Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Interview with His Name Is Alive

His Name Is Alive perform on Saturday, Aug 6 at O'Mara's Irish Pub
with Libby DeCamp

8 pm
2555 12 Mile Rd (Berkley, MI)
$15 at the door
(Adv tix $10 - 248-399-6750)
More info 

This is only the second time I've gotten a chance to interview Warren Defever, (identified elsewhere as Warn Defever, or sometimes just WAR). War is the man who holds mind behind His Name Is Alive, and he, along with a somewhat rotating cast of collaborators forge the soul of this elastically-defined alternative/experimental music project. HNIA has haunted Earth's magnetosphere with its spooky, cerebral splendors for more than 25 years. It currently features Defever, guitarist/bassist Dusty Jones, percussionist J. Rowe, violinist Jean Cook and vocalist Andrea Morici.

Less than 48 hours ago, HNIA exclusively premiered this track on the Metro Times site.

This song comes from Patterns of Light, the newest album from HNIA, coming out Oct. 28 via London London Records. Rather than worry about what we should call this music, what we should do with it, where we should store it...who is it for, what does it serve...

Rather than question anything that's come out the gate of HNIA over the years, I'd much rather just let it do it's thing. What are you responding to, when you hear this? The variance of tempo? The drama in the vocals? The celebratory swagger of those slithery guitars? The stepping beat and how it almost sets a smile on your face? The dizzying swoon of the harmonies? The tight flex of those riffs? It swells with meticulous cross-stitched schemes and sutured seams to solicit optimal dreaminess and contemplation. It's a deposit of energy....of energies... It's never one thing, or a two-word sandwiching of genres...

Warren and I talked about what music can do, what it used to do, what it should do. During our interview, we talked often about interviewing......

HNIA is performing at O'Mara's Pub this Saturday.  With Libby DeCamp

Milo: A year ago, you had a surge of attention come your way because it was the 25th anniversary of your having started HNIA. I've known you to be one that's often keen to avoid that kind of a spotlight. How did it make you feel? What was it like the morning after that show? And how do you regard that inevitable the attention of this you go through "year 26..." and forward, still... ?

Defever: I'm a very private person who's ended up in a semi-public position. Every day I wake up and say: 'Thank you... I am not more successful...,' because I'm not really equipped to handle it. I've found a comfortable level of failure. Whatever this is, I am comfortable with it. This is working. ...Or..., perhaps there is no this. If your question is, really: 'Do you see the vortex...? Do you look into the vortex? How do you turn away...?' Then, my answer is also in the form of question: 'When you look into my eyes, do you see the swirling whirlpools of insanity...?'

Honestly, I am thankful that anybody would ask a question...! Firstly, because it means that what I'm doing is not so embarrassingly obvious or boring that there are questions that need asking regarding it. And secondly, because it suggests that at least one person is still listening and paying attention to this project that I began while still a high school student.

Milo: I think that interviewers hope these kinds of interviews will render sublte revelations. Like the readers at home will learn something about the artist. Or, hey, maybe the artist will learn something about themselves...? 
Defever: Over  the years I have learned at least one thing about myself and that is when I get nervous I may say something that is not entirely true or accurate, most often in an interview situation or onstage. I no longer have a microphone anywhere near me during shows... Like at our last show in Detroit, I, for some reason, told the audience I wasn't a very good communicator and that I believed we had shared something special that night, so I dedicated the next song to them, a song called 'Fuck You, Wisconsin.' ...We don't even have a song called that... Also, I've learned that my anxiety level is easily controlled while typing replies to interview questions instead of looking right at the person sitting across the table from you with their little tape recorder, because who knows what they're really thinking. 

Milo: When I think about HNIA, I think about something glimpsed in a dark room, a lamp or a chair, something you peer toward, something you listen closely to, but can't quite...well, I don't wanna say 'grasp...' But the entity has a ghostly or mysterious quality. What drew you to mystery... How active or intentional were you in the development of the notioin that there was a thick, obscuring cloak drawn up around HNIA...? 

