Hailing from New Zealand, The Datsuns are one of the many new, young acts giving rock 'n roll a long overdue kick in the seat. With a sound that's as fresh as it is steeped in the big, heavy sounds of the '70s, this hellraising foursome is currently on tour supporting their deliciously raunchy self-titled debut album.
Livewire's Tony Bonyata caught up with The Datsuns' vocalist Dolf de Datsun and lead guitarist Phil Datsun before their recent stop in Milwaukee to discuss what its like to be a hot, young rock band on the verge of breaking big.
Livewire: You guys have been on the road for quite a while now, what is it that you like best about touring?
Phil: Just getting out and playing shows as often as possible.
Dolf: Yeah, growing up, you dream of just going out and playing every night. I mean, we get to do what we love as a career. It's pretty nice. It's a very luxurious thing to have. Not many people love their job. And also getting to see the world. I've got to experience so much of it. I'm only 23 and to see the world at this age is a pretty nice position to be in.
Phil: We've seen a bit of each kind of place in the world, but we couldn't necessarily tell you about each of the places, because we only really get to see the venue or within a few blocks of the venue. Normally we play the show and then leave.
Livewire: Are there any cities or places that you love more than others?
Dolf: Stockholm is a beautiful city.
Livewire: What about places to play, from a sheer audience level?
Dolf: The U.K. is great place to play. They make us feel really welcome. Playing in Australia's really good. We just had an amazing show in Sydney and two nights in Melbourne that were really good, as well. It's the places where we're well established in that make us feel really at home.
Livewire: The U.K. press are all over you guys. You've been lumped into this whole garage rock revival thing. How do feel being part of that hype?
Dolf: I don't know, we've always thought rock was cool or we wouldn't be making it. We've always played rock music since we started.
Phil: We don't really spend much time worrying about that sort of stuff - if we're part of this or that. It's a thing that the press people do, where they make up scenes to sell more magazines.
Dolf: It's just an angle. It's much easier for people to understand things when they're in a box and convenient for them to label. Reality's not really like that. The world's shades are gray, things aren't really black-and-white. We don't spend time worrying about it. It's better to do what seems right to you, like we always have. We do it for the right reasons and try not to think about all that other stuff too much.
Livewire: Well, maybe one of the reasons that the press is lumping you all together is because there really is a lot of fucking great rock music out there today.
Dolf: Oh, fuck yeah!
Livewire: But five years ago there wasn't. And even two years it was out there, but...
Dolf: It was hard to find.
Livewire: But now, because you guys and The White Stripes and Soundtrack of Our Lives and all these other great rock bands have emerged at a similar time, it seems obvious to say that rock is back in full swing.
Dolf: Well, they want it to sound more like a movement, though. All of these bands have been around for a long time doing their thing in their own little corners of the world. But its been very much underground and hard for people to find. And now that its become a little more mainstream its kind of like people are looking for it, or people have identified it with a movement. So all of a sudden it exists like, "Oh, this new band The Hives." But they're not a new band at all; they've just done their third record. The Stripes have just put out their fourth album, you know? So I think its important for people to see it all in the context.
Livewire: Speaking of The White Stripes, do you feel that the touring you did with them as their opening act helped spark some of the success that you're seeing now?
Dolf: I'd be lying if I said that they didn't have any affect at all. Maybe in some people's eyes - like in the U.K. - they saw in a fashionable sort of sense, like, "Well, if Jack's into them, then its cool to like them." There's also been other bands that have played with them, but we wouldn't have gotten as far as we have if we weren't the band that we are.
Phil: That gave us some awesome opportunities to play in front of more people. But if we weren't good or if we didn't have any convictions to our shows then the people would know it.
Livewire: Is this whole rock thing big in New Zealand or are The Datsuns the exception?
Dolf: It wasn't! (laughs) I mean, we used to be a very low-key band in New Zealand. No one really used to care too much. They'd kinda just laughed at us, you know. But then we just toured as much as we could in Australia and America, just to try and get out of there as much as possible. Although, the fact that we've done so well overseas, as well as the fact that now rock is once again cool has made us popular at home. We just did the New Zealand Music Awards there and we were like the biggest winners of the night. We won four awards. It was kinda like the industry, after having not paid attention to us for so long, went overkill. We won things like international achievement, best group, best album and things like that, which we felt a little bit weird about.
Livewire: Not unlike many American artists, such as Jimi Hendrix and even a lot of the old blues guys, where they were only fully appreciated at home after returning victoriously from abroad.
