• 2007 bio
All Music bio
• 2006 bio
2002 Time Stereo bio
1996 rejected Canadian bio
All Music biography
Named after history class notes on Abraham Lincoln, the Livonia, Michigan-based sonic manipulators His Name Is Alive formed when multi-instrumentalist and producer Warren Defever (also of shockabilly group Elvis Hitler) was still in high school. Defever, former schoolmate Karin Oliver (vocals), and drummer Damian Lang released self-produced cassettes of their music, one of which made its way to Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of the pioneering art label 4AD. Intrigued with His Name Is Alive's blend of spectral vocals, poetic lyrics, and textural guitars, Watts signed the band.
The group recorded their first release for the label, Livonia, in Defever's home studio. The album features Oliver's shivery vocals along with tape loops, samples, and guitar blasts, for a noise-damaged, ethereal collection of songs about ghosts, reincarnation, and dreams. By 1991's Home is in Your Head, the band's lineup and scope expanded. New singers Denise James, Karen Neal, Melissa Elliott, and guitarist Jymn Auge added depth and breadth to the band's original lineup. An epic 23 songs long, Home is in Your Head ranges from folky ballads to electrifying guitar maelstroms and tape collages. That year also saw the release of The Dirt Eaters EP, named for Defever's other, more rock-oriented group, of which Elliot was also a member.
In 1993, His Name Is Alive released two albums: King of Sweet, a limited edition release that mixed tape effects, samples, demos, and unreleased songs, and Mouth by Mouth, which added more pop structure into the group's inherently experimental and dreamy sound, resulting in their most accessible and diverse album to that date. A new drummer, Trey Many, took over Lang's duties.
As Defever's reputation as an innovative producer spread, he lent his skills to bands like Grenadine, a side project of Tsunami's Jenny Toomey and Unrest's Mark Robinson, other 4AD acts like Liquorice, (which featured Toomey, Dan Littleton from Ida, and His Name is Alive's Many) and Tarnation, and other Detroit-area bands like Godzuki and Outrageous Cherry.
Defever also worked on other projects, including the folky ESP Summer with former Pale Saint Ian Masters, the electronic Robot World and Control Panel, and founded the Time Stereo art collective with his childhood friend, artist/musician Davin Brainard. Some of Time Stereo's projects included films, coloring books, and cassette-only releases from bands like Princess Dragon Mom, the Crash, Godzuki, New Grape and Noise Camp.
Defever's diverse interests influenced His Name Is Alive's next release, 1996's Stars on ESP. Very little of the group's original ethereal sound remained, augmented instead with touches of dub, folk, gospel, and early- to mid-'60s pop like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. At the time of the album's release, Defever claimed that he was so fascinated by the group's "Good Vibrations" that he listened to it for months at a time. The following year's Nice Day EP reached to garage rock and '60s R&B for its inspiration, and featured some of the gospel singers from Stars on ESP, including Lovetta Pippen, whose singing also gave His Name Is Alive's 1998 LP Fort Lake an earthy sensuality.
Fort Lake also marked the first time the band worked with another producer, recording engineer Steve King. King, another Livonia native, had also worked with Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin, and his touch meshes nicely with the funk, soul and classic rock allusions His Name Is Alive makes on the album. In preparation for recording Fort Lake -- named after a waterlogged Civil War fort in Michigan -- the group played monthly shows at the Gold Dollar, a tiny Detroit club. At this time, Pippen, bassist Chad Gilchrist, and additional drummer Scott Goldstein debuted as part of the new lineup.
In 1999, His Name Is Alive released a US compilation of tracks from their first five albums called Always Stay Sweet; at the time, those albums were only available as British imports. Like the rest of the band's work, the compilation highlights their mercurial, unique nature. Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth appeared two years later followed by Last Night in 2002.
Written by Heather Phares.
