Head Like A Hole’s iconic frontman on family, the key ingredients to a live performance, and the state of New Zealand music.
Kiwi rock outfit Head Like A Hole return to their Wellington home ground this Saturday for the annual Homegrown musical festival. Ahead of their set, I spoke briefly with ringleader Booga Beazley and found him in a reflective state of mind. With a keen sense of humour, he recalls the first band practice post-hiatus, HLAH’s future ambitions, and what’s missing from New Zealand music.
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JAMES MANNING: In 2009 you were asked to reform for a reunion spot on the 2009 Homegrown bill. How did the first practice go after being apart for so long?
BOOGA BEAZLEY: The first practice that we had in Wellington—I was a bit late, and I could hear the band playing in the building a few stories up. I could hear the music funnelling down through the ventilation systems, and when I got into the room and I started singing, it was almost like we never left the practice room or had been apart for nine years. We just thought if everything goes well, we’ll see what happens and maybe continue on. It was too good to resist.
JM: Nine years earlier HLAH disbanded. Can you recall the day it happened?
BB: We went down to a cafe in Parnell, all of us [pause]. Basically, I was a bit of a bastard and told each member what I thought of them. Everyone got up and left except for Mike (Franklin Brown, drummer), and he said, “Booga that was a bit harsh mate, you’re a bit of a bastard.” Then he got up and left. I said, “well, toss it mate, I’m leaving the band and that’s it.”
JM: 2011’s well received Blood Will Out was your last release. In 2013 you set out across the country on the Monsta X tour, but 2012 was left relatively quiet. What happened?
BB: Mike, his family and [in particular] his son Theo had quite a dramatic year. He’s got cerebral palsy from a birth problem, [and Mike’s] world was totally taken over by looking after him. In 2012 we told Mike that we didn’t want to put any pressure on him, and to take the year to settle in with his child and family. It’s a bummer we couldn’t play, but family’s more important.
JM: I certainly agree…
BB: When he came back to us, things were looking up. He had shifted from Auckland to Wanganui to be closer to his mother and father for help and support, and he said it couldn’t have been a better move. A bit more laid back than Auckland, as you can imagine. His boy Theo is thriving, and once everything was sorted, we were totally back in action.
JM: With Mike in Wanganui, Simon (Nicholls, bass) and Andrew (Ashton, guitar) in Auckland, and yourself based in Otaki, the chemistry of the band must be completely different from the ’90s…
BB: It seems crazy, because most bands work as a well oiled machine, like a rugby team. They get together maybe a few times a week, they’re good friends. And we’ve done that, but now it’s a bit different; we’re older and have families. It’s the way it works now.
JM: Have you begun collecting material for the next album?
BB: We’ve always got a library of tracks that we’ve tried or that we’re going to try in the future. It’s not a case of writing a shit-load of stuff for the new record, [it’s] more going over old material that we’ve had for ages [along with] recent material, and trying to piece something together. Then finding the time to record, the money, the person to do it, and [deciding] how we’re going to pull it all together when we live in four different cities [laughs].
JM: In terms of the cult live presence HLAH is renowned for, has the hiatus period and the time spent with families tamed the antics?
BB: In the old days we were a bit more out there, we had a few more antics up our sleeves: a bit of nudity, people hanging upside down from the rafters, shit like that. But I’ve still got something in my brain, that when I hit the stage I turn into a growling animal. That’s the thing I love about playing with the band. It transforms me into that beast, which just loves the crowd and loves singing. It’s an experience.
JM: Definitely. The best live shows are always those where each factor—the musicianship, the onstage presence, the relationship with the crowd—culminate into something special.
BB: Yeah, it’s not just about the music and playing it really bloody well. It’s going away thinking, mate, that’s going to be forever embedded in my memory: it was awesome, it was a sweaty pit, beautiful girls, and good looking dudes. It’s rock and roll, man.
JM: As a man with a legacy in New Zealand music history, can you make comment on the current state of New Zealand music?
BB: I reckon we’re possibly at a point in New Zealand’s music history [where] we lack bands that provide that experience. I think the way music has been steering on TV, and with reality shows, people like to jump on the bandwagon and coattail of others, and unfortunately there’s a lot of replication of that’s-doing-well-therefore-we-shall-do-it-too.
That makes me wonder when I hear music on the radio. I’ll hear songs they’re playing and then perhaps I’ll hear one of mine, and it stands out like dog’s balls. I’ll think to myself, it’s either, a) shit, or b) bloody good.
JM: It’s a fine line, sometimes…
BB: There’s certainly a lot of talented people out there. Whether you like the music or not is just an opinion, isn’t it? One person says someone’s music is shit and the other says it’s really good. It doesn’t really matter. If you like it, that’s that.
Look at what’s happening now. I’ve been saying for a few years that someone from New Zealand will crack it overseas hugely and become a massive figure around the world. Crowded House and the Finn Brothers won’t be all that have done the most successfully over the years. Sure enough, Lorde comes along and blows up.
JM: When you look back at the history of HLAH, are there any specific moments you are most proud you’ll be remembered for?
BB: I’m proud of the band as a whole unit considering we started it just to see if we could play music. I wasn’t a musician at all and I didn’t know how to sing. I learnt how to scream, and then went from screaming into partial singing, and now I can sing properly. We’ve had some great moments, made some great music. I think Blood Will Out was probably our best. We’ve been able to go to Australia a few times and tour Europe, and played with some wicked bands. I probably wouldn’t replace that with anything. It’s not every life you get to be in a rock band, you know.
JM: Anything else you’d like to add?
BB: In terms of HLAH, we’re doing everything in our power to get into a recording studio so we can have something released this year. We’re working to release a single in the next few months so we can get something out there, do some shows, maybe do a small tour before winter, and we might actually do a summer tour.
JM: I imagine with sights on summer you’re looking at the festival circuit?
BB: Exactly, mate. We’ve always wanted to release our stuff on vinyl too, and we’re going to do an online Kickstarter project in the next couple of weeks, so we’ll be looking for people to pledge. We want this year to be big.