An icon of the New Zealand 90s rock scene, HEAD LIKE A HOLE gained a loyal following through their combination of quality rock ‘n’ roll and outrageous gigs which could see the band caked with mud, face and body paint or even just plain naked!
It was a crying shame when HLAH disbanded in 2000 but some great news arrived in late 2008 with the announcement that the band was re-forming for the Homegrown Festival in Wellington.
Still together and now boasting a new single ‘Swagger Of Thieves’ the band is currently recording an album of new songs with acclaimed engineer/producer Andrew Buckton. NZRock caught up with guitarist Nigel Regan to find out more…
You guys have been busy recording for the new album, how much have you done so far?
We started a few months ago now and we’ve got nine songs in the can.. We’ve actually only spent a total of probably a week all together in the studio because three of us are in Wellington and two in Auckland. It was actually three in Auckland and two in Wellington but Andrew has come back to Wellington to work for Weta.
The new single ‘Swagger Of Thieves’ sounds unmistakably like classic HEAD LIKE A HOLE…
Yeah , we’ve had a lot of comments like that saying that it sounds like classic HEAD LIKE A HOLE except a bit more mature and also kind of old school but updated a bit you know.
How about the other songs that you’re recording? Are they in the same vein as ‘Swagger Of Thieves’?
It’s a mixed bag but they’re all fucking total rockers you know. With this album we’ve kind of thrown out the rulebook so to speak when it comes to song structures. A lot of rock songs these days fall into the kind of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, different bit, chorus kind of thing. For me, by the time I get to that second verse I’m like, I know what’s going to happen and just fucking get on with it. So some of these new songs, I mean ‘Swagger Of Thieves’ is quite traditional in that respect, as far as structures go, but the rest of them, some of them just blast along for like not even two minutes and just stop. There’s also a new song called ‘Human Race’ for example, and it’s just got one note for the whole song… actually I lie, there’s a small change in it but it’s just one note and one riff but it totally kicks ass. It’s like a freight train, it gets up and running and then once it’s started it just hauls along to the end.
You’ve said that the band had more time to write and put together the songs this time. How did that process go after being apart for so many years?
Well actually a lot of the songs that will make it onto the album I wrote in about 2005. About five years after the band broke up I had found myself living in Wanganui at my cousin’s place and it was a huge old wool warehouse. We had this massive warehouse for something like $30 a week and that included power and everything. My cousin’s band had this big practise room all sound proofed and and it had drums bass, guitar… everthing and a couple of four tracks. So I kind of got the buzz back because after HEAD LIKE A HOLE ended I just wasn’t interested in playing guitar or writing music. But the buzz came back and I started writing all these songs and even way back then I’d send them back to Booga and I was like check out this shit! We’ve actually been wanting to record them since back then but at that point I really didn’t think the band would ever get back together so me and Booga had a plan to do it ourselves. But we never got round to it. When the band reformed for Homegrown at that point it was just to play a couple of gigs and make some money, we didn’t really have a plan after that. We didn’t make any money but we enjoyed it enough that we were like lets get these songs down, lets do it. Everyone was buzzing out about it and it has proved to be as great as I thought it was going to be.
I read somewhere that you’ve self funded the album completely.
Yeah well pretty much any gigs that we’ve played, instead of putting the money in our pocket we’ve put it towards recording the album. It’s quite good because it means we can do whatever the fuck we want you know. There’s no one telling us what to do and if we do actually sell any copies we’ll make some money because we won’t owe some record company a million dollars.
So what was it like playing your first gigs again as HEAD LIKE A HOLE and were you nervous about performing again after 10 years?
It was really good but when Booga rang up and said Homegrown, do you want to do it? my first thought was yeah, but I don’t want the first gig in 10 years to be a massive Homegrown type deal. So we got together and played at this small place called Mighty Mighty in Wellington and did a couple of small shows just to get the feel for it again. So by the time Homegrown rocked around we were sort of rocking again. Before we committed to Homegrown I said lets get together for a jam and see if we actually like it first and after a couple of songs it was like yeah sweet lets do it. But it took a while, we had to pop the albums on a few times to remember how the songs actually went haha!
Here’s an oldschool question for you. Back in 1992 you played at the Mushroom Ball with bands like Sticky Filth. What was it like play to a gig in Taranaki back in 1992?
