Formed mid-1995 Wellington Hard Rock outfit WETA quickly rose through the ranks achieving the same levels of popularity as their musical peers SHIHAD and HEAD LIKE A HOLE. During the 90’s WETA performed shows in New Zealand and Australia with the likes of FILTER, SOUNDGARDEN, GREEN DAY, and EVERCLEAR. The band also found time to release two recordings, the raw Weta Bandand powerful ‘Natural Compression’ EP and a spectacular ambient Rock album ‘Geographica’. But just when the future was looking good for WETA in 2001, the band dealt a big blow to fans with the announcement that they would be splitting up. It wasn’t until 2008 that the long awaited news of a WETA reunion came to light. The band’s first show since 2001 was at the Southern Amp Festival in Christchurch, followed by shows in Wellington and Auckland. As 2009 begins the band is gearing up to play at the Big Day Out 2009 and also Homegrown in Wellington. NZRock.com spoke with vocalist / guitarist Gabriel Atkinson for the latest WETA news…
Gabe: We were doing all of our rehearsals in NZ so Tookie and I, we live in Melbourne and we will be flying back for anything that WETA does. So a week before the Big Day Out in January we’ll fly down to Christchurch which is Aaron’s hometown and yeah, we’ll get together and have a jam.
NZRock: What have you been up to since WETA broke up in 2001? I saw you were in another band called ONE at some stage…
Gabe: Yeah that’s right. After WETA broke up I stayed in Australia and the first year after the break up I actually started working at a guitar company called Mason guitars here in Melbourne. So I worked there for about a year. And then I got a job working in a bar looking after their bands and doing an acoustic night with singer songwriters. It was like an all original acoustic night. That was a Tuesday night thing that we did every night for about four or five years but I would also book all the entertainment through the week for the weekend bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. I was at that bar for about four or five years so just recently in the last couple of years I went back to another guitar manufacturer, I was working there for about a year, and when the WETA thing came up I decided that I’d go back to the hospitality trade so I was a little bit more flexable you know. So I could have the time to travel back to New Zealand and work with the band. So yeah, I’ve been keeping myself in the music industry from the time since WETA broke up because always have enjoyed it and always like to play guitar you know, that’s really the main reason.
NZRock: What was the defining moment for WETA getting back together?
Gabe: Well I think it happened for Aaron. He went to Auckland… it was a bit of a music party where a friend of his was leaving EMI Records I think and there was a lot of industry there and a lot of people that night were commenting on the record ‘Geographica’ to Aaron and how much they still enjoyed it and how much they wished that the band was still together. Obviously he just got that idea into his head and then he just contacted everyone… through the wonder of Facebook HAHA! And it just went from there. For about three years now its been on the cards you know Weta what I mean. Like two and a half, three years ago there was like a phone call here and a little conversation there and you know, it didnt really happen. And then it happened again maybe a year and a half ago and then this time around Clinton and Aaron they really put their heads together and… what we were going to do was actually start out with one gig in Wellington and the idea was to put the album to rest you know, and give all of our friends and family who still love it and anyone else in New Zealand to come and see the band play and then we could just say hey, we’ve done the show and we’re really happy and thanks. So once we kind of went for that one gig it started to snowball and people in Auckland wanted us to play and people in Christchurch wanted us to play so all of a sudden we had a show in Auckland, a show in Wellington and a show in Christchurch. So it just sort of snowballed and we got the Southern Amp Festival as well so it was great really. Really positive.
NZRock: Just going back to when you split-up in 2001, was that also Aarons decision to disband or something you all decided?
Gabe: Oh we all agreed you know, we’re a democratic band, we all agree on everything together and that’s how decisions are made but without your lead singer coming forward and going right, I’m ready to sing the songs again, I’m ready to do this, the band can’t really move forward you know. You need the voice and Aaron’s the voice so when he put his hand up we all went yeah no worries lets do it! Sweet as bro! HAHA!
