Date: Fri, 30 Sep 94 02:56:30 EDT
This is an interview that I conducted with Warren Defever in August of '91 for a 'zine I used to do called Tinderbox. Home Is In Your Head was about one month from release at the time of the interview, but 4AD graciously bestowed an advance copy upon me, so questions concerning HIIYH are in the interview. This is almost exactly the interview as it came off of tape. This interview is c1991 by Lance Linimon (me), and you've got my permission for this to be publically posted at any 4AD, HNIA, or related musics site, as long as the interview remains unaltered (you can change the "Me" and "Warren" or delete them altogether if this is properly formatted) and I get some sort of miniscule credit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Me: The last I had heard was that you had signed a one-record deal with 4AD. What exactly happened between then and Home Is In Your Head?
Warren: Well, basically, we never stopped recording. We're set up to record here in my house and that's what I do all day. We just kept recording, and about every threex actually every four months, we would come up with a new tape that consisted of everything we had done. In the past year, we've come up with three new tapes: Love Can't Buy Happiness, New Stars New Tongue, and Hucklebuck #7, which is actually our seventh tape. We'd just been signed to Ivo, and he had been making suggestions just like on the first album, and when he heard Hucklebuck #7, he decided, "Warren, we've got to put out a record," and it's like the same thing all over again. I'm kind of happy the way this is working out. I'm free to do whatever I want here; no time constraints or pressure - just me working at my own rate.
Me: That's really enviable. Have you heard anything about how Livonia did outside of the U.S., for example, in England, where 4AD is pretty strong?
Warren: The record did really well compared to what they were expecting, you know. Before it came out, Ivo was warning me that this wouldn't be like a hot record, like it would be very slow and would catch on gradually. The album he compared it to was the Peter Nooten/Michael Brooke album called Sleeps With the Fishes. Nobody really knew who the two people were who were on it and it had a weird coverx for months no one knew it was released, and he kind of expected Livonia to do the same thing. Well, within the first couple of days of its [Livonia's] release, they already had so many orders that a bunch of people didn't get promo copies because they used the promos to fill the orders and they had to print up so many more. It worked out completely the opposite of what they thought. It worked out really well and they were really happy, and it wasn't going to be a bad business move to do a second album.
Me: I think it's really interesting that you were able to record Livonia basically on a four-track, which is usually considered by most people to be too primitive for anything but demos, yet the album is great and sounds quite professional. When you originally put the material for Livonia together, did you have hopes of going into a studio somewhere to re-do things, or had you always taken the DIY approach?
Warren: Well, when the songs had been recorded, it wasn't like they were recorded knowing or even hoping that they'd be released. It was just stuff I did in my spare time and hadn't even really thought about it when I was doing it. Only later did I think, "This could actually be somethingx why don't I try to do something with it," and then all I did was compile a bunch of songs, slap a cover on it and try to sell it in stores. Before, when I had actually recorded, it was purely as a recreation, really, with no thought of actually releasing it. The lyrics would be whatever I was thinking, and I didn't realize that two years down the line or whatever, a lot of people would be reading them and then asking me questions about them. It's kind of embarrassing.
Me: Well, that's the personal side to things. That relates to an interview with you that I read, and it was interesting because you had said that you didn't want to explain your music because you wanted people to gather their own ideas from what you'd said and you could never fully explain what you were trying to say in the lyrics.
Warren: Sure. It's one of those things like if I'm reading a book of poetry by someone, and there are little notes explaining exactly what the poet was referring to. I'd rather get it wrong and have a great idea than find out the poem is written about a bird sitting on his window sill.
Me: I remember you were going to release a 55 minute video with your songs as the music. From where were the visuals going to come?
Warren: We have a visual guy who is kind of like our "seventh Beatle" and when we play live, there are films and sculptures and things that move around, and, basically we were working with him on the video, which at this point hasn't actually been completed. I don't think it will be, but that was Love Can't Buy Happiness - the music. Some of those songs are on the new album. It actually began as a three song demo for major labels, but it kind of went awry.
Me: You use some really bizarre percussion on Livonia. Exactly what are we hearing, for example, at the beginning of "Fossil"?
Warren: That's a man playing just toms.
Me: It sounds very treated.
Warren: Yes. Once I'd been talking to Ivo for a while and I realized this stuff might be releasedxat the time I was working at an eight-track recording studio, I took all our four-track cassettes and transferred them to eight track, just so that if we ever put out a record, I wouldn't have to send Ivo a cassette in the mail and say, "These are the masters." While we were there, there was a lot of stuff to work with, and one of the things they had was a two-track machine with variable speeds, and I would slow down a lot of stuff and just experiment, really. You know, it wasn't a matter of trying to get things to sound exactly like they were, it was a matter of "what sounds good" and taking it from there.
Me: O.K., here's the annoying question. Neither Livonia nor your new album sound anything like a Cocteau Twins record, yet it seems that reviewers continually give you that billing. Do you think it's because you're on 4AD or does it have something to do with people listening to new things and inevitably tending to make comparisons to music that they are more familiar with?
Warren: It really depends. In the U.K. and Europe, no one has compared us to the Cocteau Twins. It's over here, where I guess people aren't really familiar with them, that they think, "Oh, that sounds just like them." I think that's probably the biggest part - just people not being that aware. I think we sound like the Cocteau Twins just as much as This Mortal Coil sounds like the Cocteau Twins.
