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Interview: Alien Weaponry Speak With Dudley Benson About Their Album 'Tū'

Interview: Alien Weaponry Speak With Dudley Benson About Their Album 'Tū'

Interview by Dudley Benson / Wednesday 20th March, 2019 12:08PM

Northland metal trio Alien Weaponry are embarking on their triumphant and keenly anticipated 'Tūmatauenga' national tour this week, celebrating the release of their award-winning, chart-topping debut album , which is a currently a finalist for this year's Taite Music Prize. Of Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Raukawa descent, the huge success of the band's earlier singles has already seen the team of Henry de Jong, Lewis de Jong and Ethan Trembath attract a devoted audience across the globe for their uncompromising and politically-focussed blend of thrash and Te Reo Māori, with songs such as 'Rū Ana Te Whenua' and 'Whispers' tackling themes of resistance from throughout Aotearoa's history.

Dunedin avant-pop artist Dudley Benson has described his eight-years-in-the-making third studio album Zealandia (2018) as "twelve alternatives to the national anthem". Featuring over one hundred and sixty contributors including the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand Youth Choir, songs and videos from the record including his stunning recent clip for 'Cook Beleaguered' deliver a powerful commentary on colonialism in Aotearoa. A couple of months ago Benson generously lent his time to speak with Lewis de Jong about the themes surrounding , the band's overseas reception and their upcoming national tour...

My name is Dudley and I’m an artist, I’m a musician too. I don’t usually do interviews, but Undertheradar asked me to interview you because I put out a political record last year too, around the same time as you guys. They thought it might be interesting for me to ask you some questions. The nature of the questions I wanted to ask are based on a little bit about how I felt six months after putting a record out, and I wanted to test some of those ideas out with you and also talk about your tour. In terms of the responses you had to 'Tū', what were some of the most unexpected or surprising reactions that you had?

That’s a tricky question, I’m trying to jog my memory. A lot of people in America and Europe really responded strongly to our album which is pretty surprising. They resonate with the Te Reo Māori side of it and it’s pretty buzzy because they don’t live in New Zealand, that’s not part of their culture but they still really dig what we do. That’s the most surprising reaction that we’ve had.

Why do you think it is that despite obviously not having an understanding of Te Reo and many people possibly not even knowing much about New Zealand generally, why do you think it is that the music has translated for some of those people?

I honestly think it’s just something a little bit different and I feel like people need something fresh in the metal scene. Native Americans especially in the USA, they really connect with it because they kind of went through the same thing in a way as New Zealand with the whole colonisation.

Speaking of that, I had a question around the metal scene in the States. I’m assuming you met quite a lot of people in the metal scene and fans of yours and made some new fans. I wanted to ask, where does the metal scene sit politically? Did you meet people and have conversations about Trump and political resistance generally?

A little bit. When we were in the US, we were touring with Ministry who are very openly anti-Trump, so I guess it was pretty inevitable that quite a few people at Ministry shows are also anti-Trump. I think our message definitely resonated with that. We kind of have similar problems in a way with people like Don Brash, there’s an interview that he did with Kim Hill and we put that at the start of one of our songs.

What’s the crossover like between the metal scene and Native American people?

Native Americans really dig metal over there. We did a show in Gallup, New Mexico and it was one of the craziest, rowdiest gigs that we ever did. They really get into it.

Wow that’s really interesting. I’m guessing that there are Native American metal bands too?

When we played in New Mexico, we had six First Nation bands opening up for us, it was a really really cool experience.

Going back to , I know that when I look back at my work as an artist, I often look back at it a few months later or a year later and think “man I could have done that better” or I'm really over a particular beat or a synth or sound that I used. I wanted to ask how often you go back to , how often do you go back and listen to it? Are you critical of it or are you really proud of it? How do you feel about it musically?

I’m very proud of what we’ve done with but I guess some of the earlier works... I definitely like our later stuff because I've discovered my style more and it sounds more refined. Honestly I couldn’t be happier as far as how it sounds as a first album. Definitely the next album I’m going try to work on ways to make it sound even bigger and make it a little bit better then the last one, if that’s even possible.

Learning what you did from creating , what are some of those changes that you’re planning to make? How are you gonna make it better? What specific, tangible ideas do you have about the creative process for the next album?

I’m not too sure, because we haven't really written that much of the second album yet. We’re doing that from February to about April. I guess we’ll just go into the band room and jam and see what happens. That’s basically how we write.

Are you writers that keep journals? Do you scribble down notes as you’re on the road or as you get ideas to come back to later?

I get lyrical ideas sometimes but mostly we kinda just jam together in the band room and we find something that works. Sometimes I’ll go in there by myself and develop an idea and press record and take it to the band show them what I’ve come up with. Honestly each song we write, there’s a different process behind it.

Yeah, me too. Do you reckon with some of the themes of colonisation and fighting colonisation and political resistance that you've dealt with on , is that something you want to continue on the next record or develop in some way?

Definitely. I guess on this record we were trying to keep it diverse. We’ve got songs about Raupatu and colonisation, but we’ve also got songs about things like anxiety and I guess whatever we feel strongly about we’ll write about. I don’t wanna make any promises about what will and wont be on the next album, because basically we don’t even know that yet.

What are you most looking forward to about the Aotearoa shows?

Just seeing what the crowds are like after we’ve been away for so long basically, and just seeing how people respond.

In terms of touring you’ve obviously just had the tour with Ministry in the states and you’ve got more US dates in 2019. What advice would you give for artists that are considering international touring? What’s something that you learnt that you could pass on?

Try and get your sleep and shower whenever possible and know where the toilets are. That’s all you need to worry about. [laughs]

Basic hygiene is important [laughs]. Cool Lewis, thank you very much for speaking with us and me today. All the very best for the the tour and everything you've got planned this year.

Alien Weaponry's 'Tūmatauenga' national tour kicks off this Thursday 21st March at Tauranga's Totara St., for more info on the tour head along here.

Dudley Benson's 'Zealandia' is out now, you can purchase a digital copy via the artist's Bandcamp page here.


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