ALIEN WEAPONRY are ready to release their sophomore album “Tangaroa,” on September 17th, 2021, via Napalm Records. We had the chance to talk to Lewis and Henry about the upcoming release. Watch the interview here or read the full interview below.
First of all, hi guys and thank you so much for doing this promo day – I don’t know how many interviews you’re doing today. It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other… I guess that was at Tuska, two years ago. How have you guys been since?
Henry: We’ve been doing pretty well since Tuska. I think we’ve played a fair few more shows since then, but yeah definitely over the past year, we’ve been itching to get back. There’s obviously been the COVID situation, but we’ve made pretty good use of that time with the new album and whatnot.
I guess New Zealand has kept the pandemic kind of under control. So it seems like you guys had a more normal life than we did here in Europe.
Henry: Somewhat, yeah. We’ve still been in and out of lockdowns and are actually in one at the moment. We had a bunch of people come in with the Delta variant of COVID. So, that’s been a little challenging for us, we haven’t been able to practice for the last couple of weeks… there’s always stuff that comes up, but I think we’re pretty good at dealing with that. Now, just as a band, that’s such a normal thing for us now.
You mentioned you used the time well while working on your new album; how are you guys feeling about the upcoming release?
Lewis: Definitely excited. I guess there’s always that little bit of nervousness and pressure of a band releasing their second album, because the fans now have something to compare it to. We want it to be better than the last album, a step up and a progression from the last album. I personally think that we have evolved as a band, as musicians, and as people, so I really hope other people are going to enjoy it as much as we have.
Henry: For me, just like getting it out there into that kind of general pool… Obviously, we’ve had, I guess, lots of journalists and people within the industry listening to the album, and we’ve been getting some really good feedback there but, that last check box for me is just seeing what happens with all of our fans.
Now, you talk about wanting it to be a progression from your debut record. What do you think are the main differences in the sound? Do you feel like you were able to experiment a little bit more?
Lewis: I definitely think we took a more progressive route on this album. You know, there’s a bit more prog inspiration. I think we’ve been listening to more prog in general than we had been when writing our first album, and we’ve done a whole bunch of touring in between then and now, so I guess we’ve had quite a few eye-opening experiences, and we’ve been able to delve into some pretty different territory.
Henry: And I mean, lyric-wise as well, I think I’ve been able to explore a few more, I guess… how do I put it… non-conventional ways of lyric writing, especially with our Māori lyrics. So, the song, “Īhenga,” I’m using a very traditional Māori way of songwriting, it’s called mōteatea where you… it’s supposed to be a kind of flow of thought rather than lyrics as such, it’s just this flow of your thoughts. So yeah, it was interesting writing in that kind of style, as well as writing, like, a haka from scratch for the song “Hatupatu” as well. It was cool, just getting to work in those different areas that I’ve never really touched before.
Were there any more of the traditional/cultural things that you guys used for this record?
Henry: As far as lyrics go, not so much, but we do use something that they’re called taonga pūoro in Māori which is, I guess, “music treasures” is what it directly translates to. They are Māori instruments that we’ve incorporated in the last album and we’re incorporating them in this album as well. We’ve got a few different ones in the album as well, a Kōauau on the album, so it’s a bit of a lower sound than what you hear in the previous album. So yeah, we’ve got all of those as mood setters in these songs. Especially in the Māori songs, they make everything feel just a little more tribal and Māori, I guess.
From what I noticed, you’re also using a lot of sounds coming from nature and such. Is that a thing you consciously do, because it’s maybe more of a cultural thing than it is for us?
Henry: A pretty significant part of Māori culture is nature and the world we live and being respectful to that, but also those sounds do relate to the song that they’re in as well. So, at the start of “Hatupatu,” for example, you hear a bird call and that’s actually a mirumiru, which is very significant to the story that the song is telling. And the same with “Titokowaru,” you know, you hear this canoe paddling. It’s supposed to be this kind of signified waka coming to the shores of New Zealand, so it’s kind of like where we start the album out and where things pick up.
Now, you mentioned the song, “Hatupatu”; I read that it’s inspired by one of your ancestors. Can you talk a little bit about the history behind the song?
