music has changed a lot since Livonia, which
seemed like a logical extension of Ivo Watts Russel’s
This Mortal Coil, to the electrified alternative rock
of Mouth By Mouth to Someday My Blues Will
Cover The Earth, where you explored the purest side
of RnB, soul and blues. How do you explain this sharp
“turns” in your career?
It’s always been the same.
HNIA formula =
1. a nice girl sings sad songs
2. I make noise in background
Some people have focused on the sounds, some on the singing,
some on the words, some on the "style" or genre.
What has inspired such
I don't agree that there has been changes
Aren’t you worried to loose some of your
fan base through these changes?
I apologize to everyone. I'm really sorry.
You’ve never really set up for a regular
line up. Is this part of the challenge to help renew
"Renewing" myself is an accident. The whole
"new me" campaign is not something I do on
purpose. I really wish we had a regular line up. The
friends I played with at the beginning played for free
and hoped that this band would become successful. After
they gave up and moved on, I started hiring local musicians
from other bands. This got expensive. My third attempt
at finding a band was tricking kids from the neighbourhood
into playing with me. I'm not sure where to go next.
I guess... it’s solo.
How did you get to work with Ivoto release
your records on 4AD? Was you’re music at the time
a determinant factor to release on 4AD?
He was totally awesome!!!! I miss working with him on
a daily basis.
HNIA seemed to have gained more attention during
the “electric years”, and releasing Someday…
was probably going more against the grain than any other
changed in your career. Were you particularly worried
of how it would be perceived?
Someday… felt a bit like a return
to the darker atmospheres of Livonia and Home
Is In Your Head. Were you conscious of this when
you recorded it?
I feel sorta "down" sometimes you know. its
been on and off as long as I can remember. I think its
probably my diet or a chemical imbalance.
You’ve recorded your new album, Last
Night, with Lovetta Pippen, whose voice already
featured heavily on Someday… How did
you get to work together? How did you meet?
Short version: she sang in the gospel choir on Stars
On ESP, she expressed
an interest in UFO's and I convinced her to give up
Long version: I met Lovetta when His Name Is Alive was
recording Stars On ESP (1996) album. We had
hired a gospel choir to come sing on a song called This
World Is Not My Home. The choir director liked
my studio and we made a deal for them to record some
of their original material here and then they would
sing some more songs for me. We would both benefit and
no money would actually ever have to be exchanged. While
recording some of their songs I got to know Lovetta’s
voice pretty well because she was most often the lead
vocalist. Later I would specifically request her to
sing for some His Name Is Alive songs that ended up
on the Nice Day EP (1997). During those sessions
we discovered a mutual interest in UFOs and a mutual
admiration of each others talents. I think she's just
the greatest singer and super creative. She doesn't
ever seem to sing the same song the same way twice.
It is very exciting to play music with someone who's
constantly creating new ideas and new music, or interpreting
old songs in a new way.
When Someday... was released, you
allegedly declared about Lovetta: “She's the best
singer I've ever heard in my life, and I just wanted
to make an album that was all about her, in the way
that you don't even notice the music. That's the opposite
of what I used to do.” How did working with her
trigger such a drastic switch in priorities in your
This is probably more information than you want to wanted
but here goes: from the beginning each record we made
was more successful than the one before. With every
album our musical scope and audience seemed to grow.
When Fort Lake came out things got complicated
real fast. We never had a manager or lawyer or real
booking agent or publisher. Our only regular contact
with the "music industry" was with 4AD, and
they were going through a lot of changes. Ivo was gone,
the USA office was closing down and we did an awful
UK tour where we opened for high school cover bands
one night and had to pay to play the next night. That’s
around the time I got the famous speech about how I
didn't know how to write "proper songs" and
when we did a concert I should play guitar standing
up not sitting down. I hate to say these things, but
I wasn't really enjoying the relationship I had with
my record company. Sorry. That strained relationship
seemed to influence the musicians’ commitment
to the band. Karin had found a good job and her priorities
were moving away from being a singer in a rock and roll
band to leading a more stable life. Trey had moved to
Seattle. Scott got a full time job driving a truck and
Erika was now going to graduate school full time. Me
and Lovetta basically were the only ones left. We decided
to make an album and shop it around to other labels,
despite our contract with 4AD. It wasn't necessarily
a His Name Is Alive album, it's just something I wanted
to do. Everyday I come up with plenty of dumb ass ideas.
some I finish some I do not. It seemed like Lovetta's
voice needed to be heard, so I made some music to showcase
that. Anyway, it took a long time and I gradually lost
contact with 4AD. I travelled to India and Nepal for
a few months. When I got back 4AD had been sold to the
Beggar’s group and had totally started over fresh
with new employees. Eventually they contacted me, came
to Detroit, seemed nice, and I gave them the record.
They seemed to like it and everything was going good.
How is Last Night different?
