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Interview: Dion Lunadon Of The D4 + Dolf De Borst Of The Datsuns

Interview: Dion Lunadon Of The D4 + Dolf De Borst Of The Datsuns

John Baker / Tuesday 6th March, 2018 2:32PM

In the mid to late nineties Auckland and Waikato had a small 'rock and roll' renaissance with two groups in particular taking their brand of rock and roll to the world and becoming part of the 'garage rock sound' of the early 2000s. Dion Lunadon from The D4 and Dolf de Borst from The Datsuns met back in the nineties and have been firm friends since. Their life paths have also followed similar trajectories. On the eve of them playing two shows together in Wellington and Napier this week, their old friend John Baker caught up with with them to ask a few questions...

Good morning gentlemen - where are we right now - and what can you see?

Dolf: Heya John / Dion, I'm sitting on the couch in Stockholm. I can see my lounge.

Dion: Good morning John. I am on a plane sitting on the tarmac in Montreal on route to New York. I see people taking their seats.

I've known both of you for some time - since you were both teenagers - and followed the trajectory of your careers from successful New Zealand groups to going offshore, playing all over the world, going through the 'garage rock craze' of the early 2000s and then gaining residency in another country and becoming members of successful groups in those countries. Dion - Nothing At All! to The D4 to A Place To Bury Strangers and Dolf - Trinket to The Datsuns to Imperial State Electric. Can you remember when you first became aware of each other?

Dolf: I first became aware of Dion when I read about his band Nothing At All! in Tearaway magazine. I ordered their record at the local record store, Tandy's, in Cambridge. We snuck into a few venues to see them play a bunch of times and opened for them in our high school band.

Dion: I think it was a show Nothing At All! played somewhere in the North Island. Dolf's band at the time, I believe it was Trinket, opened up for us.

You've both been fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents who have obviously influenced your careers. Dion - I remember the mirrored dancing room you had, and your dad taking you to see Billy Idol, and Dolf your dad was always hauling Trinket around in one of his collectable cars. When I was younger I use to think if your parents didn't like your music there must be something good about it - this has all changed now - especially with parents realising that playing music can be a career. And Dolf you are a parent now - so both of you any tips for parents out there with children who are aspiring musicians?

Dolf: I think my folks were the right kind of supportive, helped me buy my first cheapo bass, took us to the odd show and then stayed out of it for the most part unless we asked for the help. I've seen some parents who hover over their kids, try and push them in certain directions and get in the way, creatively and practically. Let the kids be kids!

Dion: Yep. That mirrored room was a 'rumpus room' when I was a kid. My sister got heavily into dance and my parents turned it into a dance studio for her when we got a little older. She moved to France at fifteen so I took it over as my hovel / cave / bedroom. It even hosted a few early Nothing At All! rehearsals. I would say do what my parents did. Let your children find their own path and provide encouragement and support. My parents always told me that if I put in hard work I could achieve anything I want. Most people just don't understand the level of hard work and sacrifice that it takes to achieve that. Most give up, are too lazy or have other priorities.

What was your first car?

Dolf: A red 1972 Volkswagen Beetle 1302s. I had it for less than a year before it was run off the road and totalled in a high speed police chase gone wrong. True story!

Dion: Mazda 323 or some sort of Mazda I thrashed to death. Very North Shore.

Fred Cole sadly left us last year - I know you are both Dead Moon fans - can you share a personal Dead Moon moment for this interview?

Dolf: I played in a band called Trucker in the late 90's and we opened for Dead Moon a few times. Fred was always super interested and would watch all the support bands, he would always have a positive comment about the songs so you could tell he was paying attention. Fred was a real example of how to act as a touring musician: humble, hardworking and independent.

Dion: I can't say one moment that sticks out above the rest. Seeing their shows and playing with them was always cool. I guess more than one moment are all the moments combined to create what Dead Moon are to me. An honest, down to earth bunch of people doing exactly what they love and living their lives to the fullest. I got that from talking to them, playing with them AND listening to their records. All my Dead Moon moments.

