HIS NAME IS ALIVE opening for LOW at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (January 31). $18.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Marty Mcfly may have risked life and limb to get his Delorean time machine back from the past to the present day, but after talking to Warren Defever of experimental rock band His Name Is Alive, I get the feeling that being stuck halfway in the past isn't such a bum deal.
For a man who's been able to approach his music from so many diverse and apparently contradictory angles, it's surprising to learn that the sounds he grew up with were hardly what you'd call avant-garde.
"My grandfather taught me about music when I was 10, and from him I learned the banjo, pedal steel and guitar. For him, music had stopped being good in the 50s, so he stopped listening to anything new after Hank Williams Sr. I was rebelling by listening to something like Elvis, and this was in, like, 81."
Somewhere between the King's hip-shaking and Williams's yodel, new ideas about what music could be began creeping into Defever's writing, resulting in teenage recordings with tape-looping and dreamy, ethereal vocals, and lyrics about stuff like the role ghosts play in the lives of the living.
That open-mindedness has stuck with Defever, whose latest work, Detrola, is an accidental mashup of beauty and chaos, the polar antithesis of 2001's delicate and haunting Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth. Whatever style Defever may tackle, after hearing him speak so assuredly it's obvious that his writing will fall within the parameters he intends, and hopefully people will dig it.
"Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth was a blues album. It was meant to be a downer. With Detrola, I wanted to question what the idea of a song was. Is it a pop song or is it "beep beep click fuzz'?"
Whether his work succeeds or fails, Defever's determination to experiment over the last 17 or so years, including an extended stint on 4AD , has made his music an integral and influential part of rock's left field.
Another highly influential band has noticed. He was recently asked to begin demo work with the reunited Iggy and the Stooges in what many would consider the opportunity of a lifetime. But Defever still had reasons for being anxious about the project.
"My expectations of the band were so high initially that I was worried they wouldn't sound as good as they used to."
Regardless of how Defever feels about Iggy these days, Iggy's spirit seems to be a regular guest of His Name Is Alive. So are several other theatrical elements that sound a lot like punk rock hijinks, and a philosophy encapsuled by Defever's comment "We don't try to beat up the audience; we try and let them do it to themselves." It's a terrific game plan that Defever jokingly shares with me after letting on that after close to two decades, his ambitious performances won't be getting any tamer.
"Recently, we had someone who thought he was Iggy Pop dress up like a rhinoceros, and we smeared him with peanut butter. Then he ran around as the audience tried to throw these big wooden rings around his horn."
And you thought high-concept rock meant no fun and games.