referred to as "Michigan's Finest," His Name Is Alive began
as a lo-fi experiment born out of Defever's parents' basement back
in 1990. His first homemade tapes caught the attention of 4AD Records
founder Ivo Watts-Russell (This Mortal Coil) who took the band under
his wing and helped it create some of the more ethereal-yet-playful
music released on the famous British label. Pity it had to end.
a great label owned and managed by Ivo -- a super-nice guy, a visionary
that had it together," Defever said. "Eventually, he sold
it and it went to hell. I had to threaten to make an album of me
playing electric pine cones to get out of the contract."
After he did,
Defever spent the next few years producing tracks for other artists
including Yoko Ono, The Stooges, Thurston Moore and current tour
mates NOMO -- a 10-piece afro-beat ensemble -- but in the end his
heart never left His Name Is Alive. "I missed having my own
band," he said.
Though he never
quit recording, Detrola is a comeback of sorts for the band,
released in January on Defever's own label, Silver Mountain Media,
in conjunction with Reincarnate Records. Those expecting to hear
the spooky, experimental flavorings of the band's early 4AD efforts
will be surprised by music that runs the gamut from brash electric
synth-pop to smoky, bluesy, horn-fueled rockers, all driven by breathy
vocalist Andy FM.
the shift from homemade, loop-driven sound sculptures to more traditional
songcraft a natural evolution. "I spent a lot of time just
working by myself," he said. "When I was a kid, I learned
to play music from my grandfather. He taught us to play country,
polka, waltzes, everything. By the time I was five I played fiddle,
slide guitar and banjo. Quickly I got into just playing by myself
and not with other people -- just me sitting at home in my parents'
go through phases, but as a songwriter it's always been the same
from day one. It all comes back to the sound of vibrations hitting
your body. Genre and style -- I'm not interested in that. If we
kept with one particular sound, we probably would have benefited
in the long run, but it would have held me back."
As much as his
own band, Defever is as proud of his tour mates, NOMO, having produced
the Detroit ensemble's first two records. The self-titled debut
captured their jazzy, funky, flamboyant style live, while their
just-released follow-up, New Tones, was recorded at United
Sound, an abandoned studio in one of Detroit's rougher neighborhoods
where everyone from Charlie Parker to Parliament to Aretha Franklin
been abandoned for years," Defever said. "We brought in
our own equipment and it worked out great. New Tones is really
about what happens in the future. It's post afro-beat."
Published in The Omaha Reader June 7, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
had to threaten to make an album of me playing electric pine
cones to get out of the contract."