And speaking of moments - since its very much in the news at the moment - do either of you have a specific Kings Arms moment you remember?

Dolf: We must have played there dozens of times over the years but one of my favourite shows was seeing THe Hellacopters with the D4 and Magic Dirt opening the show, maybe in 2001? The promoter had bought in another PA which was super loud but Magic Dirt would blow a fuse in it every other song. The D4 were fantastic and then the Hellacopters played, they were totally on fire. An incredibly powerful sounding show!

Dion: Many! I remember very clearly playing outside with the Rainy Days and debuting the song 'Cancer'. The look of shock on peoples faces. Heavy moment.

Dolf - can you remember buying Dion's bass rig - and Dion watching forlorn as it left his house?

Dolf: Yeah, I remember that pretty well, I felt terrible actually. It was his old rig from the N.A.A! days, so it must have really held a lot of memories for him. We created many with it too. I still own it but Ben from The Datsuns has it in Wellington at the moment. It has seen a lot of action and still sounds fantastic!

Dion: Yes I remember. I was living in Newmarket and we had just started The D4. I needed a guitar amp had no money so decided to sell the bass rig. A 200 Watt Holden head and a 4x12 I believe? I offered it to Dolf and told him that if he was ever to sell it to offer it to me first. I cried after he left. Sentimental value having used it in N.A.A! and Tony having passed away etc. I believe it was once owned by The Suburban Reptiles or The Terrorways?

What was NZ like post nineties / early 2000s at the start of the net - did you get the inkling that there was an audience for your music outside NZ?

Dolf: I think we felt pretty isolated at the time, we had like-minded friends we would play with but on the whole it didn't seem like there was much going on outside the niche. I suppose as a pure numbers game we figured there were a lot more people in say the US or Europe so maybe it could work there. We ended up being quite lucky.

Dion: I always wanted to connect with like minded people that were into the same stuff as me. I knew they were out there as I listened to their bands! It was always my number one goal to travel and play music play all over. Late nineties kind of sucked in Auckland. The period between grunge and the garage thing was filled with techno / house. I hated it. Couldn't think of anything worse than hanging out in one of those clubs let alone taking drugs and doing it. Sounded like a bad trip to me!

2002 - that's the year both The D4 and The Datsuns literally took off. I remember dropping in on The Datsuns and watching them hand make promo CDs to send off to John Peel and the like, and The D4 hooking up some shows en route to New York in some strange places. Tell me what was the feeling like before you took off from NZ? Leaving the country with your band for the first time is always an immense leap of faith (and I'm not talking about a jaunt to Melbourne).

Dolf: Well, I wouldn't discount our first trips to Australia, they were pretty eye opening and transformative for us and organising the money to go over wasn't super easy for a bunch of young dudes either. Melbourne seemed to have a very vibrant scene going. We could play every night in a different venue for a week straight to people who kinda 'got it'. We could really start to build something. I think these trips gave us the confidence to go and try further afield.

Anyways, the first tour outside Australasia was to Austin, TX for SXSW in 2002 and obviously did require a lot more planning and faith in ourselves, we had a lot of help from our manager Tom Dalton too. I remember being very happy we got accepted to go to SXSW but we had to take big loans for the flights and expenses and it all went to another level of seriousness.

The US was quite a cultural shock, especially as our first exposure was the madhouse of SXSW and then leading to a bunch of shows right after with the Mooney Suzuki through the bible belt. Then we met you and the White Stripes for a few shows on the East Coast too. I believe you hooked us up with all those shows John! Also an intro to our mutual friend Simon Keeler, who in turn made the John Peel connection.

