[INTERVIEW] Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman

Deniz, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I know you must be busy getting ready for the tour. How are the preparations coming?
Coming along pretty well. We’re still sorting the song list, stuff from the back catalogue and we always like to do a few covers that we haven’t done before with every tour, so we’re sort of debating back and forth which cover songs we want to do. And we’re all rehearsing, so we should get together a few weeks from now and just start hammering it out in the rehearsal room. So, from my point of view preparation is just getting on top of the music and we’ve been around the block a couple of times before and it shouldn’t be a problem.

I wanted to ask about the film ‘Descent Into the Maelstrom’. It’s about to come out on DVD. Some time has passed since the film’s original release and certainly since it was filmed, Have there been any significant developments within the band since then?
Not really. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with some of the guys in the band about some of the things that were said in their interviews. You see, I never saw any of that until the film came out and a lot of the things that were said about me were things that I’d never heard before. Which is kind of interesting to hear something about something that might have happened thirty years ago and you’re only hearing about it now. So we’ve had a few discussion about it and cleared up a few misconceptions. For the most part, everybody is getting along ok. I’ve spoken to Warwick, I’ve spoken to Ron, you know its all cool. As far as the band goes I think the current line-up is great and it suits the songs really well and everybody is there to play the songs. Everything is cool right now and we’re really happy with how the band is. I totally respect the contributions the ex-members made and I consider them all close friends. But the band has to come first and the band has gone on regardless. I think if we had talked about things more in the past maybe some of those problems could have been sorted out at the time. But, you know when you’re young and stupid and high on what you’re doing and on this amazing trip you do the best you can at the time and its easy in retrospect to see how things could have been done better and how the band could have been reconciled back then but better late than never.

One of the things I’m interested in about Birdman especially is the notion of rock n roll as primarily an instinctive thing. I always though that you couldn’t be too dumb for rock n roll but you could be too smart and it seems to go wrong because people overthink it and get too cerebral. Birdman seems to me to be a band made up of incredibly cerebral people. That being the case how do you manage to keep making such primal, instinctive music?
What you’ve said is a really good point. I never really thought about it in exactly those terms. I don’t think about myself as particularly cerebral but I think what works for me is compartmentalising that stuff. You know the left brain, the right brain, the rational thinking brain it doesn’t work for music at all, especially not the music we make. So you’ve just got to put that aside. I started listening to rock n roll music when I was about 8 years old and I started playing guitar when I was 12 so my emotional connection to the music long pre-dates any sort of intellectual activity that I might have developed for other purposes later, so I think the music has always been  primal for me.

Birdman, and your impact upon it, was obviously heavily influenced by the Michigan setting you were coming from and the sound coming out of there; The Stooges, MC5 and that kind of thing. What is your connection now to that music and do you still find something relevant in there creatively now?
Yeah I still use it all the time for inspiration. If I want to get motivated to play or write something I always go back and listen to those old records. I find inspiration there and its an energy source that you can tap into.

What is your personal relationship with those guys now? I know you’ve performed with both of those bands in particular and recorded with members of both the Stooges and MC5. Do you think of them as kind of colleagues in a way and is it strange having grown up with their work?
Well, some of them sadly are gone. The Asheton brothers, I was close to both of them. Closer to Ron than Scotty, but good friends with both, but they’re gone unfortunately and I really miss them. I’m still in close touch with James Williamson, we get together from time to time. I’m in communication with Dennis Thompson from the MC5, I was just talking to him a couple of days ago. We talk we exchange ideas and sometimes we get together and make music. So, yeah, its as friends and I guess you’d say colleagues because we value the music together.

What about some of the bands that grew up out of that movement you were at the forefront of in Sydney in those early days? Bands like the Sunnyboys and the Hoodoo Gurus that got their start being in the audiences at some of your shows do you have any kind of relationship with those guys now?
Yeah, I’m friends with some of them. Others I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know. The Sunnyboys were out having their hits, I knew Richard  Burgman from the past. I didn’t know the Oxleys and by the time they were doing what they were doing on the scene our band had broken up and I had moved back to America for a time, so I wasn’t around. I’m very good friends with Dave Faulkner and Brad Shepard and Mark Kingsmill. Rick Grossman he was high school kid that I knew back when I was in TV Jones before Birdman. He was a friend of Chris Jones and he used to come to our rehearsals and hang out and he was just this cool kid, so I’ve known Rick forever. Almost like family. So yeah, I do know some of those guys.

One of the other things I wanted to ask about was the idea that comes out of the film that Birdman was almost as defined by what it was against as what it was for. You know the posters making clear “we don’t want anybody that wants to do anything like Zeppelin or Status Quo or any of that”. Do you still think that kind of thing is relevant to what the band is and what it does?
Well I don’t really don’t think of it much in that way any more because that context is gone. You know, that context of the mid-70s when music was kind of in a post-hippie malaise period and there was a lot of overblown stuff going on. You know Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Foreigner, Quo all that  stuff. That context isn’t around so how can you rebel against what is going on now? Its not even real, its not even there. I don’t think of it that way as us against them. I just think of it as us and people that want to come to our shows and enjoy the music. Its all positive now. I could go on forever about what’s wrong with music today, you know today’s pop music but its so far gone that its past any redemption that its not even worth talking about.

Are there occasionally little flecks of gold in among the refuse? Are there things you occasionally come upon in a contemporary context that you do get excited about artistically?
Yeah, there are some bands out there. I personally like Lady Gaga. I think she’s a really good songwriter. She a good keyboard player and she puts together good songs. I don’t really like the production on her records much but I know a good song when I hear it. And I think there are bands out there that are doing good work like Queens of the Stone Age and Jack White’s stuff is always worth listening to.

One last question. In terms of the upcoming tour what can audiences expect from this round of Radio Birdman shows?
They can expect and I can guarantee that we will play as hard as we can. We will play like its the last show of our lives, like our lives depend on it and we will bring passion to the music. The minute we stop feeling that or are no longer able to do that, is the day that I hang it up and say no more. So that’s what you can expect. Something real. Something from the heart and from the guts and not from the brain. You can expect to go home with your ears ringing and as exhausted as we are and feeling that rock n roll is still alive.

Interview – Benjamin Smith.

Thursday 27th September 2018 Croxton Bandroom – Melbourne with Adalita + Los Chicos
Friday 28th September 2018 The Triffid – Brisbane with HITS + Los Chicos
Sunday 30th September 2018 The Gov – Adelaide with Los Chicos + The Sunday Reeds
Friday 5th October 2018 Manning Bar – Sydney with HITS + Los Chicos + DJ Frank
Saturday 6th October 2018 Manning Bar – Sydney with HITS + Los Chicos + DJ Frank
Tickets for all shows on sale now from Oztix: www.oztix.com.au