Alien Weaponry is a metal band from Waipu, New Zealand, formed in 2010 by brothers Henry and Lewis de Jong. The members of the band are Lewis de Jong (guitar and vocals), Henry de Jong (drums), and Ethan Trembath (bass guitar). A lot of their songs are written in Māori language.
Last year we saw them at MetalDays festival in Tolmin, Slovenia. This year they are coming back but this time their concert will be held at the main stage. The band is performing all around Europe at the moment and they are truly winning the hearts of the crowd. We decided to have an interview with them and they agreed.
Firstly, can you explain the meaning of your name? Why Alien Weaponry?
We (Lewis and Henry) decided on that name after we watched the movie ‘District 9’ when we were 8 and 10 years old. In it, everyone wants the alien weaponry, but it only works when the aliens use it. We had not really written any proper songs yet, but we thought it would be a good name for our band.
When you first started to play, you were just kids. Even now you are still very very young. How old were you then and what was the trigger for founding a band and creating your music career? Do you have some prior attachment to the field of music, metal music to be exact?
Well, Lewis actually wrote kind of a song when he was 2, on the ukulele – it only had one word (‘Raiona’, which means ‘Lion’ in Te Reo Māori), but he used to sing it in a kind of angry, metal way. Our Dad used to play us all sorts of music, and he’s quite a metal fan, so there was a lot of Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Ministry, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Kiss. But also other stuff – Bob Marley, John Mayall, Pink Floyd, and even some baroque music. We had a harpsichord at home, as well as a piano, drums, guitars, so we just picked them up. We started off all playing everything, but Henry preferred the drums. Lewis decided to be a guitarist when he was about 3 – his favourite DVD was Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live at the El Mocambo. I guess we drifted towards metal with our songwriting because it is a complex, passionate music, that is good for expressing strong views and feelings.
Regarding your Maori roots, please tell us something more about that history and your connection to it. A lot of people do not know anything about it and it is always good to learn these things from someone who is personally attached to them.
We (Henry and Lewis) are of Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Raukawa (tribal) descent. When we were born, our father recited our whakapapa (genealogy) right back to when the world was nothing. As we were growing up, he told us a lot of stories about the history of our people, both before and after their arrival in Aotearoa. Every time we went somewhere in the car, we would get a history lesson – “Do you know what happened here in eighteen sixty-something?” We used to think it was boring, but then when we put those stories into our music it sparked something – not just for us, but for people who heard them as well. Even people from other countries.
The number of Maori speakers dropped a lot but there is still an amount of people who uses the language. Are there any numbers? How did you learn the language?
We (Henry and Lewis) went to a kura kaupapa Māori (a school where all the lessons and conversation was in the Māori language). The kura kaupapa movement started in the 1970s, when the number of Māori speakers had dropped to its lowest point. Before that, children were punished for speaking Te Reo Māori at school, including our grandmother. Even though it’s had a revival, there is still only a tiny proportion of the New Zealand population who speak Te Reo Māori fluently, and most of them are over 65 years old. So we feel very fortunate that we had the opportunity to learn our reo (language) as children.
What are, mostly, themes of your songs?
We named our first album ‘Tū’ after Tūmatauenga, the Māori god of war, because a lot of our songs are about conflict. This is everything from ancient battles to modern political conflict, and personal conflicts within ourselves; with teachers and friends; and with aspects of society, like the media and rules.
Your first album was released in 2018. How was the feedback? Was it what you expected?
We didn’t really know what to expect, but we were blown away by the feedback. ‘Tū’ was named on quite a lot of ‘best of’ lists for 2018, and in general we had very positive feedback – from metalheads and even some people who were not especially into metal. So we are very happy with how it was received.
Are there any upcoming plans regarding new albums and tours? Your will perform at MetalDays festivals again this year, which is great due to the fact you will be playing at the main stage this time.
