New York-based New Zealand musician Dion Lunadon (born Dion Palmer) has spent the last seven years playing bass full-time with American noise-rockers A Place To Bury Strangers, which would be for many, a dream gig. Between 1998 and 2006, Dion and Jimmy Christmas (of Luger Boa) led garage rock revivalists The D4, one of the most exciting musical propositions to emerge out of New Zealand in their era. They signed to Hollywood Records in the US, and at one point, were even briefly big in Japan.
As of late, Dion has been thrashing out his own fiercely unapologetic and energized take on noise rock, one informed by the fuzzy Auckland garage bands he grew up around, and the visceral potential offered by post-punk. On June 9 he will release his self-titled debut album through Agitated Records, in the lead-up, we're premiering his new single "Move". Read on for a chat with Dion about A Place To Bury Strangers, New York, refusing to go soft, doing his own thing, and more.
Noisey: In 2010, you took up a full-time position as the bassist for A Place To Bury Strangers . Could you walk us through the back-story here?
Dion Lunadon: I was in New York, struggling as you do. I'd just got back from New Zealand where I'd managed to get a band called True Lovers on the Big Day Out. When we got back to Brooklyn, I'd already decided I'd had enough of that. I was at a loose end contemplating my future; things seemed bleak! Anyways, I knew all the APTBS guys pretty well, especially the drummer Jay. He'd hang out at a spot I used to DJ at in the Lower East Side called Motor City. Jono, their bass player, was the door guy. Oliver says we met in L.A., but I don't remember.
When I heard Jono was no longer playing with them and they were looking for a bass player, I sent Jay a text that said "I hear you need a new bass player, give me a shot, I will play the fuck out of your songs, and you will need to look no further. I am your guy!!!" They gave me a shot. They booked a tour, and I passed the test. I played the fuck out of the songs, and here I am!
You've been living in New York for about a decade now, could you tell us a bit about your New York, and how it's served as a backdrop to your musical endeavors?
I deeply love New York. To me, it seems like a dreamland. It's a place I've always dreamed of being, where you work hard, and you get things done. I love to work, and music has been my life since I was about seven years old. I've always wanted to be a performer and make music, and New York has a palpable energy when it comes to creativity. It gives, and it takes. People travel here from all over the world for a reason. There is an opportunity to achieve anything you could want, whether it's simply a better life, or an artistic endeavor, or grand scheme. There is a lot of sharing of ideas, and everyone pushes everyone else along, like cramming into a subway car. I like the fast pace as I'm an impatient person.
With the True Lovers, it was a confusing time, trying to figure out how things work here. I was finding my place I guess. APTBS really helped me find that. Especially Death By Audio and the people involved with it. I guess the solo thing is me being comfortable with it all and letting it fly exactly the way I'd hoped. It's very natural. No trying just doing (like Yoda said).
Over the last year, you've been releasing singles from your self-titled new album. I understand it was born from a "creative spasm" of sorts, and came together over three months in Brooklyn. Could you give us a window into the conditions under which it came about, and what you were responding to?
APTBS had just finished a tour that was about three months long, which is too long. Before the tour, we were working on a new album (Transfixiation) and decided to get straight back into it when we got back. Not the best idea. We needed a break from each other and some time off.
Things got heated real quick when we were due to record. We arrived at the studio and Oliver announced that we were taking a break for two months. It was probably a wise thing to do! I was super angry. I was enraged by this point, as we all were because there was a lot of stress. Before I'd even walked out the studio door, a voice in my head told me to go home and record some stuff that had nothing to do with APTBS.
I marched straight home and started recording. I didn't stop for three months straight! There was never any plan to release any of it, but I was having a great time, so I just kept going. Around song twelve I decided that I would write 50 because I heard Micheal Jackson wrote 75 for Thriller. Around song 22, I thought, "Maybe I should release some of this?" And that was that. Two months later APTBS get back to recording and Oliver has written a few more songs in the interim. He plays them to me, and I'm like, "They sound great, the album's done!"
As an artist working in mid-life, you seem to have no interest in mellowing out. Sometimes, as they get older, punk rockers switch it up and start making make folk music or go soft. That doesn't seem like you. Can you talk about creative instincts and where they lie?
That's subjective I guess! I do feel very thankful that I'm still able to do this. I've always hated that thing you're talking about. People's early works seem to be their most vital, and then they get all soft and lazy. Not to say I don't like softer music or folk music or there are any rules to that. I just don't feel like that. Fred Cole of Dead Moon is a great example of not doing that. He didn't start Dead Moon until he was 40. I feel I have energy and vitality so I'm going to use it while I can! Creatively, I work best when I have some sort of intense situation. I don't feel like I'm ready to go out to pasture. I feel my best is yet to come.
A lot of the press for the singles you've released so far has revolved around referencing known and obscure new wave and post-punk acts from New Zealand and the US like Toy Love, Supercar, The Gun Club, and Gestalt. What was it that inspired you about these acts?
Those New Zealand names, especially Supercar and Gestalt had a huge impact one me that still resonates. You'll find nothing about them in the history books! Both bands were centered around the Frisbee music scene when it was on Mayoral Drive in Auckland in the early 90s. My band Nothing At All! were also involved here. We were a good six or so years younger than those guys, and they were hugely influential to me.
Supercar's live shows were always so wild. I saw them start riots, roll around in broken glass and have chicken feet thrown at them. Once (actually twice!) they grabbed our drummer's kit (we played with them a bunch) and threw it off the stage at the audience. There was a sense of one hundred percent commitment and belief to the cause. I heard my friend the other day say it just a show, not a war. I thought to myself, "bullshit! It's war!" Gestalt eventually became the Rainy Days, which I was lucky enough to be in for a while. I really loved an EP Gestalt recorded called Hex.
When you reflect on the run you had with The D4, what are your thoughts? I imagine it seems like quite a long time ago now?
It does! We had a blast and went friggin wild, as you would in your 20s. It was a lot of fun, a lot of learning and a lot of everything. I wish our recordings were rawer. I wish I'd had more belief in myself in some respects, and maybe taken control of things a bit more. It can be very confusing when you've got all these people telling you what they think you should do; people that have had a lot of success. On the whole, a really amazing time I look back at fondly.
Could you tell us a bit more about your new single "Move"?
It was originally just the start bit for about nine minutes. Then I decided that was boring and I needed to speed things up hence the second half. What else? Hmmm. It's the first song on side B of the record. If anyone wants to make me a video for the song, let me know?
Dion Lunadon's self-titled debut album is available June 9 through Agitated Records.
Images: Ebru Yildiz