First playing as part of the NZ International Film Festival in 2017, Head Like a Hole doco Swagger of Thieves returns – with a new edit – to bring a dose of dodgy rock n roll to cinemas this NZ Music Month. Steve Newall spoke with frontman Nigel ‘Booga’ Beazley about how he feels about the revealing warts n’ all doco one year on, the realities of being a band in NZ, their rivalry with Shihad, and – of course – drugs and playing nude.
FLICKS: How do you feel about Swagger of Thieves now, a year on from when people first saw it?
NIGEL ‘BOOGA’ BEAZLEY: Pretty much the same. I mean I haven’t watched it since it came out then. When I watched it then I was a little bit freaked out, because of the way I looked, you know? Back then I was 110 kilos and I look nothing like that now. So it’s a bit strange in that respect.
One of the things that comes through in the film is that you’re really aware of where you sit within the musical community. How does having a documentary made about you fit into that? Obviously, not many bands get to be in a feature film.
You’d hope that it would sort of fit snuggly into the bedrock of New Zealand’s music history. But with Head Like a Hole, I suppose, there for a while in the 90’s we were sort of doing quite well and we couldn’t really complain. We were sort of our own worst enemies – we sort of made it crumble down around us, near the end there. But now I’d hope that we’d get a bit more recognition and people would be interested in it. I don’t know, with Head Like a Hole things just sort of don’t go that way with us. We’re not really part of the music industry that goes along to the music awards. We don’t really put ourselves forward for that sort of thing.
Obviously, music’s the central aspect of it. But for people that are interested in bands, there’s something more to it than a scrapbook or series of events. I think that’s one of the things that makes it such an interesting film.
Oh, that’s cool. Yeah. I think it is good. It shows me and Nigel sort of as buddies. We’ve always been in it together. We started the band together – Head Like A Hole, it’s like a marriage. You have your ups and downs, and sometimes it drives you bloody crazy, but you want to do it because you love it.
The relationship between you and Nigel is the backbone of the film. There’s some really poignant stuff happening.
The bit that I love is not me but the stuff with Nigel. He’s talking in the movie about what Head Like a Hole’s going to do, and then he just sort of stops. And he goes, “I’m a bit fucked in the head at the moment” [laughs]. And you can sort of tell before he says it. He’s got his glasses on. He’s looking a little bit gaunt, and he’s just like, “I’m really messed up, man.” It’s crazy. And I really felt for him in that, but I was like, “Wow.”
How were you feeling as the film was about to go in front of an audience for the first time?
I was pretty happy with it. My wife was a little bit freaked out by being in the movie with the kids and sort of coming to terms with the fact that it possibly was going to go into cinemas around the country at some point. But for me, I don’t really have a problem with that. I mean I did sort of wonder about the drug use thing in it, and so did Nigel Regan. He wasn’t upset or anything. He was just a little bit wary. He’d started a new job, and he thought that possibly it might come to bite him on the arse. We were like different people back then, so it didn’t really matter.
Do you think it demystifies the band and yourself for your fans? Or do you think it adds more for people to consider?
I reckon it adds more to the pile, you know? There are probably people out there that didn’t really know our history as far as the drug dabbling went, and our musical history possibly, and then there will be people out there that have known all that but just really want to see it on the big screen, want to see what it’s all about.
Drugs are interwoven with your story but, as you say, it’s not necessarily something your fan base are aware of in detail.
No, I don’t think so. There’s a few people out there that would be shocked. Because when it shows me and Nigel in the bathroom I’m quite young there. I would have been 27, 28, you know? Quite happily I’m saying to the camera, “Oh. I cut down.” I’ve cut down. I’m being a good boy. Yet, I’m whacking up drugs with a spoon.
It’s definitely one of the moments that helped pique interest in this film for all the right and wrong reasons at the same time.
There was one guy that actually thought it was utter rubbish. One guy that did a review, his name is Marty Duda.
Yeah, I think I saw Marty’s review.
He sounded quite upset saying that we should be role models and how dare we sort of paint that picture. Sort of saying that’s not how bands do it in New Zealand but that’s not exactly what we were saying, that’s just the way we did it, you know? If you don’t like it you don’t have to like it.
It’s a bit of a peek behind the curtain of what it means to be in a band in New Zealand. Things like watching you wash windows while talking about APRA payments – it’s a fucking real moment. Do you agree?
Totally. In the movie, I’m saying Shihad, they’re a household name. So for me, I say they’re like the next Dave Dobbyn or something that won – what? – 16 or 19 music awards. Once you’re in that circle, for some reason, you tend to get more support. And I understand all that. It does show everyone exactly what it’s like to be in a band. No matter how successful people think you are, sometimes you just don’t sell units.
You’re not selling records, therefore you’re not really making money. And if you don’t get radio play, you can’t make money either. And if you’re not getting publishing, it’s all related, and it’s all in the same basket. You need to be turning over coin. And we’ve never made money week in, week out, or even month in, month out, and been paid. Everyone struggles.
