This week, we posted our lengthy interview with Warren Defever regarding his reluctant celebration of the 25th anniversary of his musical project His Name Is Alive. They play tomorrow, Saturday, February 14. Doors at 8 p.m., and the show is at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com; $15.
The following interview bit, which centers on Defever's early days as a recording engineer and producer, plus time in lovely Livonia, are an unreleased outtake from that longer talk.
METRO TIMES: These horrible early times of yours, they were all in Livonia?
WARREN DEFEVER: Livonia is a six by six square mile city. I’m sure everybody else around here knows that, but the streets are laid out in a grid. Every house is exactly the same, everyone’s lawn is the same shade of green. I would describe it as a non-place, or the empty space where you’d expect a city to be, and you’re disappointed. It’s not even cool enough to have formerly been an interesting place that died. It has nothing. It’s a void.
MT: So how did you cope? What did you do?
DEFEVER: Well, I traveled a lot. It took me 41 years to leave. It had me in its grips.
MT: But you’d come to Detroit all the time?
DEFEVER: Yeah, since I was 15 or 16.
MT: Were you scared?
DEFEVER: Of Detroit? I was more scared of Livonia. I started playing in bars in Detroit when I was 16.
MT: And it was always with His Name is Alive?
DEFEVER: No. I first started playing in the band Elvis Hitler. And then sometimes I played in the band Snake Out. Lenny [Puch] from Snake Out is the guy that had the label Wanghead that put out the Gories, Elvis Hitler. He had the studio and then I worked with him.
MT: What was the studio, how’d you start working?
DEFEVER: He knew that I’d been recording at home on a four track. And I’d been playing in Elvis Hitler, who rehearsed in his studio.
MT: Which was called what?
DEFEVER: Garage Land.
MT: Where was it?
DEFEVER: In New Boston, Michigan — in the woods. He had a fire out back, and a rope that went down the top of the studio. And he would slide down the rope over the fire. He later had a machine shop in this basement where he made helicopter parts. Now he’s got a really cool thing called Speedcult, and they made a jet car and they have a homemade roller coaster.
He is, you know — that’s my mentor.
MT: Sounds like Iron Man.
DEFEVER: Sort of a hillbilly Iron Man, yes. He was the first guy I ever saw get on stage and just wear Saran wrap. He’s the man. He lived with his parents and they had a huge garage out back with corrugated metal walls. The garage was cut in half. One half with a dirt floor was where his brother repaired semis, and the other half was a recording studio. And the classic story is that the Gories showed up to record and we’re loading into the studio, I’d already had the mic set up in place, they looked and the door was open to the other part and they’re like, “Oh we want to record on that side!” So we moved all the equipment and set up on the dirt floor and metal. It was great.
MT: So he saw that you were recording...
DEFEVER: On a four track at home.
MT: And that’s when he said, “Hey do you want to work with me?”
DEFEVER: Well specifically he’s like would you want to work here sometimes, and I was like sure yeah. He’s like there’s a band coming in tonight, they’re supposed to be here around seven. He had a side job; he had a machine that would grind stumps. He had a business, Stump Grumper. And so he would grind up stumps and he was going to be late to the session. I went there; I think it was around 4 or 5. He showed me how everything in the studio worked: How to record, how to compress a bass, how to re-bias the tape machine. I learned everything I know about recording in 45 minutes. He left, and never came back that night. So I recorded a band that night.
MT: Which band?
DEFEVER: It was a band from Detroit called Inside Out who were really great. It was three women; the drummer was amazing. The bass player was Karen Neal and she would just hit harder than anybody. And yeah, it was a really great band. So I worked there for a while and recorded tons of bands.
The other thing I’m supposed to be working on is a list of everything I’ve ever recorded — different bands, records.
MT: It’s more than 99?
DEFEVER: Yeah. I’ve never been recording people full-time. I’ve had a couple studios, but I never really wanted to record five bands in five days. It wears you down.
MT: Is it fair to say you have an ambivalent attitude towards whatever you have to do to make a living?
DEFEVER: Well you know, I spend a lot of money on flashy clothes and fast cars so...no. I’m terrible at making money. I wish I was better at it. That’s maybe going to be my New Year’s Resolution this year. 2015, that can be the year I maybe get it together.
MT: What’s your plan?
DEFEVER: I have a lot of ideas. V-neck pants. I have to think about it, I’m not good at coming up with stuff off the cuff.
MT: That brings me to, what is it like to make your music, Warren Defever music, in the most garage rock hangover place on Earth?
DEFEVER: Well, there was an album that we did on the discography of 99 records called Garage Fuckers Kill Yourself Blues. I’d taken the style of each individual popular garage band and then copied it and did a mean song about them in their style.
MT: How wide of a release did this record get?
DEFEVER: Very small release.
MT: Was it CDRs?
MT: How many?
DEFEVER: 50. To get a little historical, there were a couple phases of Detroit garage rock. And mid 90’s, that was phase two or phase three depending on how you count it. I remember being in Elvis Hitler, at the time you felt like that was phase one. You know what I mean? Maybe not. I don’t know.
MT: Well what year is it?
DEFEVER: ’86 through 1990.
MT: Well perhaps phase one of “retro.” I didn’t realize Elvis Hitler was garage rock; I thought it was more punk rockabilly.
DEFEVER: Well Detroit doesn’t have enough people to have fully formed subgenres. So the surf bands would play with the rockabilly bands which would play with the garage rock bands. We’re all kind of lumped together.
MT: What were you saying about getting historical?
DEFEVER: I didn’t think that I wasn’t a part of it at the time. We were playing with those same bands.
MT: His Name Is Alive was? When did His Name Is Alive start?
DEFEVER: There was a tape in 1986 called His Name Is Alive; and I was in high school. It’s embarrassing, but then it’s really not that different from what we’re doing now.
And I will think this is embarrassing in a few years.
MT: So when did you first start playing out? Who were you with or was it solo?
DEFEVER: The first show...that’s a good question, there was one in Ypsilanti in 1989. There was one in Detroit that I just can’t seem to remember. But there was Ypsilanti, Detroit, and then the first album came out in 1990 then we played at the Majestic, or the Magic Stick.
MT: So you could say that it’s more than the 25th anniversary tour, but 25 is a good number. You’re just starting it with the first album, then?