Sunday, August 13, 2017

Milkshakes, Malls, and Mobility Scooters

Last Thursday I went to a NZ International Film Festival screening of Swagger of Thieves, the extraordinary fly-on-the-wall doco about Wellington rockers Head Like A Hole. I'll write a short review of the film for the blog shortly, but here's something I wrote about the band for NZ Musician magazine in early 2015. (I can't find an online link but it appeared in the April/May 2015 hardcopy edition of the magazine) ...

I meet Head Like A Hole vocalist Booga Beazley and fellow band original Nigel Regan in the crowded car park of a suburban Kapiti Coast shopping mall. It’s a busy Saturday morning and the mobility scooter crews are out in full force. The sun is also out, so we all agree to relocate to a quieter outdoor spot for our chat. But Booga is restless. And he’s thirsty, so first we’re off to Wendy’s for a milkshake. Things don’t get much more rock n roll than this.
Only they do, and it’s not long before Beazley and Regan are regaling me with hilarious stories of death metal festivals in Warsaw, of choreographed showcased corporate metal, of meeting heroes, and of the delicious irony behind hoardes of stonewashed denim-clad bogans – “depressed Polish-looking ones” – chasing ex-drummer Mark Hamill’s autograph.
Booga Beazley, Rock God ... photo: Tony Barrett

But they were with me to talk of none of those things, because Head Like A Hole have a brand new album out. Narcocorrido is officially album number six, a fact that seems rather moot given the sheer volume of EP-length and non-album releases from the band over the years. It’s the second post-reunion album after 2011’s Blood Will Out took the reformed band into unprecedented top ten chart territory.
Narcocorrido has been self-released on Kickstarter, so I begin by asking Regan about the thinking behind that.
“Kickstarter was an absolute necessity. Without it there wouldn’t have been an album. We would have had to tour and save all of that money and even then I don’t think we could have done it. Kickstarter paid for it. We got more than we asked for.”
Beazley adds, “we have a distributor, it’s just that we don’t have a record label saying ‘here’s eighty grand, go and do a record’. Blood Will Out cost almost thirty grand all up so we had to do something (with Kickstarter). We asked for ten grand, and we got just over eleven, and it came in at around nine after they take some money and other costs out.”
The recording and production process was not without its issues, but each man seems happy with the final result, with Regan keen to acknowledge the role of producer Andrew Buckton.
“The production was a combination of the band and Andrew. He had quite a bit of input, the things he came up with were usually pretty spot on. Andrew actually pulled out the guitar, and played on some of the songs. He had really good ideas that actually fit.
“We went into (Buckton’s) Studio 203, did all the guitars and vocals, and mixed it. But then he shut his studio down in the middle of it, so we ended up doing some tracks at Roundhead, and some at York Street. Then we did some guitars and vocals with Jol Mulholland at the Oven.”
Beazley also notes that working with Buckton made perfect sense, but laments the lack of time spent together as a band.
“Andrew did Blood Will Out so that’s why we went back to him. We did say to him that we didn’t want the album to be a copy of that. But we knew from the songs we’d written that it would be something different.
 “Things have definitely changed, the song-writing skills have got better. There’s still room for a lot of improvement, if we could spend more time together as a band. If we can do Narcocorrido on the bare minimum of time as a band then what would happen if we threw ourselves at it?
“I had to do all the vocals in two days. And that bummed me out. I wanted to go back and do more. But because of time and going back and forth on the internet, all of the communication needed, it was too hard. It’s so frustrating. There will probably be a couple of songs on the album where the vocal levels could have been louder, and where we probably could have revisited that vocal and the mix, but it just came down to time.”
Regan wonders how fans will receive it.
“Because we took a lot more risks musically. I mean, one of the songs on there is called ‘Mexico’, and I wrote that about 15 years ago. I’ve been trying to get the guys to do it forever. I’ve recorded it about five times before. Booga had always been a bit iffy about it, but we thought maybe we could give it a go this time. It’s a bit slower.”
Both men then reflect on the perils of cleaning things up too much, and of the importance of leaving “some dirt in there”. I ask whether all of the band members felt happy with their contribution to the end result, whether or not they’d all been equally involved, and Beazley is quick to quip … “nah, I reckon Nigel (Regan) did most of it.”
Nigel and Nigel (Booga) outside the mall, early 2015

Regan responds, “I write the songs but I only come up with the skeleton of it in most cases. With this album one of the best songs on it is ‘Rise and Fall of the Sun’ and Andrew Ashton wrote that. He was pissed at one of the practices and started playing this riff, and it was one of those riffs that only happen from band practices. I remember it was funny because it changed each time he showed it to me, but it had this groove and then next minute, bam! … we had this whole song instantly.”
A regular Head Like A Hole party trick comes in the form of covers, and Beazley confirms that at some point “we’re going to do a covers album. There’s tracks I’d love to do.
“We talked about that (for this album) but it was just the thing about time really. We hadn’t enough time to play as a band, we had just enough time to bash out the ideas for songs and get them sounding good for recording really.”
Regan adds, “yeah, unfortunately we don’t usually end up with many more songs than we actually need. We come up with the album, where a lot of bands will have maybe 15 or 16 songs recorded, and then trim it down for the album.”
The band plan to tour the album shortly after its April 10 release date, with Beazley confirming that “May or June” dates are most likely.
“It’s gotta pay. We’ve gotta break even. Eccles is slapping it together for us. We’ve gone through a few booking agents, and you know, had a bit of history with other people, but at the moment we’re using Eccles Entertainment. Dave Munro did a really great job on the last tour. The band has confidence in him. It can be a little bit frustrating sometimes when things don’t roll along as fast as you expect, because everyone has to plan their life around the tour dates, and when you’ve got family it’s bloody hard just to drop everything and take off on tour.”
The conversation inevitably skirts around the periphery of Head Like A Hole’s indelible link with onetime label mates Shihad, the early years of touring nationally and across Europe, with Regan ultimately reflecting on the respective paths taken by each band.
“To a lot of average punters, when a band is overseas it normally equates to the impression they’re doing well, but then you watch the Shihad doco, and look at all the shit they went through at the time and you know, it didn’t actually look like it was all that much fun.”
Beazley has some fun with the topic, “we quit in 2000 and came back in 2011, or 2010, and you know that ten years was a great break and that did great things for us. And it probably could have done great things for Shihad too (laughs).”
He then notes that Head Like A Hole has its own movie-length doco in the process of being finished. A work-in-progress since the band reformed, it could be completed sometime in the “next six months.”
Beazley is relatively coy about details but is clearly excited by the prospect. 
“It has a lot of clips of us years ago, and heaps of live stuff, some wicked photographs of people, interviews, and it’s just a really great story of how we started and what we went through over the years.”
Near the end of our chat Beazley comments on how Blood Will Out had hit the ground running, climbing into the upper echelon of the charts almost immediately. I tease him a little, expressing my surprise that the charts or radio play are things that even enter the band’s collective psyche, before leaving it to Regan to have the final word …
“The thing is, we’re still the same guys we were when we started the band. If someone had told me then that I’d be sitting here now (25 years later) talking about our sixth album I wouldn’t have believed it. So when you hear your song on the radio we still get that buzz. It’s like, ‘wow, people like our music’. At the end of the day we do it for ourselves, and if people like it, that’s great.”

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