All revved up: The Datsuns storm back
For me, the best band to come out of the so-called garage revival of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was New Zealand’s The Datsuns. Mainly because while they had a garage sound, they actually managed to be their own thing and not sound like some lame retro rip-off band.
While it’s been a long time coming, their latest release “Eye to Eye” is the band’s first record since 2016 and finds them in full flight. It’s also possibly their best release yet. Frontman and guitarist RUDOLF "DOLF" de BORST spoke to MATT RYAN about all things Datsuns, as well as his membewrship of Nicke Andersson's bands the Hellacopters and Imperial State Electric.
The Datsuns in 2021. Dolf on the right.
Tell us how the new LP Eye to Eye came about. Your last LP came out in 2014, so it’s been a long time between drinks.
Dolf: We started making this in 2016, and we had a real short window to get into the studio. We did most of the backing stuff in three days. Then we went back to our separate parts of the world. I’m living in Sweden, Christian is in London and the other guys are in New Zealand. We only really work on material when the four of us are together.
I’ve got a small studio at my place and I did a few rearrangements. When we went into the studio we had a few ideas, but not many. I didn’t really have ideas for vocals and lyrics. Then we all started having families so recording took ages, three years on and off, working on weekends or in-between tours of other bands. We finally wrapped things up in 2019.
So you guys don’t make records via sending emails with recordings?
Dolf: Nah, I know a lot of people that make records that way but I don’t like it. I like the immediacy – like, get a song out, get to the next one. We’re in different time zones so if you send a guitar part, then you have to wait 12 hours for a response. Its just a guitar part so doesn’t need all that speculation.
Since it took ages, would you do something be happy with it and leave it or would you go back and re edit again and again?
Dolf: I went around in circles on my own. I’d do 20 takes on a vocal and when there was no one to give me feedback, I was lost. I should know what I like. I’m not the leader, but I like the process of everyone giving their two-cents.
You mentioned other bands you guys have, and families, so I take it its hard getting everyone together?
Dolf: Yeah I’ve had a few different bands but the Datsuns is a logistical nightmare, it’s at least 30 hours travel for someone. Then there’s the jet lag. Because we rarely see each other, we need a rehearsal - especially when people have paid money. We pride ourselves on our live shows so we don’t want to do a shit show. Despite all the hassle, we’ll still do it. You know if the rest of the band come here, they’ll come over for a month. Like, tour for a month then do a record at the end.
Do you bring your family on road?
Dolf: Nah man, it’s too difficult. One tour, we had a baby with us. It fun but hard. We’re not Iron Maiden; we don’t have the big jet or luxuries like that.
Just watched the new video clip “Dehumaise”. It looks brilliant. Was that all shot or was it a bunch of existing footage added together?
Dolf: I think a lot of the footage was filmed in Australia. The director, because we can’t be together, we said to him: “Here’s some money - go nuts”. Thought it came out great.
Was this new LP recorded in Neil Finn’s studio?
Dolf: Yeah. The basic stuff. He has a studio in Auckland called Roundhead and it’s an amazing space, like 2-3 studios in one building. He has all this equipment and he said: “Yeah, just use it”. Like he has acoustic guitars from the Crowded House days and he says “Yeah, just use ‘em”. He’s a very open guy, so when you’re in that space you can take what you need. We made three LPs there. But we’ve also done stuff in Sweden, here in my apartment and a few little studios round here.
Stag parrty with The Datsuns.
What’s happening in Sweden right now, are gigs happening?
Dolf: I don’t think there’s any shows, maybe the odd show for 50 people. It’s not really open. Here in Europe it’s interesting, I don’t know what to think, it seems uncertain what’s going to happen, the last 18 months have been very strange.
The Hellacopters. You joined the band a few years back, how did that come about?
Dolf: I’ve known Nicke for years, since 2002. We toured with the Datsuns, then when I moved to Sweden 12 years ago, he said the Hellacopters were over, but he wanted to start a new band and he asked me. Then he said Hellacopters are reforming and asked if I would join the band. It’s quite nice, a less nerve-racking experience as I don’t have my artist hat on, its more like this is how a song goes, play. I’m in the band but not in the band.
What does it feel like joining a much loved and respected band like that, do you get the odd person that just views you as a hired guy?
