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His Name Is Alive: Detrola Rock City

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: June 7, 2006


His Name Is Alive
w/NOMO
June 8, 9:30 p.m.
O'Leaver's
1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd.
$7











"Sometimes you just wake up and say, 'What are we doing playing in a sports bar?'"

It's a good question coming from a band that has played in such regal locations as a 500-year-old Buddhist temple in Osaka, a 19th century synagogue on the lower east side of New York City and countless historic venues throughout the United States, Europe and the world.

One can only wonder what Warn Defever, the mastermind behind His Name Is Alive, will think of the beer-stenched confines of O'Leaver's Pub. Weeks into the band's first headlining U.S. tour in 10 years, he's already devised his own, personal ritual for exorcising demons from less-than-hallowed performance spaces.

"Some bars have a vibe that comes from people drinking there for years. Just the smell of the place, it's not the most spiritual of environments," Defever said via cell on the road somewhere between San Francisco and Seattle. "We used to play a song at the beginning of our set to cleanse the room of evil spirits and get everyone on the right page. Then last night I realized -- where did those bad spirits go? They went to the next bar down the street."

Defever understands that performing in stinky bars is a penance one must pay to get his music heard by the masses. "We haven't done a tour like this for a long time," he said. "Some nights you feel psychically under attack, but I really want to perform and take this music and do something with it."

 

 

 

Sometimes 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.

"4AD was 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.

Defever considers 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' basement.

"People 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 recorded.

"It had 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."


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Published in The Omaha Reader June 7, 2006. Copyright 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 



 



"I had to threaten to make an album of me playing electric pine cones to get out of the contract."