NZRock: I saw you guys at Southern Amp and you guys looked totally stoked to be on stage and the crowd atmosphere was awesome as well. What’d it feel like to be back performing as WETA again?
Gabe: It was amazing! The crowd at Southern Amp were amazing and I think I was more shocked than anything about how many people were getting into it an loving it. It was fucking amazing!
NZRock: There has been news that you guys have plans to do another album. Is that going to happen?
Gabe: Yeah we’d really love to. Obviously everybodys got to work and pay bills so what we’re trying to do now is just find time where we can get together and jam. And really that’s ultimately where all the music comes from. It’s just us guys in a room, totally chilled out and relaxed and just jamming and coming up with ideas. That’s the next step you know. We’re not trying to take giant leaps and bounds, we’re just trying to take little steps towards the goal. The time that we spent together in November of this year we were just jamming you know. Just feeling it out and having a good time playing music together with eachother.
NZRock: Do you have any songs left over from the ‘Geographica’ recording sessions that never ended up going on the album?
Gabe: Nah there actually aren’t HAHA! We had about 15 or 16 songs when we went in to record ‘Geographica’ and I think 13 made it to the record and the other two were B-sides. One of those B-sides ended up on the ‘Calling On’ single and the other song, we actually played it in our set as an acoustic track. It was called ‘So Far, So Close’.
NZRock: What do you miss the most about the 90’s scene in Wellington where you had bands like WETA, SHIHAD and HEAD LIKE A HOLE all in the same place?
Gabe: All of those songs, all of those bands from that time… I mean that’s the era. The late 90’s in Wellington, New Zealand was the place where music was happening you know. There were great bands coming out of Auckland at the same time and there were bands coming through from Christchurch and from Dunedin and I think the time itself was a great time for New Zealand music because the Government was just starting to do the New Zealand On Air thing and they were just starting to back New Zealand music. I think a band like WETA, we were one of the first bands that were a part of that and we’re very proud to be a part of that. Of course SHIHAD and HEAD LIKE A HOLE, they’d been around for years prior to that but I mean those guys, they’re the Grand-daddies of New Zealand Rock mate! HAHA! You know, they’re the ones. If you want to go get your ass kicked and learn a lesson about performing live just go and see those guys you know.
NZRock: Before you guys released the ‘Geographica’ you also had the ‘Natural Compression’ EP and damn that was a raw Rock N Roll recording. Do you have a favourite track from that CD?
Gabe: We actually performed all of the songs off ‘Natural Compression’ just recently. We put ‘Up Down’ which was the fourth track, we put that one back into the setlist just because it was this big fat riff and we thought lets put that one back in there because it’s got the moshing buzz HAHA! So yeah, a favourite for me… I reckon ‘Got The Ju’ on ‘Natural Compression’ is pretty rad. That was done by Tom Larkin (SHIHAD) at Marmalade Studios in Wellington and we were all very green and young in regards to recording so we were very lucky to have him on board, guiding us through it and creating that really big sound which we got out of the EP. And it still today, you put it on the stereo and compare it to other records and it’s really loud. I dont know if you noticed that but its a lot louder than other CDs which is quite rockin’! Its very raw and very in your face.
NZRock: I read somewhere that you guys recorded a demo with Jonathan Burnside but weren’t happy with the result. He’d previously worked with NIRVANA so what went wrong there?
Gabe: Well he’d just finshed recording GRINSPOON’s ‘Easy’ record which was quite massive here in Australia at the time. It was a big record when it came out and I think by the time he’d got through his 6-8 weeks working with ‘Grinspoon’, when we got to him he was really drained. He was really tired and I just dont think he had any inspiration in him at the time. WE did a couple of tracks with him and it just didn’t happen. It just wasn’t the right timing I suppose. But um yeah, I think one of the tracks ended up on a funny compilation in New Zealand somewhere way down the line. I dont know what it’s called now but I can remember it being out there at some stage. It was ‘So Far So Close’ that we ended up doing. I don’t know how you’d find it but it’s definitely out there mate.