We started a 3-month tour of Europe on 7 June, and yes, we are excited to be on the main stage at MetalDays. The invitation to MetalDays last year was the first European festival invitation we had, and it really set the ball rolling for us. So we are really honoured to be asked back a second year. We are also playing a whole bunch of other festivals – Download UK, Hellfest, Resurrection Festival, Tuska and Copenhell to name a few; as well as some headline shows, and also some supports for Anthrax and Slayer in Germany, which we are also very excited about. Stay tuned too, for an announcement about a second tour of the USA later this year. We released a new single, Ahi Kā, in May, and will another one due out in July, but with all the touring it will be next year before we finish writing our second album.
8. Are you planning to keep the Maori language as part of your songwriting and future work in general?
Yes, definitely. On our first album, some songs were all in Māori, some were all in English, and some were a mixture of both. We will probably do something similar with the next album, but we usually write the music first, and chose the language and write lyrics that work with the music. So it will be whatever works.
Who is behind the ideas of your music videos?
We have worked with an awesome young Polish-Kiwi cameraman/producer/editor named Piotr Kwasnik on our last five music videos. The first one was Urutaa, where he volunteered to set his hand on fire in the segment with the pocket watch. That was so badass that we knew he would do whatever it takes to make a great video. We discuss the ideas and concepts behind the songs with him, and then he gets together the team to make it happen. He is a real perfectionist, and we know we can trust him to bring the ideas in our songs into the videos.
The song Rū Ana te Whenua is connected to your great great great grandfather, which is not only historic but also a personal matter. Can you tell us something more about that?
You are right, this song has a very personal meaning for us (Henry and Lewis). It tells the story of the 1864 battle at Gate Pā; where 230 Māori dug themselves into the hilltop at Pukehinahina and withstood the heaviest artillery bombardment the British army has ever delivered, resulting in a crushing defeat for the 1700 strong British forces and changing the course of history. Our great, great, great grandfather, Te Ahoaho, died in this battle. There is also a very moving story about how after the battle, a young Māori woman, Hēni Te Kirikaramu, brought water to the wounded and dying British solders – her compassion and the grief surrounding the many deaths are also described in the song.
The facts from that part of history and culture - did you learn them from your family or from school? How much is known about those facts, at all?
Most of the stories of Māori culture and history we learned from our father. Our great-great grandmother was the youngest in her family, and our Dad is her eldest grandchild, which in Māori tradition would make him a war chief. He has taken it upon himself to learn not just about our own family stories and whakapapa (genealogy), but also the stories of related iwi (tribes), going back into the times of mythology. It’s not something taught routinely in schools, but the information is there for those who seek it.
Your lifelong dream was to perform at Wacken Open Air. How was the whole experience? There is even a new web series by RNZ Music, following you and your Wacken experience. Tell us something about that.
Yeah, we set that goal when we were, I think 12 and 14 – to play at Wacken before Henry (who is the oldest of us) turned 20. Henry was 18 last year when we played there, and I think the RNZ Music doco says it all. It was an amazing experience.
Do you have any other dreams and hopes you can share with the public?
Hopefully 2018 was just the beginning. We played four festivals in Europe then; and this year we are on 14, including some main stages. Our new goal is to headline the main stage – not just at Wacken, but at every big metal festival across the world. We haven’t been to South America or Japan yet, which are both places we’d love to go. And of course, we hope our second albumgets an even better response than the first.
Can you describe your music in three words?
Lots of people have used many different words to describe our music, but a term that we still like is ‘Te Reo Metal’ (the metal language) – used by Jeff Newton from New Zealand on Air the first time we performed Kai Tangata.
A message to your fans! In few words or sentences.
We love you all – hope to see you at a show in the near future. Nga mihi mahana mo tō tautoko rawe! (Thanks for your awesome support!)
Thank you Alien Weaponry, it was a pleasure indeed. See you in Tolmin, Slovenia!
Photos and video: dipARTicle