Alien Weaponry—Intense Freedom

Alien Weaponry are a thrash metal band from Waipu, New Zealand, who sing in Te Reo Maori, which is the native language of New Zealand. AQ got a chance to speak with Lewis de Jong, the singer/guitarist of Alien Weaponry, which also features his brother, Henry de Jong, on drums. The trio is rounded out by bassist Ethan Trembath. 

de Jong discussed what is it like being a young musician in New Zealand right now. He looked back on touring with Ministry in 2018. We discussed several songs from their debut album, Tu, which dealt with historical events that happened in New Zealand. In 2019, Adult Swim released their single “Ahi Ka.” 

de Jong also gave a preview of some topics Alien Weaponry will be using to write their next album, topics which may include Ihumatao, which refers to a group of Māori ‘protectors,” occupying land that was originally confiscated by the government. He also mentioned how Alien Weaponry were able to get Radio New Zealand to do a 10-part video series on their band, before finishing off our interview with a Maori proverb.

Catch Alien Weaponry’s set on October 5 at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, playing alongside rock titans Black Label Society and Black Dahlia Murder.

Can you give me an introduction to the band?

We are Alien Weaponry. We are a three-piece thrash metal band from New Zealand. We sing in Te Reo Māori, New Zealand’s native language.

What are the advantages of being a young musician in New Zealand right now?

We have a lot of freedom to express our culture in New Zealand; we all know one-another and the music industry is very focused on supporting their artists.

From going out on the road with Ministry last year and being on the European tour with Slayer and Anthrax earlier this year, what was some knowledge you were able to pick up about being a touring musician?

Being on tour with Ministry last year was one of the most intense tours we have done, and I think it really prepared us for life on the road. We built up a lot of touring stamina and it showed us that we could play under pretty much any circumstances. We built a lot of good relationships and made a lot of friends.

With Urutaa, tell me about the misunderstanding that still exists today in New Zealand?

The Māori lyrics of the song are about a misunderstanding that happened in Whangaroa Harbor in the early eighteen-hundreds between Māori and European citizens, in an incident known as ‘The Burning of the Boyd’—which was a ship. The English lyrics are about the pressures of modern society and we wrote it to speak to people who feel like they don’t fit in with what people consider “normal” and are treated badly because of it.

In your song “Ru Ana Te Whenua” which was about your great great-great grandfather’s involvement in the Tauranga campaign, can you tell me about what happened historically?

In 1864 the queen of England, Queen Victoria sent General Cameron with 1700 crack troops to suppress the Māori in the Tauranga area. The greatly outnumbered Maori defended their land on top of Pukehinahina.  Using superior tactics and their fighting prowess, they managed to win the battle.

In “Raupatu,” you spoke of a law from the eighteen-hundreds that dealt with land confiscation, please elaborate on that?

In 1863, the New Zealand colonial government passed a law that allowed them to confiscate land off anyone they deemed to be ‘rebels.’ This allowed them to confiscate millions of acres of Maori land unjustly, and the song is bringing light to that issue.

Did anything recently prompt or inspire you to write about the events of 1952 in your song “Ahi Kā?

We decided to write about something that not many New Zealanders know about. The burning of the village at Okahu Bay is something that you wouldn’t expect to be happening in the nineteen-fifties, but this kind of thing is still happening today with Maori getting their land confiscated and places of value to them bulldozed.

Can you tell me what it was like being involved in the Kura Kaupapa Maori (total immersion Maori school) and how much attention was paid towards music, as well as Maori history, and language?

When we were at Kura Kaupapa, there was a lot of focus on traditional music and dance, we learned a lot about our people’s history as well as our whakapapa, our ancestory and traditions. All our lessons were in Te Reo Māori, to encourage the next generation to grow up speaking our language.

What kind of current events are you paying attention to right now to become inspired for the writing of your next album?

Ihumatao is something really big that is happening in New Zealand at the moment—a group of Māori ‘protectors’ have occupied land that was originally confiscated by the government and eventually ended up as a historic reserve, administered by the Auckland Council. A few years back, the council sold the land to a private developer who plans to build hundreds of houses all over it and completely obliterate the historic landscape. Like we said earlier, these confiscations are still happening today; and this is definitely some potential inspiration. At the end of the day we write about whatever makes us feel intense; good or bad.

What are some books, or movies that deal with Maori history that you would recommend to people to check out who want to learn about the Maori culture?

A good place to start would be The Story of a Treaty, by Claudia Orange, which is an overview of how the Treaty of Waitangi was first developed and signed, and the breaches since then that have led to some of the current feeling. The New Zealand Wars is a documentary series that covers wars between Māori and British from about 1840-1870. It’s based on a book of the same name by James Belich. Sir Michael King has written dozens of books about New Zealand history, strongly focused on Māori history and biography. Some fictional movies which give a bit of an idea of the early European contact period include The River QueenUtuThe Dead Lands, and The Piano.

How did you get involved with Radio New Zealand to do a 10-part video series focusing on your trip to Europe?

The production company approached us while we were recording our album. We had just announced we were heading to Europe and they asked if they could send a cameraman with us to document our tour. We are all really happy with how it turned out and we’re glad to have a record of that first tour.

Using Maori, is there a motto, a saying, or a piece of advice you can share with me?

There are actually a lot of Whakatauki (proverbs) in Te Reo Māori, but we always try to keep this one in mind: “Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka.”It means, ‘The kumara (sweet potato) does not speak of its own sweetness,and it’s a reminder to stay humble.

Be sure to catch Alien Weaponry, out on tour supporting Black Label Society, at the Wellmont Theater on October 4!