Homeless Gospel Choir frontman speaks and sings about a confusing new reality

The mouthpiece of The Homeless Gospel Choir, author, poet, political activist, lyricist Derek Zanetti, took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the upcoming new release, his cassette collection and life in the Covid-19 world.
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By Alan Brostoff

Pittsburgh author, poet, political activist, lyricist and the mouthpiece of The Homeless Gospel Choir, Derek Zanetti took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the upcoming new release, his cassette collection and life in the Covid-19 world.

GOLDMINE: You have been staying busy lately, having just released the new video for "Blind Faith" (below). 

DEREK ZANETTI: That song specifically references a specific series of characters and I wanted to maybe touch on the danger of following something blindly, because of tradition or nature or habit or ritual and the dangers that can come from that. The song is mainly about the character Maryann from the Bible. She is not talked about very much in the Bible. Everyone knows about Mary who is Jesus' mother, and everyone knows about Mary Magdalene who was one of Jesus' closest friends and allies and probably a sexual lover if we are being very honest about historically accurate texts. Maryann was not discussed very much in the gospel. She was a business owner, she was a generous, independent person who defied much of culture and who stood up on her own. She received lots of accolades that were mostly just given to men. She was able to garner a bunch of success for own self during that time, but in the peak of her prime she was duped into marrying a snake oil salesman and became his wife and stayed at home and had his kids. So, she basically was tricked to become the wife of a snake oil salesman and this is what the song is about.

GM: Where did the name Homeless Gospel Choir come from? 

DZ: It came from an idea I had. It was a dream in my mind about what it would be like to just be a traveling group of friends who sang songs of positivity for people who needed it and I thought, you know, maybe a non-religious gospel choir of just traveling friends.

GM: The new album This Land is Your Landfill had had two different release dates. Can you share the official release date

DZ: Yea, it is out April 24th. The original projection from last year was April 17th but due to us wanted to be sure that the record was in physical hands before the announcement of the record, and now that we are all in quarantine, I guess it did not matter. But the idea was to have the physical record out before the actual release date so you could get the record early on a special tour release vinyl edition. So, we had to push that back.

GM: I would like to dive into all the different variations of the vinyl coming out. There's 150 on Neon Green for 2020 Record Club members, 200 on Electric Blue/Double mint pinwheel Tour edition, 200 on Halloween Orange, and 425 on Electronic Blue w/Double mint, Easter Yellow, Olive Green, Gray, and Baby Pink Splatter. How involved were you with this? 

DZ: I really like things to be special and there is something to it. I can't remember all the records that I have bought off Discogs and had shipped to me, or used Amazon or some other third party distribution company, but if I was at a show and the band, blew my mind and I went over to the merch table and the band had a record for sale that I bought, I always remember that sale. I always remember how special it is to seek out physical media. I can tell you how special it was when I was digging through boxes and I found a sealed copy of Nazz album for 50 cents. The rush of euphoria whenever you find something. I just love the idea of having limited, physical media. Like the only time you can get this record is if you go to a show on the east coast. It forces people to be out. It makes it special. People realize, "Oh, I can only get this one at the show that they're having in f*cking Pittsburgh Pennsylvania." I think it's really cool and I was just trying to create that buzz. It's a cool concept and I like to do it.

GM: During this time of being shut-in, you have been very active on social media. Would you be doing this if times were not like they are? 

DZ: Um, I would typically be doing things outside of my home but because I'm being forced to be by myself, I figured I would. There was definitely heavy suggestion to move the release of the album even further because when half the world is out of work, it's not necessarily a good sales market to release a record during times like this but I think what is a better time to offer art to people who already appreciate the music that you make when they're trapped in their house and trapped away from their friends. This is like the best time ever to do it because like people need it and people want to hear something that is new and fresh. Sure, we could have waited but I don't know. It just feels good to do it now. So, all my time on the internet is just me talking about the new songs and talking with the band and stuff on Instagram live. It's stuff that we would be doing naturally in real life anyway and we're just hopefully doing it in front of other people so that they are interested in the thing that we're doing. 

GM: Like when you were streaming and looking for your fans help on a mixtape you were creating. 

