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The Return of Mr. Brightside

Damien Binder spent the early ’90s fronting one of Auckland’s best bands, Second Child. Three decades later, he’s still going strong on his fifth solo album

Damien Binder


For a long hot minute in the ’90s Damien Binder fronted one of Auckland’s finest bands, Second Child.

During a manic six years between 1990 and 1996, Binder and his bandmates lived on the dole in an Auckland share house while they pursued their dream of making it in music. A staple at Auckland’s notorious Dog Club and Gluepot venues, Second Child’s intricate take on alternative rock soon made them a standout among their New Zealand contemporaries.

As well as releasing two genre defining albums, Magnet (1991) and Slinky (1995), and appearing on NZ TV shows Max TV and Juice TV, Second Child took the stage at the Auckland stop of the Big Day Out in 1996 and played supports with the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nirvana, Fugazi and Rollins Band. Fugazi icon Ian MacKaye even once told Binder, “You have a very nice voice.”

Recollecting this, Binder says, “I didn’t react well. I didn’t take it as a compliment. I think I was insecure about sounding too clean as everyone else seemed to have rough howling voices in bands at that time.”

But Binder did take notes on his singing from the one and only Henry Rollins. “He was clapping excitedly from side of stage during our set,” he remembers, “so afterwards I nervously walked up to him and asked him how he managed to not to lose his voice singing like he does.

“He just stared at me with those dark eyes of his and I thought I’d made a career limiting move even talking to him. Then, after he’d finished freaking me out, he offered to show me some of his vocal techniques. He was a really intense guy but authentic. In the end, I think he saw me as a musical kindred spirit.”

In true rock fantasy style, Second Child split ‘amicably’ in 1996 and Binder departed New Zealand for Sydney and a long period of musical obscurity.

Now living in Perth, Binder is back doing what he’s always done best – making music. Tomorrow will see the release of his fifth solo album, Bright Side, which he originally started working on a few years ago.

“In the past few years, like a lot of people I’ve been trying to make sense of things we’ve had no control over,” says Binder. “A common thread in my work seems to be an overriding optimism. I still have faith in people and the power of human connection to overcome obstacles.”

Of his move to Perth, Binder says, “I’ve found less pressure here and more head space for creativity. I wrote a lot of songs upon arriving, many of which appear on Bright Side.”

Working with Perth producer Matt Gio (Katy Steele, Birds of Tokyo, Abbe May, Rudimental) has been key to Binder’s musical renaissance. “We’ve struck up a strong creative bond,” he reflects. “I’ve learned to be less precious. He’s taken a scalpel to my work and while I’ve often recoiled in horror when some of my best ideas were being laid to waste, he’s usually proven to be right to cut them. Most of the time.

“The music has evolved quite a lot too, especially recently with Matt’s influence, though I realise, over the years, for better or worse, I’ve developed a sense of melody and harmony, and an approach to lyrics that are quite distinct and recognisable as me.”

Binder recently met up with Second Child collaborator, Chris van de Geer. “We caught up properly over a few wines,” Binder reveals. “We’re still great friends and laughed a lot about the old days but more so we were both so glad we’d stuck to making music and staying passionate about it.  We haven’t counted out the possibility of working together again or maybe a cheeky Second Child reunion.”

But, before all that, Binder has unfinished business with his solo career, and 2023 is going to be a busy year for the evergreen musician.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to it, reengaging and growing my audience,” he enthuses. “I never stopped making music, but Perth feels like a fresh beginning. I’m already making inroads and I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been and, this time, maybe, just a little bit wiser.”

Damien Binder’s Bright Side is out Friday, April 21st.