NZRock: Another historical question for you, what happened to that bass guitar that Ben Sheppard from SOUNDGARDEN gave to you guys?
Gabe: It got stolen. We’d flown over to do a show in Auckland and we went over to Andrew Durno’s (aka Tallbeast) house, the bass player from HEAD LIKE A HOLE and we were hanging out and I think we had a few beers. We parked out van outside and someone did a smash and grab. They actually took the bass, a guitar head and a guitar amp and they took a bag of clothes which belonged to Clinton. Our drummer had no clothes, he had the clothes he had on his back for about a week – well you know he went and brought some more but for a day or two he had the clothes on his back. We had no bass so we had to borrow one of Durno’s and we had to borrow a guitar amp. It was a bit of a bad buzz really but the weekend that we were there we supported SILVERCHAIR in Auckland so on the ‘Got The Ju’ video which was recorded at that concert Tookie is playing Tall Beast’s bass because we borrowed his bass because Tookie’s had been stolen. So that’s why in the video you see Tookie playing Tallbeast’s old Fender. I’ve got a memory like an elephant mate, I remember everything HAHA!
NZRock: Jon Toogood from SHIHAD wrote the song ‘Pacifier’ about Aaron. How was that received by WETA?
Gabe: I think it was how Jonny expressed his feelings and emotions at the time about the situation that we were all in. It was a little bit frightening at the time, we didn’t know what was really going on and I think songwriters and musicians, that’s part of the way that they emotionally deal with the situations like that and sometimes songs are the thing that come out of it you know. There are all sorts of songs through history that have been written for ex-lovers or people that you don’t like or politicians that you hate, things like that. So it seems very normal for me that a song like that would come out of the woodwork and it’s a fucken great song isn’t it!
NZRock: So there’s a possible WETA album on the horizon, your playing at the Big Day Out and also you’ve got a spot at the Homegrown concert in Wellington. What else have you guys got planned for the rest of 2009?
Gabe: Homegrown in Wellington is going to be awesome because of course HEAD LIKE A HOLE will be performing their first big show in years. I can’t wait to see them because they were always like phenomenal live. Booga Beezley was like outta control, you never knew what he was going to do next and it was always heaps of fun to go and watch. But look, we’re just going to have jams and see how we go. There’s no real big plans, just trying to get everybody back into the band room and jam out some tunes. At ‘Homegrown’ we’re playing on the Green Stage at 8pm.
NZRock:I know it’s way too early to be asking but have you thought about who you might like to produce your next record at all?
Gabe: I’d have no idea, I wouldn’t mind working with Mutt Lange (DEF LEPPARD, AC/DC, FOREIGNER, THE CARS) HAHA! I think his payment is like a blank cheque HAHA! Look I wouldn’t know at the moment you know. Maybe in six months time if you ask me again I might have an answer HAHA!
NZRock: Are you guys still associated with Warner Music anymore or did that end when WETA broke up in 2001?
Gabe: Yeah that’s right. We’re not signed to any record label at the moment. Warners did re-release ‘Geographica’ in New Zealand to coinside with our reforming so that was great. It was good to have it back out there again. Before that, they only made one pressing of it and that was the original run that everyone got back in 2001. The funny thing is that over the years I’d catch up with mates and go back to New Zealand and visit family, and they’d say oh, I got another ‘Geographica’ the other day but then it got stolen at a party and now I have to find another one. It’s a funny album like that, it’s been stolen and re-bought so many times I reckon it’s pretty funny HAHA! People are always trying to get a copy you know which is great.
NZRock: Can you see a permanent move back to New Zealand for yourself?
Gabe: I’ve got my life here in Melbourne you know, and its only a three hour plane ride. It takes longer to get to Perth and that’s in the same country HAHA! So to me it’s part of the job. If I’ve got to fly home to do work with the band then that’s what I’ll do.