The Collapse Board Interview: Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman)
SPOILER ALERT!!! At the very end of Descent into the Maelstrom, the 2017 Radio Birdman documentary that’s just been released on DVD, keyboard player Pip Hoyle is asked about the band’s legacy. “I don’t think there’s an Australian sound to Radio Birdman,” he states, “I think there’s a Radio Birdman sound to Australia. As arrogant as it might sound at first, once you start looking at the Australian rock bands who followed in Radio Birdman’s wake, from the first generation late 1970s bands all the way through to the current day, it’s clear that he has a valid point.
There are a number of fascinating aspects of Descent into the Maelstrom, that elevate the film above your typical rock biopic. Firstly, the commentary and interviews is kept to a very small inner circle, for the most part just the band members themselves. It doesn’t include an extended cast of contemporaries, peers or fans paying their respects to the band. It’s the story of the band told by the band themselves. Even more interesting is that by using this approach, it gives the individual band members a degree of equality and exerts a sense of band democracy in telling the story. By giving screen time to current and previous members of Radio Birdman it doesn’t gloss over the tensions and dysfunctionality that have played out in the band over the last four decades.
We spoke to Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek about the documentary, the band’s upcoming tour and their future plans.
Collapse Board: How did the film, the documentary come about? And was this the first time anyone had tried to make a film about the band?
Deniz Tek: It’s the first time anyone actually followed through with. We had many people say that they were going to do it and then when they actually looked at what would be involved in the project, they’d back down. And when Jonathan Sequeira [Descent Into The Maelstrom’s Director] came along and said he was gonna do the same thing, we were “Yeah, Okay, maybe,” but he actually did follow through. He asked for asked the band for support but he didn’t ask the band for any input other than what was in the interviews.
CB: Was it a band decision to it or was it up to each member of the band?
DT: It was really up to each member whether they wanted to participate but everyone was supportive of it. I don’t think anyone in the band had any real reservations. We trusted Jonathan to do a good job and as it turned out, our trust was well placed because he did it, he made a great movie. I think it presented the band in a good way, it put the music front and centre where it should be, There was a lot of the music in there that presented the music in a way that probably a lot of people could find out about it that wouldn’t otherwise know.
CB: Was there any apprehension about doing it and losing the creative control about telling the band’s story?
DT: Yeah. I mean you’re, you’re allowing somebody to tell your story in the way that they want. He obviously had the power to edit the film any number of ways and could slant the direction of the movie in any number of ways. When I was interviewed for the film, for my part of it, it was more than six hours of interview and of course like maybe 20 or 30 minutes of it is in the film. The editing was really key. So you’re apprehensive. You want it to be good but there’s certainly no guarantees that it’s going to be good.
CB: But you were pleased with the outcome and the band was pleased with how the film turned out?
DT: I think for the most part the band was pleased. Everybody got to have their say even members of the band that are unhappy because they’re no longer in the band. They got to have their say and I think it told the story from a number of angles and every story does have its various sides. And I think it’s an interesting story. I mean, it’s hard for me to say because I’m in it, I’m very close to it, but from what I’ve heard from other people, it does have some, some universal cultural interest.
CB: Did you learn anything from the film that you didn’t already know from any of the band members?
DT: Oh yeah. A lot of the complaints about me that are in the film and things that I had not heard before, so that was very interesting. One of the things that I’ve reflected on is that if we had talked about those things 40 years ago when they were occurring, we might’ve been able to sort out some of those problems. We didn’t talk, we didn’t talk about that stuff, so it was a missed opportunity I think. But you know, we were very young, we didn’t know how to really work on a team towards a common goal. We were just sort of riding a big wave or sort of on a trip and the let the chips fall. It’s easy to say in hindsight what could have been done differently. I think everybody in the band did the best they could at the time with what they had.
CB: I think one thing that came across really strongly even with those ex-members is how they still believed in the band even though they weren’t in the band, they still saw the band as being more important than the individuals and they still wanted the band to succeed.
DT: Yeah, that’s right. Which I think speaks to the strength of the band itself beyond the individuals themselves.
CB: Has the film lead to any reconciliation with the old members of the band or is that all in the past now?