• 2006 bio
HIS NAME IS ALIVE
His Name Is Alive - romantic, mysterious, beautiful. Like dating a star-crossed werewolf behind your parents' back. They've been called "Michigan's Finest" and "the band that gave Tom Cruise a nervous breakdown!!" What began as lo-fi basement experiments [acoustic guitar + loops + girl] in 1990 eventually went on to sell 100,000 records with famed British label 4AD.
His Name Is Alive is a band that is constantly redefining itself and its sonic standards. Detrola is louder, stranger, sexier, weirder, more complicated, more suggestive, and even more violent than could be expected from HNIA. In many ways, this album reminds us of the records Prince cut back when he was alone in the studio with a crazy head full of good ideas. This collection of summer songs and late night confessions are filled with unexpected noises and has a critical eye fixated on clouds, unicorns, creepy-crawls, harps, drownings, and saxophones. HNIA songs are filled with sweet dreams and nightmarish visions lined with references to pop culture history, art, and politics.
Strikingly diverse in sound, texture, and genre these 11 songs concisely reprise the full range of sonic quality and stylistic jumps found within the entire HNIA catalog!!! "Get Your Curse On" has a
loose, earthy feel sort of like Carole King finally getting around to that sequel to Tapestry, although singer Andy FM may sound more like Michigan's own Karen Carpenter. While "In My Dreams," with its
synth-pop beeps and catchy chorus, has some serious stanzas that carry a heavier message than would appear. More intimate tracks like "Your Bones" reclaim HNIA's dream pop roots and escort the listener to scary places where "Angels cost a little more", "We don't tell no one," and "Not everyone gets a warning."
FOR FANS OF:
Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Rufus Wainwright, Carol King, 4AD, Vanity Six, Neil Young, the Carpenters, Gwendolyn Brooks, Drexciya, Yohji Yamamoto, Pharoah Sanders, twin sisters, singer-songwriter syndrome, Detroit Dance parties, and old His Name is Alive.
Originally working closely with 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell [This Mortal Coil], each new HNIA album set a new precedent in ethereal experimentation. Songs like "Are We Still Married" and "This World Is Not My Home" defined and described heartbreak and real sadness. Collaborations with legendary filmmakers The Brothers Quay resulted in two truly amazing installments in the Stille Nacht series [1991-92] showing up at film festivals and on MTV!!! Alternative Press would later include 1994's Mouth By Mouth as one of the top 100 albums of the decade.
Stars On ESP, the group's fourth album, included fully realized dub tracks and a note for note recreation of the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" (which must be heard to be believed.) HNIA's appearance in Cameron Crowe's blockbuster film "Jerry Maguire" brought the band mainstream recognition and helped boost sales of the soundtrack album way past platinum!!!
The group further mutated with releases like Fort Lake  and Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth , the latter LP a truly astounding achievement. Stylistically dissimilar perhaps from their
earlier albums but emotionally the most realized record (until now!) No one can ever guess what direction this group would explore next. They've taken more chances than any group currently operating (and Bob Dylan does not count).
Being a Michigan-based band signed to a UK label for 13 years, HNIA parted ways with 4AD in 2002, and HNIA mainstay Warn Defever opened a recording studio in Detroit after years of recording in a basement. Warn has spent the last three years recording and remixing other
like-minded artists such as Blanche, Tamion 12 Inch, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Nomo, Low, The Von Bondies, Ida, Yoko Ono and recent demos for Iggy And the Stooges.
Detrola is the first release on new label Silver Mountain Media Group / Sony-BMG. Upcoming releases include: Nomo, Ida, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Field Recordings Of A Real Unicorn, HNIA Live At The Five Hundred Year Old Buddhist Temple In Osaka and A Tribute to Marion Brown.