Well to be honest with you it scared the shit out of me. You know, playing in New Plymouth it was always rough and those Mushroom Balls would be at the White Heart and the local motorcycle club, the Magogs, all their bikes would be out the front. Coming up from Wellington it just seemed like all of these Taranakian goth freaks… it was just bizzare and God, in 1992 I would’ve been 20 years old and I was quite green still. Mark [Hamill a.k.a. Hidibeast] he was kind of friends with those people. He spent a lot of time in Taranaki and was friends with Sticky Filth. We actually played a gig in Sydney with Sticky Filth a million years ago. Speaking of that I’ve been wanting to talk the guys into doing a cover of ‘Weep Woman Weep’ because that is a brilliant song, it’s a classic song which a lot more people should be aware of and I’d really like to cover it. Everyone’s always into it, its sort of more down to whether Booga feels he can sing the songs whether we cover them or not. We’ve got a plan next year to do some gigs where we play all the covers from back in the day that we used to play that influenced us. Like NIRVANA, MUHONEY, TAD, FUGAZI all that kind of shit. So we’re going to do some gigs and play all of the old grunge covers we used to do and hopefully we might do an album like that as well – just get together at home and do it on the 16-track like we used to do. ‘I’m On Fire’ was actually recorded at home on an 8-track. So yeah, we’ll just get together and slam down an album of 15-20 covers.
I can’t believe you recorded ‘I’m On Fire’ at home, that’s one of HLAH’s classic covers.
Yeah it’s funny, the video, if we had to pay for it, it would’ve cost 100k and the song actually cost zero dollars to record. It was done at home on the 8-track with no effects, just straight to tape and that’s it.
Outside of HEAD LIKE A HOLE you had a few other projects in the 90s like SML, BACONFOOT and HEMI. were those all recorded at home as well?
Yeah, for about 7 years I had this huge old flat off Willis Street in Wellington and there were no houses next to it so we could make as much noise as we wanted as long as the flatmates were OK with it. I had a studio there for years and I used to record all of the SML, BACONFOOT and all the band demos. Actually one of the last times that we got together to record all the songs – before the last album ‘HLAH IV’ – we contemplated just releasing that recording. It’s still really ballsy and everything, just a bit more garage sounding. It was like, do we go into a studio and spend 40k to do exactly what we’ve done except it’ll be a bit more polished? In hindsight we probably would’ve gone with the idea of releasing that instead but you know, it doesn’t matter.
HEAD LIKE A HOLE released a fair amount of CD singles as well, more than most Kiwi rock bands that I can think of. Why was that?
I guess they were more EPs than singles. I mean ‘Spanish Goat Dancer’ was a single/EP and that had bloody 25 songs or something on it haha! You don’t want to pay $10 for a CD with two songs on it so we’d always try and have at least four or five and that’s why we’d record some covers and chuck them on. Yeah, I guess bands don’t really do that anymore do they? It’d be good to do that again but all the kids these days, its all downloading for them. I think there is still a fairly big section of music buying audience that still like to have a hard physical product in their hand. It’ll be interesting when we do put the album out if we sell more downloads than actual CDs because the plan at this stage is to kind of do a double album and it’ll be the new album with ‘Blood On The Honkey Tonk Floor’ packaged up together and some videos as well. We’ve got about 15 videos and there’s been a plan for years to release the DVD of them. So we’re sort of tossing up in the air whether we just give them away free with the album as an incentive to buy it because I just don’t think that, that many people would buy a DVD of all our videos you know.
Did you guys ever find out who that fellow was on the cover of ‘Blood On The Honkey Tonk Floor’?
Yes he wrote us a letter maybe six months later and he explained the whole night of how he got beaten up by some huge Pacific islander guy or something and ended up off his face at the gig. He was from some little town or something and he walked into a record store and saw this album with him on the front haha! It was good that he was good about it because he could have packed a shit. But I guess that’s quite a thing to say you know, I’m on the cover of a Kiwi rock band’s album. I can’t remember the guys name but he must be in his 30’s now I guess because that was a while ago. He’ll be all grown up now like the rest of us.
At one stage HEAD LIKE A HOLE was signed to the German record label Noise Records, that must’ve been a pretty big deal for you guys.
