It’s only April and we think we may have just heard a sneak preview of Album of the Year. It’s Datura4’s new slab of ‘guitars to infinity’ boogie, aptly titled, Blessed Is The Boogie. Around The Sound caught up with the band’s leader, guitar god the Right Reverend Dom Mariani over a glass of holy water in a trendy Fremantle eatery, just before the world was turned onto Datura4’s sonic splendour once again.
If the late 60s and 70s are the golden era of music, all we can say is that, with Blessed Is the Boogie, Datura4 is bringing it back, and then some.
“I’m proud of this one. I think it’s definitely a step up from the last two (Hairy Mountain, 2016 and debut LP Demon Blues, (2015). I’m proud of the last two as well. I guess we’ve taken a leap, in that ... I don’t know, I guess we’re just getting better at what we’re doing. At the time I wrote these songs, I hit a purple patch as a song writer. When we were putting them together in my little studio, these songs were sounding good. What can I say? I’m pleased.”
Sometimes, there’s just no need for rock star swagger. Quiet understatement is all that’s required. That’s Dom Mariani. He’s a legend in his home town, though he’d never let on that he knows it. But he’s not all self-effacement and brushing away a compliment about his work, either. Mariani knows when he’s done something that’s a cut above and it comes through when he talks about Datura4’s newest work.
Dig a little deeper into the man and his background and what you find is the sort of superfan who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music and musicians he loves. Mariani speaks in reverent tones when he digs into where it all started out for him.
“I love music. I grew up with music. I guess I was always destined to play music in some form. I’ve always been about the hook, melodies have always been the strongest part of my writing. It’s something that comes naturally to me. But my lyrics have actually got stronger as well. I’m just reading a lot more and revisiting some of my heroes . The bands that I grew up with, heavy bands that would go on long journeys with their solos, I love all that stuff. And I love great pop song writing as well. I grew up with The Beatles, classic Bee Gees before the disco era. John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Revival were a big influence on me. I grew up in a great era of music, where the music kept evolving. When the punk thing came along, I embraced that as well. Those days [for me] were all about what was happening next, what’s the new music. It was all exciting.
“You tend to kind of jump ship from where you were before and go with the next thing. That’s what happened with me with the hard rock stuff. I got more into The Ramones and the punk thing, and the new wave and pop thing.
"16 to 20 ... that’s when I really embraced music jamming with my mates in a garage. Black Sabbath, Status Quo, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore, and you wanted to play like them. We’d go and see those bands when they came to town, even though Black Sabbath never came.”
A lot of people would have just carried on without confirming that Sabbath never came to Perth, letting the world think they’d seen the iconic inventors of heavy metal without coming right out and saying it. Plausible deniability and just plain deniability when some geek Googles it and finds the terrible truth. But not Mariani. There’s an openness and honesty about the man that is incredibly grounding and just downright refreshing in this era of fake news.
So, when he talks about his motivation to keep going with all the quiet earnestness of the fourteen-year-old kid who first discovered just how transcendent music can be, you know it’s not just rock star bullshit designed to move the latest product.
“There was a really good scene in Perth, too, heavy blues, psychedelic boogie rock thing going on and I’d go and see some of those bands. So that was a big influence on me. But, when the punk thing came along, I dumbed or should I say simplified it all down again. I thought, ‘We are going a bit too far with this stuff,’ and it brought me back to the economy of it all, the straight ahead, three-minute song. A strong voice and crunchy guitars.
“I still love music. That’s the reason why I do it. To me, the fun of playing music and the creativity of it. I’m not into all the bullshit that sometimes surrounds it, it’s all about the music.
“We (Datura4) dig all that stuff, bands like The Yardbirds, The Groundhogs, T Rex and Zeppelin. All the late 60s early 70s English blues influenced bands. To me that’s like a golden era of music.”
If the late 60s and 70s are the golden era of music, all we can say is that, with Blessed Is The Boogie, Datura4 is bringing it back, and then some.