Henry: It’s I guess what most people will refer to as a folklore tale, so it’s very ancient history as far as New Zealand goes. Hatupatu was probably second generation here, but it’s about how he’s captured by this evil witch who is this half-bird half-human hybrid, and he’s captured by her in the forest while he’s out hunting. He manages to escape and steal her taiaha and her korowai – which is a weapon and a feathered cloak – killing all of her pets in the process. One of them escapes and tells her that he’s ran off. So she’s chasing him and he manages to hide himself in a rock, of all places. He casts a magic spell in order to open this rock up and allow him to hide inside. Once she’s gone, he goes back out of the rock and this bird sees him again it goes and warns Kurangaituku, the witch. Again, she’s chasing after him. The story culminates in him running through these thermal mud pools where there are geysers and boiling mud everywhere, which is very close to his home. He’s running back home, trying to escape from this woman, and she leaps over this geyser and it goes off just as she’s overtop of it, and then she falls into the mud and dies. So that’s the general story. I just thought it was something that was very cool… I always found it very cool hearing that story when I was a kid growing up, and so I thought I would share it. It’s a really awesome kind of story.
I guess you must have heard lots of these different kinds of stories while growing up; how do you guys usually end up picking the stories that you use?
Henry: Honestly, I don’t really know. It’s generally based off of what I’m feeling at the time and, as I learn more as well, I find more things to write about. I want to share stories about Māori history that pretty much no one who isn’t Māori would know, and even a lot of Māori wouldn’t know as well, because I know I’ve talked to some of my friends about the story and they had no idea about it. It’s cool to be able to kind of share that knowledge with people.
During our previous interview, you guys also mentioned that part of this band is also to promote the Māori culture in and outside of New Zealand. We’re 2 years later now, so I was wondering if you feel that there is a difference worldwide or within New Zealand because of the music you make?
Lewis: Yeah, I definitely have seen… I don’t know whether it’s because of us or because of just the day and age that it is, but I feel like Māori culture is definitely becoming more widely accepted by people. It does help when you have people completely not in the country taking an interest, you know. I think one of the shows we played, we had some people from Switzerland who are actually learning it and studying it in university over there, so it’s kind of cool to see just how far it has reached.
I remember that, during the first record, you mentioned that you didn’t have any particular way of writing songs. Has your process changed a little bit for this record?
Lewis: Oh no, we still don’t have any way of writing songs. [laughter] Yeah, we kind of mostly just jam, that’s basically our process.
Henry: I think we’ve gotten faster at it. Yeah, it’s definitely gotten faster, and the recording for other things as well, we’re much more in sync with everything that’s happening when we’re in the studio. So I think that’s changed.
You also had a lineup change. As far as I know or understood, your previous bass player, Ethan Trembath, is also still involved in the songwriting, or some stuff you record. What was that process like?
Lewis: So yeah, Ethan was involved, he wrote all the bass parts for this new album that we’ve been writing and recording, but the next album, definitely Tūranga is going to take on that role and he’s actually going to join us as I guess a full third member of writing with us. But Tūranga was actually… we got him to jump on and do some backup vocals for this record and he’s also written a guitar part for “Unforgiving” as well. As far as the transition has gone, it’s actually been really good for me so far. Tūranga, we’ve known Tūranga for years, Henry and I went to school with him. He was really good friends with him throughout high school and I was really good friends with his brother. So, we kind of weren’t starting from scratch with someone, you know, we kind of already had this relationship with him, even before he joined the band, so it’s been quite easy getting into the swing of it.
Henry: That and combined with COVID, I guess, has given him an opportunity to ease into things as well, [which] I feel has been extremely helpful. He hasn’t joined the band and we’re immediately off on tour in the US or Europe, which I think would be a bit of a system shock for pretty much anybody.
Yeah, exactly. Has he done any tours before or would this be the first time?
Henry: No, it’ll be his first time touring overseas, playing music overseas. He has been overseas before, so he’s got experience with overseas travel and kind of knows how to survive overseas, but as far as touring goes, yeah it’ll be his first time… he is just a baby. [laughter]
That’s gonna be interesting for you guys as well, to lead the way. Now, I remember you also mentioned last time that you wrote “Ahi Kā” in three hours in a studio. I was wondering whether there are any other songs that you wrote in a very short time or maybe even took you really long?
