From their debut in late 1995, Dunedin ‘psychedelic rock’ threesome High Dependency Unit, or HDU, wowed audiences with their brooding and heavy mix of sonic landscapes and visceral, bludgeoning rock. Led by the guitar and vocals of Tristan Dingemans, HDU were last heard of with the 2008 release of ‘Metamathics’. Now Dingemans has returned with the HDU sound-alike, and also appropriately-named, Mountaineater, described as being as immediately inviting as they are unrelenting. James Manning spoke with the band’s frontman about their new debut album and his own tension-filled catharsis.
Tristan Dingemans, the lead vocalist and guitarist of heavy post-rock trio Mountaineater might be talking about a song, rather than the place, when he says, “Jerusalem is always really special to me,” but there are certainly shared connotations.
After a series of unfortunate skype attempts we have resorted to an old fashioned cellphone interview. As Dingemans prepares dinner he is happy to explain why the last track on Mountaineater’s self-titled debut album, Jerusalem, is a particular favourite of his to play live.
“The lyrics on the cover are the last lyrics on the album, [and] are from a poem that a friend of mine wrote, [who] passed away a couple of years ago. That, to me, accentuates the mission I was talking about. You head off on this journey of exploration and you wreck havoc in your own life and other people’s lives, and you do find a way through.”
Part bone-crushing noise, part delicate soundscape and all catharsis, the highly anticipated ‘Mountaineater’ album boasts a sound of tectonic-shifting proportions. Of course to fans of Dingemans’ work this is old news. Throughout the ’90s and early ’00s he fronted the iconic Dunedin post-rock band HDU, who John Peel famously labelled as ‘…one of the 10 best bands in the world you’ve never heard of’.
Beneath the rattling beast is a journey of self-awareness and the completion of the album closes an unsettling chapter in Dingemans’ own life where “some personal stuff” was confronted.
“Just, ya know, maybe it [the album] follows a particular arc, from having being not particularly together to starting to get myself sorted again and refocused.”
In Mountaineater Dingemans is joined by Chris Livingstone on drums and Anaru Ngata on bass and guitar. The trio met at an HDU gig in Gisborne and were reunited again when Dingemans needed some like-minded musicians to join him as an opening act.
“I met them a couple of years beforehand, and I just hit them up about getting some songs together, because I had this support slot with Die! Die! Die! lined up. And we threw together about five songs pretty quickly and just kept working on them.
After years of work those infantile sketches morphed into the behemoths that take centre stage on the album, with two tracks exceeding the nine minute mark. I ask how album highlight Ch’an Ra evolved from an initial guitar chord into a fully fledged opus, and he admits getting the initial chord is the most difficult step in his song craft.
“A lot of it was working with a really basic loop pedal I’ve got, which has got a few drum beats on it, and one of them is in 6/8. That’s playing along underneath and I’m just playing over the top of it and I just sort’a feel this progression. You get the initial five notes worked out, and then you find what that next note is, or next chord. And I think I’ve got an ability to do that really well. Getting that initial chord down is the hardest part of the song.”
When deciphered the track’s title plays into a ‘coming-out-of-the-darkness’ metaphor that is a continuous theme through the record according to Dingemans.
“Ch’an is the old Chinese word that ‘zen’ came from, and ‘Ra’ is the Egyptian name for the sun.
The album also reunites him with sound engineer Dale Cotton, a long-time collaborator who played a pivotal role in crafting HDU’s sound.
The two share a professional chemistry developed over 19 years, and evidently become enthralled when working in the studio together.
“We have this awesome working relationship, when you kind’a get into this sort of pure space of just working on a track and trying to serve the song, it’s like we’re both really in our element.”
Cotton is joined by other members of the music community, including band manager Deano Shirriffs and Reuben Bonner of fledgling indie label Banished From The Universe Records, who have been supportive and helped set the gears in motion for the release of this album.
Confronted with the costs of recording and touring, Dingemans describes the music industry as “… an interesting mission,” and is thankful for all that worked on the Mountaineater project.
“It’s really heartening and it’s incredibly flattering as well, that these people put in a certain amount of time. We’re all doing it for the love of it.”