BY STEVE MASCORD
HERE’S how it kind of works.
When I request an interview with someone – that is, when I’m not offered something known in the biz as a “cattle call” interview – I make all sorts of promises.
I can feature the interview in a podcast, I say in the email, but I can also write a feature, do a news story, shoot a YouTube clip. “More bang for your buck,” is the unimaginative expression I reel off without thinking.
Which is how I ended up in a demountable backstage at Solvesborg, Sweden, with Disneyland After Dark vocalist Jesper Binzer in the middle of 2015 – some 25 years after I previously interviewed him.
But, you know, life gets in the way. The podcast went out, well received. The video was posted on YouTube. I think I might have pitched up a news story to Blabbermouth.
The feature? Er, never got around to it.
As it happens, however, Jesper Binzer released a completely unexpected solo album last year. It started with a song called “The Future Is Now”, written for the World Boxing Super Series. Very D:A:D – anthemic, memorable, goosebump-coaxing.
That seems to have morphed into Dying Is Easy, a record compiled with a lot of help from Søren Andersen, the handsome guitar-slinging devil in Glenn Hughes’s band.
I figure this kind of gives us a chance to revisit the rather entertaining and occasionally profound interview with Jesper and do an album review at the same time! Perhaps some of the subjects covered on the album will match those on Dying Is Easy. Maybe not.
It’s so long ago, the chat in Sweden, I can’t remember.
“The Future Is Now”, however, does concern itself with a recurring theme in D:A:D’s writing – aging, maturing, leaving behind adolescence. Lyrically, Jesper seems to have been going through an endless adolescence … “Grow Or Pay” to “Last Days Of Neverland”. Or, an endless end of adolescence.
There’s an understanding of the need to grow up. But it never seems to actually happen.
“Exactly,” the hirsute Dane says when I point this out. “How come some people are good at this part of life but others are good at that part of living and others are good at this part?
“How can they do it?
“You look around at your friends … people are living life differently. It’s exciting to find out, delve into ‘what choices do we make?’
“As everyone grows old, we look back and say ‘ah, I made that small mistake’, ‘I made a big mistake’, ‘I made that grave mistake’. You try to find out ‘OK, how do I navigate this?’
“When you go to bed at night with your hands above the duvet, you go ‘tomorrow, I’m afraid of tomorrow’.
“What, more or less, most of the lyrics are about is ‘what am I going to do so I don’t become a fiasco and fall down?’
“You can keep on keeping on … sing what it says in your diary. Don’t bring out the old diaries to write new rock songs. Use your up-to-date diary.”
But in D:A:D songs – and in “The Future Is Now” – the writer seems to think this fear will go away, that wisdom will be attained. But it never does, it never is.
“This is what it’s about: whenever you think you’ve reached a peak – ‘oh finally, I know. I made it, I’m the most clever guy on earth’, you find out you’re not. So, take another round.”
OK, onto the next song, the title track. Really like this one – “Dying Is Easy (Rock’n’Roll Is Hard)”. Chugs along wonderfully, big crunchy riff, ebullient chorus.
Let’s leave behind the easy dying bit; how can rock’n’roll be that hard? Well, for one thing: if you are known for a song called “I Won’t Cut My Hair’, you can never cut your hair, right? It must be tempting, walking past a barber shop….
“It’s never happened,” Jesper insists. “It’s very funny because in the nineties, hard rock, it wasn’t very … and everyone in the band told me ‘Jesper, you’re pulling us down because you look like an anachronism.
“I said ‘hey guys, this is me. I don’t care about fashion, uh-uh’. So, never.”
Next up on Dying Is Easy is “Rock On Rock”, a semi-acoustic track that is reminiscent of the early days of D:A:D Draws A Circle. Well, not really – very post-rock star sentiments. “They twisted your words and now you don’t speak”. Hmm.
