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Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry really managed to wow us with their debut ‘Tu’ – Maori lyrics and vocals, heavy thrash with even heavier influences and a wall of sound that’s impressive coming from these young’uns. We couldn’t be more stoked to ask vocalist/guitarist Lewis de Jong about his band from new-Zealand, with some help of his fellow bandmates Ethan and Henry.

By: Job | Archive under speed / thrash metal

Hi! Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of our questions! How have you been?
Things have been great. We have just done three shows in Australia on our way to Europe (we landed in Amsterdam yesterday) and they were all awesome – we sold out our first show in Melbourne, we ran out of T-shirts in Sydney, and in Brisbane we played at the Dead of Winter Festival, which was crazy full of several thousand dedicated metal fans, so we couldn’t have asked for a better start to our International touring.

Congratulations on the release of ‘Tu’ – what a breath of fresh air in this scene and such amazing ferocity as well. Have the reactions to the album been as good as you’d hoped?
I would have to say the reactions have been better than we could ever have hoped for. We are really proud of the album and always hoped it would be well received, but you never really know how others will perceive your work. It’s pretty exciting to see that songs from the album have been added to thousands of Spotify playlists. We were blown away when we heard that Loudwire and Revolver in the US have both added it to their Best Albums of 2018 (so far), and all the reviews we have seen so far are really positive. We are also getting messages from individual people all over the world saying they love it, which means a lot to us that they take the trouble to get in touch personally.

Now, let’s get the elephant out of the room – the first thing people are going to notice about your music is the lyrics, which are for a large part in Te Reo Maori (correct me if I’m not using that right). What made you decide that this was the best course of action for the band? Or was it not a decision at all and did it just feel right?
We wrote our first song in Te Reo Māori (the Māori language) because we wanted to enter a High School competition called Smokefree Pacifica Beats, where it was a requirement to use Te Reo Māori. Some friends of ours in a band called Strangely Arousing had won that competition a couple of years earlier with a song that had a verse in Te Reo Māori. They are all metal heads but Strangely Arousing is a SKA band, and although we wanted to incorporate Te Reo Māori we didn’t want to compromise our metal-ness, so we went hard out and wrote ‘Rū Ana Te Whenua’, which is entirely in Te Reo Māori. We didn’t know how it would be received, as in New Zealand people think of ‘Māori’ music being reggae and Hip-Hop and SKA, but everyone really loved it – we discovered the combination of Haka elements works really well with metal. After that, we kept writing more songs in Te Reo Māori. Henry and I went to a Kura Kaupapa Māori (total immersion Māori school) for our first five years of schooling – my first language was Te Reo Māori and we spoke Te Reo Māori at home, but at the time we formed Alien Weaponry we had lost quite a lot of our language. So for us it has also been a way of reclaiming our reo and sharing not just the words but some of the ideology and stories of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world).

Awesome! You’re all relatively young. When did you guys start out playing your instruments and when did Alien Weaponry really take off?
Lewis – I started playing guitar when I was three – we had a DVD of Stevie Ray Vaughan and I really loved it, and that’s what inspired me to want to play guitar.

Henry – I think I started playing on my uncle’s old drum kit when I was about six years old and I went to stay with my grandparents, but I was about 9 when we got an electric kit at home. I never had any lessons, I just used to go on YouTube and watch tutorials and other drummers.

Ethan – I started playing bass after I met Lewis at Circus School in Waipu when we were both ten years old. He had just moved to the area and when I went to his house one day he took me into their garage where all their instruments were. His Dad gave me an old bass guitar and asked if I could reach the end. I could (only just), so Lewis and his Dad started teaching me to play. I could already play the ukulele a bit, and that’s how I ended up in Alien Weaponry.

As far as Alien Weaponry taking off, well it was something we all dreamed of, but we had no huge expectations. There are lots of moments where we felt things started ‘taking off’ – the first was when we released ‘Ru Ana Te Whenua’ and the music video got over a hundred thousand views on Facebook in the first 24 hours. Now we are in Europe and will be playing at festivals like Wacken, MetalDays and Into the Grave. So there is not really one moment, just lots of things building on each other.

In terms of your biggest inspirations, your influences shine through clearly. Just for those who are still unfamiliar with your music – what are three of your biggest inspirations musically?
We have lots of influences and they are very diverse, but if we have to pick three, Henry and I listened to a lot of Metallica when we were younger. Since we started writing songs, Lamb of God and Pantera have been big influences on all three of us.

New Zealand isn’t necessarily a country I associate with thrash metal (or metal in general for that matter). Do you feel that that makes it harder to really make a mark or do you rather feel that because there isn’t as much competition, you’ve been able to get your footing easier?
There are actually a lot of metal bands in New Zealand, but not a lot of them are well known outside New Zealand. I think writing some of our songs in Te Reo Māori did help us to get noticed in New Zealand – and because we got noticed in NZ, we also got noticed overseas.