PAST PRESS HIGHLIGHTS:
"HNIA, whose trademark has been mixing paradise with purgatory, have made an odd little Eden, thats both peaceful and disorienting." - SPIN
"Defever, deranged svengali, skulks behind the twin singers underpinning the lunacy around him with a stream of motown melodies" - NME
"Stunning intimate electronica." - MOJO
"This could be the best late night record ever made, a timeless, funky, soulful classic." - Guardian
"Last Night is at once melancholy, serene and assured" - Pitchfork Media
"His Name Is Alive is one of the most remarkable creations of the pop underground... it will stand the test of time... Like great movie directors, Defever is making a legacy more than anything." - Dusted Magazine
2002 Time Stereo bio
My grandfather (like many others) was fond of the adage, "beggars can't be choosers". His Name Is Alive's latest album is a clarion call. "Tonight's the night, tonight is THE last night. No more nights after this." It's a party record!!! Peace in Detroit at long last!!! I have always loved His Name Is Alive, but never more than today. "Last Night" is the new Grand Canyon, a wide open space to project all of your happiness and frustation into. It's totally exhilirating, and maddening. It'll make you feel bad about living in the big city. Tom Waits once said that he hated recording because its permanence seemed maddening. To this, Neil Young suggested that he record EVERYthing, then it would ALL be maddening, and he could deal with it in due course. To this end, "Last Night" was recorded in a basement, a bedroom, and at rehearsal. No engineers, producers, studios, studio budgets, or electricity hindered the creative process. In fact, most of the record was actually recorded before their last one was even released!!!! New sounds abound this time, marking the transition of HNIA from self-contained group to ecumenical peace orchestra. Saxophones, bells, congas, an electric pinecone, afrobeat, and bowed strings surround (the strings are actually recycled from the newly recorded bonus tracks originally intended for a never-to-be-released box set). It's maybe the saddest record i've ever heard, but it's a party record!!! Track eight consists of the slowly intoned invitation "Do you want come to my party?," several times but then its over before you know it. "Teardrops" is equal to none. "I have special powers" speaks volumes about a vision that no one dare write about. It's really beyond words. I feel like i'm in the Reprise offices, Wilshire Blvd. circa 1972. i urge every last one of you reading this to consider what could be: how this night is different than all others. the last night. a braille night, a brown night, an old-timey town night. no more nights after this. this record is perfect.
- Bread Lyman, Washington D.C. (the nation's capitol)
It's a party record.
- Lovetta Pippen
It's basically a document of the bands rehearsals for the "Someday My Blues" tour.
- Warn Defever
One of His Name Is Alive's consistant charms has always been their songwriting, despite an uncanny - some might say mercurial - ability to reinvent themselves from one record to the next - but not even their most ardent fans could have expected what their last album delivered. Released in the summer of 2001, Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth was a nothing less than a revelation.
The newly-minted partnership between Warn Defever and singer Lovetta Pippen struck gold in the form of a moody yet wonderfully soulful and modern R&B record. It was greeted by universal acclaim. The two met when Warn drafted a local Detroit gospel choir to guest on Stars On ESP (1996) and it wasn't long before they were hatching plans together. Initially, Warn was going to help her produce a demo in return for her guesting on a few HNIA tracks - but he was so smitten by her voice that he wrote a whole album for her to sing. Last Night continues the collaboration. It shares enough stylistic links with Someday My Blues... to bewitch those who loved the last record, but it also moves things on, replacing the sparse, state-of-the-art production touches with a liver, earthier feel.
Some of Warn's most beloved influences - cosmic jazz, funk 45's, and gentle acoustic blues - shine through anew, but the haunting moods are still there, and Lovetta's extraordinary singing continues to set the music aglow. As The Guardian observed last time around, "there ain't a chart-topping diva to match her" - there are no histrionics; every performance is real, evocative and delivered from the heart.
Amongst its many treasures, Last Night offers a couple of typically Defever-esque raids on the past (a showstopping "Teardrops", which was originally written by Eddy Grant's Equals and a sweet nod to some friends ("Maybe", by Ida). But it's the HNIA originals that captivate - the haunting title track, the heartmelt of "Flowers", the beautifully stripped-down "I Can See Myself In Her" and the smoky intimacy of the closing "Train".
