Max Johns talks with Die! Die! Die! frontman Andrew Wilson about their new double-A side (I Seek Misery/450), their umpteenth national tour (starting in Hamilton on Friday night), the Dunedin scene that Wilson and drummer Mikie Prain emerged from, the bassists they have collected over the last 18 years, feral crowds in Raglan, and marathon running. But not in that order.
HUP: Hi Andrew!
HUP: So, new tour, new single, new video...
AW: We are going to have another video out this week, too, for 450.
HUP: When did you shoot these?
AW: 450 was about three weeks ago. It took a little while to finish. The I Seek Misery one was the first Wednesday out of our second lockdown here in Auckland.
HUP: You've had ridiculous tour schedules, in your heaviest years especially. How was lockdown for a band like yours?
AW: It was cool. I mean, it made you really appreciate having good health, enough money and a job and stuff. If this had happened 10 years ago I would hate to think what would have happened to us. It couldn't have come at a better time for all three of us, if you can say that about a global pandemic. We were definitely some of the lucky ones.
HUP: Where was Lachlan [Anderson, bass] for lockdown?
AW: Lachie was in Auckland. He moved here [from London] back in 2018. He was going to be over here for a couple of weeks, so we rushed to do the recording of [four-track EP] O, then he just ended up staying. He's nominated for a Silver Scroll this week, for the soundtrack for The Dead Lands! The Dead Lands is what made him come back to New Zealand.
We now break from this interview for an editorial clarification and some backstory.
The editorial clarification, which APRA would probably want us to make, is that Anderson's nomination is for the APRA Best Original Music in a Series, which will be handed out at the SIlver Scrolls. We admit that Andrew's version of the story is way better. Also, you can watch the Silver Scrolls live online on Wednesday night.
The backstory is that Lachie Anderson is one of five bassists that Die! Die! Die! have had over the years, and the only one to return for a second stint. His first time lasted from 2006 to 2011, and included three albums - Promises, Promises (2008), Form (2010) and Harmony (recorded 2011, released 2012). Harmony marked a dark time. Pressure ranging from record label issues to gruelling touring schedules built up. Andrew: "We'd just done a crazy 3-month tour all around Europe and China, and we were in Japan and it was just getting nuts. It was the amount of shows we were doing as well. It just wasn't sustainable."
Anderson left and the band split for the best part of a year. After leaving it aside for months. Andrew Wilson completed Harmony alone.
HUP: New single I Seek Misery sounds to me like it could have come out of the Promises, Promises sessions in 2008. There's something about it. Is that because Lachie's back?
AW: Yep, that's Lachie there. It's just those basslines, you know?
HUP: You've gone through a few bassists, all with their own style, but the music that's come out has always sounded like Die! Die! Die! as well. It's cool to have Lachie come back and to hear that yes, this style is his.
AW: Totally. It's really nice, too, because Lachie left when recorded Harmony. It was strange. We weren't on the best of terms, but we weren't on the worst of terms like we were never going to talk to each other again. It was like unfinished business.
It's really nice to be creating stuff and—not picking up where we left off, but—just doing justice to how all three of us play together. In hindsight, I definitely would have handled how I acted differently. It's just really nice to have Lachie back.
HUP: That split goes back to some of your heaviest years of touring. So what sort of a touring schedule would you aim for now? What's ideal, assuming the pandemic gets solved?
AW: We were laughing about this at band practice, about how we don't want to be the biggest band in the world. We don't want everyone to know us, haha! But we want people who like us to know us. A lot of people don't know we're still going.
It's quite funny, we get tagged a lot on Facebook and Instagram by people saying, "oh do you remember this band? They were…" like it's in the past. And I'm like, "hey! We're still going!"
I don't think we'll ever go and do 100 shows in 100 days again. It's quite nice touring around New Zealand. We've got it at a manageable pace now. When we release the album [next year] we could probably go and do some more [international] shows. As long as we're all happy and healthy and everyone around us is happy and healthy, you know.
Also not paying to play. It's a lot of money to go overseas, which was always our motivation. We would go to America and, okay, airfares cost this amount of money so we have to play this many shows to cover the cost. And then the same for Europe, etc. and we'd never really lose money…
HUP: ...but you were aiming only to break even.
HUP: How were things like Bandcamp Fridays when all the money from sales would go straight through to artists? During lockdown was it possible to run a band that doesn't lose money?
AW: That was amazing, man. We didn't actually know who was running our Bandcamp for a wee while. There's all these little things. Because we were just so busy and focusing on the music, we weren't really looking at the nitty gritty of the business like who owns the rights to stuff.
We found out that the Bandcamp was being run by someone else, so we got the rights back for that at the beginning of last year, I think. It was an old record label.
