Interview: Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir

For the past decade, Derek Zanetti, recording under the moniker The Homeless Gospel Choir, has perfected a brand of infectious, hook-filled, acoustic, folk punk. So, his latest effort, This Land Is Your Landfill, may come as a jolt to some with its full-band sound and often-boisterous jams.

“I’ve used full-band arrangements on past records in an effort to honestly describe the music I was hearing, but this is the first record that was written with a full-band presentation in mind,” says Zanetti. “Loud, electric guitars with tons of feedback and distortion. Weird, noise pedals; fast, chaotic drums. I would have done the songs a great disservice if I tried to show them to people as acoustic songs.”

The album comes out on April 24 though his longtime label A-F Records.

This Land Is Your Landfill was written shortly after Zanetti lost his father, and the sound is a bit counterintuitive, boasting some of his most animated tunes yet.

“I think we all experience pain and sadness differently,” he says. “For me, I was honestly experiencing a lot of anger at the time. My pops and I were not very close for a host of different reasons; however, the absence of him in my life left a giant, fucking, crater-sized hole that I didn’t know how to deal with. 

“I tried to write sad, slow songs about loss and grief and wishing that I had a dad that I could talk to, etc. But for all the Elliot Smith and Bright Eyes songs I would listen to to try and make me feel sad and low, all I could hear was loud guitars and pounding drums. I knew that if I wanted to be true to the sounds I was hearing in my dreams, I had to make a loud record. I don’t know, maybe the songs came out this way because I was trying to force myself to not take the easy predictable route.”

From his first record, Zanetti has not shied away from mixing politics with his music, and This Land Is Your Landfill is no different.

“Politics and punk rock have long been kin to one another, and being able to participate in that tradition is a great honor and not something we as a band want to take for granted,” he says. “We address DJT (the president of the U.S.A.) on this album, certainly, both directly and in metaphor.

“Every song is a protest song; that hasn’t changed. But, the way I want to engage with the conversation has changed. I’m more interested in you asking yourselves the big questions and making small, progressive steps towards a better way [rather] than re-posting cynical memes on the internet to trigger people into debate. I don’t argue with people on social media about politics anymore; I’ve found it to be fruitless and poisonous and a giant waste of time.”

The idea for recording with a full band first came to Zanetti when he was touring the U.K. with Frank Turner and Arkells a couple of years ago. Every night, the Arkells band would come out and play as his backing band to provide a seamless segue from The Homeless Gospel Choir set into theirs. The experience of playing with a live band was powerful and hard for him to shake.

“It was loud, and it was punk; it was sick,” he says. “While I was in the middle of that tour, I phoned Matt Miller (Endless Mike And The Beagle Club, Wingnut Dishwashers Union), and I told him that I wanted to record a full band record and tour as a full band, and I wanted him to be in it and write these songs with me. I had a few songs and parts written already, but only little skeletons.”

They started work on the record in May 2018, and it’s taken two years to write, record and release it. Zanetti is the first to admit that patience is not his strong suit; however, he’s grateful to have taken the time with the album.

“It is the best thing I have ever made, and I’m super fucking proud of it!” he says. 

This Land Is Your Landfill is out now; pick up a copy here.

Photo Credit: Pat Gilrane

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