It’s just after three a.m. when I sit down for an interview with Wayne Fontaine, former frontman of New Zealand’s Dogs on Prozac. These small hours of a stormy October night literally mark the end of the Kiwi’s visit to Ireland — a stay that eventually grew to take up over a half of a year-long, round-the-world journey. Fontaine found himself undertaking such a trip after Dogs on Prozac bassist Baz Turner and his girlfriend were both tragically killed in a car crash the day after a gig. At that moment in time, things had only begun to take off for the group, and, as it happened, the band had just been picked up for a major overseas tour by production company Pogomotion on the Monday following the accident.
Left – Right: Wayne Fontain, Morse, Baz Turner. Photo from dogsonprozac.com
Up until that point, the music career of Wayne Fontaine had long been used to taking unexpected turns. At the debut performance of his first band, Jermimah Mud Duck, Fontaine had been suspended indefinitely from school after announcing “fuck the system!” to an audience made up of four hundred friends and family members. After getting himself readmitted on a technicality, it was not long before he was permanently expelled on abduction charges. Fontaine then went on to form bands “Asylum and Hypnocide” and “Green Gum Boots,” gigging with the likes of Tahu Jacomb, a classically trained “mad Maori genius.” Dogs on Prozac’s beginnings, however, took much longer to get off the ground. After initially using the insurance money from a stolen surf board to buy a guitar in order to form the band, Fontaine ended up moving away from Rotorua to the likes of Hamilton and Auckland, where he worked on film soundtracks until succumbing to a drug-induced nervous breakdown: “I was just tripping with the wrong people, man.” Deciding to move home to start anew with the band, Dogs on Prozac finally got in gear with a “good burst” of creative energy.
In their first gig back together, they won recording time in the Waikato Battle of the Bands competition, won the previous year by The Datsuns. With a live show that involved multi-media projections and numerous costumes, the group gradually built up “a reputation for being a pack of freaks,” landing them supporting gigs with The D4 (Hollywood Records), live radio sessions, and even the number one slot on a viewer’s choice chart for their music video “The Insect Politician.” After opening for The Datsuns in a gig that saw Dogs on Prozac inadvertently steal the show, the band were left with a taste for more and decided to pursue a career as a group on a full-time basis. “Six months later, [The Datsuns] blew up. It was then that we knew we’d have to go to Europe to make things happen, to chase something down.”
With “mastermind” managerTim Fulton at the helm, the band made new recordings, shot a video for “Fonzie Gets the Girls,” furthered their own promotion with “guerrilla tactics,” and set their sights on heading to England in mid-2003. The drummer, Olly Eason, however, didn’t feel ready for such a move and subsequently left the band, later to be replaced by “Morse” (pictured above). However, taking such a change in tandem with the sudden death of Turner, things looked to be all but over for the group. Yet, undeterred, Fontaine took to the studio to complete the production on the band’s recordings, still reeling from the loss. Enlisting Trent “TNT” Towers (a previous band mate from earlier musical incarnations)
and the original drummer, Eason, Dogs on Prozac performed a final sell-out gig for the launch of their EP, “Songs for the Soon to Be Dead.”
Photo from dogsonprozac.com
Wasting no time in immersing himself in the music scene, including a brief, experimental stint with producer Ivan Jackman and Skuzzi Port drummer Chris Connaughton in forming “Death Metal Distortion Bastards,” Fontaine was impressed with what he found: “The musicians I’ve seen have been really talented, even day-to-day jamming in people’s lounges and all that kind of carry on – they’ve all been amazing. Yeah, there are some good things happening.”
However, the lack of a regular outlet for performing live has come as a great source of frustration for the singer, leaving him with a feeling he describes as being “just impotent… Music is like my manhood, and playing live is like having sex.” A certain sense of respite came in the form of a one-off gig in Dublin’s Temple Bar Music Centre in July, where Fontaine performed some of his new material in an approach that involved combining spoken-word with the electric guitar: “It was exciting, it was cool, because I’ve never done anything like that before at all, and it was really interesting to see what the reaction was going to be… especially the spoken word stuff, because you have to rely on that imagery to carry the whole thing.”
Performing in Temple Bar Music Centre, July 2004.
Along with planning to record the new album with a band, and potentially looking to tour overseas some time next year, Fontaine will
also be resuming his film-making once he returns to New Zealand in November. Although he feels that the marriage between sound and image is a problematic one (and something he’d ideally like to keep separate), Fontaine can’t help developing a clear idea for the execution of a video for “Wayne Fontaine’s Black Holes”: “It starts with an antenna system around the world, shooting up. I’m not sure if it’s going to be done with people, animation… or sock puppets (laughs) — just to debase the whole seriousness of the idea. But it’s basically sending waves through the television in lightning bolts, keeping people controlled by television — there’s a little bit of a back story to it. Then there’s a group of underground scientists who send off a mission into space towards a black hole because there’s been a beacon discovered. On the way there, just on the horizon of the black hole, the captain is possessed by aliens and ends up venturing into it by himself in a space suit, and as he falls deeper and deeper into it, he goes through a different, alternative reality in different states of being, evolving into a static electro-being that shoots across the universe and ends up shorting out all the telecommunications and setting people free.”
The ease with which we relinquish our time to the lure of television is clearly something that troubles Fontaine. As a songwriter, he has often felt disgusted at the amount of references to T.V. that he has found in his own work, as if they had slipped in there subconsciously, only to be recognised once he had stepped back to take in the bigger picture: “The thing about T.V. is that it’s completely telling you what to see, hear, and almost teaching you not to think. It’s putting you in a trance-like state, seducing you…”
Although he feels that he is still at an early stage in his career, after losing his friend and band mate to an untimely death, Wayne Fontaine has learned not to take anything for granted, even if it means accepting that your peak may already be in the rear-view mirror: “You’ve always got to think it’s your peak, simple as that… I imagine it haunts all people who have moved on in life, even just with simple things like being able to keep your balance when you’re older, watching some young person run down the stairs, and then having to hobble down them yourself,” he says, breaking
into laughter. “I remember when Tim Fulton, the manager of Dogs on Prozac, and I, were up working on a press-kit for the band. We were talking about bands that don’t realise when they’ve peaked, and they get pissed off because people aren’t flocking to their concerts like they used to be, or their faces aren’t on all the magazines. I was saying to him that you have to realise what your peak is, and I said ‘this could be our peak right now, working on this press-kit. This could be the peak of our careers.’”
For someone with so many detailed plans to look forward to, it’s certainly a sobering thought for the New Zealander. His laugh fades as he puts a hand to his jaw, looking down at the table contemplatively: “It’s a hard thing to ponder, until you’ve been through the process, I imagine… I try to say I don’t believe in anything, because the sun may not rise tomorrow, it might blow up, or whatever… you might die.” And with that, Wayne Fontaine steps out into the blustering dark to leave for the airport; the final destination of his trip, New York, laying in wait. Slightly dazed at such prospects of uncertainty, Wayne Fontaine is taking things in with one eye on what he’s been through, and one eye on what’s still to come.