The Datsuns Stand Tall For Rock 'N' Roll
Peel away the ironies of punk/rock fashions prancing about runways, dig
beneath the media hype, get back to the heart of the matter, and you'll
unearth the most prized stone of all: the rock. And the roll, of course.
And you might just find a band ? full of good ol'-fashioned rock 'n' roll
energy ? like New Zealand's The Datsuns.
Although many times bitten by the hand that markets it, rock (and punk for
that matter) isn't dead. It never went away, just underground. "It's weird
how they're calling it 'new rock,' because rock is not new," Datsuns'
guitarist Phil Datsun said during in a recent phone interview. (The band
members, inspired by The Ramones, have all adopted the "Datsun" surname.)
"In spite of the media or the TV that try to make it out as a big comeback,
for us ? we've been in this for a long time [about seven years] ? it never
While the critics love to analyze it, that's beside the point. Rock is
about feeling. As Joey Ramone best put it on his posthumous solo album,
"stop thinking about it."
And that's something members of the '60s/'70s garage-rock-inspired, dirty
and hard-rocking Datsuns ? who released their debut self-titled album on V2
in March ? understand quite well. No need to dig too deep ? they just do
what they love and love what they do. "We never started a band to be
famous," Phil Datsun said. "We don't play music to go on the radio or be on
TV. We just play music for ourselves ? that's what keeps us from being
bored. There's a mentality of just doing what we want. We're in it because
we love it.
"We never think about why, because we're doing what we love and that's all
we wanna do," he continued. "It's weird when we hear other people not
liking their jobs, 'cause we think, "Why don't you do something you wanna
do?' 'Cause we're always like that, whether we need money or not."
The Datsuns sound like a revved-up AC/DC with a dose of Deep Purple's
drone, and their wholehearted dedication to their longtime passion for
music has helped them, like many of their "new rock" contemporaries, deal
recently with a heavy dose of media attention. "We were never perceived as
being cool or anything from where we come from," Phil Datsun said. "And
then we went over to the UK and got all this attention quite fast. It was
pretty unsettling for awhile, 'cause the scene over there is different ? if
they like you they go full on for you and everyone wants to have a little
piece of what you're doing. So it went from one extreme to another ? it was
Just as their band name might recall old muscle cars, so too do their dirty
fast tunes. Combine the raw screeches and drones of The Stooges, a slight
Radio Birdman influence and an all out love for bad-ass, beer-drinking
shaggy-haired '70s rock 'n' roll, and you've got a sound that, at the very
least, should revise air-guitar playing in bedrooms the world over.
According to their site, The Datsuns will soon re-release the new album in
Australia and New Zealand to include the older favorite "Supergyration!"
along with "Transistor", "Little Bruise" (recorded at a live SBN session)
and a "Harmonic Generator" music video.
While, over the last year or so, the band's been forced to adapt to life in
the spotlight, on the road and traveling the globe, they do acknowledge
that there's an upside to the majority reclaiming its love for rock. "When
we were growing up, as kids, it was really hard for us to see bands that we
were getting excited about on TV or in magazines," Phil Datsun explained.
"But now it's becoming easier for kids to listen to rock 'n' roll, and I
think a lot of kids will really fall in love with it and not use it as just
some fresh new thing."
Buzzing or not, The Datsuns ? who formed in 1996, originally as Trinket ?
aren't concerned about what others think of them. "That kind of stuff
doesn't really bother us," Phil Datsun said. "We've been doing things the
way we do them, and we'll continue doing that. If people are interested in
us, then great, and if they're not, we're still gonna make records, we're
still gonna play shows. That's the kind of stuff we stick to ? it's stuff
we believe in.
"If other people like us, then great," he added. "But if they don't, then
we're still gonna be The Datsuns, making music for ourselves."
The group founded their own label, Hellsquad Records, in order to retain
full creative control of their music. They license their recordings to V2
International Records but have not actually inked a record deal with that
company. "We ended up setting up our own record company," Phil said. "We
make everything sound and look how we want, and then license it through
different record companies around the world. We haven't directly signed to
anybody. We still put out records on our own label, and we're eventually
gonna start putting out other bands' records.
"That was the best decision for us, so we can have all our creative
control, and plus it's the way we've always been [when] someone wants to
come in and take over."