We’re deep into our conversation now and the holy water is taking effect. We’re bonding over our shared love of music when suddenly Mariani picks up his phone and says, “Here look at this.” Mariani had been talking about touring overseas.
“I was always worried about touring overseas. I just pictured myself pushing a broken-down van through the snow. You hear stories from other bands who’ve toured, so I’d never really entertained it. And then this offer came through for DM3 to play a big festival in Denmark (Roskilde, 1994) it was a good offer. So, we decided to do it. We also played some smaller shows in France, Germany and Italy. It was an eye opener. Fans came from all over and said, ‘It’s so great to see you finally here.’ I went back to Perth and thought, ‘I’d better get back there.’
“I’m really grateful for the international stuff that came, because you can get a little insular in Perth. As much as I love it here, when you first start out to play music, you have these dreams, delusions, that you’re going to go out and play every night and there’ll be heaps of people there, but that’s not the reality of a small place like Perth. We don’t have the numbers. Europe and Japan have been great, it’s kept me going, it’s not on a huge level, but it’s on a level that makes it work for me. We’ve played some great gigs and I’m really thankful for that.
“That (touring internationally) got me back in. If that hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.” (As in no point doing interviews, because he would have stopped making music.)
After a good minute of scrolling, Mariani begins to tell me the story of a recent visit to London with his daughter. “She took me on a musical land mark tour of London and at one point we were outside Jimmy Page’s house. And I saw him in his front yard, he was right there, and stopped and said ‘Hello’ and he was checking me out to see whether I was a stalker or not and sort of said hello back and then went up the path to his house and, look.”
What he shows me is a photo taken by his daughter, Mariani in the foreground on the perimeter of the Page mansion, with his hand raised in greeting. Page is on the steps up to his vast front door, head turned back towards the dark stranger hand raised hesitantly to return the greeting.
“Look, that’s me and that’s Jimmy Page,” points out Mariani, helpfully. And then we’re silent for a moment, both still feeling the presence of greatness emanating from the screen of his phone. What he doesn’t know, and I only just managed to save myself from saying, is that I still feel like I’m sitting in the presence of greatness just across the table from me. And, the fact that he’s just proven beyond any reasonable doubt what a fangeek he is only confirms Mariani’s greatness in my eyes.
After that, we couldn’t help but reminisce and I indulged myself by asking about the time he’d smashed a guitar on stage with The Stems at the Old Melbourne circa 1980something.
“There were two gigs where I smashed my guitar. One was at the Tivoli in Sydney. The manager who was with us at the time said to me, ‘I reckon you should go on stage tonight and, like Pete Townshend, smash your guitar.’ The deal was that the band would buy me a new one. So, last song, I just whacked it on the edge of the stage. Usually it would take a few times to go, but I gave it one whack and that was it, it just happened like that and I threw it out to the crowd. That was the first time. The gig at the Old Melbourne was part of a run of four weeks. The guitar they got me to replace the one I smashed was a dog. It wasn’t as good as the other one, even though it was the same guitar, same brand. It had tuning problems, a thinner sound and I remember, that gig wasn’t going very well, I was just having a hard time, and in the end, I just went, ‘Fuck this!’ and started smashing it and it brought the gig to life. I just smashed it! And that was just on impulse, it wasn’t planned or anything. It wasn’t in my stage act.”
The thing is, Mariani is the real deal, there is no act. That last anecdote shows just what happens to rock stars who go off piste. They end up losing their favourite axe.
And, with Datura4 and Blessed Is The Boogie, Mariani is back in the sort of form that will see him remain relevant to a legion of fans, old and new, for some years to come.
Blessed Is The Boogie is available now on all formats from all good outlets. Datura4 are one of the hardest gigging bands in Perth right now. The album will be formally launched on Friday May 31 at Mojos with support from The Floors and Kat Wilson. It’s going to be a cracking night. We suggest you buy your tickets right now.