by Interviews

The Homeless Gospel Choiris about to release a new album.The record is titled This Land Is Your Landfill and is due out today on A-F Records. Punknews' Eric Rosso caught up with TGC's Derek Zanetti to talk about the new release. Check it out below.

Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir

Eric Rosso

“If I never play a solo acoustic show again, I’ll think I’ll be ok,” remarked Derek Zanetti describing his excitement to embark on a tour that has since been shelved. Looking back on this interview, it reads as if from a lifetime ago. Punknews’ Eric Rosso caught up with him a day or two in advance of the shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic to talk about the new configuration for The Homeless Gospel Choir comprised of pop-punk scene veterans, how sobriety and adulthood influenced his new album, and how excited he was to tour as a full band.

Since that fateful March week, Zanetti has gone on to play numerous solo acoustic shows by circumstance via Instagram live to promote This Land Is Your Landfill and provide moments of relief for fans during our current limited reality. On April 24th, the release of the album also offers another chance for escape and one that couldn’t come at a more perfect time. Touching on themes such as renewed purpose, kindness, and our political climate, This Land Is Your Landfill finds itself even more relevant and prescient than originally planned.

This last fall on the first tour with the full band version of the Homeless Gospel Choir, you kicked off your set in Philadelphia at Creep Records by saying that sometimes you turn 36 and start a new punk band with your friends. I thought this was great as someone in my thirties. What led to this moment in the Homeless Gospel Choir to reform as a whole new band? I think I just struggled so much in writing acoustic songs. I didn’t feel connected to them and I didn’t feel like they represented me anymore. The noise and the sounds and the songs that I was hearing inside my head had loud drums and super loud distortion and really weird fucking pedal sounds. I couldn’t capture the music inside my head with just an acoustic guitar.

I never set out to be a folk punk anything. I don’t necessarily like that genre at all. There’s nothing about that genre that I like. I just play an acoustic guitar and I play by myself so I was always lumped into a folk punk category, but I struggle to find anything about that genre that I connect to anymore.

I don’t drink. I don’t hop trains. I don’t care about playing the fiddle or the mandolin or any of that kind of stuff. I just never really fit in with that type of expression. I’ve always wanted to be in a big punk band in a big traveling family van anyway. This was a super cool way to do it and I was able to pick all my first picks of everyone I wanted to have in my band. They all said yes. I played them the songs I wanted to make and this is how it turned out.

I feel like I hit the band lottery to be honest with you.

One of the things I took away from This Land Is Your Landfill is some of the hopelessness we all feel about the current state of things seeping through more in your lyrics. In the press materials for the album, it talked about how sad songs become more powerful when members join together. What do you hope your fans take away from this record as a full band? I think everybody should express themselves in some way artistically. Whether you draw or whether you paint or whether you write poetry or whether you’re in a punk band. For me, the healthiest way for me to get out my wiggles, my paranoia, and all my anxiety is to yell and play in a fucking loud rock band. I hope it translates over to a note of encouragement for the people who see it.

This is a very healthy and safe way to express yourself - to get out your fear, get out your worry, and do it collectively with a group of people that love you and care about you. There’s no age limit to that. There’s no one to say “I’m too old to start a punk band.”

No you’re not! I started this punk band when I was 36 years old. That’s fucking old as fuck. You should be in a punk band and out there going for and giving it heck. Hopefully when people see our band, they’ll see we're normal, regular, average everyday people. We don’t dress up like a punk band or wear our hair up or dress with a stud or anything. We’re just regular people who are out there to make music that hopefully connects with folks. I hope that’s what people take away.

I grew up in the punk scene and through it, had a lot of my views, personal ethos, and politics shaped. I’m always fascinated about reconciling the reality of being a 33 year old adult like myself and life’s realities - mortgages, retirement planning, property taxes - while still connecting with a punk rock ethos. I see a lot of that in the writing of This Land Is Your Landfill. How do you balance and think about that tension? I’m an adult and I’m a grown up. I have certain grown up adult responsibilities that I have to do in order for me to be the adult that I am. I do have to pay property taxes. I do not have to pay for my gas to be on and for there to be food on my shelf. That costs money.

I don’t know how to say it, but I think there are ethical ways for one to create art where they are being true to themselves and the art they are making while still being financially viable. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the whole punk rock sell out thing. If you make art that you’re proud of and fucking stoked on, you should want everyone to see it.

I want as many people as possible to hear this album and see my band. I’m making sacrifices in other aspects of my life so showcasing this band and making it grow by more people connecting to it is a possibility and hopefully an inevitability. I tell people in my band every tour that we do, it gets better for us. We do a little bit better with more people coming to the shows and buying that record. As that money grows, so will the opportunity to do this more.

Hopefully for the people in my band, wouldn’t it be nice if we could do it in a full time situation where we wouldn’t have to worry about it? I don’t know. That’s kind of the goal.

Do you have a favorite song on the record and one that is more personal to you than the others that you want to lift up? My favorite songs on the album haven’t been released as singles. The ones that I fancy the hardest are probably “Art Punk” and “Blind Faith.” “Blind Faith” is probably one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever recorded. It tells a story about finally shedding the fear that you have in your heart that has been instilled there since you were a little kid realizing that you found your own truth. It’s kind of me addressing the constructs of religious extremism that I was exposed to as a kid through evangelical, right-wing, conservative Christian ethos.

That type of rearing and upbringing is to make you afraid and keep you to it. It bonds you to this way of thinking by using scare and fear tactics. That song addresses that and lets everyone know that I finally found freedom from it. It’s my favorite song on the record and I’m excited for everyone to hear it.

