Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Dragon

Posted by Eleanor Newnham


"I don't question it too much because it's an outrageous thing to expect to be able to make a living out of music". This from a man who has been through many, many ups and downs in the music industry. From Auckland to Australia and beyond, they spread their claws into the hearts and minds of many.

They're a band whose name and music evokes so many memories for so many people. A New Zealand-bred icon that has traveled the world, Dragon is a band that is still cranking out new music and touring non-stop every weekend and now it brings them back home to New Zealand to play Homegrown next year. We talked to Todd Hunter about how the band has changed over the years, what it's like spending every weekend on tour, and writing new music with the current lineup.

"So, you know, playing in a rock band when it's all you get to do, it's great fun, and we're happy when we're playing."

Radio BurgerFuel: Thanks for joining us, Todd.

Todd Hunter: Great pleasure.

So where do we find you at the moment, Todd?

I'm currently around the south of Sydney in the mountains where I stay and live mid-weeks.

Have you been keeping busy?

Yes. We are basically on a tour that never ends. We play almost every weekend of the year. And, until February next year there's maybe one or two weekends off. That's it. So, you know, playing in a rock band when it's all you get to do, it's great fun, and we're happy when we're playing. So we just book out and meet up at the Sydney airport on Friday, get us somewhere else to play, and back on Sunday. So, it's just something that you do out of your life. You know, it's great.

Sounds like a gentleman's life.

Gentleman's life. Well, the weekends are incredibly noisy and mad and crazy, and when we come back to our homes... where there's nobody in it apart from us. So, yeah, there's a big contrast and it works. You just keep doing it.

Is that what you kind of need to get away from it all after spending your weekends making loud music?

Yes, it's a solitude-ness thing, you know? Yeah, it's a great thing. We love it. And, we can only do it because of the people know the songs.

"We keep experimenting and doing different music and finding different ways to play things and it's just really a thing that I completely love."

Have you always needed to take a bit of time away to refresh the batteries?​

Yeah. I did a TV show for six years actually, I did all the music to that. After that, I had no music in my life for a year. It was wild. Through that time, I realized that music is not actually life itself.

When you say no music you mean that you weren't actively writing & performing? Or were you listening to it at all?

No, I just became allergic to music after a while. Through the year and the year that Marc died basically. And then I just slowly got back into it and began playing jimbay - African drum group. Jimbay is the Australian/New Zealand native instrument. Then I slowly worked back into it and now I have made everything simple by just playing in a band on the weekends. That's it. Apart from managing it every week.

You say that like it's just such a little thing, "I just play with this band on the weekend."

Well, what we aspire to be is just a working band, you know? Without any of the hideous influence of celebrity. We keep experimenting and doing different music and finding different ways to play things and it's just really a thing that I completely love.

"You've got to be crazy to do it. But I love it, why else am I doing this? "

Recently, In the last sort of year or two, you've released a couple of albums and one was like kind of an '80's chartbusters countdown album, yes?

Yeah, we're always looking for stuff we can do that actually stretches us or takes us out of the comfort thing. So, we don't just play April Sun In Cuba and Rain. Every night we do a bunch of other stuff as well.

Is that what keeps driving you to keep creating? To keep writing new music and keep going?

Yeah, writing...yeah, we don't get to writing very much, but when you do, it's really great. There's a lot of things that have to happen in your life before you can actually sit down and write a song if you're over sixty.

Some people say that there's only a certain amount of songs you can write in your life. Do you subscribe to that theory at all?

They may be right, you know. You can write when you're young. I know I took a conscious decision not to be thrashing away trying to write new stuff all the time; which is great. So every year or so you just do an album and only because we love it. I would agree that it is possible to have a really great life in music as you get older if you have the songs that everybody knows. If not, nothing.

But, surely as you get a bit older, you've got more life experiences, there are different things you can write about?

Yeah, absolutely. But, you also have to have a life as well. And there's nothing sadder than old rockers who never let go of the fact that during a short period of time in their lives they were celebrities. I'm lucky in that I hated that stage of things. It made me crazy. I didn't like it. I guess that's the thing about being a bass player too, you're sort of in the engine room. We've got a fabulous young drummer called Pete Drummond who does incredible stuff every night, and differently. So, yeah.

Do you think if Dragon was in their heyday now with social media and the internet, do you think life would have been a bit different for you guys?

I think we would have screwed it up just as thoroughly as we did in the seventies. Look, it was a very wild time in the seventies. It was too dangerous for me. The eighties was much better. It was more about the music rather than the lifestyle.


"It's very hard to tie this band down, where everyone's in the same place at the same time."

As well the '80's album that you released, there was another album of original music, "Life is a Beautiful Mess".  You were saying before that you need to put time aside to actually write this. How long does something like that take to come together?