This is timeless, soulful music. Lovetta calls it a "party record," but Warn says "the last one was such a downer that we wanted to get it on with a saxophone and a conga player. you know..."
There's no faux gangsta booty shit, no sickly sentimentality and no pretension. Simply, Last Night is essential listening.
Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth [Love and War]
Even by the mercurial standards of His Name Is Alive, "Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth" is a bolt from the blue.
There's a lot of previous form - ten year's worth, in fact - but the new record is unquestionably the finest to come from the ragged collective of disciples grouped around Livonia, Michigan's first and only genuine musical visionary : Warn Defever. Despite being the most sonically conservative entry in the HNIA catalogue, the album condenses years of hands-on studio skills and thousands of hours of smitten listening into ten songs (and three interludes) of hushed and heartbreaking stillness. "Someday My Blues" is built around the instinctive and bewitching vocals of Lovetta Pippen, a Detroit runaway whose tangled and traumatic life story lies just below the surface of the songs, and goes a long way towards explaining the emotional impact of her singing. And the songs - quietly intense, skeletal laments drawing on the purest blues, jazz and soul - fuse harmonic sophistication with minimalist-inspired spareness of structure. The production is intimate, spacious, and sparkling with the kind of state-of-the-art leftfield touches that animate the finest examples of contemporary urban R&B.
Which is not to say that "Someday..." is some kind of sterile studio creature. The album is emotionally forthright throughout, while Lovetta's voice is never less than sensuous, even at its most sorrowful - this is "simple, make-out R&B", as Defever wryly notes. And the arrangements, for all their crystalline clarity, could only have sprung from session after session of intuitive ensemble playing in the Time Stereo basement - the violin, cello, Fender Rhodes and upright bass combine to offer a breathy warmth to even the most desolate moments.
So there it is. "Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth" is a genuine one-off, wonderfully coherent, flawlessly beautiful and unlike anything that either artist or label has released before. Sometimes unexpected gifts are the most precious of all.
His Name Is Alive: Some History
Warn Defever first met Lovetta Pippen five years ago. Warn's rock band, His Name Is Alive, were working on their fourth album, and they hired a Detroit area female gospel choir to sing on some tracks. The male choir director was, according to Warn, "an evil sexist bastard," and upon arriving at the studio, he instructed Warn and the engineers that they were not to speak to any of the female singers. The choir was similarly banned from communicating with any of the male musicians or engineers. After three days the silence was finally broken. During a rare un-chaperoned moment, one young woman took Warn aside and asked him quietly if he "believed in UFOs." This was Lovetta Pippen. Soon a deal was struck: Warn would engineer Lovetta's demo and in exchange she would sing more HNIA songs. It was during these sessions that a mutual admiration of each other's talents grew. Shortly afterwards, Lovetta was convinced to quit the gospel choir and join the rock band. Lovetta's gospel-style guest vocals added a very unique sound to several otherwise "indie/alternative" tracks on His Name Is Alive's "Nice Day" EP, and "Fort Lake" LP. In 1998 they began the collaboration that has resulted in "Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth".
Previous His Name Is Alive albums brought together an eclectic selection of influences : rock, ambient, surf, Jimi Hendrix, and new age. One ("Stars On ESP") was recorded in the form of a homage to the Beach Boys. Of this inclusive approach Warn now says, " I couldn't make up my mind. " Concerts sometimes included a puppet show, a man in a whale suit, and/or a giant robot. The 6 albums and various EPs that Warn has made for 4AD are only the tip of the iceberg, a gateway to a world teeming with side-projects, one-offs and collaborations, festooned with tape-only artefacts and limited-run CDRs, and furnished by hand-crafted art objects and parallel-universe mail-order must-haves.
