Wellington's Head Like a Hole have put past woes behind them and made their best album yet, writes Scott Kara.
Booga Beazley remembers wandering up to the practice room where Head Like a Hole were having their first jam since the band fell apart eight years earlier. It was 2008, and the first thing he heard thundering through the air conditioning system was Faster Hooves, a scorcher from the Wellington band's second album Flik Y'Self Off Y'Self from 1994.
"I thought, 'F***, if it sounds good coming down the ventilation tube it must sound good inside," he laughs.
Guitarist and songwriter Nigel Regan also remembers the day fondly. "We had to bring a stereo down to listen to some of the songs because it had been so long," he says. "But over the course of the day, you know, we had a bit of a jam, it was a bit rusty, we'd go away and have a coffee, and as the songs started coming together the smiles got bigger and bigger. And at the end of that day it was a no-brainer."
The band - who injected danger, humour, and nudity (in the early days at least) into Kiwi music in the 90s - were back together and played Wellington's Homegrown Festival in March 2009 as their reunion show.
Since then they have toured, and the current incarnation of the band - made up of Regan, Beazley, original bass player Andrew "Tallbeast" Durno, drummer Mike Franklin-Browne (who joined the band in the late 90s), and Larry Norman's guitarist Andrew Ashton on shredding duties - are about to release Blood Will Out, their first album in 14 years. They are also heading out on a nationwide tour starting in August and play Auckland's Bacco Room on September 1.
It's also the band's best album yet. It really is. Regan reckons so too.
"Even if I say it myself, I think we've recorded a classic New Zealand rock album and I think in time to come people might look back and think this is a turning point for rock.
"While rock has been making a comeback in New Zealand, we haven't had something that's rock but also out-there as well."
It's trademark Head Like a Hole, with a heavy, reckless and catchy groove, and Beazley's harrowing howls and growls, and shows just how muscular and potent rock 'n' roll can be.
And not only does it sound good it's beautifully conceived, with catchy, heavy tracks like Glory Glory ("A f***** up rock version of a hymn we used to sing at school," says Regan), the unhinged surf metal of Human Race, and the shouty chug of Valhalla (10,000BC), alongside mid-album Sabbath-style epic Death of a Friend, and the crowning triumph of three consecutive tracks entitled Monsta-X, Hardest Battle (Monsta-Y), and Blood Will Out (Monsta-Z).
However, to appreciate where the album came from, and why this is the band's most accomplished work yet, you have to take a trip back a few years to when they disbanded.
"It ended with one of the biggest cliches ever, which was drugs - mainly [Booga] and I, because the other guys never had drug problems - and money, and all that bullshit," says Regan. He talks about his addiction honestly these days referring to it as "when I f***** myself with drugs" and how his music and songwriting talents were "buried under a pile of muck".
Following the breakup he "disappeared" to Wanganui and lived in an old woolshed with his cousin, and although he kept "doing bad things to myself" he never stopped writing songs.
It was "a long hard struggle" to get himself back on track - and new song Hardest Battle, with the line "the toughest war is against myself", is about that fight. But he finally realised something had to change.
"I guess I just got sick of it. And I thought I was never going to play in a band ever again, because I was just so jaded by the whole thing, but I got the buzz back. I was just writing [songs] for the pure pleasure of it rather than for the band."
Meanwhile, Beazley had been through the mill too and when he got evicted from his flat in 2000 ("because my flatmates were piss useless"), he stayed with his mum for six years to help her look after his late father who was ill. He also went back to school, got a diploma in graphic design, and a job at Wellington City Council ("But then they dicked me").
Since then he and his partner Tamzin have had two children, Jet and Ivy, bought a house in Otaki, north of Wellington, and he also trained as a cook and runs a window washing business. "So I've got three diplomas now. A diploma of fine arts, graphic design, and cooking and I don't think they do anything for me," he deadpans.
But the family man is back playing music, and loving it, because he missed his time away from the band.
HLAH nearly reunited in 2004 with original drummer Mark "Hidee Beast" Hamill.
"[But] Me and Nigel had an argument on the phone," remembers Beazley. "He said 'F*** you', and I said, 'Jeez it's easy to push your buttons'. And so that was that. We didn't even get into the room together."
So it was still a little volatile in the band ranks. However, despite the pair's sometimes fraught relationship, Regan was still sending songs to Beazley and asking him to sing on them. They even talked about forming a band together - "We were going to call ourselves the Nigels," laughs Beazley. "Kind of like the Adults. They beat us to it" - but it never happened.
After a few more years, and with the band's drug problems behind them, the time was right to give it another go.
Regan: "That's a big thing why the band works now because if those things [the drugs] were still happening there is no way we'd still be together. Andrew [Durno] said right at the start, 'If you guys do any of that bullshit that you did back in the day I'm out of here'. So all that old baggage had gone and we were getting on professionally and musically."
The result is an album that embraces their musical influences, including everything from metal to classic rock to bands like Fugazi and Mudhoney, as well as drawing inspiration from writers like Cormac McCarthy, and there are threads of religious imagery running through it too.
Hardest Battle (Monsta-Y), as well as touching on addiction, is about Judas' betrayal of Jesus, and then there's that rock 'n' roll hymn Glory Glory.
"It's a bit of an anthem isn't it?" says Beazley. "I could hear that sucker being played on the radio all around the world. But it will never happen because we're from New Zealand. So yeah, 'Good song. Shame about your location. Bye'," he jokes.
Regan likens the experience of making the album to when they were coming up with songs such as Life's a Joke and the fearsome fun of Fish Across Face for debut album 13, released in 1993.
"Mine and Booga's relationship was similar to what it was when we did 13. After the drugs and stuff we lost touch a bit. We were a bit like an old married couple, we'd have big barneys. But we're older now, and he's got kids, and when it came to doing the [new] album we ended up on the same page."
Who: Head Like a Hole
On tour: With Cairo Knife Fight, Bacco Room, Auckland, Sep 1; Altitude, Hamilton, Sep 2; Brewers Bar, Tauranga, Sep 3, and more dates around the country. Tickets on sale July 4 at eventfinder.co.nz
New album: Blood Will Out, out July 4
Past albums: 13 (1993); Flik Y'Self Off Y'Self (1994); Double Your Strength, Improve Your Health, & Lengthen Your Life (1996); Are You Gonna Kiss It Or Shoot It? (1998)