Dolf: Well; Kenny was in the band for a long time, and that’s what people think when they think the Hellacopters and I’ve been there for the last 2-3 years. I don’t know, there’s a lot of things that come with music, what’s authentic, and I just don’t give a fuck. I’m like someone’s gotta do it, why not me?
And I have history with the band so it makes sense, we toured together and I know those guys. I’m the new guy but I know the dynamic. So far it’s only been 10-11 shows, so I get time to work on other stuff.
With Nicke’s other band, Imperial State Electric, are you more hands on?
Dolf: Yeah, but everything goes through Nicke’s filter which is good. Nicke has this vision that goes like this and then we have our stuff. Eighty percent of the time it’s his songs, buts it’s not like: “So what percentage do I get?” We’re musicians and I don’t want to get into the business side of things. But I learned a lot playing bass just doing my thing, not having to be the front man, it’s been quite relaxing.
Letting it rip, live: The Datsuns in Sydney.
Of all the bands your in does is there one in particular that comes first?
Dolf: I guess the Hellacopters, mainly just as the logistics and the band’s on a different level. There hasn’t been many conflicts. It’s been quite good. With the Hellacopters I haven’t done too many shows but that could change next year.
How did it feel doing a Peel Season with the Datsuns?
Dolf: That was awesome. I think we did two or three, but only one in the studio. We were coming to England, and we had a few seven-inches out. Through a friend of ours that distributed our stuff through some label, he said “Oh you should send the singles to John Peel.” So we put the 45s in some cardboard, saying: “Hey Mr Peel we’d love to come on your show.”
I remember it being lots of fun. I had a photo of Christen as he’s climbed up top of the organ, classic guitar pose with legs spread, with Mr Peel looking through his legs. There were only 20 people in the room. I loved those days doing ridiculous stuff for a laugh. So I think we did another two Peel Sessions but they were gigs that they broadcast.
I first heard you guys also live to air, via PBS in the early 2000s. and at that time it seemed you were in Melbourne every other week
Dolf: We did a few of those (PBS live to airs) and they were always super fun. I think for a long time Melbourne felt like our hometown in a weird way. We’re from a small town, so we would play in Hamilton, which seemed like a big deal, but we were only playing to maybe 50-60 people. We decided half the population think we’re ok, so now we need to expand. You know a place that’s bigger. And Australia was next door.
Shihad had stints there, so we thought let’s give it a go. At the time, there were cheap flights to Australia. So our Oz tour would be six shows in Melbourne over a week. We’d play the Tote, the Espy, the Town Hall in North Melbourne, and a handful of other places. We’d go to Brunswick St and see so many venues, and it was an amazing culture to come into, like wow people give a shit about this. So we’d do a 30 minute set, do it again the next night at a different venue. It was really educational to, as Melbourne also has great record shops and radio. A really great time that was.
When you were starting in New Zealand did you share bills with other bands that would also take off?
Dolf: We’d play with the D4, and DIon’s band before that was called Nothing at All. I remember one show, I don’t know what happened, but I picked up their guitar player Jimmy above my shoulders, and dropped him, while he was playing guitar. I still feel bad about that. Also, Slave Trader, the Rock N Roll Machine. It was a cool scene at the time a lot going on.
In terms of labels you guys have been on a few and all kinds, ranging from indie to major labels?
Dolf: Yeah, we were on V2 in the US and UK, everywhere else we’d do ourselves. EMI released our second record. I don’t really remember, as everything is split into different territories. Our first LP was released on Bruce Milne’s label In-Fidelity. He was great to us and the Dirtbombs and a few other bands.
What was the big difference between the indies and majors?
Dolf: The EMI thing: V2 was a very large indie label. These days we do everything ourselves and work with the distributors. There’s still a version of V2 that exists in Europe. I think they sold to Universal. We always get the rights coming back to us after five years. Sometimes with the indie stuff, people are well organized, and sometimes they’re not, and it’s the same with the majors.
For example, when all our V2 catalogue was sold to Universal, that label was so fucking big it was impossible to get responses to anything. Like, we were trying to find the master tape for our first record and they’d respond that they didn’t have it. I think, after 10 years they got back to us and found it in a warehouse somewhere. So we got all that stuff backed up, but it’s shitty when you get lost in the system - seeing as we didn’t sign up for that.
We have problems with indie labels too; like, they may only have two people working there. They wouldn’t know how many records you sold that week. It’s hard to draw a conclusion as they’re all humans, and we all fuck up.