Dion: Our first overseas trip was to Japan. Guitar Wolf really helped us out with that. I'll always be thankful to them for that. They still even help me out!! Glen Elliot came and documented the whole thing. That was a wild and crazy trip. So much fun and really exciting. What a great place! The crowds were super up for it and we went down really well. Just before or after that we were signed to Flying Nun. We got accepted to SXSW back when it was a lot less of the behemoth that it is now. This was around the time our first album was coming out. We traveled through the South picking up shows where we could night by night. We'd do anything, stay anywhere. Austin, Memphis, Raleigh some other places and ended up in Virgina Beach where we'd arranged to record with Steve Basie of The Devil Dogs.

We played at this crazy bar Coogans with this super amazing / dangerous band called The Candy Snatchers. It was sold out and people were booing us because we were taking a bit to set up. Then when we started I jumped on the bar and kicked everybody's drinks and the place erupted and we sold every piece of merch. The Candy Snatches were great. They had apparently been up for days shooting coke. They asked to borrow one of our guitars and smashed it during their show! I went up to the culprit after the show and asked him for his leather jacket for payment and he threatened to stab me! We ended up becoming friends with those guys none the less. We were due to go to the U.K. where we already had a pretty big label (Infectious Records) lined up to release the first record and that's when things started really rolling. Thanks to Paul Mckessar and Ashley Page for that.

Was there a time when you thought - hey something's happening here?

Dolf: At the tail end of that SXSW trip we decided to go on to London for a few shows and the Peel session, that's when things started to happen for real.

Dion: Probably when we got to the U.K. for the first time. We ended up staying longer than anticipated. There was a real buzz about The Datsuns and us. It was really exiting. Then Alan McGee asked to manage us (thanks to Corder Marshall) and things went to the next level.

Looking back - some things got pretty ridiculous - is there anything either of you would recommend others not to do.

Dolf: Well, what I think are bad decisions might work out great for someone else so I don't wanna get too preachy BUT...

Take time to stop and enjoy yourself.

Don't feel like you have to spend disgusting amounts of money making records that you could make yourself in your lounge / garage.

Trust your own opinions.

Dion: I'd say concentrate on the art side of things number one. Throw most of your time into this. If you're not doing it more than 50% of your waking hours then your not doing it enough. If it's good the other stuff will follow no need to force that. Don't spend stupid money and do as much as you can yourself then you learn how all the pieces work and you can make more informed decisions. If you have a strong clear artistic vision follow it through. If others don't get it at first chances are they will when they see what they didn't initially understand. It's also good to be in a band that's yours and a band that's someone else's. You get to learn both sides of the coin within a band which makes it easier to understand people's points of view at least a little.

When do you think you first played together? And when was the last time?

Dolf: Maybe 1997 in Tauranga, upstairs at a place called the Rainbow? Waihi Beach Hotel 2005?

Dion: First time was with N.A.A! and Trinket somewhere in the North Island and last time was in Waihi. Super fun show.

That show in 2003 that is now the Ding Dong Lounge - the night before BDO was stonkingly hot - what can you remember about that nite?

Dolf: I think that was a private party? It was in 2003! All I remember was we ended up in a pile on the floor, Fun Things covers?!

Dion: I just remember it being in in incredibly packed, incredibly hot and incredibly fun!

What - as NZers - were the more unusual questions or references you encountered while travelling . Do you still get comments about coming from NZ? I don't think we're as much as a 'novelty' as maybe we once were in the early 2000s.

Dolf: I remember some strange geographical questions about NZ being close to Switzerland for a while there, that's kinda bizarre. Mostly it was confusion about our accent. It's definitely not a novelty these days, I think the internet and the fact so many more NZ bands tour internationally has made it quite normal to see NZ artists everywhere.

Dion: Pretty much what happens every time is people ask "where are you from?" I say "New Zealand." Then they start to tell me they have friends or relatives that live in Australia and start talking about Australia. If it's an American I like to start taking about Canada.

What NZ band were/are you asked about most since 2002? Perhaps it was the crowd I was with in the early 2000s but Flying Nun bands were hardly brought up - they obviously have a much higher profile now.

