For three decades Bill Direen has been carving a niche in New Zealand’s formidable music history. First as part of Vacuum, a band who the respected US label Siltbreeze, claims “wrote the clay tablets from which all great Christchurch groups worth a plug would glean substance to formulate THAT sound” and then from the early 80s with different incarnations of the Bilders, Builders and Die Bilder.
The prolific writer and composer gets around. His latest record as the Bilders, released on US label SmartGuy (Total Control, Boomgates), includes three tracks with three different lineups from Melbourne, Berlin and Auckland. All contain Direen's unique and at times quirky take on pop and rock that he says are informed by Cale, Can and Lydon. The video for "Mardy" which we are premiering below is a song about a fiesty woman who lives in van.
We had a chat to Bill about the new record.
Noisey: The first track,"The Utopians R Just Out Boozin" is an interesting one.
Bill Direen: It's a salvo of small artillery at world leaders and the mess they cause, deaths of innocent people, their homes, their schools, hospitals. But it also takes a swipe at a heap of other recent market-driven tendencies that have got on my nerves.
You have spent time living in Europe. Do you find your song writing is affected or influenced by location?
No, when I stay in one place for long enough I usually end up writing unreadable novels. I find that song writing is given more of a kick in the pants by travel, meeting new people and being hit by changes of culture.
Is it true that you used to DJ on Radio New Zealand?
Yes. I went to radio school and worked 9 to 5 on an outback community radio station to feed a small family. When the relationship ended I worked for a city radio doing the graveyard shift until I burned out.
Besides music you have also written for poetry, film, theatre and literature. Your latest novel Utopia Rag encompasses New Zealand's involvement in two world wars, fascination with arms, and local popular culture. Is military history an interest?
I'm as hopelessly ignorant of Nazi stuff as of allied troop movements, Cold War power challenges and the manoeuvres of revolutionaries or the CIA during right-left-wing wars. I'm interested in peace.
The latest record is on US label Smart Guy and I know that Siltbreeze have released some of your earlier stuff.
There's always been a heap of encouragement from the US. Gerard Cosloy used to order stuff back in the 80s and Byron Coley and Forced Exposure gave wild reviews of Bilders music back then. Then there was a curious single “Alien b/w Skulls” in the 90s on Hecuba, another SF label. Tom Lax (from Siltbreeze) was a pleasure to work with and now SmartGuy have taken it a step further. I'm grateful. The people I've worked with have made the music, and it hasn't always been marketed correctly. There's plenty there still to be discovered, even when I'm pushing up the daisies.
The new 3-track Bilders 7” is available from August 26 on SmartGuy records.