Defever: The most simple answer I can provide is that the best art allows the audience to find individual meaning to it. I don't want to get into transactional-reader response theory or whatever, but its not a formalist system.

Milo: Can you tell us a bit about the rock opera...? 2014's Tecuciztecatl...

With Tecuciztecatl, I had taken a few years off writing and recording and considered that I maybe had said everything that I needed to say as a songwriter. But when the ideas for a work that could operate in the very challenging format of the rock opera started coming together I knew I wanted to try.  Sometimes it's the audience's view that the artist no longer has anything original to contribute, but I had started feeling that myself.  With the challenges of writing a rock opera story-line: like developing multiple characters and writing for their individual voices as well as the additional rule that I placed on the project that one need not know that it was a rock opera and that the songs should work independently from the larger structure..., I felt, then, that this was an area that I had not previous explored and so the results would have real value.  

Milo: Tell me about your role as a producer... Like, the uh, the magic you would feel... I mean, like, that intangible factor tied to something that makes you unconsciously appreciate how much you love it... That magic of production/recording/sound-experimentation..., how has your experience of that magic (this sounds like a drug question...) changed by way of having so many new technological upgrades and apps brought onto the field... 

Defever: Technological advancements have always been a hugely influential part of the evolution of music. Whatever computer nerd plugins come out next year, you can never improve on what happens when great musicians stand right next to each other in the same room and play together at the same time....
I've been working as a full time producer for other musicians for twelve years now; I've recorded hundreds of records. I'm just now starting to put together a comprehensive discography of records that I've worked on outside of (HNIA).  I'm not sure that I've got an easy answer to your question about 'magic...' I would say the disappearance of recording budgets and traditional record company/band relationships has been a bigger influence on what I've seen in the evolution of record making; people are literally spending less time in the studio that they used to. As a producer, my job usually begins with determining how best to work within the budget of a project.  More importantly is getting to know an artist and understanding what conditions and what atmosphere needs to be in place before they can really do their best work and how far to go to find the limitations of their creative energy. 

Milo: Talk about playing in the room together with a group. What was the songwriting, or song-creating process like for this rock opera...?
Defever: When you ask about the recording and creating process of the album, Tecuciztecatl, as separate from the songwriting process, then I would say it's different than most of the earlier albums in that it is mostly recorded live, like a documentary process, and that we recorded the album in the order that the songs appear on the record. We would work on one song at a time and when you listen to the record you can hear it develop very naturally. 

Milo: And tell me about Sunship. How cognizant were you, or are you, of an audience that will eventually be experiencing the sounds you're making?
Defever: Maybe it's slightly boring, but getting into the natural healing properties of music/sound is important to me. The way the inner ear is designed, the way the nervous system works, the natural order of harmonics found in just tempered music versus the equal or compromised tuning that has been popularized in the west in the last couple hundred years... 

Defever: The relationship between these things is everything! Albert Ayler said, "Music is the healing force of the universe," and I strongly believe in those words. In America in the 1980's, we figured out how to make individually wrapped cheese slices that had no nutritional value and orange drink that contained no juice; these had zero positive effects on the body. Recent technological advancements now allow us to remove all the natural healing qualities from the music before it gets to the listener, whether we're talking about auto-tune, quantizing beats on a grid, or even low quality streaming thru tiny, shitty little speakers.  Music is primarily made up of sound. There's a connection between the sun, the air, water, plants, animals, wind, bees, nutrients..., all of what life requires to survive. 

Milo: Now that this is all said and done... What is the one interview question, or any question, you'd rather never be asked again...

I actually haven't really done that many interviews in my life and I'm always curious what questions people have. There's so much happening here that I believe should be readily apparent but is clearly misunderstood or unclear to people. Unfortunately I suspect that my own insights into the process or motivations don't really make it any more clear to the listener. 

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