Warren Defever, 27-year-old guitarist and songwriter for His Name Is Alive, considers his music “Midwestern” even though it sounds more like 21st-century surf rock.
“There really isn’t an indigenous form of music in the Midwest,” he explains, calling from his home in Livonia, MI. “Living here, you pick up all kinds of junk and there are probably more surf and garage bands in the Midwest than there ever was in California.”
Defever knows plenty about foraging for sounds. He found several bits of his more distinctive recording equipment at flea markets. A wire recorder came in handy when capturing the fervor of a local gospel choir, making the session sound as if it took place in the 1930s. An old dictaphone was used to distort the ethereal vocals of Karen Oliver, making the playback scratchy and distant.
These snippets are sampled and then juxtaposed against swelling keyboard, twangy guitar riffs and Dub-influenced drum beats. The resulting tunes, found on His Name Is Alive’s new album Stars on E.S.P., are angelic and catchy while inverting standard pop paradigms.
Various melodic and lyrical influences also seep in from disparate parts of American culture. Before writing “Universal Frequencies,” Defever listened to the Beach Boys'”Good Vibrations” for one week straight.
“I thought the song needed a sequel,” he explains. “‘Good Vibrations’ is one of the first pop hits where you can actually hear the tape edits and I think that’s wonderful.” Whether one considers “Universal Frequencies” a tribute, remix or rip-off of “Good Vibrations,” it’s intriguing. Like Brian Wilson, Defever likes to splice tape to create startling transitions.
The words of “Famous Goodbye King” borrow elements from the protest songs of Sarah Ogan Gunning, who often sang about the plight of exploited coal miners. In the same song, Defever writes about a Mexican concert promoter’s letter, a romantic breakup and black lung disease.
“Black lung disease was very contagious,” explains the author, “when a husband fell ill with it, wives had to tell them that they could no longer sleep together and it was this feeling I wanted to portray.”
That sure isn’t a good vibration.
Live, His Name Is Alive will sound different than it does on record. There won’t be a sampler or tape loops, but a straightforward combination of guitar, bass, drums and organ.
“I think when you go see a band live and it sounds exactly like it did on record, you’re getting ripped off,” contends Defever. Whatever the music sounds like, you can bet it will have a mellow glow to it, calling up the California sunshine by way of Michigan.