Alien Weaponry: Lewis de Jong EXCLUSIVE Interview! Riffs, Writing and Finding that Groove

Published on 21 April 2023

Alien Weaponry are one of those bands who just immediately push all the correct buttons. Huge grooves, made with gigantic guitar riffs and propulsive drums; a direct, streamlined sound that wastes no time in getting straight to the mosh; and vocals that blend catchy hooks with exotic sounding Maori chants.

What’s not to like?

Hailing from New Zealand, Alien Weaponry (the name comes from Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 movie) have been on a non-stop quest to dominate the current metal scene for years now, moving their sights towards international goals after enjoying huge success in their native country. 

With two albums under their belt, and a recent, hugely successful international tour as guests of Gojira, the wave they are riding is currently spectacularly high. Luckily for us, a chance encounter at one such show paved the way for us to organise a Zoom chat with frontman Lewis de Jong. We chatted after the band had finished up their touring commitments and headed home, and we found Lewis on hilarious form. Smart, funny and polite, he’s also super serious about his role as grand riffmaster for a band who are easily one of the most exciting live propositions at the moment. Read on to find out the backstory, the current story and the future story of Alien Weaponry…


Early Days and Initial Success

guitarguitar: So this is the first time we’ve spoken and so it might be worth going over the usual ‘band origins’ question: how did you guys get together? And also, are you not really young? Like, 21 or 22 years old?

Lewis de Jong: Yeah, I’m turning 21 in April, so I’m not even 21 yet! But Henry is 23 and Turanga is 22 or 23, I don’t quite know!

GG: I’m amazed at how much you guys have got it together so early on. I am intrigued about the genesis of the band, because you’ve been at it for two records already!

LdJ: We actually started off in 2010, so I would’ve been eight (laughs) and Henry, my brother who is also the drummer, would’ve been ten. Back then it was just me and him jamming out in the lounge, just experimenting, making music. I think it got real serious when we got Ethan to join the band, our first bass player. In 2012 we entered a competition called Smoke Free Rock Quest, and we did that from 2012 till 2016 when we ended up winning the whole competition. Then things kinda started moving from there: we released an album, we got invited to do a bunch of shows in Europe and yeah, we’ve just been grinding away at it ever since, pretty much!

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: Wow, that’s amazing! So, what’s the New Zealand metal scene - or even just the alternative music scene - like? I guess what I’m thinking is: how easy or difficult was it for you to get going?

LdJ: New Zealand definitely has an awesome metal community but it’s not a mainstream big thing like it is in Europe. In New Zealand it’s quite underground. New Zealand’s more kind of reggae roots, hip hop and pop music in the forefront. But yeah, I mean there were years and years of just bringing our own gear, PA, lights, backline, all of that to gigs of anywhere between five to a hundred people every weekend or two. Just doing that over the country. That was a lot of work but I feel like if we hadn’t put in those yards, we wouldn’t be getting the gigs we are now. That definitely helped us get our name out there locally in a sense, you know what I mean?

GG: Yeah! Is that also why you guys sound so tight? Is it just because of putting in the graft, the hours and just playing and playing?

LdJ: Yeah, I mean we definitely also make sure we’re well practised before going on tours but yeah, I think the fact that we’ve just been gigging for so long definitely helps. I feel like practise is really key in staying tight as a band, that’s the most important thing.


"I've got a really strong rhythm hand, but my fretting hand has a couple of soldiers that aren't getting in line!"


GG: Yes. So, was it a kinda DIY thing, where you guys would pull together your cash and get, like, a PA system and get gigs? Or were you working through promoters and stuff?

LdJ: It was very small, like club shows, sometimes opening for other bands, but we’d be supplying most of the gear as well. But yeah, venue promoters or whoever was running the venues all over the place. We had a van that had our logo printed on the side of it, and everyone would take photos of it and post them on Facebook.

GG: Nice!

LdJ: Yeah! That was us for basically six to eight years. Only probably in the last half decade have we been getting international buzz.

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: That’s something I want to ask about too, but before I get to that: were you able go to school whilst doing this? Did you have to drop out?