Lewis: I’d say one of the ones would probably be “Īhenga.” That was kind of… we kind of wrote it in the studio. I don’t know exactly how long it took, probably half a day or something like that, but yeah, when that song originally came together, it was a bunch of riffs that we liked. Its working title for a while was “Riff Soup” because we hadn’t figured out how to transition in between all these different riffs in the song. So it was definitely one of the most difficult songs to get out there, but I think it’s probably one of the songs that we wrote the quickest.
Henry: That being said, a lot of the songs – aside from “Blinded” or “Ahi Kā” – we had, I guess a much longer period of time to work on the finer details and the vocals. We ended up recording all of the vocals at our home studio rather than in a studio we’re paying for, which made things a bit of a different process as far as being able to experiment with things and seeing, you know, how we’re going to put vocals on and make it a more interesting song with the vocals. [On] “Īhenga,” I think we did a huge amount of work as far as vocals, when I actually wrote it in a very traditional Māori songwriting style called mōteatea. So that was something that we kind of had the… I guess the blessing to be able to do, even through lockdowns.
You also mentioned already that you had more inspiration from progressive metal. For me, the most surprising track on the record was “Unforgiving” – is there anything you can say about recording that song or is there anything like a special story connected to it?
Lewis: It sounds like kind of an audio representation of what existential dread feels like, I guess. I feel like a lot of people sometimes just feel like nothing’s ever going to get better and, I don’t know, sometimes people feel down. But yeah, that’s probably definitely the most different song that we’ve ever written and… well, we haven’t quite released it yet but that’s probably going to be the most “out there” song we’ve released so far, so I’m kind of interested and nervous to see how people take it.
Is that a song you’re planning to play live as well?
Lewis: Yeah, so we’re figuring out exactly how to do that. We kind of have a pretty cool way of doing it live, but I guess we just have to wait to show people when we actually play a show.
Yeah, that makes sense. Now, of course, many of the lyrics and stories are very personal to you, often coming from your family’s history. In your biography, you also mentioned that incorporating these tribal stories has given you the chance to reconnect with your roots. Have you recently discovered any new things about yourself or your family’s history?
Henry: I’m always discovering new things about myself. But I mean, as far as what I’m willing to share, there’s a huge amount of it on the album. I generally don’t write from my own personal mental state as much as Lewis does. The stories that I write about generally are very inspired by people like my father and other family members. So I guess in a way it is stories about my family and about who I am as a person.
The title of the album and the title track is “Tangaroa.” It’s a song about climate change. Now, you already mentioned the progressive element in your music; another band that uses themes like that is GOJIRA, of course. They write about similar themes. I was wondering if that is one of the reasons that you’re going on tour with them?
Lewis: It’s definitely one of the potential reasons. I guess another reason, potentially is that we’ve recently changed management to Rick Sales Entertainment, who also manage GOJIRA funnily enough, so there are a few reasons. And also, we actually met them, probably last… no not last year, the year before last year at a festival, and we both kind of expressed our interest in each other’s music and it was pretty mind-blowing to know that they knew who we were and they listened to us. So yeah, I mean, I definitely think GOJIRA and ALIEN WEAPONRY really have a lot of crossover with our views and the things that we write about. So I definitely think it’s a good fit.
I was also impressed by the music video for that specific song, because it looks like a very extreme experience to film something underwater. How was the experience for you? Was it a difficult day of shooting?
Lewis: Three days. [laughter] Yeah, so the underwater shots, we were actually shooting in a chlorinated pool. So we were keeping our eyes open underwater with chlorine in the water for like three or four hours at a time. Yes, after the last day of shooting, I was pretty happy to never have to do that again. But the end result looked really good, so it was all worth it in my opinion.
Henry: The other thing as well… I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to push all the air out of your lungs and go underwater and stay there for as long as you can… that’s just hard. It’s, yeah… you feel like you’re drowning or you should be drowning, so a lot of the tapes… obviously you can’t have bubbles coming up, when you’re doing the singing and everything, the way you get around that is pushing all of the air out of your lungs before you go underwater, which is a scary feeling. Yeah, just going back to what Lewis said as well, at the end of each day, our eyes would be bloodshot and red and like, we’re just like crossing our fingers and hoping the cops wouldn’t pull us over on the way home, because it’s like, “dude, you got the wrong idea, I’ve just been in a chlorinated pool with my eyes open for like three hours,” which seems like an unlikely story. [laughs]
Did you have to redo a lot of shots? Is that why it took three days, or was that to give you some kind of rest in between?
