The Datsuns: A decade on the road

By Scott Kara

The Datsuns' new album is out 10 years after their acclaimed debut. Scott Kara catches up with singer Dolf de Borst.

The Datsuns, from left Christian Livingstone, Ben Cole, Dolf de Borst and Phil Somervell, have just released their fifth album. Photo / Supplied
The Datsuns, from left Christian Livingstone, Ben Cole, Dolf de Borst and Phil Somervell, have just released their fifth album. Photo / Supplied

Ten years ago this month the Datsuns released their self-titled debut album. They had come smokin' out of Cambridge with songs like MF From Hell, Harmonic Generator, and Freeze Sucker, whacked them all on an album, and off they went to tour the world and play live.

Another song that they had in their arsenal - it's still one of their best - was Super Gyration ("rock 'n' roll generation"), the band's first 7-inch vinyl single from 2000.

"We just wanted to get people's attention I suppose, and do something worthwhile by throwing ourselves around on stage and entertaining people," remembers singer and bass player Dolf de Borst with a laugh.

"And the [first] record sums up that period pretty well - where's the next show, what city are we going to be, what country are we going to be in?"

He's on the phone from his home in Stockholm, where he has lived with his Swedish wife for the past two years, talking about the good old days, and the Datsuns' fifth album, Death Rattle Boogie, released yesterday.

But more on that soon because, since the new album is out almost exactly 10 years after their debut, let's take a look back on the history of one of New Zealand's best wild, hootin' and howlin' live bands: it's been a rollercoaster to say the least.

Around the time of the first album they moved to London, signed to British label V2, got airplay on the late John Peel's radio show, starred on the cover of NME, and were touted as the "future of rock".

But, remembers de Borst, they were "really naive" about everything from music industry and record company politics to how the media worked. "I'd heard of the NME, but I didn't really know what it was. We didn't read music magazines or watch TV."

As soon as they had finished touring for their debut they wanted to continue the momentum and recorded follow-up, Outta Sight, Outta Mind. Despite being produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, it was not well received and lacked the punch and rawness of their earlier songs.

You get the feeling de Borst doesn't rate it much these days, saying it sounds like "really expensive demos, or something".

"I think we learned a lot about how to do things and how not to do things," he adds.

Though it didn't quite pan out for the band in terms of world domination, on next album, Smoke & Mirrors, with songs like Stuck Here For Days and System Overload, they went back to their roots. Or, as de Borst says, "We went back to being ourselves a bit more".

Next came Head Stunts in 2008 and it was with this album that the Datsuns - also made up of guitarists Phil Somervell and Christian Livingston, and drummer Ben Cole - got itchy feet and felt the need to leave London.

"With that record, four years ago, it was such a weird time, we just wanted to get out of London and retreat to the countryside really," he chuckles. So they upped sticks to a small rural town in Germany, and stayed in a house owned by a friend which had a recording studio nearby.

"We were really isolated, hardly anyone spoke English, and we wrote shitloads of songs there."

They ended up recording Head Stunts in Stockholm and after touring the album the four of them went their separate ways with Cole heading to Wellington, Somervell to Auckland, and Livingstone back to London where he has a business creating effects pedals.

"He's such a whiz kid, man," says de Borst.

"Lots of the sounds on the new record are his custommade effects."

De Borst moved to Stockholm where he plays in a number of other bands, including the Imperial State Electric with his friend Nicke Andersson, formerly of the Hellacopters and legendary Swedish death metal band Entombed. He also owns a recording studio, Gutterview Recorders, with Andersson. So life is good "but really really busy" for De Borst who says Stockholm is a happy medium between New Zealand and London.

Despite being in different countries, Death Rattle Boogie came together relatively painlessly with recording done at both Gutterview and Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios in Auckland. De Borst is sweet and sentimental when he reflects on the making of the album saying he was "pining for the band, 'Oh I miss you guys, let's get together and do it"'.

Opener Gods Are Bored sets the tone for the album with its wailing swagger and the "politics, religion, media, moral panic, and constant doomsday scenarios" sentiment. But then there's thigh-slapping hillbilly tune Colour of the Moon, the dark and dirgey Axethrower, and, best of all, Wander the Night, a trippy six-minute centrepiece which is unlike anything the Datsuns have done before.

"Not being in each other's faces and in each other's pockets is good for us because when we come together the band is a little more focused with a clearer idea of what we should be doing," De Borst says. "And I think the reason the record is so long, at 14 songs, is because everybody has diverse tastes and we could only really agree on half the songs so we just thought, 'F*** it, let's put them all on there'. And I think the record speaks for itself, and we've got a bunch more ideas for the next record."

And perhaps more importantly, the last word is left to what the Datsuns do best - playing live.

"We've got a ton more shows in us that we want to go out and do. We're not done playing together."

Who: The Datsuns
New album: Death Rattle Boogie, out now
Past albums: The Datsuns (2002); Outta Sight, Outta Mind (2004); Smoke & Mirrors (2006); Head Stunts (2008)
On tour: Dates to be confirmed but look out for tour announcement next week.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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