LdJ: Basically, when we were doing the shows in New Zealand, we’d try to work it around school, and take some time off to do it. But, I think the thing is, when we went on our first European tour, we ended up on the end of that tour going to the US as well. In total, that was about five or six months, and school basically said: ‘Look, if you’re gonna do this again, you either gotta do music or you gotta stop going overseas for half a year and stay in school’. I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll choose music!’ (laughs)

GG: Hahaha, that was a tough decision for you!

LdJ: Yeah! Hmm, let me think! Exactly. 

GG: One of life’s big tricky decisions! Now, you said it so casually about gigging around New Zealand and then into the international gigs. That’s a huge difference! How did that occur? Was it management, or other bands?

LdJ: So, it was actually weird how we ended up in Europe. Um, I’m trying to tell the story correctly… some guy met the promoter or booking agent for the festival in Slovenia called Metal Days. He showed them Alien Weaponry and was basically like,’dude, check out this sick band!’. This guy hit up our management and said, ‘how can we get these guys over to Metal Days?’ That’s kinda what kicked it off: we got an invite to play a European festival and we constructed a tour around that. We ended up opening up for a band called Nervosa, so we were playing a bunch of club shows with them, and we also somehow managed to get onto Wacken. That was literally one of our goals when we started the band: we wanted to try and play Wacken by the time Henry was 20 and we managed to do that when Henry was only 18, so that was pretty mind-blowing stuff for us, you know? It was a pretty life-changing experience, to say the least.


Alien Weaponry Writing Process

GG: I can imagine! It’s such a success story, I love it! Well, let’s move on to the actual writing process. You guys obviously play guitar-based metal and there’s only three of you, and I know that the bass player has changed in the last couple of years. I’m presuming then that most of the songs begin with yourself: would that be a right or wrong assumption to make? 

LdJ: I mean, each song’s different, but a lot of songs I remember starting with either a riff or a drum beat. Pretty much all the first and second album, every song started out as a jam. We played them back and were like ‘that sounds cool’, you know? Playing as much stuff as you can and sifting through what you think sounds workable. Each song’s different. I’ve written most of the English lyrics but Henry’s done a couple of songs, like for example PC Bro and Hypocrite. 


The Maori songs are a much more collaborative process when we write lyrics for them. But yeah, we don’t really have a set way of writing songs: we try to keep it pretty flexible. We’ve been writing songs lately and we’ve been taking a whole different approach, kind of sitting down and working individual parts out, polishing them a bit more than we used to. I feel like our writing process is definitely changing nowadays.

GG: Okay. And with the jamming, you can’t always like everything another person is doing, just as they may not like a riff that you love…

LdJ: Aw yeah, there’s always like ‘I wish this was played on the drums instead of that’ and vice versa. It’s everyone’s own idea of how the song should go, and it’s usually slightly different. But, I feel like how we’re doing it now feels much easier to discuss an idea and put it into reality and compare things. So I’m really interested to see how this next album we’re writing goes.

GG: Aha, excellent! I don’t know if you even want to say, but is there a tentative date for that third album yet?

LdJ: I don’t know if we’re at the date stage yet, but soon in the general scheme of things. Put it there! (laughs)

GG: Okay, haha! That’s fine!

LdJ: Not overly soon though!

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: Sure, the distant horizon. In terms of riffs, then: the riffs are one of my instantly favourite things about your music, the riffs are absolutely brilliant. I want to know about your influences as a guitarist, but even prior to that, when you are playing and writing riffs, how do you know when you’ve got a good one? Is it a feeling? Is it somebody else’s opinion? How does that gauge itself for you?

LdJ: It’s definitely a combination of things. I always feel like, when I know I’ve got a riff that I really want to put in a song, or really want to do something with, when I think of it, I keep fucking thinking of it! It’s like, if I can think of a riff once and it gets stuck in my head, because what I’m really bad for is writing riffs that are sick, and then immediately forgetting what I played two seconds later. Sometimes I’ll just come up with some shit in my head and it’ll be stuck there for like three weeks before I’ll finally be able to play in onto the guitar. Because it’s been in there for three weeks, I feel like there’s something there.

GG: That’s interesting! So, quite often you’re away from the guitar and still writing riffs in your head as ideas?