Phil: I think its the same most places.
Dolf: Yeah, definitely.
Livewire: What's a day in the life of The Datsuns like?
Dolf: Today's been really good. We're working with some really nice people. We kinda just get up, eat...
Livewire: You must've had a famous Milwaukee brat. That'll make anyone's day good.
Dolf: No, we haven't even had a chance!
Phil: We normally get up and piss around for a couple of hours, then we do soundcheck, which is kind of like our band practices these days. We spend a lot of time pissing people off and making a lot of noise.
Dolf: Yeah, like Phil'll play the drums and I'll play guitar. We mix everything up, totally.
Phil: We've been really lucky for the last few tours. We've had really awesome support bands with us that we've become really great friends with. It's more about hanging out with the bands and then playing the show and then hanging out afterwards.
Dolf: Just party. It's like these guys hanging out here (points to the bar and pool table), The Paybacks and The Star Spangles. Its just kind of a communal vibe.
Livewire: You mentioned partying. Are you guys into the big rock scene?
Dolf: Not really.
Phil: Depends on what you call 'big rock scene.'
Livewire: The all-night partying filled with drugs and the like.
Dolf: I don't usually go to sleep 'till 7am, and that's on the nights that we don't even play (laughs).
Phil: It's just like we've got different work hours - if you want to call it work.
Dolf: We're into hanging out with our friends and having a good time. I don't want to go somewhere to be seen.
Phil: We don't go out to get totally wasted all the time. We're just out to have a good time.
Livewire: I suppose sometimes it happens though.
Dolf: Exactly (laughs).
Phil: Yeah, if that kind of thing happens, it would be spur of the moment. Its not planned.
Livewire: Do you feel the music that you're playing is really any different than what's been done before?
Dolf: I think we try and take a certain sound aesthetic or sound philosophy, maybe like the early '70s or the late '60s, like early heavy metal and that kind of thing. But we always try and put a pop slant on it, which I don't think many of those bands ever did. Plus, I think a lot of those bands started to get drawn out, with big long solos and things, and we're not really into that. We're more into getting that kind of sound aesthetic and doing within a three-and-a-half minute pop song.
Livewire: Its interesting that your music is punk, metal and pop, all at the same time.
Dolf: Exactly. We just kind of throw whatever we can into it. People have accused us of sounding retro, or retro-active or whatever you wanna call it, but I'm way more concerned about writing a song that makes me feel great when I play it than worrying if anyone else has done it before. Real music is when you just pick up a guitar and do what feels right.
Livewire: When its good, it's gotta come from the heart.
Dolf: Exactly. If what you've done sounds like someone else before, as long as it makes you happy, screw everybody else. Music's like that, you know. There's only twelve chords. People grow up with influences and then they do their version of it, and then another person does their version of it, you know what I mean? I think that's just the way music is. I think the people that try real hard to be original always come out sounding really unoriginal. And really forced and contrived.
Livewire: What gets you guys off the most?
Dolf: I think when you do that show and you can come off and go, 'Fuck yeah! That was perfect!' And you know that people leave going, 'Wow!' You know its something they're going to remember for ages.
Livewire: And you're bowling them over just about everywhere you play, aren't you?
Dolf: Yeah (laughs). We're having a good time.
Livewire: What's with your last names all being the same? Is it a tribute to The Ramones?
Dolf: No, we were just talking shit on the radio one day and it kinda stuck. You know those radio interviews, they're like, 'What are your last names?' We didn't want to sit through everybody's last names, so we said, it's all Datsun.'
Phil: A lot of our friends were referring to that as our last names anyway.
Livewire: So what's on your plate coming up?
Dolf: Touring. We're doing European festivals.
Livewire: What about your next album. Do you have anything in the pipeline?
Dolf: Yeah, we're making it in September or October.
Livewire: Will it be a follow-up to this album or more of a departure?
Dolf: I think it'll be two-thirds a follow-up, and like a third departure. So it'll be similar kind of stuff but here and there it'll be like, 'Ahh, that doesn't sound like what I was expecting.' I hope so, anyway. It's just been conceived, so it needs nine months to gestate.
Livewire: So which is it for The Datsuns - sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll?
Phil: Rock 'n' roll, because that gets you the sex anyway. So you get two out of three.
Dolf: If you're doing the rock 'n' roll properly, you should be getting laid (laughs).
Concert Review - Vnuk's Lounge May 21, 2003