We were in sort of an awkward situation with the timing
of the release of our last record. The release date
was one year after it was finished. We didn't have a
lot of money, so when our contract with 4AD called for
a new album six months after we finished Someday…
we had to go ahead and start making it, even though
the last one would not be been released for another
six months. From an artistic standpoint, I think I would
have preferred to wait until Someday…
was released and we had done some shows playing those
songs, before starting work on a new album. We had been
rehearsing for an imagined tour that would happen when
Someday… was released. We just took jams
from rehearsals and put together some basic ideas from
that. It is not really a follow-up to Someday…
but more like an extra chapter added at the end. I had
put up money for the Someday… album so
we could hire a producer to help record and so we could
mix at a nice studio but for Last Night we did it fast,
unsupervised, and cheap. Last Night was almost
completely finished by the time Someday…
was released last year.
Last Night returns
to a slightly more guitar-based music, and sometimes
seems like a condensed version of your career. Was it
Naw, its more like a document of what went on in my
basement and bedroom during the rehearsals for a theoretically
upcoming Someday… tour.
Last Night was recorded
last year, amidst the events of 11 September. Were you
at all influenced by what was happening in New York
We mistakenly had set up a month long promotional residency
in NYC in August. We played every week at the Knitting
Factory. We thought it would be great but it turned
out that in August the music industry was sort of shut-down,
everybody was on vacation. So when we got back to Detroit
on September 3, we were thinking "damn, we should've
gone in September instead”. Next thing you know
it’s the last days of planet earth and I’m
laying on the couch watching the news everyday.
There are rumours, supported by an announcement
on the Time Stereo web site, that HNIA and 4AD are to
part company. Is this true, and if yes, what decided
This is difficult to talk about and there is some debate
about when is the best time to publicly discuss these
matters. I will say this much however, technically speaking
in June 4AD declined to pick up the option for another
HNIA record. So we already have "divorced"
and we're in the awkward situation of working out what’s
going to happen with the "kid".
Does this mark the end of HNIA?
Yes and no. I’m not really sure what to do next.
As well as recording as HNIA, you also release
solo albums, and release a lot of material in very limited
numbers, in an almost artisan way. Why so many offshoot
I used to record a lot. It seemed like a good idea at
the time. If people weren't interested they didn't have
to buy everything.
Some HNIA music was never released on 4AD.
Was that freedom to do what you wanted been pivotal
in working with them?
For years we didn't actually have a contract with 4AD
(1990-1996). This meant I could just offer Ivo music
I had done and he could choose to release it or not.
For the first time, you wanted to work with
a producer on Fort Lake and brought Steve King
was brought on board. He has produced such talents as
Aretha Franklin and Funkadelic in the past. What was
it to share the producing duties with him?
After Ivo left there was a lot of pressure from 4AD
to make a "professional" sounding record.
Steve king was cheap and I had worked with him once
before. We got along real good. He now has a very successful
career engineering Eminem recordings.
You are known to be a rather meticulous musician,
with a great attention to details. Does it make working
with others difficult at times?
If only you knew the truth.... do you remember the scene
in Ed Wood where Vampira bumps into the tombstone
and it falls over, and one of the investors says: "you
have to re-do that scene, that cardboard tombstone is
obviously fake". Its like that every day. For the
Last Night album there were no rough mixes
or alternate mixes. When the songs were finished they
got one mix. Take it or leave it. Plus we never even
bothered to record some songs. We just added new vocals
to rehearsal tapes of old songs (don't tell anyone!!!).
What made you want to become a musician?
I never wanted to become a musician. I was drafted by
my grandfather and my aunt and then later on by my older
brother. As a child I was always fond of sticking small
objects in my ears, such as pens and pencils. I guess
I still am looking for that thing that feels good in
Who are your musical heroes?
Akifumi Nakajima, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Don
Cherry, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Neil Young, Keiji Heino
(basically people who play music a long time)
Stars On ESP, the fourth HNIA album,
was said to be a homage to the Beach Boys. Are you still
a big fan? What attracts you to their music?
There's a Beach Boys beat that goes: Chang chang changa
chang. Chang chang changa chang. Its great!!!
Your music is rooted in a lot of different
genres, from rock to funk and jazz. What inspires you
to write, and what makes you take one specific direction
when you write a song?
I get a lot of ideas in the morning usually in the shower,
sometimes when I’m peeing. I don't know why. I
can sit at my desk for hours staring at a blank piece
of paper or sit at the piano in the evening and wait
and hope and wish for ideas and then give up. Then I'll
be making lunch and I’ll look out the window and
see a federal express truck and the slogan is "the
world on time" and suddenly I’m ready to
go. Suddenly I got all kinds of ideas. So i guess I
just take inspiration from everyday crap.
What is your involvement in Time Stereo?
Davin does the art, and I look over his shoulder and
say, "faster faster".
What are you working on at the moment? Do you
have an idea or what you will be doing next?
Currently I am working at a studio in Detroit, recording
local heavy metal bands, and Detroit-garage-rock bands.
Interview September 2002.
Thank you to Warn Defever, Rich and Coleen.