LdJ: Yeah! But it’s like, I dunno, anything that makes you move, it’s this feeling you get. You wanna do some moshing or even not necessarily mosh but, you know, bang your head or feel a certain way.

GG: Yeah, it just has that thing.

LdJ: Yeah.


"The Alien Weaponry style is just real heavy and groovy, something you can dance to and bounce your head to, basically"


GG: In terms of riff writing, you translate it to guitar - and I don’t know if I’m speaking for you - but you’re thinking of your riff and it’s like ‘yeah, it’s F sharp and G, or frets two and three, but if you don’t get it recorded and you just remember kinda where your hand was on the neck, sometimes it’s totally different when you try to recreate it? 

LdJ: Yeah, sometimes you go: ‘It sounded like this’ from memory, and you go to try and play it, but something feels wrong. I get that all the time! But it’s weird when you say like F sharp and G, because I have zero music theory knowledge. Like, if someone asks ‘what key are you in?’, I can tell you what key my guitar is tuned to but that’s basically it! (laughs)

GG: Ah, ok!

LdJ: Yeah! So if it’s like ‘go to an F7’ or whatever, I have no idea what that is! But I’ll definitely sit there all day moving my fingers until I find something that sounds nice, basically.

GG: Yeah, it’s the same thing really haha! So, you mentioned about what your guitar’s tuned to: what is your guitar tuned to?

LdJ: I’ve got a few different tunings, so some of our music is in drop D, probably more of it now is in drop C sharp, and some of it is in low B standard 7 string tuning. Some of our newer stuff has gone down to drop A.

GG: So it’s basically ‘drop D’ing’ a 6 or seven string, when you’re sometimes a half step down.

LdJ: Drop it down a note, yeah.


What Guitars Do Alien Weaponry Use?

GG: When I saw you guys playing, and then checked out some videos, you’ve got quite a few unusual guitars. What are your main choices?

LdJ: So, they are DBZ’s. Actually, I saw a DBZ when I was around seven or eight years old in a music shop, and I thought they just looked wild and unique as fuck. I think it was one of those Imperial models, which is like, they’ve basically flattened the edges out super-super thin and it looks real crazy. But yeah, I got my hands on a cheap one a few years ago and I really liked the feel of it. They’re real interesting guitars. Basically, the founded of Dean stepped away from Dean and started another project called DBZ which stands for Dean B Zelinsky, which is the guy’s name. He did that for about two years and then evidently had a fight with his own company (laughs) and sold the company to Diamond amplifiers, then started another custom shop project. So,they only made them for two years, which is really interesting. Every one I’ve found, I’ve tried to get my hands on!

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: So the ones you play are from that two year period?

LdJ: Yeah, I’ve got a couple: a white one and another with a Siberian Quilt finish, which is kind of a green brush-through over a quilt top. They are real weird guitars: they have a ‘V’ profile on the back of the neck, not a ‘C’ or a ‘D’, like a super-sharp ‘V’. I find it really nice to play.

GG: That’s interesting! I wonder why you chose those particular guitars? Most guitars pick their guitars first and foremost due to how they look, right? Let’s be honest!

LdJ: Yeah.

GG: But I wondered if the DBZ thing was about accessibility? What’s New Zealand like for getting guitars? You guys are on the other side of the world!

LdJ: You can get all Gibsons and Jacksons, ESPs. I don’t know, there was just something about them that was weird and I was like, I dig it. But also, the 7 strings that I play aren’t DBZ. My main one is an ESP E-II Standard. A baritone, which is real nice.

What Guitar Accessories Does Alien Weaponry Use?

GG: Nice! And what about strings?

LdJ: I’m using D’Addarios at the moment, and for the drop D and Drop C I usually go 11-56, I’m pretty sure.

GG: Right, so relatively heavy.

LdJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ve gotten quite ‘rhythmey’ with my playing and have a tendency to hit strings a bit hard sometimes. I’m trying to train myself out of it but it’s hard when you’re in the zone! (laughs)

GG: Certainly! And what about guitar picks?