Dolf: In our early days of touring if people knew anything about NZ musically it was Neil Finn and Crowded House, but actually also Flying Nun the label in general. That morphed into Lord Of The Rings references, then Flight Of The Concords, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Lorde the last few years.

Dion: I'd say maybe The Clean or The Datsuns? It seems to me that Lorde has transcended the novelty element that she's a New Zealander playing music. She's a fully bona fide world-class pop star. Geography isn't so relevant.

You both still buy records and have records released by your current bands. Can you let me know a few of your recent purchases - and what 'oddities' do you like to collect if anything?

Dolf: No joke, the last physical LP I bought was Dion Lunadon's excellent self titled record but here's a few more:
The Rubs - Impossible Dream
Real Tears - Too Cool To Rock
OCS - Memory Of A Cut Off Head
Doug Tuttle - Peace Potato

Dion: Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician 10" (Nothing At All! were big fans of this) 
The Equals - Unequalled
Sun Ra - Definitive 45 collection
Stud Cole - Stud Cole
Alex Chilton - Like Flies On Sherbert
Cheap Nasties - 53rd and 3rd

What are the three NZ records you wished you had and why?

Dolf: Mint Chicks - Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!
I love this record and have a busted CD somewhere but I never got a copy on vinyl.

The Scavengers - The Scavengers
 I think this was reissued (2003?) just as we were in the middle of what turned into a ridiculous 2 year tour.... I think I always meant to grab a copy but just missed it.

Dion: AK79 reissued for the reunion - cos I just really want it. Don't have AK79 on vinyl and this looks great!

Dum Dum Boys - Let There Be Noise. Super underrated band. Good sound. A present from John Baker's of his choice.

Dion - I know you are a dab hand in the kitchen - and Dolf I don't think you're a slouch neither - what have you been cooking recently ? Do either of you cook on the road ? If so what ? and if not - what do you look out for?

Dolf: The last thing I cooked was Ayam Goreng, an Indonesian / Malaysian style fried chicken. I don't really have time to cook on the road at all unfortunately, you are kind of at the mercy of the venue / promoters to get it right. Depends on the region too, when you're in Spain for example all the food seems to be yellow: meat, potatoes even the vegetables. I think it's better for me to eat light and as green as possible when I'm away from home.

Dion: I don't really like cooking. I like eating. But I do cook a lot. I never cook on the road. Always on the look out for anything good on the road when the opportunity arises. I make a lot of chicken salads with olives.

I believe you catch up with each other when your paths cross or you're playing in the same town - when was the last time?

Dolf: I believe it was April of 2016? A.P.T.B.S. were here again last year but I just missed them unfortunately. It felt like for a while there I would see Dion once a year like clockwork.

Dion: Last time was about eighteen months or so ago. In Stockholm we had breakfast. Always great to see Dolf or any of The Datsuns for that matter!

You're both in pretty good shape - whats the secret?

Dolf: This really is a question for Phil.

Dion: Stop getting fucked up before the permanent damage sets in?

Dion - a question for Dolf?

Dion: Do you still have a recording set up in Stockholm. What does it consist of?

Dolf: Yes, I do! I have a TINY space with a tape machine: a Tascam 388 8 track, a few decent external pre-amps, delays, and one decent compressor. I prefer to work with hardware but I have a Pro Tools setup too that I can dump the tape stuff into for extra overdubs or editing. I also have a small but quite nice collection of ribbon mics: RCA, Coles, Royer and a few weird Russian Lomo valve mics too.

Dolf - a question for Dion?

Dolf: When's the next Lundadon record huh? European Tour?

Dion: No touring with this project at the moment. I'm always working away on songs. Got a real itch to work on some more at the moment. Hopefully another records not too far off.

Now - I've been asking all the questions - anything you'd like to ask me?

Dolf: Do you have a spare Scavengers LP for sale?

Somewhere in my black hole...

Dion: Do you miss me?

Oh really...

