“Apparently I stink!” chirps D4 shouter Jimmy Christmas. And he’s not talking about his abilities as a singer or guitarist.
“I’ve got a bit of a whiff up,” he continues. Audible laughing and playful kidding rises in the background. “I smell like a goat’s asshole or something!”
This guy called Christmas is riding in a car with his bandmates, en route to a rehearsal in their hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. The cackling cell phone, in-car jibes and Kiwi colloquialisms make conversation a bit tricky.
We did learn this: The D4 (a whorehouse code word for going all the way) formed just over four years ago in Auckland, which, you’ll note, is not exactly known for giving birth to high-energy rock ’n’ roll. Still, alongside countrymen the Datsuns, D4 are showing the world that guitar-driven rock is certainly alive and well in a country that boasts more sheep than people.
“Dion [D4 guitarist] and myself played in different bands, same scene, and we met up at a party, and he had some songs,” Christmas explains. “We had a few lineup changes till we got the other guys [bassist Vaughan and drummer Beaver] a few years ago.”
The D4 have played many of the same clubs and shows with their pals the Datsuns. In fact, a little party fun between the two bands the previous night accounts for Christmas’s particular fogginess today.
“We had a good time with them [Datsuns] last night; it was a secret show with our bands at a tiny club to about 100 people. It got very, very messy and ended with a D4-Datsuns all-star jam. So I’m pretty hungover and brain dead today,” laughs Christmas.
Despite the hangover and being part of a relatively new band coming out of the exploding underground rock-garage-punk scene, Christmas handles questions like a pro.
The band’s previous tour saw them let loose their brand of unruly rock ’n’ roll on SXSW in Austin and the CMJ fest in New York, along with a few lower-profile gigs in places like Knoxville. The current tour, which kicked off this week in San Francisco with Atlanta garage vaudevillians the Forty-Fives, will be their first full-on blast in the United States.
How do they feel about playing the Motor City for the first time?
“We’re really excited to play in Detroit,” enthuses Christmas. “We have some friends from there that we have crossed paths and played with. Hopefully people will show up and make up their own minds about what we’re about.”
According to reports from trusted sources, the band’s live shows are pure kick-shit-over rock ’n’ roll. The miles they’ve logged from nonstop touring throughout Europe, England, and their homeland (on bills with bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fu Manchu and Jon Spencer) have paid off immensely, as have a couple well-received indie releases. So well, in fact, that the band landed on a major label (Hollywood) for the rerelease of their debut album, last year’s 6Twenty.
6Twenty has a sloppier, hopped-up-on-goofballs attitude with a prickly punk edge, something that separates D4 from the current crop of blues-based mop-top garage bands. Think more New Bomb Turks or Devil Dogs and less garage dust and lo-fi noise. A standout cover of the Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers stuttering classic “Pirate Love” is so similar to the original that the guitars are even slightly out of tune. Elsewhere is a worthy rendition of “Invader Ace” by Japanese trash rockers Guitar Wolf. The cover songs go lengths to show the listener just how much of a rock ’n’ roll heart beats inside D4.
Christmas explains that it’s all about the spirit. “We have so much energy in us that needs to get out. You know, crazy unpredictable shows … those are my favorite. I love watching bands like that. People come and see us, they don’t know what they are going to get.”
All that the D4 guys love about genuinely hazardous rock ’n’ roll was reinforced when the band crossed paths with the notoriously out-of-control Candy Snatchers on their last U.S. tour.
“Our show in Virginia was absolutely fucking insane. We played with the Candy Snatchers. They are a bad bunch of boys!” Christmas sounds noticeably excited. “The thing I like about them is a lot of people think they’re rock ’n’ roll and pretend to be wild — but the Candy Snatchers really are.”
The man is also somewhat grateful for the escalating popularity of underground rock. “I think there’s lots of really good bands at the moment,” he says. “It’s a really good time because of the focus that’s happening on this sort of rock ’n’ roll music. It’s allowed a lot of bands to travel and get out of where they are.”
His optimism continues with nary a trace of sarcasm: “What I like ’bout the new scene, is that it’s different from the record company-driven environment. It’s just the very sort of DIY backgrounds [that are] not competitive. It’s more about togetherness, sharing gear, and lack of egos in this kind of scene. No one, that I see anyway, is back-stabbing anyone, and everyone is enjoying it all together. If we can maintain that, it’ll be a real triumph.”
For a still-young band (all are in their 20s), they appear to have a good sense of rock ’n’ roll history. And they seem to understand what it takes to produce an exhilarating, entertaining show.
When asked what it was that got him going down the rock ’n’ roll alleyway, Christmas is somewhat vague. He says it was “all the obvious inspirations. Good music out of Detroit, New York City and the UK. Along with some really good local bands that inspired us to do things our own way, crazy wild shows. We knew people that had really good record collections when we were younger.”
The D4’s overall attitude about their brand of racket is as careless and unpretentious as several of the band’s songs suggest; “Rock ’n’ Roll Motherfucker,” “Party,” “Get Loose.” No profound implications found here, kids, just flat-out messy fun.
Even the meaning (or lack of one) behind the band’s moniker comes from a sleazy, no-frills place. Enter the whorehouse, where the term D4 took root.
“When Dion was living in the city, there was a brothel close by that was called Dirty Dicks,” explains Christmas. “It had a menu board kind of thing ranging from D1 to D4 … and D4 is going all the way. I think it was appropriate at the time.”
As per the band name, Christmas says he and the boys don’t want people to read into or intellectualize the band. It is, after all, only rock ’n’ roll. As the late Mick Ronson once sang, “Play don’t worry.”
“We’re not out to impress people,” says Christmas, “with tricky sophisticated musicianship and our insightful lyrics and our political comments on the Gulf War situation or something.
“We want to play exciting and unpredictable shows for ourselves and the audience,” he continues. “That’s basically what we’re about; a high-energy rock ’n’ roll band. We like to think of the show as being everyone’s party and encourage everyone to be as crazy as they want to be. We like shows that don’t have a difference between the stage and audience. It’s about forgetting about that shit for 45 minutes and getting as loose as you want.”