Interview: Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir

The Homeless Gospel Choir

This past week, I was able to connect with Derek Zanetti (aka The Homeless Gospel Choir) and discuss everything that went into making his new album, This Land is Your Landfill. I asked Derek about how he is staying connected to his fans during this pandemic, his take on the current political climate, his cassette collecting passion, and what he is most looking forward to when things return to normal.

Thank you for your time today, Derek! I understand that you are gearing up to release your new record, This Land is Your Landfill, on April 24th. Tell me a little bit about who you worked with on this LP and what you are most excited for the fans to hear?

First of all thank you very much for having me and for this wonderful interview, I’m grateful to be able to spend time with you. This record was recorded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at A-F Records by Chris #2 of Anti-Flag. I wrote these songs with Matt Miller (Endless Mike and the beagle Club/Wingnut Dishwashers Union) over the course of a year in between Harrisburg, PA and Pittsburgh, PA. I called Matt while I was in the UK on tour supporting Frank Turner and asked him if he wanted to join the band and write a super loud rocket park record with me. He agreed and there you have it!

Tyler Kweider and Erik Pitluga recorded drums at Mr. Smalls studios, our dear friend Liz Berlin of Rusted Root has an amazing facility in the north side of Pittsburgh with tall ceilings and huge rooms perfect for recording drums. Megan Schroer played some bass along with Chris #2. And we had guest appearances from Billy Kottage (The Interrupters, Reel Big Fish), Rick Steff (Lucero), and Steve Soboslai (Punchline).

I’m most excited about playing these songs with the full band component, and to be able to give a fuller vision live of what they sound like on the record. There’s no way I could go out and play this album on acoustic guitar by myself with any integrity.

Speaking of the new record, I really enjoyed your new single, “Art Punk!” I also believe you have been sharing some of your own artwork on social media with your fans. What do you find to be most rewarding in interacting with your fan-base?

Everyone has a unique story on how they arrive to where they are this very moment. Art and music are such powerful ways to connect with one another, I just love hearing about people’s journeys—how they found punk rock, what movies they like, their goals for the future… It’s honestly my favorite thing about being in a band and being on tour, or even now with live streaming. It’s the connection that I get to have with somebody who found something as peculiar and strange as punk rock, and how important that is to us.

You have been very active in touring and spreading the word of your music. What has been the hardest part for you on the current environment of social distancing?

I’m a very social person. I love to go to house shows, to parties, to tour in my van with my band for weeks at a time, I love a good high five and I love a good hug. So these times have robbed me of those simple pleasures. I think the hardest part for me is just the inability to be around people, I never realized how important that was for me until this happened.

I read about your passion for collecting dead music mediums, such as cassettes, which is also a shared passion of mine. What got you started in this type of music collecting, do you have a favorite album that you cherish, and what is that one elusive record you have been searching for?

Cassette tapes are a big passion of mine. They are mostly an inexpensive way to collect analog media—a The Ramones or Hüsker Dü album that would have typically cost you 40 or 50 dollars to purchase on vinyl can be six or seven dollars on cassette. I love how compact they are, how they look on a wall display, how inexpensive they are to ship. I’m also a sucker for a unique packaging an extra special inserts, I love to read along to the lyrics and figure out why the artist chose the artwork for the album. Was it on accident? Was it intentional? Is there a theme? Does it go with the songs on the album?

I have a few cherished albums. Obviously I still have my original cassette tape of Green Day’s Dookie from 1994, which is important to me on many levels. I have an original Beach Boys Smiley Smile on tape that I bought at a local DIY punk rock flea market for four dollars. I have Weezer’s Pinkerton on cassette which is one of my favorite albums of all time. I have J Dilla’s Donuts on cassette which is this super amazing hip-hop album by one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. I also have GZA’s Liquid Swords, which has a holographic cover insert for a cover. Here’s a few cassette tapes that I’m in search of if anyone wants to get in touch…

  • Green Day – Warning
  • Weezer – Green Album
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • Any ‘80s hardcore…
  • They Might Be Giants **
  • Negative Land **
  • Buzzcocks **
  • Fugazi **
  • Tom Waits **
  • The Muffs **
  • The Dead Milkmen **

** I already own the catalogue but I collect doubles and triples and so on…

If you had to describe your live show in a few words, how would you describe it?

A high school reunion where everyone is cool, and there are no bullies or dickheads, and we all just have fun, laugh, sing, and have a giant imaginary food fight like in the movie Hook.

What is your take on the current political climate going on in the US, and how are you educating your fans on how they can be actively involved in making a change in their communities?

It’s scary out there—the worst it’s been in my whole life. As a country we’ve separated children from their parents, we’ve caged small children in border detainment camps. We’ve waged war for profit using our own people’s blood to fuel the machine, we’ve alienated our allies and have made deals with evil, evil, evil men. We continue to marginalize and oppress the LGBTQ community, women still get less pay than men. Police murder black children in broad daylight for smoking a joint or wearing a baggy sweatshirt. Our veterans return from service to poverty and a broken economy, and are committing suicide at a rate of a 23 veterans a day. The rich don’t pay taxes, the poor are taxed to death. People are buried alive in college debt by the age of 22 with no prospect of gainful employment and zero chance of being able to afford healthcare. So I’d say it’s a bit fucked.

My responsibility is to use my platform and my voice to raise awareness of ways that we can hopefully provide practical applications to make the situation better. Sometimes it’s even saying things as simple as “welcome to the punk rock show, where together we work hard to create a platform of equality, where we stand together to fight the evil of this world, and we say no to sexism, no to racism, no to homophobia…” Every night when we take the stage I’m sure to let the people who are listening to our music know exactly where we stand and exactly where our values lie in regards to those issues. I think just by opening your mouth and raising awareness you’re planting seeds of thought with the hope that when people leave the punk show they’re having conversations about how they can participate more and work towards making the world better. Recently we’ve been doing a bunch of livestream acoustic shows from my bedroom where we’ll do a Q&A and trying to have a dialogue. Kids can ask any questions that they want and we try to address some of these issues and provide some education there as well.

Do you have a favorite song from the new LP, This Land is Your Landfill? What stood out to you during the creation of this track?

I love “Blind Faith.” It just feels like the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. It feels good to sing that song out loud in front of people. Especially when I’m playing with such a good band.

The last question I have for you today is: After all of this coronavirus disruption comes to an end, what are you most looking forward to?

Going back to shows, and getting in the fucking sweaty ass gross mosh pit with my friends, and dancing and pogoing and laughing and hugging. Definitely.