Yes and no, I mean they were like a record company that sold a lot of bad Hair Metal in the 80’s and when they signed us and SHIHAD it was kind of like they were going to reinvigorate the label. But it didn’t really happen for us because when the big-wigs from the record company came and watched us we played this bloody aweful gig. It was just terrible! And we had one more chance to redeem ourselves when they came and watched us again… and we played another shocker! But the ironic thing was in between, all the other people from the record company would come and watch us play these totally stonking gigs and go back and say it was awesome. But they weren’t the ones that made the decisions. The people who did sign the contracts and the cheques, whenever they came to see us it was just an abortion haha! I just don’t know what went wrong. So they ended up dropping us. But the actual whole thing of going to Europe and playing, that was incredible and especially doing it with SHIHAD which at that time they were our kind of buds so it was like meeting up with a bunch of good friends and going awesome, lets play some gigs around Europe.
SHIHAD ended up getting ‘Killjoy’ released on vinyl through Noise Records. Did you guys ever think about getting vinyls released at all?
Oh fuck, we’ve wanted to do vinyl for years but its just never happened. But I think with this album we’ll definitely get some vinyl pressed even if its only 100 or 200. We’re kind of trying to get all that shit together. I had an idea of instead of putting out an album in March, why not put out a song every month. But I don’t know if we’re dreaming or not but we’d really like to get a gold album and the only way that’ll happen is if we actually put an album out. It’s quite surprising with this getting back together, there are acually quite a lot of young 15, 16 , 17 and 18 year olds who are like the younger brothers and sisters of people who grew up with the band. So hopefully with the older audience and the new one we actually might shift a few units. The most units we ever sold was 5,000 so it’d be really great to push it over that. We just found out this week that we’re Number 1 on bFM. That’s a real buzz for us to see that student radio still accepts us. They definitely don’t play your music as much when you’re not out there playing but now that we’re out gigging again you definitely here it more. That was the other thing, going back to when you asked if we were nervous playing those gigs. I guess at some point we looked at eachother and said, if we’re going to carry on, we have to have some new music because otherwise we’ve just reformed HEAD LIKE A HOLE and after a while people will be saying whoopty doo, I’ve seen them five times now and where’s the new stuff? For radio to get back behind us we needed some new stuff so getting out ‘Swagger Of Thieves’ was definitely the top of the list.
Did you guys look into getting grants from NZOA?
Back in the day we used to get heaps of grants off them which we were really grateful for but this time we’ve applied for a grant for ‘Swagger Of Thieves’ twice and they’ve turned us down both times. But you know, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a video, we just have to pay for it ourselves. I think too many bands get into that trap of oh, we didn’t get a grant, poor us, we can’t make a video. But not everyone can get a grant.
The first time I saw you guys play was when you opened for METALLICA in 1998 with Mark on drums. He’s not in the current line-up, what happened to him?
I see him every now and then. He’s living in Wellington and he plays in Irish bands doing the Irish pub thing. I saw him a few weeks ago and said when are you going to get out there and play some original music? Because he’s an incredible drummer, he’s absolutely amazing.
Wellington had a huge Rock scene in the 90s. What’s the music scene like down there now?
It’s still pretty much that whole FAT FREDDY’S DROP, THE BLACK SEEDS thing. Yeah like the Rock thing was just kind of swept away by the whole Dub Reggae thing. I don’t go out a lot but I look to see what’s going on and it’s hard to say what kind of scene is there at the moment. There is definitely no Rock scene going on, just kind of a mish mash. What Wellington needs is a bloody good medium sized venue. It’s crazy that we’re the capital city and we miss out on most of the good music that comes to the country. You’ve either got the stadium or the next level down which is like Bodega and the San Fancisco Bath House. Oh yeah, that’s right, we’re playing with the STONE TEMPLE PILOTS in March. We were hoping to play with KYUSS too but that probably wont happen.
So you’ve got the STONE TEMPLE PILOTS show and also the your new album coming out, what are your plans for the rest of 2011?
Well hopefully the album with be out in March then we’ll play STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, do a bit of a tour on the main centres and then fingers crossed we’re going to go to the UK for a couple of weeks and sort of test the waters over there. We’re really hoping to go to the US as well but I’ll get really excited when someone puts a plane ticket in my hands because I’ve heard these things before and its just not worth getting all excited about it. But if we do get to go, especially to the States, I’d be really happy about that because back in the 90s we so wanted to go to America.