Q & A with the Datsuns’ Dolf Datsun
By: Austin Bonner
What the world needs now: another garage rock band full of skinny boys with long hair and nifty accents? Despite the glut of such bands on the market, these New Zealanders are winning audiences with their do-it-yourself sensibility and unpretentious attitude. Though the Datsuns have been performing together since 1997 (they were then called Trinket) and releasing singles (mostly vinyl) on their own label, Hell Squad Records, since 1998, it was their 2002 self-titled LP that brought on a wave of publicity, a licensing contract with V2, and a masochistic touring schedule. The buzz from the eagerly salivating London music press may have died down, but the Datsuns are still doing pretty much what they’ve been doing since high school: making music they want to listen to. We spoke with Dolf Datsun, lead singer and lyricist, about being young, talented and a tad self-absorbed.
Spin: What are you guys doing in New York?Datsun: We’re doing this, interviews, and just hanging out.We were supposed to be doing Lollapalooza–there’s six weeks of tour and we only had two weeks to rearrange it (after Lollapalooza was cancelled). Especially when we’re getting ready to put a record out in places and it’s already come out in other places. We want to get moving and show people what we’ve done.
Is life on the road really as surreal as your songs suggest? Being on tour is like über-boring. You spend like 23 hours getting to the next place and setting up and maybe doing interviews and sound check and then you have an hour and a half, or an hour, where it’s total self-indulgence, total escape, and total catharsis. You get to interact with people and get to show people your music in the most undiluted fashion. We’re so young we get itchy feet and have such short attention spans that it’s great to be in a new place everyday with your best friends. It’s pretty remarkable. And it’s our job.
You’ve been touring nearly constantly since the first album. When did you find time to write a new record?The entire record was pretty much written on the road. There’re a couple of songs that are quite old that we resurrected and reworked for this record. But most of the songs are written in bedrooms on the road and then worked out and arranged in sound checks. The lyrics are definitely a lot more personal–about being nomadic and being in limbo the last couple of years, because you don’t really have a base or somewhere to call your own, which is fine.
Was making the second record different since you could be pretty sure this time that a lot people would hear it?You never, ever make music with the expectation of what is this person going to think when it comes out? It’s, like I said, self-indulgent. You’re constantly busy and you’re always on the road and, sure, there’s a lot of time to be bored, but there’s not a lot of time to sit around and play guitar. We’ve been together nine years. We had five, six years to sit around in the small town we grew up in and write and weed out the songs we didn’t like. For the second record, it was really different because all of sudden you’re writing for a record as opposed to for each other.
What was it like working with John Paul Jones (producer of Outta Sight/ Outta Mind)? Any desire to badger him for Zeppelin stories? Desperate need to get the Led out?No, not at all. He was pretty forthcoming, anyway. He would tell us geeky bits of information like what kind of gear he was using on this recording or that. He was pretty much happy to let the songs stay as they were and help us get the sound that we wanted and make it sonically sound great, as opposed to stripping back all of the songs. Not all producers can do that and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories.
What can you tell American fans who won’t get the album until September about your new material? In contrast with the first record, it’s a lot bigger, beefier sounding–that sounds horrible, I don’t even like beef. I think it has a lot of the same spontaneity and manic energy from the first record. On a lot of songs, people say ‘you’re obviously very influenced by ’60’s and ’70’s rock.’But I think this record has a little bit less nostalgia for people and places.
Is this the natural next step from the self-titled album?Definitely. The new ideas on this record are a lot more like where I am now or was a year ago or two years ago when we were writing them. That’s what I find quite hard about touring the first record when people ask me ‘What’s this song about lyrically?’ or ‘what were you feeling when you wrote this?’When you do these interviews, you’re being asked to justify what you did. Well, I was 19 then. I’m 23 now. Maybe I was just an idiot kid.
You’ve expressed some exasperation about musical commercialization, actresses in AC/DC t-shirts and such. What worries you most? Music’s always been commercial and always sold products, even from the fifties. Pop music and popular music has always been ingrained with selling–that’s why music and fashion are so intertwined. To me, what I found really disappointing is, with technology, music seems to be less special to people. With the internet and mp3, there’s so much potential for people to find out about music that wouldn’t have been able to find before. Google’s amazing like that. On the flip side of that, there’s the whole loss of mystery surrounding something. You used to find out a little bit about a band and maybe someone’s heard them or someone’s seen them live and you get a record and read all the liner notes and look at the artwork.
What are you listening to right now? A to D in my vinyl collection.
You travel with them!?No! I’ve had some time off because of this Lollapalooza debacle.
Give us a great band from New Zealand we haven’t heard of that we can use to show off to our friends.Definitely the Mint Chicks [leans in to check my spelling].
I feel cooler already.