Lovetta found all of this amusing but never claimed to understand any of it. Warn says, "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. "
"Essentially, His Name Is Alive make simple music in a complex way and make it sound incredibly simple" Melody Maker, 1997
Some things make perfect sense, right away. And some things don't.
It's funny. There are some artists who, at one point or another in their musical life, seem so utterly detached from contemporary tastes that they're never likely to trouble the mainstream with their bizarre warblings. Sure, they have their own fans, but it never looks as though it'll ever go further than that. Then they'll release a record that, as if by magic, alerts people to their charms, and suddenly you wonder what it was you were missing out on. And then you look back at their other stuff and realise that, by and large, they've been working in that same frame of reference for some time. And it's not them that have changed, it's the people buying the records, and, by extension, you.
His Name Is Alive's Warren Defever has been ploughing a unique musical furrow for nearly 10 years, combining naive melody with bizarre lyrics and all manner of recording quirks, chopped together with some breathtakingly dexterous editing. And it just so happens that the rest of the world has finally caught up. In the last year or so, records by artists like Cornershop, The High Llamas, Cornelius, Tortoise and, most famously, Beck, have all had praise heaped upon them for eschewing musical boundaries and throwing paint onto a musical canvas in a way that's never been done before, without ever becoming merely a mishmash of styles, just for the sake of it. Pop music is a very fine thing in 1998.
But there's always been an unpredictable element to Warren Defever's music. "If anyone had told me eight years ago I'd be making a record based around songs with two guitars, bass and drums, I'd have said they were crazy."
This time around there are even more new elements thrown into the mix - recent extra-curricular releases have included a warped dub 7" on Ian Masters' Friendly Science imprint, and odd, evocative live electronics under the name Control Panel for The Leaf Label's 'Invisible Soundtracks' series - but perhaps the overriding influence on this album is Warren's infatuation with Jimi Hendrix, gospel and R&B music. This kind of conference of styles has happened before, of course, not far from Warren's home in Livonia, Michigan - in the late '60s Detroit's MC5 forged the basis of punk rock from the same sources.
Warren has also surprised himself with the way this record has been allowed to spread out - for someone with such a notoriously short attention span, the idea of including a six-minute R&B number ('Wishing Ring') would have been anathema a few years ago. 'Fort Lake' is one of the good things that happens when someone doesn't know his own limits.
A lot of this seems to stem from his newfound love for the local phenomenon they call 'Detroit-style Booty'. Essentially a blend of Miami Bass and stripped-down house music, made cheaply and recorded crudely, Warren has embraced it wholesale. "It's made by DJs who clearly don't know anything about music. We plan to do vulgar Detroit Booty versions of our songs: 'Shake What Ya Mama Gave Ya', that sort of thing."
For the first time, Warren wanted to work with a producer on this record, and went as far as getting in touch with some of the production legends of the '60s and '70s. "It seemed like a good opportunity to work with some ofthose classic rock producers, but it soon became clear they didn't understand where we were coming from..."
In the end he settled for working with an engineer, in itself some kind of epiphany for the control freak in Warren. Born and raised local in Warren's home town of Livonia, Michigan, Steve King (who has worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Funkadelic in the past) was chosen, and eventually ended up co-producing the record.
Defever has always had an ear for melody, but the tunes really shine through this time, thanks in part to the talents of new vocalist Lovetta Pippin, a performer steeped in the traditions of gospel and r&b who sang in the gospel choir on HNIA's last album 'Stars On ESP'. The obscure lyrical preoccupations remain - Lovetta and longtime collaborator Karin Oliver sing songs about Charlie Brown, the ample charms of waitresses, and the scientist Nikolai Tesla.
