The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. In the early ’80s, it felt like the whole country was rooting for DD Smash to make it in Oz. This Dave Dobbyn interview from the NZ Times, February 20, 1983.
When I spoke to DD Smash leader-vocalist-songwriter Dobbyn last May, his group were on the crest of a wave, and Dobbyn himself was bubbling with enthusiasm.
DD Smash had just created New Zealand history by soaring to the number 1 chart spot with their first album, Cool Bananas. The first Kiwi band to sign with Melbourne’s Mushroom Records, they were set to invade Australia, the world, the universe, etc…
February 1983. A slightly different story. Smash spent the winter months of 1982 slogging it out in Australia to mixed and less than ecstatic reaction. Now back in New Zealand, they’ve gone through marked musical and lineup changes.
Very sober now, Dobbyn defines their first Australian sojourn as: “Pretty tough. It was the middle of winter and we stayed in Melbourne for months – very cold and bitter and disheartening in many ways.”
Then that bright streak breaks through. “But it was good because when gigs happened people were responsive… even when we were feeling blue, and I personally was feeling blue a fair bit of the time, being away from home and the lady and that sort of thing.”
He admits, however, that Australia was a premature move for Smash.
He also gives the distinct impression he was not impressed with the music biz machinations in Australia.
“It’s amazing how competitive Australia is. If you don’t BLOW everybody out, forget it. I can’t be bothered being over there and not making a living and being without the people I love who are over here. That’s why we’re here now. We go back when the money’s right.”
He claims proudly that Smash did not lose money in Australia.
“You’ve got so many restrictions and you have to conform to so many things – presentation, production, lights, big PAs, flash… There’s a whole strata of bands and how they go about doing things. And you either belong here or there, which gave me the creeps. I don’t wanna belong anywhere. It’s no longer rock’n’roll. It’s like going back to school!”
Back in New Zealand, the new-look, new-sound Smash are a different proposition to the old raunch’n’roll image. They still play a fair measure of good-time rock’n’roll, but among the Cool Bananas songs are a smattering of unusual new tunes, and even a Dobbyn-goes Elton piano ballad. As for the older material, it has quirky new arrangements with brass augmentation.
The emphasis is less on Dobbyn’s extraordinary vocals, and there are no signs of pop classics like ‘Lipstick Power’.
Whereas in New Zealand Smash tend to appeal to Joe Average, Dobbyn is surprised that overseas a different audience is attracted.
“I think of this band as being very much mainstream, New Zealand-wise. But as soon as you get out of the country, so many people will think you’re over the edge somewhere else.”
He attributes this different perspective to a New Zealand sound which most groups don’t realise is distinctly our own.
“We’re blind to the fact that there IS a New Zealand sound… even though it is borrowed!”
To Dobbyn, the music he makes is “three-chord rock’n’roll. Do it. But they reckon it sounds different. And I can appreciate that.”
So what’s next, Dave? They’re off back to Australia, a new album to record in March. Then it’s back here to promote the thing. And back to Australia. Then, hopefully, a tour of the United States.
“But as it happens it seems to be pretty solid right now and I’m very happy with it and so is the whole band.”
And a final word?
“All I can say is our music is not a compromise for any of us. Contrived stuff gives me the shits. It always will.”
Notes: I remember an American friend at the time saying something like: “Why don’t Kiwis like Kiwi music?” And yet, when it came to a band like DD Smash, they had the common touch, could fill taverns with enthusiastic punters. And we were rooting for the band to make it big in Australia, like Dragon, the Enz, Mi-sex and the Swingers had done before them. In 2016, the idea of a whole article just talking about an attempt to make it in miserable Melbourne might seem ridiculous, but the landscape was different back then. Now, there are hundreds of wannabe artists here vying for a chance to wow YouTube viewers. Back then, the real contenders were few and far between. It’s interesting that Dobbyn was showing a stubborn streak that some might say afflicts New Zealanders, but others see as a quality: that we don’t want to fit into a system/machine, we hold our freak flag up high.