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HIS NAME IS ALIVE
In the twelve years he's been the driving force behind His Name Is Alive, Warn Defever has taken the band in many directions, from the dark atmospheres of the first couple of albums to the electric tension of the follow ups, to the classic soul and R'n'B of Someday My Blue Will Cover The Earth. With the new HNIA album, Warn continues the fruitful collaboration with gospel singer Lovetta Pippen. Here, he talks about the HNIA formula, how he got Lovetta to drop everything to work with him, the evolution of his relationship with 4AD, and what the future could hold for him...
You’re 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. Who cares!!!!

What has inspired such changes?
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 yourself?
"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?
Naw

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 gospel music.
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 work?
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. Until....

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 deliberate?
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 and Washington?
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?
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 projects?
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 my ear.

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.

Email Interview September 2002.
Thank you to Warn Defever, Rich and Coleen.

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Reviews
10'02
Last Night
08'01 Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth

THE SURFER'S GUIDE TO HIS NAME IS ALIVE
4 AD
Time Stereo
Eyesore/HNIA
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