Me: Right, right. I mean you bear maybe like really remote resemblances, butx
Warren: It's kind of weird music and there's a girl singingx
Me: Yeah, but that's about as far as you can go with that comparison, really.
Warren: Right. I don't think for the most part that we have drums in every song and that sort of thing.
Me: How would you describe the music of His Name Is Alive? Would you rather hear critics saying "ethereal, atmospheric, blah blah blah" or would you rather hear things like "intensely personal and emotional"?
Warren: That doesn't really matter to me. I'd rather they just say, "This album contains twenty-four songs, mostly with guitars and vocals and other instruments." Adjectives really aren't that important. It would probably be better if they said, "This sounds like what Jimi Hendrix played in his sleep and then woke up at some pointx" I think that would be more exciting and cool. It doesn't really make any difference to me. Reviews, I found, are kind of a goofy thing to begin with.
Me: Since you have several vocalists in His Name Is Alive, how do you determine who sings on which songs?
Warren: On the new album, every song I wrote Karin sings on. There's a song that Jymn wrote and Denise sings on that because she had written the melody and stuff. On the first album, it was more like who was available. Never at one time, did I actually consider myself having two vocalists.
Me: Have you made any recent attempts to tour and play live, or are you going to wait and see what happens with the new album?
Warren: When the first album came out, we did maybe ten shows, all around here in Michigan and one in Chicago. We were prepared to do a tour, but the level of our success over here just didn't warrant the level that we wanted to tour. We could play at really small clubs or bars, and that didn't seem appropriate to what we were doing. Already, around here and in the basic area, we can now play at larger places and we have just recently. We're working with 4AD right now to go over there and do a bunch of shows when the record comes out, and maybe in October do a short tour here. That's our plan. There's an e.p. coming out in January too.
Me: Is this brand new stuff or remixes?
Warren: It's sort of all new stuff. There are no real remixes, but there are some terribly different recordings of songsxthree songs that are on the album. It's actually eleven songs long.
Me: That's kind of big for an e.p.
Warren: If your album has twenty-four songs, then your e.p. is allowed to have eleven.
Me: Yeah, I guess so - I can see that.
Warren: Ivo refers to it as a single, but I just can't see that. It's actually got one song on the b-side and ten songs on the a-side.
Warren: Pretty revolutionary, eh?
Me: Yeah it is. Well, I read that you write songs and lyrics all the time. In a very broad sense, from where do you gather your inspiration?
Warren: Most of what I write I think is stuff that occurs or stuff that I see. It is personal and autobiographical. It all happens. But, I do read and sometimes I use quotes. I think more likely I would quote somebody then write about what they were writing about. The first album had a quote from W.B. Yeats and the new one has a quote from a poet named Ray A. Youngbear. I try not to see a movie and then go home and write about it. Sometimes it happens, but I make a conscious effort not to use that in a song. I think that's kind of hokey and second-generational. I like it to be more firsthand, or sometimes I'll go way out on a limb and write about something I know nothing about just because I fee like it. That happens too.
Me: What part did Ivo play in producing the new album?
Warren: Technically he doesn't actually produce the records, he just mixes them and everything he does is based on what we had done before and he takes some small liberties with it. On the new album, he's actually become more aware of what we're trying to do as far as are mixes go. In that respect, he's probably done less on the new album because he's just done a better job of recreating what we'd been doing because we weren't set up in my house to actually mix down. There's actually a song on the new album that I did mix, based on a mix he had done. It's starting to get a little confusingx What he really does is help me narrow down which songs to use. He doesn't point out the eight most commercial songs or anything like that, but he helps decide what choices makes sense. I'm a little biased and I can't quite get a clear perspective on the music, maybe because there are so many songs and obviously I'm pretty close to it. I think it's good to have a guy who isn't actually in the band to say, "Look, let me help you." He's also really good at picking the order of the songs. When you're dealing with twenty-four songs, it's good to have someone who understands order.
Me: And he's got a lot of experience too.
Warren: Right, he is actually a professional record dude, whereas I've only just done stuff in my basement. I do respect him. He knows how stuff is supposed to work. Plus, he is a big experimenter and he's not afraid to try weird stuff, andx he does, and I'm glad - it worked out. One of the things he does is help us bring it all together in terms of the entire work, while I still think about things on a song by song basis. A lot of people listen to the album as a whole and don't even learn the names of the separate titles. The album can be a total work, like the last two Public Enemy records. All the songs are connected and certain songs will have references to other songs, like the This Mortal Coil records, where you hear it as one work. But to me, because I've done each song, it's hard for me to think of it as a total work.
Me: I'm not trying to get really personal here or anything, but outside of the band, in an incredibly broad sense, what do you do? Are you going to college right now?
Warren: Not right now. I've been taking semesters on and off based on how busy I've been. Karin still goes to school full-time, Jymn is still going to school. We have a new guitar player who wrote five songs, Melissa, who isn't going right now. Everyone in the band either works or goes to school, except me.
Me: What plans do you have for the future with His Name Is Alive? Where do you see yourselves heading in music and the "whole thing"?
Warren: Well, it's hard to say. I didn't have a plan up until this point, and I don't have a specific goal. I'd still like to be making records when I'm Neil Young's age, but right now, the plan that we've been working out with different people is, "How do you go about lasting? What needs to be done specifically now in order to keep making records?" In some ways it doesn't seem like a big goal or anything, but it really isx just still being able to make records.