LdJ: I used to play on .73mm but I’ve changed my style now. I really like sharp tips, probably around 1-1.5mm duralin picks, but they gotta be sharp tip. I used to play round tip, but I picked up a couple of Jazz III’s. I was sold! Sometimes if I don’t have any sharp tips, I’ll get a round tip and I’ll go down to the concrete and file it down (laughs).

GG: That’s a good vibe! So, you mentioned about being primarily a rhythm player. That’s actually something I thought was really refreshing, that you basically decline to do solos. I mean, I love solos, but it’s also nice to get players who focus on their rhythm playing. Was that something that you made a conscious decision about?

LdJ: We made a conscious decision. For me, if I was gonna do a solo, I wouldn’t want it to be like a very obvious solo. Honestly, I think I just need to get the fingers that aren’t cooperating with me to try and cooperate, to be honest with you! (laughs) I’ve got a really strong rhythm hand, but my fretting hand has a couple of soldiers that aren’t getting in line, if that makes sense?

GG: Hahaha, well said!

LdJ: I mean, I’m always trying to think of ways to improve and get better, and try to come up with more lead stuff, I guess. I’ve been trying to challenge myself. And maybe if not ‘lead’ then more technical and progressive, which could then lend its way into being more lead-ey.


"When we first wrote in Maori, I didn't know how well it was gonna work. I thought that people wouldn't understand it, or that it wouldn't blend very well, but quite the opposite actually happened."


GG: Mm-hmm. You mean like your ideas being more technical and progressive, rather than just fancy lead parts?

LdJ: Yeah. I’ve come up with a couple of drills and riffs that potentially could be decent riffs but I’ve mainly made them just to exercise my fingers.

GG: Yeah. I’m getting a sense there that you feel that you should be improving, but my point of view is that I really liked your decision not to do the solos. It’s very hard to get a guitarist not to take a solo and being that you’re a three piece, I think it worked really well live how you just stuck to the riffs.

LdJ: I definitely feel like that’s become part of the Alien Weaponry style now, just real heavy and groovy, something you can dance to and bounce your head to, basically.

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: Exactly! And your guitar tone itself is also really good. What are you plugging into?

LdJ: So, I love me some Marshall DSL JCM2000’s. Not the insane overdrive, but the in-between: the slightly lower gain. Live, we’ve been running a DSL 20 watt. What we used to do live was have four mics running on two different DSL head and cab stacks, so two mics on each running through the PA. Lately, what we’ve been doing is we’ve got one DSL20 with a dual cab and we chuck two mics on there, and we run two separate DI lines to the PA.

GG: Right! So, 20 watts: is that enough for you onstage?

LdJ: Aw yeah, like it definitely doesn’t affect the tone. The 20 watt Marshalls: I’m surprised how loud they scream. We’re all on in-ears too, so it’s pretty adjustable.

GG: So, is the gear you tour with the same as the gear you record with?

LdJ: Yeah, so we don’t use DIs for recording. Our main source of guitar tones is the DSL, usually a 100w DSL, and actually we’ve blended in some tones from a Marshall Silver Jubilee head. So basically Marshall valve amps, DSLs mostly.

GG: Okay! When I was doing some research prior to talking to you, I noticed there’s a company who is making you a signature pickup?

LdJ: Oh yeah, that’s actually a guy who lives nearby, Mr Glyn. I really liked the sound of the DBZ bridge pickup. They wound their own pickups, so the pickup I’m doing is inspired off that, but it’s just a teeny bit hotter. It has three big ceramic magnets, passives but they sound plenty loud enough, and they look awesome too. You won’t be disappointed! (laughs) It’s been a bit of trial and error but we got the pickups sounding fucking awesome.



Alien Weaponry Maori Heritage

GG: Cool! So, obviously an important part of Alien Weaponry is the Maori heritage. See all the references to Maori culture, and to Earth Mother and Ancestors and so on: artistically it’s really interesting but is it also stuff that you’ve grown up with? How does that all manifest itself in your daily life?

LdJ: So me and my brother Henry actually spent our early life going to Maori pre-school and Maori primary school. Eventually we had to move school, and Maori’s actually a super difficult language to maintain unless you’re actively speaking it every day. You don’t hear it every day, you don’t hear people speaking Maori to each other fluently in every day life; it’s a bit of a novelty to see. So as a result, me mostly, Henry quite a lot as well, we lost quite a lot of our Maori vocabulary.