I’d like to go in-depth with ‘Tu’ if you don’t mind, starting with opener (and your first song ever written in Te Reo Maori) ‘Ru Ana Te Whenua’ – a straight ode to thrash metal musically. I get why that song holds a special meaning to you, but was it special enough to be the opener to the album?
It was kind of our breakthrough song, and people had really responded to it, so we felt it belonged at the beginning. Also the ‘Whaikorero’ (which is actually the first track) is an introduction to ‘Rū Ana Te Whenua’ and it seemed like an appropriate way to start off the album – by recognizing our ancestor, Te Aho Aho. ‘Rū Ana Te Whenua’ is about a mighty battle in 1864 in which Te Aho Aho was killed.

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’Kai Tangata’ was a big hit online and for good reason – strong hooks, an attention grabbing video and the feeling that this hadn’t been done before. Do you think there were other factors to that success?
I think part of the success is that so many people worldwide responded to the video, which has helped get so many views and reviews. But, behind the scenes, there were a lot of people whose contribution made the video so spectacular. The Maori warriors are actually related to Henry and I – a lot of them are from New Zealand’s top kapa haka group, Te Matarae I Orehu, who offered to help out with the video when we posted asking for extras on our Ngati Pikiao (tribal) Facebook page. Some of the younger guys are students at Putaruru High School, which is the school our grandmother went to. The guy who played the role of the Tōhunga works in our local Rock Shop. And Piotr, who did all the filming and editing, is a genius – he has worked on five of our videos now and he really gets us and our music.

I think most people can sort of guess what a lot of lyrical themes on the album are. What can you tell me about the themes you address on the album?
I guess you could say the over-riding theme of the album is conflict, which is why we decided to call it Tū (short for Tūmatauenga, the Māori god of war). Songs like ‘Ru Ana Te Whenua’, ‘Kai Tangata’ and ‘Urutaa’ are about historical battles and conflicts; ‘Whispers’ is about recent political issues. On a more personal level, ‘Holding My Breath’ is about feelings of social isolation; ‘Rage’ is about a fight I had with one of my school mates; ‘Hypocrite’ is a response to a teacher at school. We write about things that are important and meaningful to us – that can be personal, political, historical or social.

’PC Bro’ is also a song that stood out to me, not just musically (such a nice triplet feel), but lyrically as well. What can you tell me about this song?
Henry wrote that song - the title comes from a Southpark series which featured Bruce Jenner’s sex change amid the whole obsession with being politically correct. It refers to the way TV reality shows and social media glorify the fucked-up aspects of people’s lives, which are not real anyway – it’s all just fodder for the media machine. There are so many more important issues in the world.

’Nobody Here’ starts with a sample of a news story around social media. What’s your stance on social media in particular?
It’s great but it’s also terrible. In theory it’s a great means to communicate and connect with other people, but it also interferes with human connection – like when you’re with a person in a social situation and they spend all their time on their phone, texting or on social media. A lot of people hide behind social media, which limits their ability to share emotion. People are losing the ability to connect with and care for each other in the real world. Real world communication is more difficult and takes more courage, but it is ultimately more satisfying.

’Hypocrite’ closes out the album. Is there a specific reason you chose this song as your closer?
‘Hypocrite’ is the oldest song on the album, in that it was the first one we recorded. We actually debated whether to include it, and decided it was important because we used to open our set with it live. It’s a song that people have always liked and it’s a marker in time that shows our progression over the period we have written and recorded the album

What can you tell me about the gear used on the album?
A lot of the tracking was recorded on a vintage Neave console that used to belong to The Who – it’s the one that Quadrophenia and Tommy were recorded on. The desk made its way to New Zealand and belongs to Neil Finn, who owns Roundhead Studios and is one of New Zealand’s most successful international musicians. The guitars were recorded on Lewis’s vintage JCM2000 DSL Marshall amplifiers and a Marshall Silver Jubilee 2553. I used an ESP E2 Standard for the 7-string songs. For the other songs I used either a DBZ Imperial or a DBZ Bolero, which are what I use on stage too. Ethan used a Spector NS2000 5 for most of the recordings, and for the rest he used a Spector NS2000 4. He is a Spector endorsed artist and he really loves them. As far as amps go, a lot of the tracks were recorded through a Sansamp and the rest were on his Marshall DSL100

The earlier tracks were recorded on C & C custom drum kit, and we used a Pearl Masters series kit for the later songs. For some of the tracks we used a floor tom and kick drum off a vintage Gretsch kit that belonged to the studio. We used several different snare drums – a Gretsch and a custom made Brady in Jarrah. My favourite was from a New Zealand drum maker called Jody Samplonious, and it was made out of reclaimed rimu (a New Zealand native timber). He has since made me my own snare out of kauri (also a native NZ timber), with swamp kauri reinforcement, which I love.

I’m sure there’s a ton of people like me who’d love to see you here! What’s on the schedule for Europe?
We will be touring Europe for the next 3 months. We have two shows in Holland – we are playing at the after party for Into the Grave in Leeuwarden on 10 August; and at Gebr. de Nobel in Leiden on 7 September.

Thank you so much for taking the time and answering some of our questions. Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers in closing?
Go have a listen to 'Tū' and come see us while we are in Holland!

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