Henry: You can’t just stay underwater for it, so a lot of it is queuing up the music and getting under and getting the line and then coming back up and taking the track back. It’s also really hard to hear, when you’re underwater as well, so getting the timings right of everything, we had a couple of waterproof Bluetooth speakers that we had like a giant net that we lower into the water as we started doing the take so that was a really weird thing to try and work with.
You guys actually always spend a lot of effort and time on your music videos, ever since your debut album. Why is that? Are you also interested in that side of art?
Henry: I’m very interested in film and for me as well, especially special effects and stuff, I’m a huge sci-fi fan and I like action movies as well and just seeing how things are made in the background, so I feel like, visually, it’s just as important to strive for perfection. We might not be perfect in the way we do everything, but you know, we’re gonna try. And I think it’s always interesting. I love it when a band that I like comes out with a music video that interests me just as much as the song does.
I thought the other music video you did, “Buried Underground,” also turned out to be really cool. What was the original idea behind including the fans in the video?
Lewis: The “Buried Underground” walk is actually kind of an inside joke that we have. It’s usually when we’re on tour, one of us will be in the green room or something and another one will just walk up to them like this [gestures] and the other one will stand up. So we wanted to give the fans a chance to be part of it. We got everyone to submit videos of them walking like that. As far as the song goes, the song is actually about a friend of mine who has been in and out of the psych ward with drug-induced psychosis. That’s something that I’ve noticed more and more, that some people have never been the same after something like that. We kind of wanted to portray that kind of distorted visual reality inside the music video.
Some months ago, you also played shows together with an orchestra, which is a pretty cool thing as a band… especially as a young band. It’s something that METALLICA did later in their career. So how was that experience for you guys and is that something that you’d re-do?
Lewis: Yeah, so that was pretty mindblowing. When they approached us, asking to collaborate, the first thing that popped into my head was METALLICA and “S&M” in San Francisco, the orchestra gig that they did. So we originally were meant to do two shows, but only ended up playing one show because I snapped my thumb right there, right before the second show, which wasn’t ideal. At the end of the day, I’m glad we at least got to play one show with the symphonic orchestra. The process of that was pretty eye-opening, you know, working with people who are very theory-based. They read sheet music and I can’t read sheet music, I don’t think Henry can read sheet music, not too sure about Tūranga, but, you know, it’s kind of like combining two different worlds and music, and I think it worked a lot better than I ever thought it could. There was a lot of fine-tuning and backwards and forwards involved before getting the songs where we wanted them to be.
Henry: The other thing about working with an orchestra is that you’re dealing with… the orchestra we were playing with was, I think, 85 people. So, just working with that many musicians and seeing the way everyone follows and sways and as far as tempo goes. It was a really big challenge for us because some of the songs that we play, we played with a click track, and playing those songs with an orchestra was… produced this whole new world of issues as far as keeping everyone on time went. In the end, it was like, me and the conductor Holly working with each other to make sure everyone was staying in the pocket and then the beat, which was a really kind of fun experience, having to translate those two worlds and getting a much more technical side of metal with this huge behemoth of a thing that is an orchestra. To get those working together was really quite amazing, to see it all actually happen.
Now, you’re also stopping by Helsinki on your tour – still not sure whether that’s really happening, fingers crossed – but what can people expect from your show? Are you playing a lot of new material?
Lewis: Yeah, we’re planning to play heaps of the new material. We’ve been working a lot just to try and revamp our set a little bit, not necessarily change some things up, but definitely try and re-approach it in a way so that it is fresh and it translates this evolution of ALIEN WEAPONRY in a way. So we’ve been working with our lighting tech, getting the lights real spot on, and I think it’s definitely going to be a step up from what we have.
Cool! Looking forward to see that maybe in the future! Fingers crossed! Anyhow, our time is up, do you have any last thoughts you want to share with the people who will be watching this, and your fans of course?
Henry: Last thoughts is that we love everyone who is listening to our music and following us. We very much appreciate you guys. And if you haven’t heard of us, you haven’t heard our music, please go and check us out, we’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all that goodness, our YouTube channel, Napalm Records‘ YouTube channel as well, they’ve got most of our music videos up… our latest ones at least. So yeah, get on all of that, check us out, and peace.