After ten years of public fallout, New Zealand’s favourite nu-metal band are back. Don Rowe talks to Blindspott.
The year was 2003: t.A.Tu were making Russian pop cool, ‘Where is the Love?’ was second in the NZ Top 40 only to Scribe’s ‘Not Many’, and in West Auckland a bunch of bogans were charting at 14 with a reggae-infused departure from their metal origins in ‘Phlex – probably the most polarising song in the New Zealand canon.
Now, fifteen years and almost as many public fallouts later, Blindspott are back. Get out your DCs and chuck on some speed dealers – it’s bourbon season.
“It was time,” says vocalist Damien Alexander. “After ten years of not talking and bad feelings and all that shit, I just wanted my friendship back.”
“I reached out to Shelton [Woolright] and said we can fight, we can drink beer, we can do whatever, but let it be what it is. It was awkward, there were a few harsh words and raised voices for a little bit, then we had a few beers and it ended up with a photo and a hangover.”
New Zealand in the early aughts was a strange place for a nu-metal band to breakout into the mainstream. These were the days of Dido, ‘In Da Club’ and R Kelly’s ‘Ignition Remix’ after all. But from a shed in Waitakere, Blindspott built a hardcore following with their angsty, sweary anthems, touring alongside such seemingly odd bedfellows as P Money, Savage, and Deceptikonz.
The opening of the chorus to ‘Nil by Mouth’, the porno-rap breakdown in ‘Lit Up’, the scratching in ‘S.U.I.T’ – these were nu-metal tracks with pop sensibilities, taking the Papa Roach/POD formula and putting an Auckland spin on it. And for a while, it worked.
By 2004 drummer Shelton Woolright was dating Nicky Watson – then about the height of New Zealand ‘celebrity’ – in a highly-publicised whirlwind relationship. In 2006 the band were opening for Korn, Limp Bizkit and System of a Down, gorging on the fame and intoxicants that come with it. That same year they released End the Silence, a departure from their hook-heavy debut effort. Despite charting well on release, the album never penetrated the mainstream in quite the same way – the Swedish producers were after a more “progressive and artful” sound.
Within two years the band were calling it quits, beginning a decade-long war of words in the media over everything from hurt feelings to who owned the name Blindspott. Shelton Woolright, who departed the country to start rock band I Am Giant in London, said the feud was inescapable.
“Any time you have an argument, you lose your rag and it’s an ongoing thing, and it sucks – but then you add in the fact that it’s public. Nobody really knows what’s going on but everyone makes their own assumption, and that’s when it hurts the most. Everyone fucken knows about it. For fuck’s sakes, you can’t escape it and you regret it and then you get angry again, and you start talking to the press, and it’s a public fight all over again.”
Woolright and I Am Giant eventually released three studio albums, most notably earworm single ‘City Limits’ which was absolutely thrashed to death on The Rock circa 2011, and played a number of New Zealand festivals. Damien Alexander and Marcus Powell meantime tried to keep the Blindspott project alive, but were forced to play as Blacklistt after reaching a legal stalemate with Woolright.
But while the members of the band weren’t talking, their friends were. Having grown up in a tiny scene in a tiny city, pretending one another never existed was never an option.
“I’ve known Marcus since I was two years old, you know?,” says Woolright. “It always came up. I couldn’t go a couple days without it somehow being mentioned. We have a lot of mutual friends and everyone was like ‘we just want our mates to be mates’. You know what it’s like when you have a fight with your family. You just wanna fucken talk. And so we did.”
Powell, who also launched prog-rock group City of Souls in the interim, says that while the band were overly forward-focused in their prime, reminiscing with acts of a similar era left him open to the possibility of reforming.
“Every now and again we’d be at an event and Savage and them are all there and it’s like catching up with old school mates. You just laugh about the stupid shit that we used to do. We took Deceptikonz on the road and there was a running joke about who had the smelliest feet – we’d be telling the press it was them and they’d be blaming Shelton but there were always these really cool in-jokes we had and it was a really wonderful time.”
But with so much reconciliation and kumbaya in the air, do they still have the aggression? Do they still want to scream on the radio?
“Look, we were just some fucken scody Westies that wrote in a shitty garage and had a passion. We just wanted to hang with our mates, go skateboarding, drink beers and tell everyone to get fucked,” says Woolright. “That energy is still there.”
Blindspott perform at the The Powerstation in Auckland on September 21.