Interview: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
Three teenagers, known as ALIEN WEAPONRY, from a tiny town in the small South Pacific nation of New Zealand have managed to capture the imaginations of people all over the world with their unique thrash metal sound and commanding live performances. This in itself is surprising, but perhaps the most unexpected element of all in their success is that many of the band’s songs are delivered in a language that is unknown to international audiences – New Zealand’s native language, Te Reo Māori. Alien Weaponry are: Lewis de Jong (guitars, vocals),
Henry de Jong (drums) and Ethan Trembath (bass).
Alan: It’s nice to meet you. Welcome to Bloodstock. We saw your set earlier today. I’ve never seen such a big crowd at the Sophie stage at that time of the day, especially for such a fresh band. It was incredible.
Ethan: Thank you man.
Alan: You guys are still just teenagers. Remind us of your ages?
Ethan: I’m 16, Lewis is 16 ad Henry is 18.
Alan: It must be amazing to be on the other side of the world and to have such a huge crowd gathered, chanting your band name at your age. How does that make you feel?
Ethan: I know. So far with all the festivals we’ve gone to, we had low expectations because we didn’t want to get disappointed or whatever. But we go there, and shit man, it’s absolutely insane. We played four festivals now. We played Wacken, Metal Days, Into the Grave, and now Bloodstock. And at all four festivals, the crowds have been absolutely amazing.
Alan: So many people seem to have already heard of you, and are aware of your music. How did that happen? Is that good PR?
Ethan: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s always been mind-blowing to show up and there’s already people waiting at the front of the stage before we even start playing. I think “How do you know who I am?”.
Alan: Someone’s obviously doing something right! So you were the first New Zealand band to ever play Wacken. Possibly also here at Bloodstock. I can’t think of any other New Zealand based metal bands. Is there a big metal scene there?
Ethan: No, there’s quite a minimal metal scene in New Zealand. I mean, we went to Wacken and there were more metalheads there than there are in New Zealand. There’s a small metal scene at home, but what metalheads there are, are really loyal and friendly, good metalheads. But not a huge amount of them.
Alan: Two of you are under 18, does that create difficulties travelling?
Ethan: It’s not really much of a problem. My legal Guardian, Neil, who is Henry and Lewis’s dad, travels with us because he’s also our manager and front-of-house technician. So everybody has multiple jobs with the band so it can all work out. So no, I think there’s no huge disadvantage. It all works out quite well.
Alan: At 16 years of age, you must have seen and been exposed to things most school kids never see or hear. What’s been the biggest surprise or experience been for you having being catapulted into the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll life on tour?
Ethan: It’s definitely not a conventional childhood by any means, but I guess just being in a place where metalheads are the majority, and not a minority like in New Zealand. It’s just a real shock to see a lot of people wearing the same black shirts and all listening to the same music and having lots of fun. It’s really crazy to see the scale of everything. It blows my mind.
Alan: You incorporate a lot of Māori history and influences into your music. Was that something that you decided from the start, wanting it to feature prominently in your music?
Ethan: I wouldn’t quite say it was by accident, but we definitely didn’t expect the reception we got from the audience and everybody that listened to it. There’s this competition in New Zealand called Pacifica Beats where you have to incorporate your own culture through language into your music and our mates won it the year before. So we said, why don’t we enter it and write a song fully embodying metal. So we wrote a song in Māori, that was ‘Rū Ana Te Whenua’, and we played it and were shocked to see how people reacted. People liked it so we kept on doing it. We really enjoyed writing in Māori. It’s a really beautiful language to sing in. It fits in really well with metal because it’s kind of an aggressive sound. So we didn’t decide to do it in the first place, but we did decide to keep doing it.
Alan: In Europe, when we think of the Māori people we think of the tribal tattoos (Tā moko). I’m guessing because of your age, you don’t have any tattoos yet, but would you consider getting something like that yourself?
Ethan: I’d think about it. I don’t have a huge amount of Māori heritage myself. I just decided to play in the band because I’m passionate about spreading the same messages as Lewis and Henry. They have a very strong Māori background. They don’t look very Māori either. Typically Māori have much darker skin and often have Tā moko. Their dad does have Tā moko, and I definitely think Henry and Lewis want to consider that. Henry actually got his first tattoo a week ago at Wacken. He got the Wacken skull on his back.
