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INTERVIEW: DOM MARIANI, Datura4 – August 2015

| 27 August 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW: DOM MARIANI, Datura4 – August 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

It’s taken a few years to get off the ground around other bands, jobs and life in general, but finally Demon Blues, the debut record from Dom Mariani & Greg Hitchcock’s Datura4 has been released. SHANE PINNEGAR spoke with Mariani ahead of their album launch at Mojos, Saturday 29 August.

Dom Mariani has become something of a local legend with a career spanning over three decades, from the jangly powerpop of The Stems, surf instrumentals with the Majestic Kelp, soul rock alongside Nick Shepherd with The Domnicks, and The Someloves, The GoStarts, The DM3 and more besides. Datura4 is a different beast altogether: an eight-legged riff-heavy monolithic wall of sound that prides itself on musical exploration in worship of the gods of rock. It’s also far heavier than people are used to hearing from the local powerpop king.

Dom Mariani 01

“Yes, I guess so,” reflects Mariani. “For most people that know or have followed what I do, yes, they might see it as a little bit of a departure from the kind of pop guitar thing that I’ve been doing over the years – but it’s definitely part of my musical background.

“I’ve been listening to that kind of music pretty much all my life,” he explains. “When I was first learning guitar and getting into bands, it was all things like Led Zeppelin and more obscure things like Foghat. I remember hearing [Foghat’s] I Just Want To Make Love To You on the radio – AM radio – that twin sort of wah-wah intro was just magic for me. Some of the Australian bands that were around at the time were The Zoot and Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs and Buffalo – who I saw when I was in my late teens. I saw them play at The Raffles once.

“[That was] when they were doing their kind of almost Stonesey thing with [guitarist and future member of Rose Tattoo] Pete Wells looking like Keith Richards. I had their album Mother’s Choice. From that album I sort of went back over the years, [to find] things like Volcanic Rock and stuff like that. [I was] really into that Aussie blues rock, that progressive blues thing that Lobby Lloyde [was doing]. I saw Lobby Lloyde when I was sixteen years old at Fremantle Oval – I didn’t know who he was. There was big concert on at Fremantle Oval, just local bands really mostly, and then they came on sort of late afternoon and they kicked off with Johnny B Goode – and they played it for probably about fifteen minutes!”

And were they as loud as everyone says they were?

“The loudest. So loud. Much, much louder than everybody else,” Mariani laughs. “I remember that the band that came on before them was a local band, Jim Fisher’s band Fremantle Doctor. They came on and they were playing and all I could see were these massive amps, Australian amps called Savage. They were quite striking in that in the bass cabinets were red, they had a red logo, and the guitar cabinets were green and the amp heads were green for guitar and red for bass and these huge speaker boxes, right? And they’re really stacked up huge. I was thinking, ‘this sort of country rock band using these massive amps? They’re really quiet – what a waste!’ I couldn’t sort of put the two and two together, but on the floor they had these little Fender amps.

“I didn’t twig until later on, when Lobby Lloyde came on and they were using all that Savage gear. They were just pumping it out. It was so loud.”

Mariani and Hitchcock [a former bandmate from the GoStarts days] formed Datura [more on the name change later] in 2008, enlisting bassist Stu Loasby [also a member of The Majestic Kelp] and drummer Warren Hall [The Drones] to revisit the heavy Aussie blues rock of their youth, and the album sounds like the foursome are revelling in doing so.

“Absolutely! Greg and I enjoy that music – we grew up listening to that stuff and jamming in bands doing that kind of thing,” Mariani explains, before reminiscing a little wistfully, “when we were younger, we saw how the punk think came along, and then we kind of decided that it was all uncool. We jumped on the back of the punk bandwagon a bit. It was just one of those things – my record collection was kind of full of Zeppelin and Deep Purple and all this sort of thing, and then I sort of traded them all in to buy Clash records and stuff. A moment of madness that came upon us at that kind of age, I guess, when music was changing.