“Planet Blue” is not like Jesper’s band at all; it’s kind poppier, more like Disneyland At Dawn. “I haven’t got this human interaction bit down quite yet,” he laments. A good opportunity (planets, human interaction…) to ask what it’s like to play before 10,000 people in Scandinavia and 100 people in America.
“It keeps us schizophrenic,” Jesper laughs.
“We were really having a ball. I mean, it’s a great place to travel. You know how it is. It’s just great to be in America. There were fans who were, like, ‘it was 24 years ago’ and were crying. But it definitely wasn’t, like, a successful homecoming. It was just hard work.
“It’s funny to revisit America being on the bottom still. No dressing rooms, no nothing, no sound check. You just go in there.
“Luckily, we enjoy it. We go ‘this is great, this is rock’n’roll, this is what we want to do and we’ve got talent enough to do it’. People were gobsmacked – whoa – giving them an arena show on a small stage.
“The thing is, as life goes along, you tend to love more and more the smaller gigs where things are happening in the now and it’s not ‘we need to do a performance’.
“That kind of communication tends to be, as time goes on, the best kind of communication. We’re so grateful and happy that we can get to play the big things, get the big show going, the sign, the stage and there’s what I’m going to say, ‘blah blah blah’.
“But going out and playing our best – that’s more or less the joy of our being.”
Next up on the new platter is “Saint Fantasia” which sounds bit like a Dunedin alternative scene thing from 1992. You can’t see it on a D:A:D album. “The Bumpy Road” is reminiscent of “Down The Dusty Third World Road”. “The road less travelled,” Jesper intones on this song, “ain’t got no signs”.
So, the question you’ve all been shouting at your computer for: when is Disneyland After Dark returning to Australia, where they haven’t travelled for a quarter century? In 1990, when I last met Jesper, it was a promo tour with an impromptu show or two.
“Normally, I’m like a goldfish. I forget things. But Australia, we never, never forgot because we never got back there. You can’t erase the memories.
“I will not tell you what I remember because it was very carnal.
“There are a lot of Australians on Facebook, saying come on down, come on down. We did a tour of Far East Asia with the sole purpose of waking up the sleeping bear, the sleeping kangaroo, and the kangaroo woke up a little bit … but not enough so that we were going to get the cheap airfare to Australia from Asia.
“But it’s not really the money that keeps us away. It’s the psyche barrier because it’s not that expensive if you travel coach but we need someone who loves us a bit more than ‘yeah guys, you’re great, see you when you come down’. Someone that really invites us.”
Back to the new album then. “Tell Myself To Be Kind” is pleasant enough, lumbering along through three minutes like a hunting Tyrannosaurus. “Real Love” is actually quite endearing. “I’m letting go of past mistakes, a new meaning will take its place if it’s real love”.
Mistakes? Regrets? Jesper Binzer, 52, has a few.
“It’s about maturity. When you’re in the middle of it, when you’re in the eye of the hurricane, as a 22-year-old just coming into a rock band, (I’d say) ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be alright’ and ‘stick to your guns’
“You don’t have to run after the new fad. We were really great at doing our own thing but, still, looking back, you go ‘oh, Brit pop’, ‘oh, grunge’. We drifted off course. But creativity is a funny, funny lady. You never really know what she’s saying.”
On Dying Is Easy, she’s saying ‘mixed bag’. “Wild Child” and “The Space She’s In” take a few listens to appreciate, although the former ended up a single.
But Jesper’s penchant for a stunning line in what must have at one stage been a foreign language – that so enchanted this writer half a lifetime ago – remains unaffected by the passing years.
“You can show them when you’re weak because your heart is strong,” he sings to open “I See It In You”, which reminds me a little of “A Laugh and a ½”. “You can tell them you’ve been like this since you were born.
“And if you’re half the world away and missing home, get to know yourself. You’re never really alone.
“Every time they ask, you say the same. Because if you stay true, it’s the world that’s gonna change.”