But a lot of people that I speak to that are fans of the band just think that I’m sort of sitting in a castle somewhere, counting money, and smoking cigars [laughs]. But I was washing bloody windows, crazy. I mean we really weren’t together then, so that’s why I was washing windows. But I still hadn’t even gotten over my drug haze. It was 2007, 2008. I was still recovering from it.
It is undoubtedly tough being in a band in New Zealand. While fans think the lifestyle of being in a band is something quite different to what it really is…
Yeah, it’s pretty much jo-schmo really, eh[laughs]? Well, I mean admittedly we’ve had, what, nine years off and then when we decide to get back together, you know? We weren’t planning on getting back together in a hurry but that certainly pushed us in the direction.
We tried to do it with Mark Hamill, the original drummer. But I don’t know what happened there, things just didn’t work and we asked Tom Watson and he wasn’t into it. So I think when you look at it, I don’t know if many bands in this country have actually gotten back together and decided to continue on and released a couple of albums that have actually got good reviews and a number one song and people have actually bought it, you know? It’s a really great reception. I don’t think many people have done that in New Zealand.
Why do you think it was different for you guys?
I don’t know. I think we just really love doing it, you know? Perseverance. It’s been my family motto – perseverance over talent or difficulties. I’ve got a family crest on my wall and it says “labor omnia vincit” that was my father’s but then I realised that he just bought it from a shop and that’s why it had been on the wall, probably.
Have you had fans bring up the film with you?
Yeah, yeah. Heaps of people mention it. The funny thing is on social media, you know when you put something up on social media like that, and you basically spell it out saying, “This is when it is, this is when the dates are, don’t miss out.” Then people will say “Where can I see it? Can I buy it on DVD? Can I watch it online somewhere? Can I pay to watch it?” And I don’t think people realise just how hard it is getting it into a film festival and then using it as a stepping stone to get it into theatres nationwide, it’s bloody hard. I can’t wait for it to come out at the movies.
I haven’t watched the whole Shihad movie, I’ve seen snippets, but I can’t really watch them anyway, you know? It’s just one of those things. I used to be able to when they were more in the Killjoy days but they went through so many, I don’t know, genre changes and looks and… yeah, it just doesn’t do anything for me.
I presume then if you could swap places you wouldn’t have done it?
No way. There was a time there when they were the cream of the crop and they were like, “We’re going to have our album out.” And then we went, smash, and got ours out. Gerald Dwyer was working for us and working for them. And therein the rivalry started. That’s how it all started, when we were in the same rehearsal space as them and we could hear Shihad rehearsing. And we were commenting, “Fuck. They’re tight, man.” And they could hear us rehearsing.
Me and Nigel, we entered the practice room and Jonny was like, “Yeah, we’re going on the Devolve tour.” And Johnny sort of laughed in his Jon Toogood way and went, “Haha, haha. You guys should come on tour with us. Haha, haha.” And Nigel was like, “Yeah, fuck. We’ll take you up on that offer.” And then we said “see ya later” and we walked out the door.
Nigel said, “Oh, jeez, I forget my foot pedal,” or something. And he went back inside. They were talking, and he sort of went over to the door and he could hear them. And Jonny Toogood said, “Head Like A Hole coming on tour with us? Like fuck” [laughs]. Nigel came out and was like, “Dude, they were just winding us up. They’re not going to ask Gerald at all. They think we’re rubbish.” And I was like, “That’s not cool.” So then Nigel found out Gerald Dwyer’s number and said, “Jonny Toogood said we could come on tour ” And Gerald said, “I’ll come and watch you play.” And then he went and told Shihad that we were coming on tour. It was brilliant.
They’ll say that’s bullshit, but that’s exactly how it happened. They were bagging us and we overheard. So we were like, “Right. That’s it. We’re doing it.”
It wouldn’t have been long after that when you were doing rammed Powerstation shows here in Auckland, like a thousand people, right?
Yeah, totally. It just sort of went boom and blew up. I think it was after Nigel said, “I’m going to play naked”. That was just on a whim. Nigel didn’t know what to wear and he just chucked it out there. He just said, “Oh, I’m just going to play naked, mate.” And Gerald was like, “Holy shit. I’m going to make him do it. I’m going to make him do it. This is going to be great.” So I can see why people wanted to come and see us. I mean, back then I couldn’t really sing [laughts]. I used to just be yelling my way through it. After shows I’d be so raw, I could hardly speak. I’d just be screaming my way through it. But obviously, people thought it was working.
So it’s the success of Nigel’s impulsive tackle?
Totally, yup. Yeah. And he had a secret behind it, too. I always used to think, “Nigel’s got big balls getting up on stage– or either a big dick [laughs] getting up on stage with nothing on.” Because he’d always be behind his guitar, but he’d pull his guitar to one side and he’d sort of shake it at everyone and get really up close to the front row and show everyone. And I’d be going, “Fuck. I don’t know if I’d do that.” And then he told me a secret. He was like, “You know why I don’t care?” And I was, “Well, I don’t know. You tell me, mate.” He goes “[name redacted – Ed.] and I go into a cubicle every night.” And I thought, “What? Seriously?” And he’s like, “Yeah. She gears me up to go onstage.” [laughs].