The band that recorded 'Fort Lake' (Warren, Karin and Lovetta, along with bassist Chad Gilchrist and twin drummers Trey Many and newcomer Scott Goldstein) have been playing live at their monthly residency at Detroit's Gold Dollar since last July, and the recording has a suitably live feel to it, even though many of the songs have been edited down from 20-minute jams in Warren's studio. In fact there's been more editing than ever before on 'Fort Lake', even by Warren's meticulous standards. "We just jammed, jammed, jammed until we went insane, did some overdubs and then edited it all down."
Thankfully, Warren's slightly skewed world view is still very much apparent: his explanation of the album's title runs thus: "In Michigan there's a civil war fort built in the 1800s. It was poorly designed and didn't see a lot of action in the war and fell into disrepair. It had sunk into the ground and a lake had formed around it by the turn of the century, and it became known as Fort Lake. Recently there's been a lot of debate about it: one historical group wanted to raise the fort and move it to Detroit, while the Michigan African-American Historical Society feel it should be left where it is - it was manned by mainly African-American soldiers in the war. We feel that represents our album - a giant sinking fort. We just do what we can to protect it."
Forthcoming projects include a Mexican-only compilation of the best HNIA material from the first four albums, entitled 'Always Stay Sweet' (or ASS for short); a track for a Thurston Moore remix project on Lo Recordings (which includes Warren singing); further recordings by Robot World (whose Jetsons-style futurist electronica form some of the incidental music on 'Fort Lake'); a HNIA remix EP to include some of the aforementioned Detroit Booty artists (including Sinker, The On, Snowflake and DJ Assault) applying a strict Michigan-only rule ("I only want to work with someone if I can walk to their house"); and a Time Stereo Underground Cult Films Night as part of their Gold Dollar residency, which will show only movies made by Warren and his flatmate Davin, plus the HNIA promos made by The Brothers Quay, and a new, untitled movie accompanied live by a small, specially-commissioned orchestra which will be recorded for future release.
As well as the music, Warren indulges in a whole range of other activities, all under the Time Stereo banner, with its admirable DIY ethic. Among other things, he has produced a range of children's colouring books, particular favourites being the 'Ultraman [a Japanese cartoon superhero] and Scenes From Amish Life' combination, which included a set of rules for correct and courteous behaviour around the mysterious Amish people.
Contrary to popular opinion there's nothing precious about His Name Is Alive's music (though the name has probably never done them any favours). It's the lack of any kind of respect for musical borders that makes HNIA's music so invigorating, so exciting to listen to. You just never know what's going to happen next. Like I said, anything's possible.
After far too long, Warren Defever's HIS NAME IS ALIVE finally resurface this summer with "STARS ON ESP", HNIA'S first album for 4AD in three years. Not that he hasn't been busy. While putting together the fifteen tracks that make up the album, with all the glorious attention to detail and odd juxtapositions that fans of the band have come to relish, he's been putting out 7" singles and cassettes of all manner of peculiarities on labels as far apart as Japan and France.
But His Name Is Alive is Warren's main creative outlet, and he's saved the best for this, HNIA's fourth full length album for 4AD. Warren describes it as "surfy, danceable, dubby and friendly." In fact, its easily the most accesible music ever released by HNIA, something that should bring them to the attention of a much wider audience. "Stars On ESP" is as Warren says, "fast, full, it rocks, it swings, it's funny, it's great!!!"
Warren's "junk-rock ethic" allows him to "fuck around with other people's leftovers and really make them shine," appropriating influences from here, there, and everwhere. Warren doesn't just listen to music, he absorbs it. The album is a wonderful patchwork quilt of source material, including gospel, 70s heavy blues rock, surf music, country, a little bit of dub, and life growing up in Canada. Inspiration is drawn from "Smile"- era Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, the echo and reverb of early reggae, the inspired amateurism of late 60s cult label ESP and the sadly overlooked recording career of "Man from U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum. Like Neil Young and the Band before them, HNIA capture the sound and feeling of Middle America, but viewed from a Canadian perspective.
