Dion Lunadon (Palmer) just loves being on the rock’n’roll stage. He played pivotal roles in The Snitches, Marty Sauce and The Source, Nothing at All and The Rainy Days before forming local heroes The D4, following that with The True Lovers and now seminal (and serious) New York noise merchants A Place To Bury Strangers. Born March 1976 at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital, to parents more interested in Abba and Barry Manilow than Elvis or the Stones, Dion was forced into piano lessons from the age of six. It wasn’t long before the leather clad grip of rock’n’roll took hold. Picking up a guitar in his early teens he figured out his first song – Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love, obviously.
“I saw Billy Idol on TV around the time Rebel Yell came out and it blew my mind! I got it on cassette and listened to it non-stop for a year. I felt at the time, that this was what I was searching for and remember thinking how heavy it was. I was young.
“When I entered my early teens I started getting into metal and classic stuff like Led Zep. This was about the same time I got my first guitar. Then someone gave me a Dead Kennedys’ record and I discovered punk, which I was quickly drawn too, and started my first band.”
Among the influences for his first foray into band life Dion Lunadon cites The Ramones, Pistols, Stooges, MC5, Black Flag, Dead Boys, Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, The Damned, and Misfits, ’60s garage and ‘AK79’. His first real band was Nothing At All, a power pop ensemble that included Tony Brockwell and Paul Foster. John Baker introduced them to Bob Frisbee and the burgeoning punk scene of the time.
“Amazing times. Bands like Psycho Daizes, Gestalt, S.M.A.K, Supercar and early Rainy Days which I later went on to join as bass player.”
Nothing At All recorded their first single Journey at the original Frisbee studios on Mayoral Drive and went on to record an EP and album at Frisbee’s various future locations.
“We never even really thought about recording properly or playing real shows until John and Bob made it happen. For that I’m forever thankful for them! We were all underage but would play Punch And Judys, The Dogs Bollix etc. We also played many halls on the North Shore of Auckland, until we were eventually banned because of rioting. We toured the country many times too.
Before The D4 formed Lunadon was playing in The Snitches, ‘was’ being the operative word – he was kicked out “… for no good reason” and set out to start his own band right away. The musical partnership with Jimmy Christmas began at a friend’s party, playing spin the bottle. Christmas was then playing in A Bit Off but they gathered a band together and after a few jams settled on the line up of Christmas, English Jake (now in Thee Rum Coves) and Rich Mixture.
These days heading up Luger Boa, Christmas introduced him to bands like Devil Dogs, Guitar Wolf and Teengenerate, which inspired Lunadon to break away from Nothing At All and focus on The D4.
“No one was doing what we were doing. This was the late ’90s when techno and DJs were big. I hated that and just wanted to play straight ahead, balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll and it felt good to do so. We quickly built a good following as obviously there were others that wanted a change too. We made an EP at Frisbee and Paul McKessar signed us to Flying Nun. That was about 18 months after the inception.
“I felt, the longer The D4 were together, the more in tune with each other we became. We would pretty much agree on everything. Just before we went on indefinite hiatus we had a bunch of songs written and they were really easy to put together because of this. If one person was stuck the other would finish the idea. We are both very hard working people.
It was with The D4 that he developed a taste for playing beyond NZ.
“My first experience overseas with a band was The D4 in Tokyo, and it was mind blowing. We had such a good time in what we saw as an extremely foreign land. We were so well received and the people were, and are, so great. The D4 was formed because of some of those Japanese bands. Before they ever came to NZ I was really into Guitar Wolf and The 5678’s, and I think we were coming from the same heart.
After significant touring, with two albums and numerous cracking videos under their belts, the band decided to call it a day.
“We were at the point where we needed to make a third album and it didn’t feel right. Making an album can be an enormous task. Jimmy and I just felt we didn’t want to do it at that time and maybe would be interested exploring other avenues free of any expectation or pressure. That’s how I felt at least.”
Leaving NZ behind Lunadon soon formed The True Lovers, who based themselves in the US but struggled to get a foothold.
“The True Lovers was way different to The D4. When I moved to the States it took me a few years to get my feet on the ground and get The True Lovers together. It was really, really hard work. LA had nothing to offer me, so I moved to NY and things felt a lot easier and natural. However it was still a massive struggle.
“The band actually came together pretty organically, but it just wasn’t right. It felt like there were obstacles at every corner. Not much fun to be honest although at times the band was blistering. We would have people knocking on our practice room door asking who we were and telling us how great we sounded, but we still couldn’t get a show. Rock’n’roll was un-cool again and you’ve got hipsters dredging up the worst of the ’80s being ‘ironic’. That’s about to die. I think people are sick of this safe stuff and want some danger again.”
And bands don’t come much more dangerous than A Place To Bury Strangers. In true rock star fashion, Lunadon doesn’t actually remember meeting Oliver Ackermann, front man and guitar player in APTBS, or Jay Space their drummer, but according to them it happened when the D4 used to play LA and NY respectively. It wasn’t long after the loss of APTBS’s previous bass player that the news found its way to Lunadon.