DT: When I first saw the movie, the first Sydney showing, Warwick Gilbert was there and so I had a chat to him after the movie. We talked about some of those things and I’ve had conversations with Ron [Keeley] as well, our original founding drummer, I’ve had some conversations with him too. He had some misconceptions that were brought out in the film and we talked about that and he ended up sort of apologizing about some of those things and we’ve reconciled. We’re communicating, we’re still friends. I still consider myself to be friends with Warwick also. Chris [Masuak] hasn’t spoken to me since he was fired from the band and even though that was a unanimous band decision, I only had one vote in that, I was the one that had to tell him and he hasn’t spoken to me since then. Maybe he will, Maybe we’ll reconcile one day. I hope we do. I like Chris and I really respect the contribution that he made to the band the. But if he doesn’t want to reconcile, that’s okay too.
CB: Another thing that was in the film that I was curious about was when you say that you never talked about the big picture and maybe you should have at time. I just wondered what was your big picture at the time?
DT: There really wasn’t any big picture. All there was was “Well, what are we going to do next week? Okay, what songs do we want to learn for the next show?” That kind of thing that, we never really went beyond that. We didn’t think we had a future. We thought “Oh well, do this as long as we can and as long as we’re having fun with it, we’ll do it.” But there was certainly no master plan or wide perspective of this. It was just a bunch of guys together doing something with no long range view.
CB: You’re also touring next month as well. The last time we saw he was last year when you did a co-tour with Died Pretty. How did those shows go?
DT: The Died Pretty tour was great. We get along really well individually and I think musically the two bands compliment each other as well. On that tour they would headline one night and we would headline the next night, alternating who went first and second and we all had a great time. The audiences were really good and both bands played really well and there was no drama so it was all pretty cool. Now we’re looking forward to going out again this time with different supports. We’re all keen to play and we’ve been talking about what songs we want to do, what songs we want to bring out of the back catalogue and what new covers we want to learn. We’ve been on email and talking about it an start rehearsing in a couple of weeks.
CB: I looked at the tour schedule and it’s a pretty brutal schedule where you’re playing the Australian dates and then you’re straight off to Europe and playing five shows in a row and then one day off. How do you manage that?
DT: I don’t consider that brutal! Last year I went to Europe with my solo band and I did 32 cities in 30 days. That’s brutal!
CB: Yeah. That is brutal!
DT: So if you can survive that, and on that one I have to sing as well as play the guitar. If you can survive now you can, you can certainly do five in a row and have a day off. I guess it’s intense, the performances can be sort of like athletic events. It’s an intense hour and a half and then you have 22 and a half hours to recover to the next one. We enjoy so much, we love doing it. It’s really what we live for so I don’t consider it to be any kind of hardship to do it. I’do it a lot more if I had the opportunity.
CB: You talked about doing new covers for the upcoming tour. Is there any new Radio Birdman material you’re planning?
There’s no new Birdman songs. I’m writing music all the time and we have done some demos of some of my new material, but we never really got off the ground with preparation for a new record in Birdman, so I went ahead and used some of those songs for my own solo album. I’m always writing and if there becomes motivation in the band to do another record, we’ll have the material, that won’t be a problem. I’ve got a new solo album coming out in a couple of days and so I’m focused on that at the moment. I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility of new Birdman songs and a new Birdman album but it’s not on the cards right now.
CB: The most recent songs that Radio Birdman released were for Record Store Day single in 2016 with covers of ‘Buried and Dead’ by Masters Apprentices and ‘The Ballad of Dwight Fry’ by Alice Cooper on the B-side. As a big Alice Cooper fan I was a bit apprehensive but I really enjoyed your version. It loved how raw it sounded and that you had managed to put your own style onto it.
DT: Thank you, I was really happy with how that came out too. That recording is kind of interesting because we were, we were on tour and we were asked by Sub Pop Records to come up with a song for an Alice Cooper tribute album. We just went into the studio one afternoon in Melbourne and we recorded ‘The Ballad of Dwight Fry’ and then we had extra time so we we recorded ‘Buried and Dead’ and another demo also that day, another original. So three songs in one afternoon in the studio. And of course the Sub Pop Alice Cooper tribute album never came out, so we had that track and the other track, the Masters Apprentices one, and they’d been sitting in the can for I don’t know how long. That was the last recording session that Ron Keeley played on and I think drumming is really, really good on that. So it was nice for him to get some more of his work out in public, especially when it’s that good, and let him end on a high note there. We just decided to put it out for Record Store Day and I think it’s sold out on that first morning, all the copies were gone.
‘Descent Into The Maelstrom’ is released on DVD on 21 September
RADIO BIRDMAN AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2018
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