Of a recent Defever side-project, the ESP-BEETLES, it has been written, "there's a gaping hole where his sensitive side used to be." Warren feels this accurately describes "STARS." Like the classic era of cartoons, HNIA make music that on the surface appears to be simple and childlike, it can only be fully appreciated by adults. "Answer to Rainbow at Midnight" is Warren's interpretation of a risque folk song (Once i wore my apron low and i couldn't keep you from my door). Rural style wooing - old time. The single "Universal Frequencies" is Warren's tribute to the genius of Brian Wilson, and was written after spending an entire week listening to nothing but the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations." HNIA records are so packed with ideas that you really do hear something new every time you listen to them. That might sound like a cliche, but how many people are still making records where that applies? Warren's worldview may be a bit skewed, but thats surely something to treasure. There aren't enough idealistic, incorrigible romantics left in the world.
1996 rejected Canadian biography
One might expect a record that took three and a half years to make to be some sort of epic or concept album, or at least you would think it would be free of mistakes and sound pretty good. STARS ON ESP is a short album consisting of short sloppily performed songs mixed in what appears to be Mono. This economical LP sounds as if the band had spent maybe one week writing and recording the songs and three years working on song titles. Some songs sound muffled others are bright and tinny - all are short. Previous HNIA LPS have been minimal, sparse, mature, and intelligent. Stars on ESP is none of these. It seems to patterned after oldies radio for god's sake!!!
HNIA has always been a band that which has borrowed freely from the rich culture of Canada and some lesser populated regions of the United States. This new album is so rich in folklore, it features a stirring direct-rip off of an old mountain folksong, and an even more blatant rip off of the classic Beach Boys hit "Good Vibrations!!!" Five other songs on this beautifully sleeved album were similarly stolen from some struggling unknown Michigan songwriters, although their names are printed on the front cover as if that somehow makes it okay.
Even though only one song is named after an animal (the bees), Stars on ESP is very influenced by nature. Being from Canada, where the woods and lakes influence daily life much more than in the USA or England, HNIA often writes directly about the wildlife that surrounds them. Past albums like Mouth by Mouth, were mostly about fish, but the band has now expanded into songs about whales, who are mammals by the way. Also prominent are bees, lions, robots, insect eggs, fireflies, and other animals (most of which are common in Canada).
"Here's the deal," says Warren. He wants people to understand the strange, beautiful, fucked-up records he makes, to see things the way he sees them. Its not easy when half your audience thinks you're a genius while the other half thinks your're an idiot. (Its a fine line between clever and stupid). His band have a new record out soon. Its called Mouth by Mouth, and its very good indeed. Let me explain...
Not so long ago, in a place far from here, there was a band called His Name Is Alive, who, before you ask, were in no way religious. And there was another band, called the Dirt Eaters. Only His Name Is Alive and the Dirt Eaters were the same people, and Warren was their leader. His Name Is Alive made a distracting easy-listening record. The Dirt Eaters made a rowdy, kick-ass kinda record. They were both fine. Then Warren, being Warren, decided to take the best bits of the His Name Is Alive album and the best bits of the Dirt Eaters album, mix them up and put them back together as Mouth By Mouth. A sort of musical patchwork quilt, if you like. The result is an extraordinary array of sound and voices, what Warren likes to call, "4AD's first ethnic heavy metal album. It's like a treat for the ear, and for the brain." Warren's peculiar way of piecing the sounds together is like nothing you've ever heard - thats what makes HNIA so alluring and so grotesque at the same time.
See, His Name Is Alive are deconstructionists. "We're taking pop songs and just leaving parts out." Which inevitably leads to accusations of Artiness and Pretension... "What we've done is taken out the parts you didn't listen to anyways; and suddenly we're an experimental band! It really isn't very theoretical music, because...we certainly don't think about it." In fact, Warren Defever is one of the least pretentious people you're ever likely to meet. In these jaded post-post modern times, he's disarmlingly enthusiastic, witty without being clever-clever, and perhaps just a little naive. His life is ruled by children's TV, candy, and music. Lots and lots of music. He comes from a family of musicians; in his teens, Warren's way of rebelling was to play rockabilly (he and his brother were in rockabilly-metal band ELVIS HITLER until recently). He's been putting his own tapes together since he was twelve.
