Dunedin’s second generation on the city that formed them
The mid-sized city of Dunedin is like New Zealand’s Seattle. Or Seattle is America’s Dunedin, depending on your perspective. The city became internationally known in the 1980s and ’90s for a particular sort of punk-damaged but tuneful rock championed by the record label Flying Nun. Sometime after that heyday (2003 to be exact) Die! Die! Die! started tearing things up, inspired by both the local yet internationally acclaimed bands they grew up going to see and somewhat more intense musical heroes like Fugazi. Ten years on, the post-punk inspired trio is touring the world and still playing in Dunedin quite often though the band’s members have since moved to Auckland.
Early in the morning, sandwiched in between a late night band practice and his workday, lead singer Andrew Wilson, now 28, takes a moment to reflect on early influences and the early days and of the band’s career with us. He finds it a “bit fishy” that I want to talk to him about Flying Nun bands, because his band isn’t on Flying Nun anymore. It’s doubly fishy because Flying Nun was based in Christchurch and is based in Auckland but they made the Dunedin bands famous. And Die! Die! Die! carries on that legacy in their own raucous way. Andrew tells us how Dunedin indeed molded them and how he’s as proud of the city’s music scene as they’ve ever been.
So, you’re not on Flying Nun anymore. Who are you with?
We’ve got our own label now in New Zealand and Australia and we’re on two labels now, one’s called Small Town America in the UK and Golden Antenna in Europe.
We’re some of the bands from Dunedin that were on Flying Nun jumping off points for you musically?
They got me into music, basically. Growing up in Dunedin, this was sort of pre-Internet, or really it was dial up, so you couldn’t download a million MP3s albums or anything like that. One of the only ways to discover music was going to the local record store and talking to the record store dudes and also seeing local bands.
Mikey, the drummer, and I, we were quite lucky that one of the first bands we saw was High Dependency Unit from Dunedin and The Dead C. They were very noisy bands who happened to also be quite lovely people. And I remember Dino [Karlis], the drummer of High Dependency Unit, used to tell me when we were fifteen some really cool bands to check out. So, it sort of snowballed from there. There were all these local bands and it sort of blew my mind that this small town I grew up in actually had this wonderful musical heritage of bands. And then my high school band got to tour with The Clean when we were seventeen.
What was your high school band called?
We were called Carriage h. We were pretty awful.
You’re known for energetic live shows and a sort of confrontational performance style. How long have you been doing that?
We’ve actually toned it down quite a bit. When we formed our band we were really into bands like Fugazi and all the hardcore stuff, because I kind of got quite sick of Dunedin music really.
So when you started you were building on something that had already been established. Do you feel like you had strong roots to draw from?
Definitely, but for us it was also about getting away from it for a while but to also, eventually, come back to that sort of sound you know? When we started we just wanted to sound as opposite as possible to the clean.
Was it also hard to avoid sounding too much like your influences?
A little bit. We’d be like “What song are we going to cover? Hey, let’s cover a Clean song!” So, yeah, it was kind of funny.
Do you ever still have trouble getting away from that?
We’re a bit older than when we got started. I don’t really think about our roots or a lot of the bands anymore. I just think about writing our sort of songs.
So, what’s the scene in Dunedin like now?
I think the scene in Dunedin is probably the best it’s been for a very long time, to be honest. Lots of very young bands who I really like, a lot of really interesting new bands. When Die! Die! Die! formed we had to get out of Dunedin because there really wasn’t anything going on and now there’s heaps of bands and lots of good stuff going on.
You play there a lot?
We do. All the time. We’re playing there next week. We try to not play there too often.
Is it like when you were younger or are things different now?
When we were younger there were only two or three bands who were kind of active. When I was like three, that’s when Dunedin was sort of happening, or even before I was born, when there was The Clean, Straightjacket Fits and all those sorts of bands.
Is there any one particular influence on bands there still?
That’s the really great thing about bands in Dunedin, what has always been really great about bands in Dunedin none of them sound the same, really. There always just a really skewed version of pop in Dunedin. It’s always like this weird ’60s skewed pop band or this weird punk pop band. I wouldn’t say that all the bands in Dunedin sound the same. They’ve all just got a weird idea of writing good songs.
You’ve been a band for ten years. How have your ambitions changed over time?
When we started the idea that we would record our first album in Chicago with with Steve Albini was a ridiculous dream. We didn’t think that would happen.
We’re probably just more relaxed really, with everything we do. We used to on these ridiculously long New Zealand tours of like twenty or thirty shows. I couldn’t think of anything worse to do now. It would drive me up the wall. I’d much rather tour around Europe for like two months and play every single day. You make more money, you get treated better and you don’t have to deal with New Zealand.
Where do you meet the most kindred spirits?
This tour was amazing. We met a lot of good kindred spirits in Barcelona in Spain, and France.
What were the shows in Barcelona like?
We played with this band called Nitch. It was amazing the best weekend ever. There just seemed to be a whole bunch of really cool kids hanging out there doing really good stuff. They seemed to be quite proactive.
After all this time, do you still feel like a punk band?
Definitely. I think I’ll always feel like we’re in a punk band. You just have to embrace it. We’re always going to be what we are. Punk rock grabbed me at fifteen, fourteen and changed my life. It does sort of make you operate in a different way to the rest of the world. You find yourself in office environments or something really boring like a day job and you have this dirty secret that nobody’s knows about.