“I heard pretty soon after it happened that they needed a bass player. The True Lovers was no longer working for me so I saw this as a great opportunity. APTBS had month’s worth of touring lined up and I was salivating at the prospect. I texted Jay and told him that I guaranteed he wouldn’t find a better man for the job and that I would play the shit out of the songs and destroy everything in my path, so I got the job!”
That was two years ago and Lunadon had a clear method of how to slot into such an established band.
“I approached it like this. ‘I do not want to change the direction this band is going in. I want to add to it and get to its pure essence.’ That was a very conscious thought. I don’t think this band needs to ‘reinvent’ itself. It has a winning formula and a loyal fan base. I feel this band has what a lot of bands do not. Longevity.”
Although better known as a guitar-wielding singer, he’s no stranger to manning the low end.
“I love playing bass. Maybe even more than guitar. I love groove. It was a fairly straightforward thing as I’ve played bass in most bands I’ve been in. I love the simplicity of it. Ollie and I switch over on one song live, which is fun. It’s nice to be in a three-piece again. Right back to where I started 20 years ago!”
One of the bonuses of being in a band with Ackermann is that he is the founder of the boutique effects pedal company, Death By Audio, known for their borderline unusable fuzz pedals and half the reason for APTBS’s reputation as one of the loudest bands around.
“I use like eight pedals. It’s ridiculous but fun. All of them are made by Oliver and are pretty extreme, so they do make a difference. It’s taught me a lot and expanded my knowledge in effects pedals and how they work. I haven’t had to change my style so much as just learn how to use my tools better.”
Lunadon asserts that the volume tag the band have gained isn’t just a tired old gimmick of amps to 11, but an integral part of their sound.
“When we are loud there is no one louder. I stand behind that statement. If I stood in front of it I’d be deaf. Volume is our main tool. I’m sure there are bands louder than us db-wise, but the sounds we get can seem punishingly loud because of the tones etc. Without volume you just can’ get the sounds we get. It’s also physical. It can be quite honestly terrifying. I’ve never worked with anything quite like it. It’s awesome!
There are certainly dark almost gothic undertones to APTBS’s shtick but the darkness involved is also literal.
“One of the hardest things to deal with was the darkness. Sometimes we play in pitch black and sometimes we fog the fuck out of the venue so no one can see shit. Sometimes with strobes everywhere. At my first run though with the band I was like, ‘What the fuck, I can’t see shit’, followed by ‘Arghhh strobes!!’So far I’ve hit myself in the head once and Oliver has hit me twice with flying guitars. I don’t want to lose an eye but will if I have to.”
In addition to a gruelling live show, the band also have an intense touring schedule and as he talks are on a world tour which culminates in June with a spot on the Metallica-curated Orion Music Festival in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Lunadon was initially attracted to the band in part through their busy touring schedule and , of course, has himself already been around the block a few times. Rather than go through the motions, he says they see every show as a fresh chance to unleash their sonic fury and an opportunity to take their show to the next level.
“The D4 did a few world tours. It’s tiring. But you feel like you’re working hard, which I like. I’m a very focused person. as is everyone in this band. Our focus is to be the most badass band ever and to take things over the line. We’ve induced labour and caused seizures. Oliver is actually super human. He cannot be broken. It’s great to be in a band where everyone pulls their weight and are totally dedicated to the cause. We are always talking about ways to improve shows or stuff we can build.”
And as a DIY motivated band APTBS leave no stone unturned with regards to getting their hands dirty, even in the studio.
“We recorded it ourselves at our studio. It was slow but steady. This band makes records very different to the way I’ve done it in the past. It’s very much like building a pyramid. We write, mix and master all at the same time until the last grain is jiggled into the right spot. A very strange experience and quite time consuming. When I joined they were about half way through the second album’s cycle. So all I had to do was learn the songs and play bass, which was great.”
“After fronting The True Lovers and sharing that duty with Jimmy it was a welcome relief. I’m pretty pro active when it comes to doing stuff so I started being involved more and more in the decision-making and when it came time to write new material I got involved with that too. With the new EP, ‘Onwards To The Wall’, I was heavily involved in the writing, producing and engineering as I am with the forthcoming/finished third album.”
The recently released EP is a continuation of what makes APTBS so great, squealing feedback and heaps of miscellaneous noise, yet a refined undercurrent of musicianship. It shows how well Lunadon has adapted.
“The EP has been received amazingly. I think it’s sold more than our last album had at this stage, which is amazing. I’m really proud of it and I think we pretty much captured what I was hoping to capture on it. Our new record label Dead Oceans are fantastic too. It feels right and we are all working as one. Not different factions, which it can sometimes feel like. We finished our third album just before this tour. It’s called ‘Worship’ and is out in June.”
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem as though there is a release planned for NZ for the next album and no plans to head back home during the next tour. Hopefully that will change and in the relentless style expressed throughout the interview Lunadon says they’re already thinking about the next step.
“We will be touring a lot for the next year I’d say. I want to make another album as soon as possible, this year or early next. Winter seems like a good time.”
No rest for the wicked… and truly loud.