So we managed to put all our stuff on there and it came at a really good time. Also a lot of record labels have released our stuff over the years, and we got a lot of stock back, like coloured vinyl of different albums. That was really cool to put up [on Bandcamp].
There must be some sort of good moral core at the centre of Bandcamp. It's not like Spotify, because they wouldn't do it. Being willing to do [Bandcamp Fridays] once a month, that's amazing. You could argue they could be doing more, but it's an incredible thing for a multinational big behemoth like Bandcamp.
HUP: How have sales been for the new blue vinyl [I Seek Misery/450 7”]? It looks beautiful.
AW: Awesome! We've got a little bit left. We didn't go super-limited like for O, so we've probably got enough for the tour but that will be it.
HUP: Hamilton's first on the schedule, isn't it [this Friday, October 30, at the Never Project Space]?
HUP: Good, I'll be at the merch table early. Why is Hamilton first out of the blocks?
AW: It just fits in with when our Auckland show is, at Whammy on the 31st.
HUP: That puts you back in Auckland in time for the marathon on Sunday. You run distance, don't you?
AW: Yeah, I'm doing the Queenstown Marathon this year.
HUP: How did you get into that?
AW: I've got a really good friend called Greg. He was a drinking buddy of mine, and one of the first times when I tried to get healthy and quit drinking I swapped it for running. So me and Greg started running together, and he's a crazy running nut who does, like, ultramarathons. I've never done an ultramarathon, but he got me inspired. I ran a marathon in 2015 and I've been hooked ever since. Queenstown will be the first marathon I've done since 2017.
HUP: What do Mikie [Prain, drums] and Lachie think of having a marathon runner as a bandmate? Are they looking at you sideways?
AW: I think they're happy that I'm healthy, probably. They've seen me in some pretty funny states over the years and running is a positive influence in my life.
HUP: You've been in bands with Mikie since high school. He must have seen every possible state you've got.
AW: I could say I've seen him in similar states! It's the nature of being friends with someone so long.
HUP: I absolutely loved the piece that Henry Oliver wrote when he interviewed you guys two or three years ago. He came back into the fold and looked at the two of you to work out how you've kept it going and going. [Oliver was DDD's second bassist, in 2004-06, before becoming a journalist.]
AW: Yeah, it was awesome, eh? Henry's really cool, and it was nice to do that because it was similar to what I was saying about Lachie: It didn't end badly with Henry but it didn't end amazingly, it sort of just ended. So after a period of time it's nice to be on good terms and all reflect on that time that we spent together. He's such a cool guy, too.
HUP: He's kind of fitted two or three different lives into his time so far, from Die! Die! Die! to editing Metro magazine.
AW: Totally, yeah. He was such an inspiring person for me and Mikie to meet at that period in time. Such a positive influence as well.
HUP: You met him in Auckland, right? After you'd left Dunedin?
AW: Yeah, we were doing a tour with the Mint Chicks and Henry was a couple of years older than us. We just thought he was so cool! He'd been in a hardcore band, which we were quite fascinated with because hardcore didn't really exist in Dunedin. He listened to vinyl, he was quite sophisticated and cool.
He had such an incredible ear, and I can say now in hindsight that he wouldn't let us go down any indulgent pathways.
HUP: And when you own a lot of guitar pedals, indulgent pathways can just open up.
AW: Yeah, exactly! He'd do it in a good way, he wasn't condescending. He'd be able to frame it in just the right way that you think you've come up with the decisions yourself, rather than just being like, "oh my god, that's so lame". I've got a lot of gratitude.
HUP: In your Dunedin days I was writing about music for [student "newspaper"] Critic. I think I was music sub-editor the year after you and Mikie won Rockquest with Carriage H, so I had an ear on you even back then.
AW: Oh, wow! Crazy!
HUP: And just the other day I dug up my copy of a free Rip It Up CD with Carriage H on it. I'd forgotten I even had it, but in those days that was how you got hold of songs by new local bands.
AW: What a funny period of time now in hindsight. It's so weird that I keep doing interviews that turn into nostalgia.
HUP: Oh, sorry about that.
AW: No, not at all. It's so funny now, in the context of these times, to try to explain that CDs used to come with magazines - two things that are now completely dead.
HUP: You'd read about a band, but without that CD you couldn't go and listen to the music straightaway.
AW: Totally! Like going to Echo Records in Dunedin, and having to wait six weeks for a CD I wanted.
HUP: That comment you made about the Dunedin scene at the time, and no hardcore bands, rings really true for me. There were Gestalt Switch, Grit, Sifty Chris and the Gladeyes...all these bands playing rockier or poppier stuff. So how did you guys end up being such a heavy high school band?