DZ: I think the thing that is most special about making art is showing people the tangibility of their own ability to make art. You know, sometimes you would see certain punk bands and they have big spiky leather jackets and a big red mohawk and they have tattoos all over the place and they look like a funk band. I think that that's fine and dandy, but I think if the encouragement is for everybody to make art and the encouragement is that music is an expression of yourself. Hopefully the person that that is encouraging you to do that also is a tangible type of a person. This is just a time in my life where I don't have the ability to hang out with my band in private and come up with the mix tape so, what a better way to engage with the people who are interested in the thing that I'm doing. "Hey, we're making this mixtape. Do you all have any input?" I thought it was really cool. I want to humanize music and art and all of these are people realize that the common person can be in a radical punk rock band if they want to.

GM: How do you self-describe the style of music you play? 

DZ: It is a punk band. It's pop rock music that gets loud and there's feedback and there's a distortion petal and there's loud hammering drums. Hopefully punk rock is any type of expression that you make that's creative and that speaks out against power or authority. That's what we're trying to do, make a creative expression that is speaking out against the powers and authority in our light even if that power and authority is myself. Sometimes rebelling against my own nature.

GM: Besides writing great songs and performing in your band, you are also an author, having written two books. Are you working on a third book? 

DZ: The chapters have just been put together and it's in the middle of the first round. I'm working on it pretty good probably, maybe 75-80% done. It's all outlined. All the materials are there and I'm just trying to connect the little bridges is a little bit better. It's a different type of the stories I wrote a book about before. It is about growing up in an evangelical, right-wing, conservative, Christian cult in the '90s in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania that's what the books about.

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GM: What have you been listening to recently? 

DZ: The Beach Boys and They Might Be Giants and The Beatles and the new Homeless Gospel Choir a hole bunch. Once it's out and I know that a lot of people have heard it, I won't listen to it anymore. But now that not everyone has heard it, it's still fresh to me. Once everyone has made their opinion about it, I put it on my self and never listen to it again. 

GM: What is your favorite song on the new album? 

DZ: I have a bunch of them. These are the best songs I have ever written; I think. My three favorite songs are "Blind Faith," "Social Real Estate," and "Lest We Forget" are probably my three favorites. All the one's that most people have not heard yet. But I also love "Art Punk" and "Don't Compare" and "Young and in Love."   

GM: Someone out there you would like to write or perform with? 

DZ: Tom Waits or Kendrick Lamar maybe.

GM: Can you share some of your favorite record stores you like to visit? 

DZ: Think you told me you were from Chicago. I love to go to Reckless Records in Chicago. Locally, I love to go to the Attic in Millville. That is a great record shop and I love Jerryís especially if I'm looking for weirdo jazz or like traditional. If I wanted to find a Tom Petty record I'd go to Jerry's in Pittsburgh. There's a newer punk record shop called Pleasant Dreams Records and they have a bunch of tapes and I predominantly collect tapes. That's where I usually go to get my tapes.

GM: Any hard to find gem you are looking for? 

DZ: Yea, I would live to find, well two of them. There is a bunch I really want but I don't know if I will every get them, but if I could get a copy of the Green album by Weezer on cassette that would be awesome. I'm also looking for Green Day Warning on cassette. Neither one I have. Those are the two I have not been able to find. I mean, I don't want to buy them on the internet because that feels like cheating. It does not give you the same feeling. There is nothing like that feeling of digging for it and finding it. It's the f*cking best feeling you can have.

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GM: What are the plans for a tour to support This Land is Our Land Fill? 

DZ: All our current tour dates have been cancelled. I think we were supposed to be in Louisville, KY tonight. As soon as we are allowed out, we are going to play shows. I talked with the band and we are all on the same page. The second we know for sure, we are just going to book a long weekend or a long week of just places that are close, like Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and then come home. We want to just get out there and play some small clubs, bars, DIY spaces and basements. Just to get out there and play some gigs.

GM: Finally, what is the best way for people to get the new release? 

DZ: Go to www.thehomelessgospelchoir.com. All of that is up on the site. You can also get ahold of me on the Facebook, Instagram, twitter ...yada yada yada.

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