You both currently play bass in bands that were formed by musicians, Nicke Anderson Imperial State Electric and Oliver Ackerman A Place To Bury Strangers with clear visions on sound and presentation. Perhaps for our listeners / viewers / readers you can tell us How you came to join these groups and how long have you been in them? What's it been like - now living in another country and joining these bands?

Dolf: My wife and I moved to Stockholm from London in 2009 and I really needed something to do. Luckily my friend Nicke had recently finished a solo project but wanted to turn it into a band and tour so he asked if I wanted to play bass. Eight years later we’ve made six LP’s and a bunch of EPs and singles. It really has morphed into an actual band with all of us contributing to the songwriting and making big decisions etc.

But it’s really different from the Datsuns, with I.S.E. it’s going through Nicke’s filter and his taste. I kinda insist on it being like that. It feels like I can enjoy it a little more objectively then, it’s less mentally taxing for sure. I’ve learned a lot too, about arrangement, vocal harmonies, bass playing in general. Also how to help someone else realise their vision without letting my ego or taste get in the way.

Dion: It was hard coming to the States and starting all over again. A lot of work with not much success for the first few years. I saw a great opportunity and I jumped on it with A.P.T.B.S. It has been really great being in this band. I've learned a lot and I'm doing what I want to do which I'm grateful for. It all could end at any moment!

Oliver from A.P.T.B.S. also runs pedal making company Death By Audio which makes fantastic effects pedals. Do either of you use, or have at least tried Death By Audio pedals at all?

Dolf: Yes. I have a few of them now, Dion helped me out there. They’re fantastic! Christian from The Datsuns is a bit of mad professor as well, he’s made me a bunch of different stuff.

Dion: Haha. I use a lot of them. I've helped build them and watched a lot of them come into fruition. I own a few of the prototypes and get to fool around with them all the time. Lots of one-offs that never made it into production or just ones Oliver has built for himself or for me for specific needs. It's taught me a lot about sound. Always learning!

I toured the Hellacopters in 1998 (or was it 1999) and both The D4 and The Datsuns opened the Auckland and Hamilton shows respectfully. Can you remember much about these shows - I ask because I'm still a Hellacopters fan and have watched a few of their 2017 performances and have to admit feeling a little , dare I say it, nostalgic. They were incredible on those NZ dates. So committed, and now Dolf you're playing with Nicke who was in the Hellacopters at the time.

Dolf: Actually the Datsuns never opened for Hellacopters, it was Trucker. We were on first and then Datura at JBC in Hamilton. It was super packed and sweaty, total high energy. We went and tried to find all the records the next day. The Australian / NZ tour EP is still my favourite release of theirs, I used to put that on the old CD walkman, on repeat, while I mowed lawns.

You had a big argument with the owner and I remember you sent him a handwritten / drawn fax the next day giving him shit. Haha.

Dion: We opened for The Hellacopters for the first time at Squid. It was a game changer for The D4. We had the tour EP and thought it was pretty cool. But when we saw them play they blew the socks off us. Everyone in the room was floored. Great energy. They had these Marshall stacks and we had combos. We traded in our combos for stacks the next day.

(To Dolf) At the time did you ever think...

Dolf: Of course I never imagined I’d even get to make records or tour for a living, it can be really tough sometimes but I do really feel quite lucky to have had all the experiences I have had so far.

Dion - you've been an honorary Scav - goodness me - ten years ago was the last time - whats that been like? And you told me you've actually caught up with Mysterex (Mike Lezbian) in New York - tell me about that as well?

Dion: Always an honour and a good time to play with Des and John as part of the Scavengers. I see John when I go to London, Des in Australia and I ran into Mike a few months ago at a show his son was playing in New York. Super positive great guy!!

The Datsuns and The D4 will be playing together on Thursday 8th March at Wellington's San Fran, and Friday 9th March at Napier's The Cabana - for more info and tickets head along HERE. You can catch The D4 playing at Auckland's Whammy Bar this Wednesday 7th March. You can also catch The Datsuns playing this weekend in their hometown at Hamilton's Future City Festival 2018.



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