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WETA

Members

Biography

Taking the name of a large indigenous New Zealand insect, WETA emerged on the Wellington Rock scene in the mid 90's amongst some of Aotearoa's highly recognised bands including SHIHAD and HEAD LIKE A HOLE. WETA's frontman Aaron Tokona, a former student at Taita College in Lower Hutt near Wellington, had been expelled from his previous school in true Rock n' Roll fashion. While showcasing his musical talents at an end of year assembly, he diverted from a scheduled John Williams classical piece in order to perform VAN HALEN's 'Eruption' whilst the faculty and town Mayor watched on.

Staying in Lower Hutt, Tokona continued his schooling at Naenae College where he met drummer Clinton den Heyer, then active in another band, through a Rockquest competition. The two joined forces mid 1995, forming WETA with Tokona's younger brother Clinton (aka Tookie) on bass and former HUSTLER guitarist Gabriel Atkinson. What followed would be two years of intense gigging both in Wellington and around New Zealand establishing a strong following for the band. WETA gained even more exposure on October 13th 1996 when they played a supporting performance for visiting Americans EVERCLEAR at the James Cabaret in Wellington.

The band also made time to record early versions of 'Calling On' and 'Got The Ju'. 'Calling On' featured on the 1997 Wellington compilation 'Infocity Overground' and also received regular radio airplay while 'Got The Ju' would appear on the April 1998 released SHIHAD single 'Yr Head Is A Rock', now a sought after collector's item.

January 16th 1997 would prove to be a big day for WETA with the band playing an opening slot for SOUNDGARDEN at the Wellington Town Hall. Aside from the thrill of opening for a high profile international band, a major highlight of WETA's evening would occur when one highly frustrated SOUNDGARDEN bassist Ben Shepherd kindly gifted Clinton den Heyer his brand new Musicman bass guitar after experiencing technical issues with the instrument.

During 1997 Australian rockers THE SUPERJESUS would recruit Aaron Tokona as a fill in guitarist for Chris Tennent who had temporarily left the band. Tennent eventually quit altogether leading to the offer of a permanent position for Tokona within THE SUPERJESUS. Although the Kiwi declined, turning down such a high profile gig opportunity instantly generated curiosity towards WETA. It also caught the eye of then THE SUPERJESUS manager Dan Hennessy who would play the major role in starting the next chapter in WETA history.

When Hennessy stepped up to his new role of A&R chief at Warner Music Australia, he added WETA to the roster and with that the band packed their bags then crossed the Tasman in June 1999. Basing themselves in Melbourne, WETA found themselves house sitting for SHIHAD while the band recorded 'The General Electric' album in Vancouver, Canada.

Within the first three months of being in Australia WETA undertook two national tours in support of their newly released 'Natural Compression' EP produced by SHIHAD drummer Tom Larkin and recorded at Marmalade studios in Wellington during 1998. Performing with up and coming Australian bands MOTORACE , PRESHRUNK and NITOCRIS on the Triple J 'Turn Up Your Radio' tour, and with PRETTY VIOLENT STAIN on the 'New Kids On The Block' tour, WETA racked up an impressive number of shows in just several months.

However, not everything had gone WETA's way with the touring. In many instances the band found themselves in the unfortunate position of opening shows at 6:30pm each evening while families were still enjoying their pub meals. Rather than scare diners away with balls to the wall Rock n' Roll, WETA modified their set to include songs from THE BEATLES and even the BILLY RAY CYRUS number 'Achy Breaky Heart.' As Clinton Tokona put it in an interview, “because who the fuck wants to listen to a rock band while they're eating dinner with mum and dad?”

In October 1999 following the tours, WETA made a brief return trip to New Zealand to support Australian band REGURGITATOR. Entering the new millennium the band supported SHIHAD and Americans FILTER on six Australian tour dates from February 14th to 20th 2000. Then, back across the Tasman again, the band won titles for both Most Promising Band and Most Promising Vocalist at the New Zealand Music Awards.

The early New Year also saw WETA, backed with $100,000 in funding from Warner Australia, enter the studio to record a debut album entitled 'Geographica'. Recording at Sins Sing Studios in Melbourne the band commenced work with producer Jonathan Burnside before switching to Steve James (SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and even the TELETUBBIES) chosen for his ability to provide a more organic feel within the music. James opted to record onto an analogue format rather than digital and often went with the first take when it came to recording guitars.

'Geographica' was released on September 15th 2000 and debuted at number 9 on the New Zealand charts. Included amongst the albums 11 tracks would be re-recordings of classics 'Let It Go' and 'Got The Ju'. Aaron Tokona also laid down backing vocals on POWDERFINGER's 'We Should Be Together Now' on the band's 'Odyssey Number 5' album released the same year. WETA performed at the Australian 'Rock-It' festival in October appearing alongside GREEN DAY, SHIHAD, JOHN BUTLER TRIO, SHIHAD, GRINSPOON, 28 DAYS and POWDERFINGER. In November the band undertook an extensive New Zealand tour promoting 'Geographica' along with SHIHAD, and FUR PATROL.

Just when the future was looking good for WETA, the first signs of trouble in the ranks came with the cancellation of a scheduled appearance at the 2001 Big Day Out. Shortly after, the band's management announced that WETA was taking a two month break after “two and a half years of hectic touring and recording schedules abroad." Around the same time, rumours of the band preparing to split began to circulate and were eventually confirmed. It would later be revealed that the decision to disband had been made before the tour with SHIHAD and FUR PATROL. The band's last show was at the Nelson Trafalgar Centre on November 25.

WETA's split was a big blow for Warner Bros. Australia. The irony of the situation became clear in the fact that although Warner ultimately provided well in excess of $100,000 to create 'Geographica', the album never saw release beyond New Zealand shores. A May 2001 article printed in the New Zealand Herald suggested that in fact $300,000-$400,000 had been spent on the album.

Rumours of a WETA reformation spread in early 2001 but nothing eventuated. Instead the Tokona brothers returned to Wellington Gabriel Atkinson took up work at a vodka bar in St. Kilda, Melbourne and Clinton den Heyer was reportedly working with MARYSTAPLE on their debut EP 'Reset Speed'.

Aaron Tokona would later provide a guest guitar performance for New Zealand Dub band FAT FREDDY'S DROP on 'Dark Days', a song on the 'Based On A True Story' album released in May 2005. Tokona also appeared as a member of a Wellington based Dub/Funk band BONGMASTER INC.

On January 27th 2006 a new band called ONE, comprising Clinton Tokona, Gabriel Atkinson and MOTOR ACE drummer Damian Birchall Costin debuted at The Esplanade Hotel (aka Espy) in St Kilda. The band's song 'Gotta Ticket' would wind up on an advertisement for Levi Jeans.

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