Last Sunday, The Homeless Gospel Choir played their first of two New Jersey shows with Early Riser and ManDancing at Backroom Studios in Rockaway and the second show will be on Thursday at The Saint in Asbury Park.
Derek Zanetti, of The Homeless Gospel Choir, is originally from Pittsburgh, but lately is becoming a national D.I.Y., punk hero through his honest and vulnerable songwriting coupled with his intimate and accessible live performances. However, beyond the music in and of itself, where Zanetti truly resonates with his fanbase is in his advocacy of what the true meaning and strength of what a punk community can be. Many of The Homeless Gospel Choir’s songs focus on the importance of accepting yourself and others for who they really are and being tolerant of our differences.
On a personal level, Zanetti is very accessible and open with fans at shows and seems to always find the time to have real conversations with people that approach him. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with him on a few occasions at different shows and I always find his perspective to be insightful and earnest.
Zanetti was even gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions for us during his current tour with Early Riser about his new album, new music, and life on the road. Check out what one of the most accomplished artist in D.I.Y. has to say on the subject, and be sure to come out to The Saint on Thursday to see him perform with Early Riser, ManDancing, Seamstress, and Ragged Lines.
N.J. Racket: I caught you a few weeks ago at The Crossroads during your tour with ‘68 and Listener, which was a really phenomenal show, and now almost immediately after you’re back on the road with Early Riser, which is bringing you back through Jersey with shows at Backroom Studios and The Saint. When all’s said and done, how many shows will you have played on these two tours and how long have you been away from home?
The Homeless Gospel Choir: Altogether the shows on these tours equal up to about 40 dates and I’ve been out for about eight weeks. I get a few days off here and there during the week, in between weekend tours and what not, but I really love it, so it doesn’t seem like work at all.
NJR: You’re playing all these shows, you’ve just released a new single and b-side with a hilariously brilliant video that debuted on NPR, but despite the recent success you’re still so accessible to the fanbase, between playing these smaller, D.I.Y. shows and taking the time for interviews with publications even as small as ours. Is this just what comes naturally to you? Do you feel like the success has changed you in any ways?
THGC: D.I.Y. is just a thing that I’m used to and accustom to. It’s all I really know. So, some of these big shows in big elaborate displays of music is something that is new and very foreign to me. Of course, I love to play these bigger shows. Who wouldn’t? But my heart is in the small intimate rooms where I get to share in community and togetherness. It’s really exciting to me still. And I don’t know anything about success or anything like that, but I do hope that in time we all change to be better people.
NJR: Speaking of the new single, the video for “Normal” is a parody of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” Why that video specifically, and is there any chance we’ll get to see you in the bumble bee costume from “No Rain” in your next one?
THGC: Believe it or not I never even saw the “Ironic” video ever before. I was just I’m told to go into a vehicle, and wear the certain outfits, and then behave a certain way and after the video was made, I was told that it was reminiscent of the Alanis Morissette video, so it was a surprise to me as well. But yes, I would love to dress up like a bumblebee and dance in the rain if that something you’d like for me to do.
NJR: On a very real note, “Normal” is such a powerful song and genuinely one that I wish I had also heard back around the time I had also first listened to Dookie, although I was alittle late and it wasn’t quite 1994. For those that aren’t familiar with the song or the story, can you give some context as to what the song is about?
THGC: The song is a basic narrative of how I found belonging and how I found acceptance in some very peculiar ways with some very peculiar people. We called it punk rock, but it could’ve been anything. I just wanted to belong and I just wanted to have a group of people who knew me and believed in me. Normal is just a song that expresses that and tells the story of how this group of friends and I found a bond and found each other and how we were never trying are pining to be normal or to fit in.
NJR: Where do you think you’d be had you not found the “kids with purple hair” and the other strange punks?
THGC: I honestly don’t know what would have come of me if I’ve not found punk and I’ve not found friendship and belonging. Chances are good I would be dead – and I don’t say that for any measure of shock value. I just mean that I was really, really lonely and really, really afraid and scared of very many things and the community that I surrounded myself with gave me hope and belonging, and for that I’m truly grateful.
NJR: That message of just being who you really are and not feeling strange or any other negative way about it seems to most often be associated with kids, you know “eleven years old then and it was time to answer,” but it’s something that I relate to strongly even now as an “adult” with a day job and kind of feeling forced somewhat into that corporate structure, and I wonder is this something that you’ve also felt the need to, I guess, reassure yourself of as time goes on?
THGC: I’m continually searching out and looking for belonging. I’m continually looking for and searching to be known and to be accepted. I still look too punk rock for that. But now as an adult any type of community, any type of group of people who are willing to do something as radicals be themselves, or as radical as to offer care to others, I would love to be a part of that.
NJR: Your music generally hits on pretty serious, borderline dark, subject matter, however you do so in a way that’s incredibly comedic but still respectful subject, whether its religion, politics, or musical preferences. What’s your philosophy behind that approach?
THGC: I just think that it’s important to offer your true self as often as you possibly can. I wouldn’t know how to write songs about love, or a break up, or drinking beer with your buddies. There’s already a million songs about that if you want to search that out. It just doesn’t seem interesting to me.
NJR: Derek, thank you again for taking the time to talk to us, for playing these small New Jersey shows, and for your music in general. For all of your Jersey fans and the N.J. Racket readers, where can they find you next and where can they find your music/merch?
THGC: I have a website at www.thehomelessgospelchoir.com. It has all my tour dates and store and all those things on it. Thank you so much for your kindness and for the wonderful questions I hope I answered them OK for you. I wish you all the best and I hope to see you again soon.
Adam gave man-birth to N.J. Racket and is as close to an "editor-in-chief" the site has. He's a god awful photographer.
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