Basically, when we were starting the band, some of our mates who were playing in another band entered a competition called Smoke Free Pacifica Beach, which is like a sister competition of Rock Quest, where you have to incorporate your indigenous heritage or culture into the music you’re doing. We decided to try to write a song that was Maori and keep it metal because we hadn’t seen that get done before.

To be honest with you, when we first did it, I didn’t know how well it was gonna work. I thought that people wouldn’t understand it, or that it wouldn’t blend very well, but quite the opposite actually happened. It sounded great and people loved it! (laughs) We’ve been basically going at it ever since.

GG: Brilliant! So, the new album is going to be out sometime in the middle-distance but not any time soon.

LdJ: Yup. In the maybe-soonish-who knows-possibly horizon. (laughs)

(Photo: Piotr Kwasnik)


GG: So, what’s your take on social media? Have Alien Weaponry been able to use it to their advantage?

LdJ: Social media, social media. Funnily enough, I’ve written a couple of songs about my not-so-nice feelings for social media!

GG: Sure.

LdJ: It is a necessary tool. Some may say necessary evil - like myself - hahaha! But I mean it’s definitely become the main way people get known, or how people promote stuff. One of the main ways. I can’t say I was ever the ones that was super interested or even very good at maintaining a social media presence. Turanga, our bassist, is off the cuff at all that, I don't; know how he does it!

To be honest I don’t actually know fuck all about social media! (laughs) I use it to a very base level when I’m on tour, and then I completely give up on it when I’m home!

GG: Hahaha! Fair enough! So your advice would be: get a band member who is right into it and then just let them take care of it!

LdJ: Yeah, fucking find someone who knows what they’re doing! I feel like, honestly, some people just don’t have the personality for it. I definitely don’t have the personality to, like, make sure I’ve always got content to put up, or make sure I’ve always got a live or a reel, any of that stuff. I’m very like, ‘that’s cool, I’ll post it now!’ and I’ll wonder why it’s got fuck-all likes. It’s because I haven’t posted anything for half a year.

GG: It’s quite refreshing for something who’s 20 years old to be so over it!

LdJ: Oh, dude, I’m horrendous! I’ll sit there getting frustrated at phones, yelling at shit because it’s not working! I’m such an old, geriatric man when it comes to doing things I have to do, like stuff that’s necessary for my job, but I just can’t wrap my brain around some of this technology shit. Everything gets buried, like ‘Oh, I should probably reply to that!’, even though I should’ve done it two weeks ago. Useless!

GG: Fair enough, haha! Nah, I’m loving it. Now, the customary way to wrap this up is to chat about what’s next on your agenda. You’ve mentioned a few things but you’ve just finished the enormous Gojira tour, what is on the horizon at the moment?

LdJ: Trying to write some killer tunes. (laughs) That’s basically it at the moment. Staying home and trying to get music made. I feel like there’s a bit of a demand or a hankering for it. But also, I think us three: this will be the first record with Turanga involved in the writing process. I think heaps of people thought Turanga wrote the second album but that was actually Ethan as well, so this’ll be the first time that Turanga’s gonna come in and be a part of that process. I think it’s going to be real interesting to see what’s gonna come out of that!

GG: Are you three all quite good at keeping away from distractions and getting on with the job at hand?

LdJ: Yeah, when we’re all there, we’re all there, you know? We obviously don’t treat ourselves like a military operation or anything like that (laughs). We still try to have a relatively pleasant time while doing it, but yeah, I think we sit down for several hours at a time, working stuff out. We’ll see how it goes! Im liking some of it so far, so that’s a good sign!


It seems that Alien Weaponry are on an unstoppable warpath to the top. Hopefully the 3rd record won’t be far off, but until then, there are two huge albums to get into, so hop over to the official Alien Weaponry site to go further. Our thanks to Lewis for agreeing to chat with us!

For more exclusive articles, including interviews with Behemoth, Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails, head over to the guitarguitar Interviews page. We’ll see you again soon!

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