It wasn't that long. We did a lot of it each in our own place in different situations. But we're talking now about getting in a room and just playing a whole bunch of stuff and making songs. We've never done that. Always been very piecemeal, you know. It's very hard to tie this band down, where everyone's in the same place at the same time.

And so, it is actually a matter of trying to get everyone in the same room for a couple of weeks and get as much together as you can?

Yes, or no. It's much quicker than that actually. In the old days it used to take ages to make albums. Now, you basically hit go on your laptop and, you know, manage the sound around and you have what you like.

You've talked about Pete who obviously who wrote the song Satellites off the new album.  Just so that everyone's up to date, who are the other people in the band at the moment? you've got Marc Williams, right?

Correct. He's the singer. Who was a humongous pop star in New Zealand.

And, how long has he been with Dragon now, for over ten years?

Yes, since 2008, or 2006. Done about just under a thousand shows since then. And he was the perfect person to do it. His energy is very different from Marc Hunter. He's great.

And I understand that you invited him to come over and be a part of the band. Had you known him for a long time?

Off and on a little bit. He did a version of "Are You Old Enough" at the Cathedral in Sydney at Marc's service, which was heart-wrenching. I just know him as a great singer. And I didn't know him very well. I do now though.

And, you've also got Bruce Reid in the line-up too?

Yeah, he's Canadian guitar/singer and he is incredible. So there's only four of us and we make a hell of a lot of noise.

And everyone lives in Australia now, I'm assuming?

Yeah, Marc, is the only person who lives in Sidney. The other two boys are up in the Blue Mountains, and I'm down the south coast. We just come together on the weekends and fly in and fly out.

Perfect. You say you're basically trying to book up every weekend. Do you think you'll ever tire of that?

No, definitely no. It's such a great thing to do. You can travel all day, get up at five, do whatever, feels pretty ordinary. Get up and play, then after two hours you just feel fantastic. It's incredibly therapeutic and I would suggest it for anyone who is faining to join a rock band.

That seems like some advice that probably goes quite contrary to what you'd expect.


"Most people who come to Dragon shows are younger than our songs, you know? It's nutty. It's great. We love it."

Very excitingly, Dragon is announced to play at Homegrown next year. So, you'll be heading across to Wellington in March for that. Have you been to or played at Homegrown before?

No, we haven't. I know anything about it. So, it's great. We're doing quite a lot of shows in New Zealand.

This past year, rounding out one of the stages they had Dave Dobbyn there. And, it's such a cool thing to see such a mixed crowd. Obviously there is a whole lot of young kiwis that probably weren't even born when that music was coming out. They're singing along and it's just a wonderful thing to see everyone get together and just enjoy the music.

Yes, it's a wild thing. Most people who come to Dragon shows are younger than our songs, you know? It's nutty. It's great. We love it.

Is it...not weird in a bad way, but you know the audience almost stays the same age as you progress?

(laughs) I guess there's a window where people just go out a lot, have a great time and life sort of runs with children and jobs and all that stuff. So, maybe it's just that. That's the age that people go out, or I think there's a thing now where everybody's a lot more musically literate than they used to be. When I started, you either liked The Beatles or The Stones, you know? But, now everybody knows everything.

Do you think that has to do with the internet and the accessibility of music these days?

Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. I think now loyalty is toward songs rather than bands. No one cares who's in the band.

That's so funny. I guess as much as some people must hate it, it must be great for bands like Dragon that year after year through Spotify etc, things can just keep ticking over and actually make you a little bit of money, hopefully.

Yeah, absolutely, and it is. It's a great thing. Fantastic to be able to do it.

Obviously, you guys have been playing and touring... I know there's been periods, years where it stopped and sort of started's almost like you guys pioneered this idea of "hey it's all right for a band that was started in the '70s to come back & keep playing". Other bands seem to jump on the 20-year bandwagon or whatever it is these days.

Yeah. Look, what I do know is that it has to do with the songs. If you don't have recognizable songs you couldn't do it for one weekend basically. But I don't question too much because it's an outrageous thing to expect to be able to make a living out of music. It's ridiculous.

That's fantastic. It must be great to come back and play with these New Zealand bands that are there. For you guys, at least half of you are still Kiwis at heart.

Yeah, absolutely. We did Rhythm and Vines a few years ago and that was just so great. So, there's a thing about playing New Zealand, where, I don't know if you know it or not but New Zealand crowds sing incredibly melodically. It's like this huge choir.

That's so cool. Do you think that has something to do with the fact that people these days hear waiata growing up and the close harmony that's in there?

Yes, definitely. It's a South Seas harmony thing!

Todd, thank you so much for sharing your time and sharing yourself with us today. We can't wait to see what Dragon is up to next year at Homegrown.

That's great. We can't wait either.