The Datsuns recorded the new album at legendary producer Liam Watson's Toe
Rag Studio in London (Watson produced the White Stripes' latest
full-length, Elephant) at a time when the media spotlight had just begun to
shine on the band. "There were a lot of things going on at the time that
were putting a lot of stress on the band that we were going through, so we
wrote about them," Phil Datsun said, noting that the band wrote a few of
the new album's songs in the studio.
"The last song on the album ["Freeze Sucker"] is about some of the stuff
going on at the time and people's perception of where we were ? we were
just making fun of it," he said.
"There's a lot of people who thought we were in this great position," he
continued. "We were getting phone calls and emails from our friends at
home, and they had this weird perception of what was going on, and it
wasn't happening at all. It turned out that a lot of people made up that
all this stuff was going on ? ["Freeze Sucker" is] making fun of that, it's
not serious at all."
The Datsuns ? who released a Japanese-only EP on April 9, featuring UK
b-sides from BBC and SBN live radio sessions ? may not have been selling
out and living large the way the folks they knew back home thought. But
they'd certainly come a long way from being an unknown rock band from
Cambridge. "There seemed to be a lot of industry interest in us," Phil
Datsun said. "We weren't really used to the industry or anything big in
that sense; it added a different element to the band.
"We didn't know too much about this, so we had to learn about record
companies and publishing companies, which was good," he added. "It was just
something that we had not normally talked about or thought about."
Still, for The Datsuns, what it all boils down to is the rock. "This is all
that we wanna do," Phil Datsun said of creating and performing music. "It's
pretty cool that we're getting to actually do this as a band. We really
appreciate this opportunity, but we don't really think too far ahead. We
just make sure to check where we are right now. We take each day as it
comes, each show as it comes."
While some songs on The Datsuns were written in the studio, others are two
to three years old. Old or new, though, the raw energy is timeless. "We're
really excited about the songs on the record and we're still excited to
play them live," he said. "The ideas may be older, but we still like it. A
lot of the music that we like is from the '60s and '70s ? it doesn't really
matter to us when those songs were written, they just kick ass. If they
have longevity with us, they'll have that with others."
Songwriting is spread evenly amongst band members, but in the end it seems
the songs take on a life of their own, according to Phil Datsun. "There's
one essential idea, we all have our own instruments, we all have our own
personality," he said of the band's songwriting process. "Some of the songs
that are originally two- or three-minute songs end up being six or seven
minutes long. It's an interesting way to do it.
"We play music that excites us or songs that work live," he continued. "If
the songs don't work live or don't have a good amount of energy to them,
then it doesn't really work with us. If it doesn't work within the first
five, 10 minutes, it doesn't work."
The four members of The Datsuns ? Phil, lead singer Dolf Datsun, bassist
Christian Datsun and drummer Matt Datsun ? all grew up in the same small
town, attending the same small high school. Discovering new music ? popular
or not ? wasn't easy. "New Zealand is kind of an isolated place ? not a lot
of international bands tour there," he explained. "Once every few months a
good band's coming through ... we were interested in what music really
excited us ? we listened to stuff like AC/DC, Jon Spencer [Blues
Explosion], Rocket From the Crypt."
Although their exposure was limited, it didn't keep them from seeking out
new music every chance they got. "All we wanted to do was to go see bands
or go play music for ourselves, [while] our other friends wanted to get
drunk and drive fast cars around," he said with a laugh.
"There was a good little scene in New Zealand," he continued, "so we could
see live bands and get to know a lot of them, as well as become friends
with them and realize that you can be friends with some of your idols."
Having grown up together, it's safe to say these mates are ? for better or
for worse ? tight. "It's been a long time that we've been together, so we
all know what pisses each other off ? everyone has their own personality
that they bring to the band ... we have a lot of fun with each other on the
road," Datsun said.
"It takes a lot of guts to get out and be on your own and put yourself out
there for people to have an opinion on you and basically just be yourself,"
he added. "It does take a lot of guts to do that."
That's something The Datsuns ? who live on the road ? are rather used to by
now. "We're always looking forward to playing and seeing different crowds
every night," he said. "Getting into it, you feed off their energy, it
makes for a good time.
"Our main goal is to have as much fun as we can and put on a better show
than we did the night before," he added.
The Datsuns plan to tour the U.S. throughout May and June. Check their site
for details. - Jenny Tatone [Monday, April 28, 2003]