Ngā Tamatoa Waiata: An Interview With Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry are not your standard band. The three of them – brothers Henry (drums) & Lewis de Jong (guitar and vocals), and Ethan Trembath (bass) – are all still at highschool. They are also known for their unique brand of thrash metal delivered in both English and Māori. Singing in Te Reo sets them apart, but is by no means a gimmick. The music not only stands up on its own, but it crushes. After gaining success in two national music competitions, the trio have begun to garner notoriety, and are now booked to tour Australia and Europe in the near future.  

After a string of relentlessly good singles, they are working towards recording their début album, which they are using Indiegogo to help raise funds for. I’ve wanted to interview them for a while, and I figure that now is a great time to do so, catching them on the cusp of the next stages of their success.

Alien Weaponry

Image: Lisa Crandall

Will Not Fade: How are you at the moment?

Alien Weaponry: We are absolutely hammered by media requests but it’s a great problem to have and are so grateful that people seem to like what we are doing and want to write about it. It’s very humbling.

Do you ever expect to get far in Rockquest and Pacifica Beats, considering the nature of your music?

In all honesty we totally expected to fail and be hated at Rockquest. Looking at videos of other years finals we couldn’t find any metal at all and entered as much to make a statement about what we wanted to do with no expectation of winning anything. It took a few years but to their credit Smokefree Rockquest embraced what we were doing and the rest is history. I think the turning point was when we entered Pacifica Beats (also run by Rockquest) and decided to write a song in Māori for that. Some mates had entered in to Pacifica Beats two years earlier and they were a ska band and they won so we thought let’s get noticed and enter a thrash metal song. We fully expected to get noticed but not win. We won, go figure.

Do you feel like a success story? You already have tours lined up overseas before you’ve even finished school.

It’s pretty exciting really, yeah it’s happening fast now. People think of it a bit as overnight success but we have been together now for six years and we have spent plenty of nights playing in pubs around NZ to small audiences. It’s really hard to get your name out there. We are real happy it’s happening now. The European thing is happening faster than we expected. We fully had a goal to be playing at festivals like Wacken Open Air in Germany and thought we might achieve that by the time Henry was 20. It’s crazy to be doing that shit next year – it’s booked and happening! We have five festivals already and counting. We were approached by a big festival promoter in Europe straight after we released “Rū Ana Te Whenua”. A friend of his had seen it and showed it to him on his iPhone at the airport in Athens … next thing he is messaging us on Facebook offering us a slot … Crazy. We are now signed to German music agency Das Maschine.

What are the biggest struggles of being in the band? Does age factor into it?

Not really our age, although we do have to go to school and that can be a major drag when we are trying to get band stuff done. On the other hand it gives us a context for writing songs about frustration and conflict. We have occasionally had people write us off as a “school band” without ever hearing us but that’s not much of a problem anymore. We are obliged to have our parents or legal guardians with us at all times on tour because of the legal stuff with licences venues so that’s a bit dumb sometimes but they are not really a problem and they are a good support when we need it. I think now that we are all over six-foot tall the “little kids” tag line can finally be shaken off.

Does it make it easier or harder having two brothers in the band?

It’s both. You go from wanting to punch each other hard to understanding exactly what they are trying to do or say with songwriting. We haven’t had a serious punch up in a while now but we do get on each other’s nerves. Living in the same house makes rehearsal easier but it’s hard to get away when you need peace. In the end we will always come to an understanding because we are brothers. We can be pretty rude to each other though at times.

Many of your songs reference stories from Aotearoa history. Are these stories something you grew up with, or do you actively seek it out?

We know most of these stories from our dad and stuff he told us when we were kids. He used to point out landmarks and important Māori battle sites when ever we went on a road trip. He has a lot of books too. A history of Te Arawa has some mean as stories in it about early Māori conflict with English settlement. We are from Ngati Pikiao so the Te Arawa stories are often about our tīpuna. Now we live in Northland (Ngāpuhi) we are learning more about the northern conflicts and songs like “Urutaa” are partly about Northland events.

Obviously, as well as honoring your tīpuna with these stories, there is underlying political subtext. What are some key messages you want to share with your listeners?

It’s hard to grow up in a Māori speaking whanau and attend a Kura Kaupapa without having your eyes opened to the recent history of this country. Anyone learning our recent history will in some way or other adopt an activist mentality. It’s inevitable. We try not to be one-sided and songs like our upcoming song “Kai Tangata” tell the story of Māori on Māori conflict and the musket wars. It’s important to say it as it is. talking about the difficult and ugly subjects is what thrash metal does well.