So on this record you gets bits and pieces that are plucked, magpie-fashion, from the farthest reaches of the musical spectrum. You gets bits of the Beatles and Big Star (including a glorious cover of Blue Moon from the THIRD album). You get bits of Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore. You get bits of Harold Budd and Jon Hassell. You get bits of Sun Ra and John Coltrane. You get bits of SPK and Psychic TV. You get bits of otherworldly musics: Warren is fascinated by Indonesian Gamelan music, for example, and he's a total Japanese pop-culture junkie, so you get bits of the wacked hardcore of the Boredoms, and bits of weird cut-up Japanese noise-pop like Omoide Hatoba, who you almost certainly won't have heard of. If there's one thing that separates the new album from its predecessors (the critically acclaimed Livonia and Home Is In Your Head), then it's Mouth By Mouth's potent physicality. Both lyrically and musically, its a far more violent, sexual affair. Plus, as Warren says: "The new album has bass and drums on it. That's a big obvious difference."
Mouth By Mouth is the product of a year's work in Warren's home studio, where he records every day. The attention to detail is staggering. "I'm not really a perfectionist," he contends. But there definately is a word for it. "Anal retentive," he says without a moments hesitation; typically self-effacing. "But not even very good at that. Oh boy..."
Mouth By Mouth. Weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird.
WHO: His Name Is Alive: Warren Defever, Karin Oliver, Angela Carozzo, Jymn, Damian, and Melissa.
WHAT: The group is not really sure what it does but it seems to combine elements of different forms of music with a seemingly haphazard approach.
HOW: Warren writes words every day and music every other day and records one song per week in his house. Later, words and vocal melodies are arranged and learned by Karin and Angela. These recordings are later transferred to 8 and 24 track tapes at larger studios: Garageland and Blackwing.
PRESENT: The band has expanded for the second album (which is already recorded) and to play concerts. A live His Name Is Alive performance can range anywhere from solo Warren Defever (guitar and vocals) set to a huge orchestrated mulitplist extravenganza - two drummers, string section, guitars, guitars, guitars, tapes, loops, singers, strobe lights, films, dancers, drapes, and animals.
BACKGROUND: In 1986 Warren and Angela met a performance of the 'warren defever orchestra' at local high school. In the spring of 1987 the cassette 'riotousness and postrophe' was recorded and released locally (and completely ignored). Most of the songs were written and performed by Warren although Angela contributed one song, Jymn offered some instrumental help, and Melissa supplied the cover art. The work was mostly instrumental, except the song 'the darkest dreams.' These songs were written and recorded while the group was very much still in high school. That summer (1987) a second tape was released titled 'his name is alive.' It premiered the voice of Angela. In 198 with Angela away at school, Warren and Karin met at a local university. Subsequently 'i had sex with god' was written and recorded. At this point all recordings had been done in Warren's basement and bedroom using only a cheap 4-track cassette recorder, a one-second digital tape loop, a semi-acoustic "fred" guitar, a "fish" guitar, and two fretless basses - intensified by Warren's complete and total lack of recording and engineering knowledge and skill. This latest work was also met by an unlistening audience. These recordings were rearranged, edited, and remixed several times at the suggestion of one Ivo Watts-Russell, who finally got fed up and decided to remix it himself.
THOUGHTS: "Its like a fucked up minimal orchestra trying to play really ethnic foreign folk music arranged classically by an irresponsible youth , and performed sloppily with guitars, voices, and tape loops in a suburban household in the middle of America."
"I mean, he took it apart and didn't put it back together again, I guess..." on Ivo's remixing methods.