Last of the untouchables
Today, Andrew Wilson arrives on foot. But last time we met him, he and the band he pilots, Die! Die! Die!, rumbled into London town driving an uninsured, un-taxed (essentially un-roadworthy) knackered postal-van. They bitched about Pete Doherty, spent their final pocket shrapnel on pancakes from a street vendor then proceeded to shatter every inch of north London’s Buffalo Bar – from the lampshades to the beer fridge – with an incredible twenty five-minute burst of angular noise, which burnt new eye lashes for the hundred or so people in attendance. Now, six months later they’re sat in a south London boozer thinking of places they can hide said broken automobile – procured, incidentally, from antipodean mad-punks The Scare – until they return to the UK early next year. Oh, and firing their sixth (sixth?!) UK manager of the year. Is it any wonder that, despite their sophomore release being one of the best records of 2008, it took nearly a year for the band to find someone UK based to issue it?
For the uninitiated, the threesome’s plotted history goes a little like the following: “Me and Mikey have been in a band since we were 13, so like almost ten years,” says ginger-haired Andrew in his NZ southern island snarl “so we don’t really argue that much now. Sometimes we call each other cunts, but that’s standard.”
Die! Die! Die!, as they exist now, took shape as bassist Lachlan Anderson was recruited in 2003. Since then, it’s been a struggle. They’ve been ploughing away for five hard years, putting on and playing DIY shows in their remote hometown of Dunedin, NZ, before heading oversees. With their fierce live reputation expanded they attracted the attention of legendary producer Steve Albini – who then laid his trademark fingerwork on the band’s self-titled 2005 debut album. Constantly turning heads and trashing stages, attention heightened. The band’s latest, and second, full length LP (the LA-recorded ‘Promises Promises’) may have been garnering explosive reviews and heaps of punk rock kudos but the band are not quite living in luxury yet.
“It’s been peaks and troughs,” says Andrew, sat next to drummer Mikey Prain and settling into a pint for reflecting on Die! Die! Die!’s meandering journey so far. “For example, the last date we played we each got a 5 star hotel room each, and the next four nights we were sleeping in the van, not eating anything. Ups and downs.”
Mikey laughs, “unfortunately, those up and downs coincide together far too quickly – not in the space of months and years, more like hours and days.”
Our first ever encounter with the band was at Bristol’s Thekla boat nightclub a couple of years back – the only time we’ve feared for the safety of the venue rather than the crowd or band. Andrew spent their mid-afternoon set Catherine-wheeling around on the soggy top deck and throwing himself towards a nearby window, while Lachlan star-jumped from a nearby table. Not entirely untypical behaviour. “[The live shows] have gone too far,” admits Andrew “in bars in New Zealand or Australia, definitely! Just to get a reaction. I’ve broken my shoulder, my hand. I’ve broken my nose before.”
Mikey: “The background we came from in New Zealand was house shows – we got used to the displays and people going nuts.”
Andrew: “At our last Auckland show this little shit poured a pint of beer down my neck. Mikey was going mental, jumping off the P.A. and stuff.”
Good job then that the records – and the tour stories – are just as chaotic as their live appearances – “So there was one day when we were driving… and the van caught on fire,” reminisces Andrew of their recent past.
Cue laughter. Mikey: “Andrew freaked out!”
Andrew: “Yeah, course! It was full-on filled with smoke. It was in such shit shape and we’d bandaged it up. Someone removed the heating pads. We had a nightmare tour when we first came here in April. The crowds were really good, but we’d been locked up in New Zealand for six months before that.”
Mikey: “We were so retarded, we had to ring up our booking agent and she drove us to loads of our gigs.”
Semi-permanently relocated to London throughout festival season (living with an unnamed fourty something male in Hoxton, putting them up because “he just loves punk”) they embarked on a series of European adventures.
“We went out on tour with Brian Jonestown Massacre in Europe,” explains Andrew. “We’re the only band who’ve ever stolen their rider and got away with it. That’s what we heard from the band themselves. Anton [Newcombe] would be like ‘these are my boots, they kick skulls’ and we’d be like, ‘yeeeeeah’.”
Mikey: “Dig hasn’t stopped – the movie is still going on in his own mind”
And D!D!D!’s tour antics don’t stop there either.