I think it is awesome that you sing in Te Reo Māori. It’s like combining the passion of haka with the heaviness of metal. What prompted you to sing bilingually?

As we said earlier we had mates who had entered Pacifica beats, They are in a band called Strangely Arousing. They had also entered in Rockquest as a band called Aftershock. As Aftershock they played metal and we thought they were cool. They made it to the finals one year but won Pacifica beats as Strangely Arousing and playing as a ska band and it got us thinking what if they had entered as a metal band. It came naturally for us to write a song fully in Māori, it was a no brainer, we didn’t even really think about it we just did it.

I saw a Wireless video that involved you playing a koauau [a traditional Māori flute]. Are you planning on integrating some traditional instrumentation that one wouldn’t expect to find in metal music?

Yeah we have already recorded an intro to “Rū Ana Te Whenua” that will probably end up on the album version. We recorded it last year in the Waipu caves. Tom Larkin came up with a mobile recording setup and we went out to the caves. We had to do several takes cause tourists kept coming through. They must have thought we were nuts doing this stuff deep underground. The reverb is awesome though and total organic. Sounds wicked with the koauau and purerehua.

Ethan, I read that you scored your spot in the band because you could play ukelele. Are we going to hear you thrashing it out on uke for any songs on the album?

Nah probably not. I have just landed a sponsorship with Spector basses in the USA so unless they do an electric Spector uke then i can’t see it happening.

Do you have other contemporaries who sing in Te Reo? This is something I haven’t come across much – or at least within rock music.

We have met heaps of Māori guys in metal bands but non singing in Te Reo. Johnny from Amachine is a pretty wicked Māori speaker too and an awesome guitarist, We played with them a couple of years back. Average Mars Experience have Māori guys too. Wicked musos. They are an instrumental band but these guys should fully do some Māori metal.

What has your reception been like in other countries? Does it compare to how we listen to bands like Rammstein? I played your songs to many of my friends when travelling in America recently and most people loved it.

Yeah we have been overwhelmed by the number of positive comments from fans all around the world. Metal is a good genre for “foreign language singing” I think as the vocals are often more of an instrument than in other genres. Really we have nothing negative coming back at all. We do sing a lot of stuff in English too so yeah something for everyone I guess.

You have some creative options for your Indiegogo campaign. Who came up with the idea of jumping into the Waipu river?

When we first looked at the crowdfunding thing we looked at what other bands were doing and a Polish metal band was offering to immerse themselves in the freezing cold swamp behind their house. I guess the Waipu river is our swamp, but cleaner.

What’s it like working with Tom Larkin? I’m a diehard Shihad fan.

He is a hard man. We mean that in a good way and he is really good at calling bullshit if he thinks things are not going as they should or reaching full potential. As a drummer he worked a lot on Henry’s drum technique and is a perfectionist. We have another producer also working with us and it will be interesting to compare their production styles.

What can we expect from the upcoming album? I’m loving the singles that you already have out.

We have a bunch of new material written after “Rū Ana Te Whenua”. Some of it in Māori like “Kai Tangata” and quite a lot in English too like “Holding My Breath” and “Cult of Sanitised Warfare”. We are pretty excited to be going into the studio next month to finish it off. We will probably be doing some Facebook live streams from our sessions too.

What are some of your career highlights to date?

We have had so much happen to us lately. Being included in the lineup for Soundsplash is pretty awesome given we will be the first ever metal band to play there. We have a number of cross genre festivals coming up over the summer. Also we are booked on some huge European metal festivals next year. The high light as of today must be the Apra Silver Scroll Maioha Award. That was so unexpected and such a privilege.

And what are your upcoming goals for the future?

We would really like to be in a situation where we are doing this full-time as a living. Touring the world and being recognised for our unique approach to metal. It would be cool to think we had inspired a younger generation not only to get into music but into te reo Māori too.

Alien Weaponry

Image: Lisa Crandall

Alien Weaponry are currently raising funds to record their début album. To support them check out their Indiegogo account: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/alien-weaponry-debut-album#/

Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlienWeaponry
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alienweaponry/

 

Joseph James.

All photos supplied, taken by Lisa Crandall.

Thanks to Niel Hammerhead for setting this up.

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