Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
At the ripe old age of 16, Lewis de Jong is a venerable guitar hero, tearing riffs in one of New Zealand’s most prized metal exports, Alien Weaponry. With their second tour of Oz around the corner, Matt Doria got de Jong on the line for a quality yarn.
Aside from being the youngest people there (it’s an 18+ festival, and their oldest member just makes the cutoff), Alien Weaponry will turn heads at the 2019 Download Festival for their one-of-a-kind fusion of churlish, hair-whipping thrash metal and traditional Maori culture. Hailing from the Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Raukawa tribes, the Kiwi trio deliver their unique brand of scream ‘n’ shred in a mix of both English and Maori languages, with cultural politics and real life violence at the forefront of their ire.
Between their striking and intimate concept, and the band’s truly age-defying talent, it makes sense that Alien Weaponry are currently taking the world by storm. Their debut album Tu– landed at #5 on the New Zealand album charts, and Down Under, they’ve been revered as a persistently powerful and destructively dynamic live act.
So obviously you guys are the youngest band on the Download lineup, which I imagine is the case for pretty much every festival you play. Is it daunting to be on these festivals with bands that have been playing music for twice as long as you’ve been alive?
It’s always pretty buzzy when you’re backstage and someone from Judas Priest walks past, and you’re just kind of sitting there, staring in awe. It’s a bit surreal, being the person coming up in the game when you’re looking up to all of those people.
Do you find yourselves fighting to be taken seriously as such a young band, or has the community been pretty welcoming?
When we started to sing in te reo Maori and when people started to take notice of us, that’s when everyone started taking us more seriously. We definitely struggled a lot when we were starting out because we were really young – we were all ten and 12, and y’know, no-one wants to book ten- and 12-year-olds. So that was a struggle, but now, I guess we’ve established ourselves a bit and we’re a big name – well, big-ish, at least in New Zealand. So people take us a bit more seriously because of that.
Where did the idea come from to fuse te reo Maori with this thrash metal style?
The idea originally came from our friends who play in a band called Strangely Arousing. Basically, they entered a competition called Smokefree Pacifica Beats, where you need to fuse your indigenous culture into your music.
They’re kind of like a reggae band, and they had a song that had a Maori verse in it. We were pretty good friends with them and we really liked that song, so we decided, y’know, “Let’s try to
write a song in Maori, but let’s also try to keep it heavy and thrash metal.”
We entered the competition not knowing what people would expect or how people would react to it, and we came out blown away because everyone seemed to take it really well.
Have you found that you’ve introduced many new people to the Maori culture through your music?
Oh, definitely. Especially overseas – we’ll play in Germany and we’ll see people singing the words to our Maori songs, and it’s like… I can’t even explain the feeling. They’re not even from New Zealand and they’d probably have no idea what Maori culture is otherwise, but they’ve gone and taken the time to learn the Maori lyrics and show their support at the shows. That’s a pretty buzzy feeling.
How long have you been playing the guitar?
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was three years old. I’ve always played heaps of instruments, but I guess the moment I realised I wanted to pursue the guitar was when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn – he’s my number one guitar hero!
Do you remember the first song you learned?
I never really learned one, to be honest. Like, I tried going to lessons and learning songs and stuff, but I was always a pretty uncooperative kid, so all my guitar teachers were just like, ‘Nup. I’ve had enough, I can’t teach this kid!’
So I just kind of taught myself. I’m not really the kind of person to go out and learn a song – I just like to f*** around and write my own [laughs]. But I guess… I learned ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ by Metallica. I just kind of figured out the chord progressions. Like, I’m probably playing it completely wrong, but y’know, it sounds similar enough!
What are you playing on at the moment?
I’m playing on a few different things. Do you know Dean Guitars?
Yeah, so Dean Zelinsky was the founder of Dean, but he started another company called DBZ, and that ran for about two years before he sold the company off to Diamond. So most of my guitars are Dean Zelinsky-era DBZs, and I play in drop D and in drop C# on those. But then I also have an ESP E-II Standard, which is a baritone seven-stringer, and that’s tuned to low B standard seven-string tuning. I’ve also got a spare for each guitar, so I’ve got four DBZs and then two baritone seven-strings.
What would be the specs on your hypothetical signature model?
I’d go with a neck-through baritone seven-string with Seymour Duncan Blackouts and D’Addario tuners. It would be an alder body with a maple neck, and it’d be oil-finished. You know how basses have that natural wood finish, but you don’t really see that on guitars? I want that on my guitar.
Wednesday March 6th – The Zoo, Brisbane
Saturday March 9th – Download Festival, Sydney
Monday March 11th – Download Festival, Melbourne
Wednesday March 13th – The Basement, Canberra
Thursday March 14th – Enigma Bar, Adelaide
Saturday March 16th – Amplifier, Perth
Tickets on sale via alienweaponry.com