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Sink Or Swim

2 September 2014 | 4:20 pm | Samson McDougall

Die! Die! Die! talk hometown rebellions and not trying too hard.

Christmas Eve, Auckland 2004. Legendary Dunedin post-rock outfit High Dependency Unit are putting on a show at The King’s Arms. Skinny teenage upstart nobodies Die! Die! Die! play first. They set their shit up, lay their shit down, smash some shit to bits and imprint their shit in the ears, eyes and brains of all in attendance. It’s like an imagining of what an early Minor Threat performance may’ve been like. Frantic, volatile and crude, three-piece Die! Die! Die! have landed and who knows what’s to come...

“If I’d known that I’d still be playing ten years later I probably would’ve been a lot more careful how I was onstage back then,” says singer-guitarist Andrew Watson. “I probably would’ve been a lot more respectful of my equipment and other people’s equipment. We played like every show was our last and in a lot of ways it kind of was back then... We played like our lives depended on it. I think we still do but I kinda know that I’m gonna be playing music in a year, you know what I mean?”

Die! Die! Die! emerged from a Dunedin unrecognisable from the city that spawned bands of yore like The Clean, The Dead C and HDU. According to Watson, the Dunedin of his youth harboured no real underground band scene at all. “We tried to rebel against it!” he says when asked if there was pressure to continue the legacy of their infamous hometown. “There was nothing really going on musically in Dunedin when we started... We wanted to really do something that was our own music. Dunedin had no real hardcore-punk scene, apart from maybe a terrible skate-punk scene. So we moved to Auckland and we were going to see all these exciting young bands at the time. It really inspired us – people putting on DIY shows that were really into hardcore. We sort of wanted to do kind of a youthful version of the Dunedin stuff. It sounded quite ridiculous really... sounding like these old man bands. It was quite funny.”

Ten years and five albums in and Watson and drummer Michael Prain (best mates since they were 14 years old) still form the core of the band, now joined by bass player Michael Logie. There’s no doubt their music has progressed from that early unhinged performance at The King’s Arms, and each of their five records to date exhibits fresh approaches to their sound. New record SWIM takes the increased melodiousness of some previous works and rams it down the neck of some abrasive and spacious rock riffs. The first two tracks, SWIM and Out Of Mind, tie the band back to their debut self-titled 2005 debut in terms of intensity, though this time they trade huge noisy love-ins for their former clipped, rackety punches. There are touches of pop and even a shoegazy closing track Mirror in what’s ultimately a well-rounded summation of who the band’ve become.  

With SWIM they’d decided to have a crack at something even further removed from their hardcore beginnings. “We wanted to do something that was a bit more electronic-y almost, or a bit more produced. But it just kinda turned out to be quite rock and more live-sounding than what we were planning. So we made sure we didn’t hide the natural flow of the recording. Chris [Townend, producer] was really adamant that we didn’t try too hard, ‘cause when we try too hard we really suck... He makes us approach our songs really differently, which I really enjoy, but also he relishes in our imperfections.”

Though the band may be slightly less direct these days, they’ve still got plenty to say and are happy for listeners to make up their own minds. “If you’d told me when we’d formed that I’d still be playing music with my best friends and touring the world [having released] five albums, I’d be really stoked with that. I do really like how our songs have affected some people and I do really love that some people hate us too. It’s good when you get a reaction. I was in Italy and this guy had the lyrics to one of my songs Blue Skies tattooed on him. He got the whole meaning of the song completely wrong when he explained what he thought the song was about. That vagueness is kinda cool too. If you do anything creative, once you’ve finished it it’s open to [the audience’s] own interpretation.”