“We were recently in Finland and they have this drink called Yowl, it’s brandy and vodka mixed together,” recalls Mikey. “Pretty bad to think about those two combinations of drink in one. Anyway we were having a pretty good time. I’m saying bye to all these people I’d met and this guy just started punching me in the face. I hadn’t seen him all night and I was like ‘owww that really hurt’ and then he punched me in the nose.”
Andrew: “By this point Mikey was looking a bit like the elephant man…then I beat this guy up. Then like six dudes were pinning him down on the floor. Then his neck swelled up because I had him in this really bad headlock. Mikey just attracts trouble everywhere he goes but he’s a nice guy really.”
It’s fair to say they’re a magnet for mess. Sat in the pub now they’re perfectly genteel, but introduce the spirits and… well…
“The others in the band refer to vodka as Werdna juice, which is Andrew backwards,” explains Andrew. “So when I’m sober I’m Andrew and when I’m pissed it’s Werdna. Werdna’s the vodka man. How would you describe the Werdna?”
Mikey: “The Werdna’s just like a monster. [Adopts voice booming voice] ‘I’ll tell you about something!’”
Andrew rocks back on his chair and contemplates why carnage seems to follow them: “It depends on how much we drink, it depends on the severity of the situation. Especially us rock dudes,” he laughs. “When we’ve been drinking things go fucking wild.”
You’re probably already exhausted hearing that the future of music is Kiwi – a barrage of talent including Cut Off Your Hands, So So Modern, Ladyhawke and The Ruby Suns. It is, if you believe the hype, the centre of brilliant new music right now…
“No, fuck no. Definitely not,” says Andrew. “I reckon it’s really, predominantly shit. I really would hate for it to become known as a good place for music. It’s really awful. It’s a society of wankers. There’s some amazing talent but no-one wants to pay attention to anything good.
Apart from Die! Die! Die!?
“I’d really like to say that we’re flying the flag for amazing underground music in New Zealand…well, actually we are,” he smiles. “We’re the only band that’s actually come from there and done it for ourselves.”
So the bluster surrounding Cut Off Your Hands et al, you’re not part of that?
“Yeah, they are not a good band. I put on their first show. Really nice guys, all Christian dudes. Nothing wrong with being Christian – I’m not insulting them. They’re coming at it from a completely wrong angle,” Andrew says looking repulsed.
“It’s this quick door to success. You get this cool manager with the moustache. It’s just a bit of weird situation with bands flying people to New Zealand to get promotion. They’re doing it for a quick buck. It’s a career for those sorts of bands. But they do say they’re punk rock and they say they’ve played underground shows, which is never true.”
One band – if you can call them that – they are fully behind though is NZ comedy exports Flight Of The Conchords. In fact, they’ve starred in the show.
“Yeah me and Mikey were in the pilot and episode three,” says Andrew “not much happened to be honest. We’re just drinking coffee and buying bagels in the background. Brett used to go out with our old bass player’s sister. They’re really nice guys, we’d met them before. I’d much rather they did well than anyone else.”
Mikey: “I thought I was gonna get a talking part and my acting career was gonna be launched.”
Indeed, D!D!D! might not be the flashiest deal coming out of the southern hemisphere at this moment but they have an avid, dedicated following. While they’re still very much a cult concern in the UK, back home they’re heroes – fully stalked heroes.
“We’ve got these two guys called Shane and Karl, and they follow you to every gig around New Zealand. I think they’re like my age, in their early 20’s – they’re pretty retarded though.”
Andrew: “There’s another guy that always gets really cross with the bouncers. He sits down, has a couple of beers and he just unleashes war on the entire dancefloor whilst wearing this amazing suit. Even after playing he’ll be like – ‘nobody’s spilt any blood tonight, I’m going to hit a couple of bouncers’. There are actually good people who come to our shows too – not just freaks and weirdoes.”
Two days after our chat, Die! Die! Die! fly to New York’s CMJ conference before heading back home to record album number three; a process they hope will be a little smoother, less eventful than previously.
“When we go back to New Zealand we’re going to set up in the recording studios and record some demos then go home and practise some stuff,” says Mikey. “All the other stuff has been done in such a short period of time. Now it seems really right to just take some time. We wrote most of the last one in just a two-week block.”
The master plan being to build on what’s already a career gathering pace, for D!D!D! there’s been no quick route. “Maybe I really should start cutting myself like the guy from Fucked Up to get a reaction,” questions Andrew. “Put a screwdriver through my foot or something.”
But Die! Die! Die! don’t need gimmicks or a sharpened knife. Hard work has got them this far. Like we say, pretty untouchable.