Deniz Tek grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and spent his early years raised on hot cars and even greater rock and roll. In 1971 Deniz Tek moved to Sydney, Australia to study medicine. Along with Rob Younger they formed seminal band Radio Birdman in 1974. They recorded two albums - 1977’s Radios Appear and 1981’s Living Eyes (although Living Eyes was already recorded during 1978). After the break up of Birdman, Deniz played in various bands including The Visitors and New Race. The man seems to have done everything. From licensed physician, with qualifications in emergency and aerospace medicine, to becoming White Swan in the Crow tribe.
Interview by Shane Jesse Xmass (July 2001)
I last saw the Deniz Tek Group in Melbourne, Australia some two weeks before Christmas. What struck me most was the energy, the density of his resolution really hit home to me. You could see it in his sweaty mannerisms, whilst the intensity of the show, his guitar playing knock me up and down, and it took me a few days to come around to explaining what I had seen. Mystics have all varied descriptions of their experiences, even now some four months after seeing Deniz play, it’s extremely difficult to explicate it. What I’m trying to say is this - it’s very hard to explain something uncontrived and otherworldly.
Deniz Tek’s story is pure inspiration. It’s all about what you put in, is what you will get. He’s all about understatement and action - no bullshit and flatulent talk. If you ain’t gonna do, then don’t turn up, moaning about getting nothing.
I could have sharpened about, talking up his history, but I don’t feel Deniz is resting on it. For a good look at what he has done check out his own page - http://members.ozemail.com.au/~citadel/english/tek/dt.html
I’ll leave with this from Deniz - ‘Anything is possible from this point on. Lack of industry and mainstream support means freedom.’
PSF: Your lyrics have a heavy dose of symbolism - from birdman ‘theatre of cruelty, fish and a giant bird’ - artaud connections! - ‘egyptian bird god.’ Do your songs come from the supernatural?
I don’t know where songs come from. Maybe where winds come from. It seems like they are out there and anyone who is tuned to the right frequency on a given day can get them. Of course it is possible to sit down and deliberately craft a song. But the best ones write themselves, out of thin air.
PSF: So tell me ‘bout ‘the O-Mind’?
O-Mind is a Stooge term, explained to me by Ron Asheton, meaning a state of consciousness where one is aware of nothing. It has meaning on various levels, from the drug taking level where you are just out of it, to a level of doing a right brain activity so intently (music, sports, flying etc) that you lose yourself in it and can observe yourself doing the thing incredibly well with a sense of euphoric detachment (reaching what the athletes call ‘the zone’) and finally the Zen concept of ‘no mind.’
PSF: Explain your ideas in relation to a community - in regards to making music, comrades, brotherhoods? Does this still matter to you? - Is it still a necessity?
In Radio Birdman we started with no community, just ourselves against the established order. We picked up some loyal friends along the way and a larger cult, or clique, formed around us which we were not part of. In the early years, the band members felt like comrades in that we faced hardship and danger together for a common goal, and that will forge strong bonds. It would have been nice to have other bands around that we could feel brotherhood toward, but we didn’t, and it was OK. I understand there was more or less a community of hard rock musicians in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth in the early eighties, but I was gone by then. I’ve never felt a part of this, so I can’t really comment too much on it.
PSF: You’ve got a propensity for the high energy aspects of life: your music, doctor of emergency medicine, navigational aviator. You seem to enjoy living on knives edge. Where d’ya reckon this comes from?
I suppose it comes from the genes. Although I know people that hang it further off the edge than I do, I think it is necessary for me to have varied exotic and ‘hard core’ experiences... if only to avoid having boring memories when I’m old. I want to get something out of this life.
PSF: I’ve never really understood this about you, but tell me about the Marines?
After The Visitors, I realized life is short. I wanted to experience different things and was particularly was interested in military aviation. I joined the Navy, and went to flight school at Pensacola. After that, as a flight surgeon, I had the job of providing medical support for, and flying with, marine air squadrons during the ‘80’s. Later on, I had a staff job where I advised the 4th Marine Brigade on medical planning and casualty evacuation for the northern flank of NATO (mostly north Norway) in the event of war between the allied powers and the USSR. I spent long enough in snow caves in the Arctic, to never have the desire to go camping in the winter again.
PSF: Birdman never denied the intelligence of their audience did they? ‘The fans always come up with better connections anyway.’ Dictatorial meaning isn’t evident on your behalf. The audience aren’t patsies are they?
The intelligence and creativity is always assumed to be there, even if it may be true for only a percentage. The writing of songs is done in the abstract, and therefore individuals can reach their own meanings and even hear their own lyrics. I’ve often replaced the actual lyrics of a song with what someone in the audience heard and told me, so from then we sing the new lyric. The ultimate abstraction is no lyrics, so I do enjoy playing instrumentals. But people want to hear singing too. I have a high regard for the audience... they are freely trading me their money and enthusiasm in exchange for the music experience, which allows the ‘show’ to go one. And there are some levels in playing that must have the energy of a crazed audience to be able to reach.
PSF: What about this idea that you were all part of some neofascist-pornographic community. I mean whose pay packet was Red Symons in anyway?
He was working for the Daily Telegraph. Which at that time was a vile rag anyway... I suppose he was just too square to understand what was going on around him, the poor chap. There was no politics, other than a degree of libertarian anarchy in our actions (polar opposite of fascism). We always avoided preaching, so political songs were out. We never told anyone how to live or what to say. There was certainly no intent of pornography, in what we were doing. Maybe Red sees pornography in ordinary things? Who knows, or cares?
