Latest release: Eye to Eye (Hellsquad)Website: www.thedatsuns.com
New Zealand rockers The Datsuns are back. Perhaps best known to Australian audiences for their early 00s albums and notorious appearances on Metallica’s 2004 tour, where they were booed off stage every night, the band have persisted through the so-called garage revival boom of which they were deemed to be part and continued through the other side. Consistently touring Britain, Japan and their homeland, it’s been seven years since their last album, Deep Sleep. With all members now spread across four countries, The Datsuns – vocalist/bassist Dolf de Borst, drummer Ben Cole and guitarists Christian Livingstone and Phil Sommervell, have finally managed to finish and release their seventh album, Eye to Eye. We got Phil Sommervell on a Zoom call to reintroduce us to the world of The Datsuns.
It’s been quite a while since the last album, so what’s been happening with The Datsuns since 2014?
We live all over the place, and the world’s a different place to what it once was. We’ve just been slowly piecing it all together. We got together maybe six years ago and did the guts of it, and we finished it off in the midst of having children around and other kind of life stuff that went on.
So most of the songs were written that long ago? Was it just life that got in the way of it coming out sooner, then?
There was a long writing process. It took us a while to finish some of the songs, so that step took a long time, and then basically every step along the way took a long time, as well. Everything from artwork to deciding which songs, what order, all of those little things. A lot of thought went into every single step and then the delivery of some of that stuff just took a while.
I don’t want to call it a retro record, but it is, and it doesn’t just have a 70s feel to it, it’s like the entire 70s rock scene is in there! There’s some Sabbath, some Bowie, a little bit of T-Rex, some New Wave, and it’s not just straight up rocking either – which would be great! – but there is a lot going on. That diversity sets it apart from some of the stuff you’ve done before.
We’re obviously fans of a lot of music, and there’s so much great music in the 70s. There’s a lot there to check out. And the physical separation of all of us means that we’re not necessarily on the same page as one another, because we’re all products of our surroundings. Dolf’s in Sweden, Christian’s in London, Ben’s in Wellington and I’m in Cairns, so we’re putting together something that’s gotta sound like we’re all on the same page, but there’s lots of different influences trying to get in there, so it came out as a really good combo of all of us, I think.
So how are you going to promote this? It’s going to be difficult for you to travel from all over the world.
Ha, that’s a great question, man. It’s weird that we’re not touring and playing shows, actually. It’s frustrating, but we just wanted to get it out, and we’ll tour when we can. Now that there’s a little bit more movement between Australia and New Zealand, hopefully in the summer or early next year we can work it to make something happen, but we’re all at the behest of this little beast that’s going around. There’s bands that have been doing Zoom shows and things like that. I’m not sure we’re one of those bands. I think we’ll probably just start making another record.
A lot of Australias would remember The Datsuns from the times when you played the Big Day Out, but also from the 2004 Metallica tour. I know a lot of people who went to those shows who said, that opening band fucking sucked! What was that like for you, playing those shows?
They were some of the fucking hardest shows we’ve ever had to do. We got shit thrown at us. Coins, hot chips, death threats. We just got our songs together, got our set done and got the hell out of there.
Metallica themselves looked after you all right, though? I know they are famously good to their support bands.
Nothing against those guys at all. They were great. It was really just the fans. I think anyone could open for Metallica, and everyone just want to see [Metallica], so it’s all good.
A lot of the bands you were lumped in with at that time aren’t still going. But, really, you had much more of a 70s hard rock feel than the so-called retro bands that came out around the same time.
We don’t think about the fact that we’ve been together for 20-odd years, or so. We just go back to getting together and writing music. It’s not something I think about too much. Some bands have gone by the wayside for various reasons, but a lot of them have gone on to do solo stuff and other bands, as well. The Hives are still going, and they’re great.
You must feel lucky that you’re still able to work with these guys after such a long time.
I’m definitely grateful for the other guys, and also that we could focus on all the steps so we could finish this whole thing, because it’s nice talking about the record being out, because definitely for at least the last five years it felt like it was never going to happen. It wasn’t going to happen, and you just kind of go, ‘Fuck this, let’s go do something else’.
You’ve been living with the album now for a long time, but is there a particular track that really stands out for you?
I feel really great about White Noise Machine. That’s one of Dolf’s ones, and he’s got this really good power pop streak and his combination of vocal melodies and Christian adding his thing to do, it comes across as a really nice power pop song. Also, the last song, In Record Time. I’m really proud of how that one came together because it was a really loose idea that I had based around that drum beat and the other guys managed to help me piece it all together and Dolf finished it over in Sweden. I’m really proud of that because I think it’s really different from some other things we’ve done.
There’s some stuff on there that might expand the audience a little bit, because you’ve mainly been perceived as just a straight up rock and roll band, but the album goes in quite a few different directions.
Yes I guess people perceive us as that type of thing, and people know us for songs like Motherfucker From Hell. But there is a little bit more going on. You just have to pay attention to it.