Having grown up in Cleveland and not all that far off from Pittsburgh, Anti-Flag were a constant presence for me. You’ve worked extensively with A-F Records and #2 who produced the new album. Being in Pittsburgh where the band is from, can you talk about what Anti-Flag means to you both on a personal and professional level? There my buds. We’re fucking great buds. We hang out not only when we play punk shows, but also outside of it too. Chris #2 and I went out for tacos the day before yesterday. We went to the Attic Record Store and bought a bunch of John Lennon and Devo records. Sometimes, he would come over and sleep over our house for a night or two and hang out and play video games. I would sleep over his house. We’re buds. Me and Chris Head would hang out and go to hockey games on occasion.

It’s rad because Pittsburgh is a really small town and punk rock is even smaller than that. To have people in your circumference that love you and care about you - it’s awesome to relate to as well because there’s not too many people who are in their mid to late-30s that make punk rock music for a living. There’s a really cool comrade that exists there.

To be honest, I didn’t come to friendship with those guys through Anti-Flag. It was through their other band White Wives that I was absolutely enamored with. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that project.

White Wives is awesome. With Roger Harvey? With Chris Head. Yeah - with Roger Harvey - correct. Seeing that band live blew my fucking mind. It was like, ‘I gotta figure out what these guys are up too.’ It was through me playing shows with them that I absolutely built a relationship with Chris Head and Chris #2. Anti-Flag are a big deal. There the real deal too. Wonderful examples of what it means to make the community around music matter more than the music itself.

I think that taught us all a really important lesson. Sure, it’s cool to have a punk rock t-shirt. Sure, it’s cool to have a punk rock haircut. But making friends at the punk rock show and creating an atmosphere where people are belonging somewhere so we can have meaningful relationships is an intrinsic value that's contained within the Anti-Flag experience. It’s something we in The Homeless Gospel Choir try to personify as well.

You’ve recently talked about in interviews that sobriety has played a huge role in bringing more positivity in your life. I’ve seen a lot of bands entering their thirties publicly reassess - both in their social media feeds and lyrics - their own relationship with alcohol. Has that dynamic shaped this new record at all? There’s a lot of writing in the record about that more so than in the last record because it was so fresh from when I was just getting off booze. It’s certainly prevalent here. I think for me, drinking is something that I felt compelled to do because I wanted to be part of the punk rock experience. I think about all these punk bands. There’s a party every night. There’s drugs every night. There’s a really wild experience that you are supposed to experience every night. I think that type of lifestyle might be conducive for someone in their early 20s who might want to live this super wild and punk experience.

The older I got, the more I realized how detrimental it was to my character and how I was a very different person when I was under the influence. It was a person who I wasn’t proud of and didn’t love as much as my sober person. Whenever you’re drinking and boozing and acting a fool and everyone’s going wild for you, it’s great. You’re on top of the world. If one beer is good, then one thousand beers is even better.

Because of my addictive personality, that’s how I treated it. I just couldn’t stop while I’m living in this constant haze of drinking, or being drunk, or looking for booze, or whatever it was I was searching for. My ability to be honest with myself and my friends was heavily deterred. It was heavily damaged. It was terrible. I realize that I wasn’t doing anybody any favors including myself.

That’s not to say now is the time. Now that I’m in my early 30s, now is the time I have to stop drinking. It just got the point that I wasn’t in control of it. It was causing the worst elements of who it is that I was to come out. It wasn’t something that I wanted to participate in anymore. It just made the most amount of sense to me.

The Homeless Gospel Choir has largely been a solo act. As someone who has toured solo for most of your career, can you talk about what it’s like now touring with four other bandmates as you embark across the country? It’s the best feeling I could ever imagine to be honest with you. It’s fucking so sick to share these songs in the way I hear inside of my mind. Like I mentioned earlier, I honestly hit the band lottery. The people who play in my band are in my favorite bands.

Megan Schroer was in Boys which is my favorite pop-punk band in Cincinnati. Maura Weaver and I played shows together in Mixtapes ten years ago. I just love them as people. Matt played in Endless Mike and the Beagle Club which is one of the reasons why I got into making punk rock music to begin with. Listening to that band and seeing that band in fire halls in Johnstown was super duper important to me rediscovering punk rock in the early 2000s and re-immersing myself into it. Craig plays in Small Pollen and Belly Boys. I just love those bands so much.

To have them be a part of it - I don’t know if you know this, but I’m not a fucking great guitar player to begin with. I can just let my guitar feedback and scream my head off and it sounds so much fucking cooler than me trying to play an F-chord on a weird octave that I’m not even good at. This is so much more fun for me. If I never play a solo acoustic show again, I’ll think I’ll be ok.

In that same line of questioning, do you still find new punk bands that you are inspired by today? All the time. I’m always checking it out. I’m always searching for small independent record labels with new bands coming out. I’m always hungry for it.

What are the things your fans should be on the lookout for and last items you want to raise up around the new album? April 24th - This Land Is Your Landfill out on A-F Records in the U.S. and Hassle Records in Europe and the U.K. It’s the best piece of music I’ve ever made or been a part of. I hope you agree. I hope you love it. I hope it’s your favorite record of all time.

Be kind to each other. If I could just say one thing as a statement or whatever. Not everyone is going to be remembered for the things they got right. I think people are going to be remembered for how kind they were when they were wrong and how kind they were when they were right. If we are really going to make change in people’s lives, I think we need to listen and practice better kindness than we have been. I think we can get somewhere with that. That’s probably the last thing I’ve got to say.