PSF: So curious about this - You get to Sydney, February 1972 - Your first movements through the city gave rise to what ideas, impressions or emotions?
I had already lived there during the year of 1967 with parents, so it was already familiar, but in ‘72 I was free of my parents so the city looked like a giant playground to me. All the advantages of a city without fear of violent crime. You could walk safely through the inner city at 4AM. Great beaches, always loved the ocean, having grown up thousands of miles from it. I spent my first week after arrival in the Royal National Park on the beach, but there was not much going on musically... just formalized post-hippie marketing stuff... so had to make my own way. There was no scene to latch onto, like there had been where I grew up in Ann Arbor. So I was on my own now, no more copying.
PSF: I got the song ‘Loltita Ya-Ya’ in my head by The Ventures lately - any stories / bland anecdotes / ideas on that band?
The first rock and roll song I learned to play on the guitar in entirety was “Walk Don’t Run." I was twelve years old. And their version of the Hawaii Five-0 theme was a great inspiration to me in the summer of 1969, the year I started driving fast cars. When it came on the radio, the ‘68 Charger went much faster!
PSF: The ban The Rationals played at your high school - when was this?
I think it was 1965.
PSF: Anything else you remember about The Rationals?
It was at my school, Forsythe Junior High. They played a dance. This was when they were on A-Square records and had a couple of hits. They dressed in suits and had long hair like British Invasion bands of the day, and played garage punk R&B with a lot of magic. I gave it full approval. This was when I was in my first band also, the Inducers, with Roger Miller who later went onto Boston to form Mission of Burma. Strange think that next week I’ll be on tour with Scott Morgan, 35 years later!
PSF: You say you can’t ‘understand how Phil Spector achieved what he did with two mikes and doing it live.’ Any closer to understanding?
No. To understand it, I think you would have to be there, and use the same equipment, which no longer exists. It seems locked away in another time.
PSF: Tell me more ‘bout the ‘Cool & Unusual Punishment’ CD-R’s. What are the inspirations/influences for music of this kind?
No influences. I know nothing about avant-noise music. I don’t buy it or listen to it. It came about rather spontaneously, just two guys in the studio playing around, there was no intent to make a record. Just started taping sounds, jamming with machines. Dave and I are always looking for new sounds. Glass Insects CD-R resulted a year or so later after we played the tape to Jim Dickson and Nik Keith one night. Jim encouraged us to make it available to people. So Dave cleaned it up, mixed it, and there it was. It took all of two hours to record, once things were set up in the studio.
PSF: Dodge Main - you gonna get a second album? What’s your feelings about working with Wayne Kramer?
There’s a live album recorded, but Wayne has it and there are no immediate plans to release it. I think Wayne would prefer not to have the distraction from his current project. I would be happy to work with Wayne again. I learned a lot last time...but we are both engaged in other things so it might not happen.
PSF: What exactly did you learn from him?
He has a masterly calm attitude, never worrying or stressing over anything. He works fast, and is very efficient in the studio at getting sounds. Songs were nailed in a couple of takes. On the down side, he has a regrettable habit of wanting to control everything and makes unilateral decisions without consultation.
PSF: Tell me how the White Swan/Crow tribe came about?
I was spending a lot of time on the Crow reservation which is near my home. I was recording tribal elders doing ancient traditional Crow songs primarily to preserve them. During this time I was learning about American Indian culture and spirituality and began to pick up a little of the language. I also started going in the sweat lodge. After about 5 years I was formally adopted into the tribe by Heywood Big Day, a medicine man. This involved an elaborate ceremony and I was given an Indian name by my uncle clan uncle, Gilbert Bird In Ground, who died just two weeks later. He named me after his grandfather, who was one of the scouts for the 7th cavalry during the war against the Sioux.
PSF: What’s your sense of how influential Radio Birdman are when comparing The States to Australia? Does it hit you more in Australia?
In Australia the band is more widely known. It penetrated deeper there. Lots of people, many thousands, came to the reunion shows. In America, mostly just musicians know about it. It seems to be a closely held secret among rock musicians and record collectors types. I would expect a couple of hundred people in each city to show up if we were to play here. The same ones that turn up at my solo gigs. Europe is somewhere between the two.
PSF: You get to hear many of the covers of your songs? Have you heard The Hellacopters version of “455SD" or the Get Hip Birdman tributes?
I heard The ‘Copters version. Pretty good cover, especially the guitar playing... the drums don’t quite get it. They are into vintage muscle cars for some reason. I grew up with all that, but they are from Sweden. The Tribute albums are on my shelf, but I haven’t listened to them all yet, just a couple of tracks. Frankly, I am not much into tribute albums and would prefer to see something new.
PSF: What else do you want to do, that you haven’t done yet? Seeing you mentioned that life was short...
Someday I’d like to take the time to relax. But that day is not yet on the horizon.
PSF: Any encouraging words to the young kiddies?
Work hard at whatever it is you like to do. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. And stop complaining.
Now, see Shane's 'bloated comparison of Antonin Artaud's, To have Done With The Judgement Of God and The Stooges Funhouse recordings' and how Deniz fits into this scheme
Also see some of Deniz's favorite music
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