Alan: Tell us about your album Tū that was just released a couple of months ago. How is that being received?
Ethan: It was released on the 1st of June. It was amazing to see it blow up in New Zealand. It went to number one in the New Zealand album charts, and then it was even more insane to see how it went overseas, especially in the USA, where it was the most added metal song on US radio. It was playing all over NPR. It was crazy to see how people reacted. We never expected it to go this well.
Alan: Tell us a bit about your metal influences.
Ethan: Well, I met Henry and Lewis when I was ten years old, and I hadn’t really heard of metal before then. My mum doesn’t listen to metal so I was just listening to whatever she had in the CD player, you know? Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens, and I was really into that stuff and I still am. But when I met Henry and Lewis, they introduced me to bands like Metallica and Trivium and I liked it even more than what I had already heard. For me, Metallica, Rob Trujillo is a massive bass influence for me. Trivium, Rage Against The Machine, Iron Maiden, Rammstein. All sorts.
Alan: So you first heard metal music six years ago, and now you’re playing massive festivals like Bloodstock and Wacken. You’re living the dream! We’re here with people who have been into metal and playing music for decades, and they can only dream about doing what you’ve already done. Is this what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life?
Ethan: Yeah, I know. It’s incredible. When I get back home I’ve got to finish off school for the year, and then I have one more year of school and then I’m free. But I definitely want to make music my career. It’s already my passion. I think Alien Weaponry has a future and I’m going to stick with it, because it’s what I love doing.
Alan: Where did the name Alien Weaponry come from?
Ethan: When Lewis was eight and Henry was ten, they were watching a movie called ‘District 9’ and there’s plenty of alien weaponry in that movie. And they were like “That’s a great name for a band. We should start up a band called Alien Weaponry”. So they started up the band and two years later, I joined. Actually when we started writing in Māori, we realised that “alien weaponry” kind of relates to the introduction of muskets to New Zealand, which were never seen before weapons to the Māori and it changed New Zealand completely.
Alan: Will you have time to enjoy any of the festival here this weekend?
Ethan: We actually only arrived here about six hours ago. So we played, we’ve got a couple of more interviews, and then hang around for maybe two hours, but then we’ve got to head back off to Germany where we’ll be playing Summer Breeze.
Alan: And what about plans for the rest of the year?
Ethan: We’re sticking here for a bit longer. We’ve got fifty-odd days left before we head home. When I get home, I’m finishing school, and we’re hoping to do a New Zealand tour and an Australian tour, and possibly get over to Japan sometime. But who knows? There’s plans in place, but nothing concrete.
Alan: Who was the little kid with the face paint that you brought on stage at the end of your show?
Ethan: Oh, Rossi! Yeah, he’s an amazing little fellow. We only just met him today. He has just got through the other side of a battle with cancer, and he’s probably our number one fan. He really likes us and he’s such a cool little kid. The stories that he’s been telling us… He’s met Bruce Dickinson. It was awesome meeting him. He’s a crazy little kid man.
Alan: If you were to suggest one of your songs to introduce someone to your music for the first time, what song would you tell them to listen to?
Ethan: Not quite our most recent single, but our second-most recent single ‘Kai Tangata’. It’s probably our heaviest song, but it probably showcases our use of Māori the best, and it’s quite thrashy and groovy you could say.
Alan: You do use some traditional instruments in your music, but not on stage today?
Ethan: No, when we recorded the album we used Taonga pūoro, which is Māori instruments. In the song ‘Te Ara’ which is instrumental, we used a lot, so we’re hoping to incorporate them into our live performance eventually.
Alan: Cool. That would definitely be unique. Before we wrap up, have you got any messages for the British and Irish fans who might be reading this?
Ethan: Thanks guys, shit tons, because we had a great time here at Bloodstock and we’re really looking forward to coming back next year, and we’ll hopefully see you guys again.
Alien Weaponry recently released their latest single ‘Whispers’. You can check out the video here.