Beastwars frontman Matthew Hyde on their new album’s sample from The Quiet Earth.
“I have dedicated all my scientific knowledge and skill to projects which I knew could be put to evil purposes,” confesses Zac (Bruno Lawrence) in Geoff Murphy’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece The Quiet Earth.
These words of Lawrence’s also now appear in Raise the Sword, the first song on IV, the chart-topping new album by Wellington-based sludge metal band Beastwars. As has been well-documentedelsewhere, the journey to dethrone Billie Eilish at the top of the New Zealand album charts was a long one, Beastwars having to overcome not only a band break-up but vocalist Matthew Hyde’s treatment for cancer.
Steve Newall caught up with Hyde, who’d just revisited The Quiet Earth the night before, for a chat about the film—a case of eerie timing, as you’ll see below.
FLICKS: What did you take away from your recent rewatch?
MATTHEW HYDE: The loneliness. I think the film captures so much about that time—if I talk about myself on a personal level—when you are by yourself. And you do crave for conversation or you crave for human contact. Everyone’s busy. The world is in action and everyone’s doing whatever they need to do to survive. But when you’re sick, your time’s at home, and you miss out on what people take for granted, even the conversations of a work colleague, which seems such a small thing, but it’s a very precious thing when you don’t do it.
How did that piece of dialogue come to slot into Raise the Sword?
It was actually always Nathan’s idea [Beastwars drummer Nathan Hickey] and Nathan’s vision to do that. It really did touch on what was happening. I mean even when it was suggested, I was unaware of what was really happening. Funny now, looking back, it totally makes sense. I can see why he chose it. But I had nothing to do with choosing that piece.
Nathan had to ask the Film Commission and then the families and the producer. So we were extremely surprised they said yes, and that was a fantastic day. For me, I thought, my God, Bruno Lawrence’s voice on the record, that’s really amazing. I mean, he was like the king of the counterculture. He was an incredible jazz drummer and actor. It was just pretty amazing, and we were very grateful that it was allowed to happen. It was nice as a recording artist to get to a stage where you can ask people like that and they say yes.
At the end of that scene, “I’ve been condemned to live”, I think that’s a really powerful moment in the movie. Bruno Lawrence was a god in it, and amazing. I have to admit, I did enjoy the moments with him when he was just by himself. I thought that was more haunting than when he was with the other characters, because then normality returns. Whatever normality is, in a way it has returned because it has human contact.
I think we can all extrapolate a little bit of that from watching it, but it lives in the realm of the imagination for most of us, as opposed to your experience over the last couple of years.
It’s just something I noticed during that time. And I’ve never, ever thought about it before. So it was really strange to have that event. Not that it was bad or good, it’s just how it was. And that’s all that happened. But my God, it really relates to that first half of that film.
It could fit in all sorts of places throughout your records. But it really does resonate with this one doesn’t it?
I think it does. One of the things about this record, all these things happened to make the record. And almost sometimes you’re just having to trust what’s happening. I mean I can’t describe it. It’s not like it was planned. I was watching [the film] last night and realizing that today, when we’re talking, is the 5th of July, which is the day that the movie’s set, which just blew my mind last night.
[Even more mindblowing is that later that day on the 5th of July, the band found out they had a number one album—their first].
When I think about The Quiet Earth I think about how everything seemed to be a lot calmer and emptier in our country at the time that it was made.
New Zealand was a very different place. It didn’t look busy, there weren’t many cars. I mean the world’s changed so much. It’s almost like New Zealand caught up with the rest of the world. We’ve just become like any other place. We didn’t used to be that way. It really was the quiet earth in New Zealand.
How do you engage with the man-made apocalyptic components of the film? Because at the time it was made, the era was very “nuke-y”.
I think you can relate to it now because an ecological disaster is happening. We’ve filled the planet full of plastic, and we don’t know what to do with it. Because everything we have from the supermarket is surrounded by it. This product has enabled capitalism to succeed and for people to sell stuff that lasts longer, but is a waste at the end of it. And it’s almost like we didn’t realize what we’re doing. Like the movie, they didn’t really realize what they were doing. And there’s going to be a consequence.
Obviously, right now we’re very close to nuclear war at any moment, especially with the tensions in Iran and how that could go terribly wrong, or the tensions between America and Russia, how that could go terribly wrong. North Korea. Are we back into the age of the Cold War, but we’re not acknowledging it? There doesn’t seem to be the fear that we had in the 80s of a nuclear holocaust, which I find really strange.
It was ever-present, wasn’t it? A really weird thing to grow up with.
Yeah, it was always there. I think it’s even more scarier now, because it’s something we’re not fighting against. The general population is not saying “no”. The world has become so busy and people are just trying to survive. And it’s just another thing on a whole list of other things that could possibly go wrong or is going wrong.
One of the things I like about The Quiet Earth is that it’s this disaster that’s caused by people trying to make things better and feel like they’ve got a clever solution over nature.
It proves humans’ failings because we’re trying to be like God, but we’re not. And mother nature will… the collapsing of the sun will finish us all. We’re not respectful enough to what we have. We’re always wanting something better or think we’ll fix it if we make it worse—but what we began with was something amazing. It’s weird, that movie, I haven’t thought about it for years, but revisiting it now, it’s like, oh my God, we’re in a very similar time, but different crises and different problems.
Is there anything else about The Quiet Earth that stands out to you?
What I also really love about it was how Geoff Murphy incorporated the world of Maoridom in the film quite heavily. And it’s almost like he could see the future, because I think we’re really trying to, as a country, bring ourselves together more than we ever have been, especially with te reo becoming so much more a part of our lives. I love the scene in the marae and the meeting house. It was just amazing. They were visionaries weren’t they? And sometimes artists are. That was the greatest thing I think I enjoyed about the film. Great ideas that will come.
You can grab one of the last remaining copies of Beastwars IV on vinyl here or here, buy it on Bandcamp or stream at the usuals.