep. Except twice as bangin'."
As a tornado rips through the Datsuns' home town, the band clocks favourites MF From Hell, Fink for the Man and Emperor's New Clothes, plus punchy new songs Hey Paranoid People, Yeah Yeah Just Another Mistake and Your Bones. Tonight's crowd is more urban in dress sense with shorter haircuts, more eyeliner and heavy chains. One local sings along loudly to all the Datsuns' songs, including the new ones. Three awestruck guys watch Livingstone riffing it up, emulating his moves with their air guitars. But the Oslo cold isn't doing him any favours.
"I played like a retarded ape with half its brain removed," he says afterwards. "My hands cramped up."
"I want to feel absolutely [expletive] from playing," adds Buscke, who likens the physicality of the Datsuns' shows to his former life as a squash player. "I want every show to be like our last so I give it everything I've got, all I've got. We should be playing like our lives depend on it. Because they literally do."
After the show, the backstage area fills up with tattooed, glamorous Norwegians. We head to the after-party at a crammed bar called Nylon, where it feels like half the patrons are high on the full moon.
De Borst calls it a night at 2.30 and at 3am, warmed by beer and whiskey, we move on to a bar where old photos of the Hellacopters adorn the walls, and the patrons nearly fall off their stools when the guys walk in. But the barman has had enough.
"Out! Go! All of you!"
Laughing, the bands head back to their buses, one big swaying group of long-haired musos in tight jeans and All Stars, clouds of vapour bursting from their lips. The Datsuns are due to leave Oslo at 4am. On to the next city. The next show. The next adventure.
Who: The Datsuns, Cambridge-bred export-quality hard rockers
Line-up: Dolf de Borst (vocals, bass), Ben Cole (drums), Christian Livingstone (guitar), Phil Buscke (guitar).
Albums: The Datsuns (2002), Outta Sight, Outta Mind (2004), Smoke & Mirrors (2006), Headstunts (out now).
Gigs: Dec 28 (with Shihad) Coroglen Tavern; Rhythm & Vines, Dec 30; Big Day Out, Jan 16.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Click here to download your free copy of The Datsuns' track Human Error.
Type in the code nzherald when prompted.By Rebecca Barry Hill Email Rebecca