The Datsuns – Behind the wheel

Dolf de Borst

Once upon a turn-of-the-century time, The Datsuns churned out cutting edge rock from the sleepy Waikato town of Cambridge. A decade later the four are scattered like sparks – living in Stockholm, London, Auckland, and Wellington. Has distance diminished the fire of this well-known and revered Kiwi band? It’s the middle of the night in Sweden, but lead singer and bassist Dolf de Borst has hours to go before he’ll sleep. He tells Amanda Witherell how the band’s flame is far from out and New Zealand is where they get things done – with Wellington the place for hometown love.
Even with all the digital wizardry and telepathic methods of communication available, it took de Borst, Christian Livingstone, Phil Somervell, and Ben Cole a long time to put together their fifth album, Death Rattle Boogie. De Borst describes a chaotic back and forth, with songs sketched out during a 2011 tour, a meet up at his newly constructed Gutterview Recorders, the Stockholm studio he runs with Nicke Andersson, and another recording rendezvous at Auckland’s Roundhead. The bottom line: when the four are together, they gotta work on songs.

“We can get so much more done with four of us in a room for an hour than a week trading ideas back and forth over Skype and email. There’s so much more spontaneity,” says de Borst, who lived with his band mates in London and Germany, before moving to Stockholm four years ago to be with his girlfriend, now wife. Getting together means playing together and those experiences give de Borst the confidence to say that fans should expect more to come.

“We’ve managed to keep it going for this record and I think we can keep on doing it. We’ve got into a rhythm,” says de Borst. “Everyone has their own thing and home life and it’s not like we need the band, but I still can’t imagine not doing it. There’s something special that happens when we all get together in a room. We don’t take each other for granted so much. They’re my best friends.” And this, he thinks, may be their best album yet. By and large, the critics here and overseas, who’ve been following these rock wunderkinds since their naissance, agree.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’ve done,” says de Borst. “If other people are saying that too it’s a good sign.”
De Borst doesn’t hit pause between dates with The Datsuns: in addition to recording other bands at Gutterview, he plays bass with Andersson (of Hellacopters fame) in a Swedish power pop band called Imperial State Electric. Off nights, he DJs at local Stockholm bars. Similarly, Datsuns drummer Ben Cole plays with Craig Terris here in Wellington, while guitarist Phil Somervell has a day job teaching squash to Aucklanders and Christian Livingstone is building guitar pedals out of his London-based shop Magnetic Effects.

“He did a signature Datsuns fuzz box for the release of Death Rattle Boogie and sold out of them in a few hours,” says de Borst, who thinks that merch is becoming the best way to bank a band.

“I’m into the gimmicky niche stuff like the fuzz pedals Christian’s making and screen print posters for the tour. We want to make things special and a little bit like what we expect from a band we see. We’re trying to inject a little more meaning,” he says, adding that digital downloads have changed the game in more ways than one.

“The way people interact with the records is really different. I sound like an old man from a different era, but as a teenager I could only afford to buy a handful of records every year. If I bought something and didn’t like it, I still had to listen to it and absorb it. Most kids now have a bigger record collection than I probably do and they probably don’t listen to most of it.”

Digital isn’t all bad – de Borst keeps up with the Kiwi music scene via Facebook and Twitter, citing Opossum and The Eversons as a couple new faves. Returning to New Zealand, he says, “Everything’s the same and everything’s different. I think, ‘Oh yeah, I haven’t been away,’ but there are so many cultural references that are lost on me.”

While they’re all in one place, however, “we’ll make hay while the sun shines,” hopefully at Auckland’s Roundhead Studio again, followed by another rendezvous in Sweden, where they’ve got a solid following.

“Living in Stockholm has been really good for us, but it’s not like playing a hometown show. The Datsuns never really had a hometown show. Cambridge is so small we never really played there. I think Wellington was the first place that ever really made us feel at home.”

Originally published December 19, 2012 in Capital Times. 

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