Datura4 3

“It’s definitely something that we’ve always loved, and some of that stuff would infiltrate the music I’ve played in the past. Not bands like Majestic Kelp, obviously, but the kind of pop rock thing I was doing. There was always more of a rock and roll attitude towards that. There was the jangly side, obviously, like The Byrds and that, but there was always a fair bit of rock and roll guitar in there. For me, I enjoy great guitar playing but it’s knowing not what to play and not sort of turn it into a virtuoso type trip. I like it spontaneous, and Jimmy Page and people like that are probably a bit of an influence on me and Greg – more the sort of ‘60s and ‘70s guitar players. Alice Cooper’s guys [Michael Bruce & Glenn Buxton], you know? The guys that played with Lou Reed [Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, Mick Ronson]… those kind of ‘70s lead guitarists. I really dug all that stuff.”

Mariani confirms that the songs on Demon Blues are tailor-made for extended jamming in the live arena.

“We absolutely do [stretch them out]. The thing is that when we recorded those songs, that’s the way we were doing them back then and we did take in the attitude that we’re just going to play it. Obviously, there’s a loose structure there, but as far as the more jammy songs where they tail out into these kind of blues jams, I suppose, or psychedelic jams, we just let it go and they’re live, those things. When we do gigs, the songs obviously developed into different things and every time we play they’ll be different. Obviously the structure’s there, but, yes, we really enjoy just letting loose and not having too much in one sort of set piece of music as far as the guitar soloing goes. We just let it go.”

With the album now released, Mariani reveals that recording actually started a few years ago.

“The album sort of eventuated over a fair period of time – we started it in 2011,” he declares. “Yes – we took our time, really, finishing it off and, yes, I was doing other projects… there was no rush, like, ‘let’s get this album out,’ because we wanted the world to hear it, kind of thing. It was like, we’re just doing this music because we love it.

“We wanted to make an album and put it out there [when we were ready]. We’d put this band together, songs eventuated – I came up with some, Greg came up with some, and we just enjoyed playing them live. We weren’t really taking it that seriously, really, and then eventually we got to a point where we said, ‘we’ve got to finish this album off’ and we finally did.

“We mixed it and then we sort of sat back and thought, ‘this is pretty good, it’s come up okay.’ But we didn’t expect it to… we were taken a bit by surprise by the response. People are really digging it, big time. Sometimes things happen like that when you don’t really put that much thought into it. It just happens.”


With the album snapped up by U.S. label Alive Naturalsound Records and scoring rave reviews around the world, are Datura4 planning to take their psych blues on the road?

“Oh we’re just really taking it as it comes,” Mariani explains. “At this point in time we’re a bit taken aback by the response, so we don’t really have much management in place or anything like that. We’re just sort of sitting here in Fremantle going, ‘wow, this is all cool, all these nice things that people are saying about us!’ We’ll just see what comes. We haven’t got anything planned other than a few gigs down the track, really. We’ve got Bridgetown Blues Festival [November 13-15]. We’ve got the album launch at Mojos [Saturday, 29 August] and a couple of other local shows… but not that much has been booked far ahead.

“We’re playing with Tumbleweed. That came out of the blue. I know those guys and I think it was Warren who texted me and said, ‘I hear Tumbleweed are coming to town – it’d be really good to get that support.’ I sort of thought, ‘yes it would be, but it’s probably already sewn up.’ Then I got this email from the drummer, Steve, saying ‘would Datura4 like to support?’ I thought, ‘wow, that’s cool!’ So little things like that are coming along. It’s cool.”

And all without an expensive PR machine greasing the wheels…

“That’s right,” Mariani agrees. “It’s a nice way for it to happen, really, because when you’ve got the big PR machine rolling and there’s lots of other bands and lots of other music out there all trying to do the same thing, not everyone’s going to get full attention, are they?

“Even if you’ve got a great record, sometimes, people just look at something and go, ‘oh, yes. I’m not sure about that,’ and won’t pay much attention and so things sort of slip by and later on they’ll go, ‘oh, it was a pretty good album. I wonder what happened to that band.’ That’s just the luck of the draw in music…

If you look up ‘Datura’ you’ll find the name refers to a particularly nasty piece of work from the plant world, a genus of hallucinogenic but highly toxic flowering plants from the Solanaceae family, making it perfectly apt for the heavier-than-god psychedelic blues riffs the band deliver, but they weren’t to first to think so. Mariani gives us the full story.