AW: I mean, Chris and the Gladeyes, those guys were in a band called MAHTH - My Ass Has Two Holes - and one guy from Gestalt Switch, I think the drummer, was in a band called Goat Vomit. They were pretty heavy metal. And Ritalin were there with punk. But we were pretty anti-social. We used to book this all-ages venue where I met Natasha who was HDU's manager and Shayne Carter's sister. I was 15.
HUP: What a person to just run across at the time.
AW: Totally. It was like, this is amazing and I want to change everything I'm doing musically. I was just such a fanboy of that band [HDU]. The next year we went on tour with them, which also changed my mind. Then we toured with [Shayne's group] Dimmer, and that blew my mind. Then we toured with The Clean, and that blew my mind! It was really cool. Such an amazing thing to do when you're 16, 17 years old.
HUP: Have you read Shayne's book, Dead People I Have Known?
AW: I haven't read Shayne's book. I have a copy of it that my supervisor at uni gave me, and I've read the Die! Die! Die! section.
HUP: I was thinking about it mainly because you mentioned growing up as an anti-social muso in Dunedin. You're a couple of decades apart, but there'd be a lot of familiar stuff in there.
AW: Shayne's such an incredible influence on me, as a person, over the years, and musically as a pretty cool guy.
HUP: When he produced Promises, Promises you were recording in the US.
AW: That's right, 2007 in upstate New York.
HUP: He mentions in the book that he's never produced another band since. What did you do to him?
AW: [Laughs]. I don't know. I know that he asked a friend's band, but that obviously didn't happen. It came out of the blue for us, but Shayne would probably be interested in continuing producing bands if people want him to.
We were in America, and Dimmer were touring with Brian Jonestown Massacre, and we were quite good friends with them. So they were messaging us all the time while they were with Dimmer. We'd done the Steve Albini album [self-title debut Die! Die! Die!, 2006] and we were choosing who we were going to work with next.
We were young and missing home, and we really wanted to have some sort of connection to New Zealand and Shayne personified it - this Dunedin guy who's awesome and has been around the world, you know? He was relevant with everyone we were hanging out with and he was a really good choice for us at the time. I learned so much from that experience.
We've just had Promises, Promises remastered and it sounds so frickin' cool! The first time something went wrong with the mastering and it's taken us 12 years or so to get it fixed. Just typical Die! Die! Die! style, leaving something not quite right for 12 years. The drums sound so good now.
HUP: Skipping forward to now, which I'm meant to be writing about, are there more songs to come out of your recent recording or was it only 450 and I Seek Misery?
AW: We're recording a new album in the middle of November. We were going to be recording in Chicago in July, with everything booked before covid happened, but in some ways it's good because we just kept writing. So most of the material we'll play at these gigs will be new songs. I hope that's alright. We'll try to play mostly new music.
HUP: That's not your normal approach. You normally mix it up well, the whole back catalogue.
AW: Yeah, the old and the new. We'll probably do some old stuff. But there's nothing better than playing songs live before you go and record them. That was the impetus for doing slightly more shows on this tour.
HUP: How would you describe the new stuff?
AW: It's not that similar to I Seek Misery and 450. We'll see how it goes when we finish recording it but I'm pretty stoked with it so far. It's just a really cool buzz working on all this music that we've got. We've got so much stuff, it'll be interesting to see what we actually put out as an album. We started working on it at the end of 2018 when we went up to Dargaville. We rented a house for a week and started jamming.
We wanted to get I Seek Misery and 450 out because they do fit with the new music, but they don't really belong on the album with the other stuff. We thought we'd just do a 7-inch and see what was happening with covid etc. It kind of pushed everything back. Obviously we're not going to Chicago anymore, so we thought we'd just put these songs out.
We're going to record at Roundhead with Steven Marr. It'll be interesting, what we finally put out there, I think.
HUP: It’s good to have you guys tour through Hamilton so often. A lot of bands skip us, or go through Raglan.
AW: I really like it in Hamilton, and I'm not just saying that. Raglan's not the same buzz. It's like you’re playing at a beach town, which you are, but you know? Even Port Chalmers can be a bit 'eugh', because people from Dunedin don't want to go all that way. Raglan and Hamilton have that Port Chalmers and Dunedin thing, but extremely. And every time we've played there it's just been so feral in Raglan.
The Never Project Space that Nick [Walsh] and co have put together looks so cool. We haven't played there yet but we’ve known Nick a long time. We saw Nick at a Shanghai show in 2017. That's a change, from Shanghai to Hamilton.
HUP: What sort of crowds did you pull in Shanghai, and will Hamilton be able to match them?
AW: I'm sure Hamilton will be totally sweet.
HUP: You're a lovely man.