“We wanted to try and have a name that evoked a sort of psychedelic kind of thing, and that was a name that Greg came up with. We went through quite a few band names, and not everyone agreed on them, so in the end that one sounded the best. It sounded, to me, a bit like Daytona race track or something and I like that kind of imagery and the music sort of suits that as well and I thought, ‘Datura – yes, that sounds pretty cool so let’s go with that.’

“We recently had to change it to Datura4 because there’s another band that existed under the same name. An Italian electronic band that had a pretty big following, so we didn’t really want to go up against them. After getting this U.S. label interested in the band, we thought, ‘it’s probably going to get out there, so we need to kind of be different to that.’ We looked at other names and thought we’d stick to Datura because we like it and maybe Datura4… we came up with some other ideas as well but that was the one that everyone liked.”

With so many different band projects active and otherwise at any one time, Mariani’s Popsided Guitar compilation of 2005 did an excellent job of collating the different sounds and periods of his career in one place. Is a follow-up volume likely?

“I haven’t thought about it, not until you mentioned it,” he says. “Really… I guess there’ll come a time when I’m going to kick back and… I can’t see a time when I won’t be playing music, but, yes, I think so. I look back on [my career] myself, and I think it’s quite interesting… I kind of made a decision, I guess, after DM3 finished, that I was going to try and explore a lot of [other musical] things that I really loved.

“I always loved the instrumental side of things. I grew up with The Shadows and The Ventures and surf music, so as a young guitarist my guitar teachers had introduced me to some of that stuff and it always stuck with me, and over the years I’ve discovered lots of other kinds of instrumental music that take the whole genre further, [like] soundtrack things.

“The Majestic Kelp’s given me that avenue to pursue that kind of thing. The Domnicks was another band that was more soul, kind of a Stonesey kind of rock and roll thing. I really enjoyed playing in that – I always wanted to play in a band like that. I think the thing about being in a band sometimes, you get pigeon-holed to a style that you might have been doing for awhile, and people know you for and had a little bit of success with. I loved The Beatles and I loved The Stones and I loved pop music so writing melodic music with a nice guitar edge has always been something I’ve liked. But yeah, when DM3 ran its course, I guess I just wanted to explore other things.”

If you cast an ear back over Mariani’s eclectic career, with all its diversity and eclecticism, it still always sounds like him on the guitar.

“That’s a nice thing – thank you for that,” he says. “I hope so. I’ve never been one to try and mimic things and try to sound like other people in a way, although I do take my influences. I’m not going to deny that there’s certain things that have really influenced me, but I try and work on songs so I feel comfortable, and I’m not trying to sound like anybody else and just trying to sound good within myself.

“Hopefully, when I record it, it comes up the way I envisaged it. That’s always the thing – that the songs always sounds amazing and totally finished with all the production that you’d want in your head, but then when it comes to actually laying it down, it’s very hard to actually achieve that. I guess at the end you sound the way you do, and I feel like when I’ve done something, I tend to move on and go, ‘look, I’ve done that now – what’s the next thing?’ I become excited about the next thing.”

Perhaps best known for his time with The Stems, the band which gave him arguably his biggest commercial successes at such a pivotal time in his career, and left the strongest legacy of his outfits, it may come as a surprise to discover that Mariani doesn’t harbour undue affection for the band.

“Ah, look, there’s a certain amount of affection for that band, but not really. The band I’m in, Datura4, is the one I’m really digging at the moment. And that’s how it’s gotta be – I better put all my love into that one because that’s the one I’m digging at the moment. I try not to look at those [older] bands and go, ‘ah, yes – great band’ and all that. It was good fun and everything, [and] I probably won’t be able to escape that – people know me for that band and that’s how they’re always going to I guess categorise me: ‘he’s the guy from The Stems’ or ‘he’s that powerpop guy’.

Mariani onstage with The Stems 2014

Mariani onstage with The Stems 2014

“I’m just a songwriter, a musician. I’d like people to think of me as someone who writes some okay songs that people could relate to and they would listen to and get little bit of enjoyment out of, you know? It’s not as if I look back on my career and go, ‘I was the main guy in The Stems,’ and take that with me forever. That [band] has some good vibes about it and some crappy vibes about it. It wasn’t all fun.”

There’s plenty of heavy psych fun to have in the now, though, with Datura4’s album launch for Demon Blues this Saturday 29 August, at Mojos in Fremantle.

Category: Interviews

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