Singer-songwriter Derek Zanetti, also known as The Homeless Gospel Choir, has been traveling the U.S. sharing his folk-punk protest songs since 2009. His new album I Use to Be So Young was released on A-F Records on July 15th. We caught up with him for our 10 Questions series and talked about his writing and record process, the social and political issues that matter to him most right now, and what his plans are for the rest of the year.
1. Tell us about your earliest musical memories and influences.
I can remember listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas Album on my grandfather’s old turntable in 1987. I remember crying when I found my father’s copy of Ozzy Osborne’s Bark at the Moon. The image on the front cover was so disturbing; I had nightmares of it for years to come. One time when I was seven, I was at my Uncle’s house at a summertime outdoor BBQ and Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin came on the classic rock radio station and I remember hearing the lyrics “the soul of a woman was created below”. I think that was the day when I stared to lose trust in women.
I am heavily influenced by conservative talk radio and my ever so reoccurring battle with mental illness. I love pretty music that has satirical, angry lyrics. I’m a huge fan of punk music, and would probably say that it is the closest thing I relate to.
2. Describe the writing and recording process for your new record. As a one-man band, how do you tackle creating new music?
I love taking long drives to places I’ve never been to. I’ll put a tape recorder in the passenger’s seat, and clip a lapel microphone to my collar, and just talk to myself. When I get home I’ll put on a Woody Guthrie record and pick the best things I said on the tape of a congruent theme and slam on my guitar for hours until something develops.
3. How has the experience of collaborating with A-F Records and its founders (members of Anti-Flag) been?
A-F Records is fucking awesome! Chris Stowe is a very dear friend of mine and he loves what he does. He really believes in my music and wanted to help me make something extra special. I think we accomplished that with this record.
It was amazing working with the Anti- Flag boys on this record. Chris #2 and I worked very closely with one another to sort out all the songs and make them the way we wanted. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Not to mention the huge signing bonus they gave me. I was able to buy a new house, a decent used car, and I even had a bit left over to take my lady friend out to the ice cream parlor.
4. What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten in terms of following your passion and moving ahead creatively?
The best thing you can do for yourself is remove your safety net. If you want to make music or art, and you always have a fall back in case it don’t work out, more times than not you’ll revert back to it. But, if you say to yourself that I’m going to make music, or art and that’s it, even if I starve to death, chances are good you’ll make opportunities for yourself to show your art.
5. You describe your recordings as “protest songs”. What social and political issues matter most to you right now and how can people get involved?
It’s hard to just pick one or two or three things that I care about and talk about them in length. But if I have to mention something that is directly affecting me at this moment it would be the dangerous and hazardous ramifications of fracking in Pennsylvania. There are people what live within an hour drive of my house that can’t drink their water because of the fast and foolish rush to frack. Land is being destroyed and natural resources depleted in the name of profits for these wealthy investors. Our Governor, Tom Corbett, had deregulated many of the standards that drillers should be held to as to allow them to make quick profits, while not holding them responsible for careless, reckless pollution that is nearly impossible to reverse. Even though voting has been seen as an enormous waste of time, especially on the national level in regards to the president, local and state representation is something I believe that can be influenced by my direct action, petitioning, and involvement. I’d like to say I’m going to handcuff myself to a fracking drill and go on a hunger strike ‘til they stop polluting Pennsylvania, but I’ll probably just talk a bunch of shit on Tom Corbett and make a funny anti-Corbett t-shirt around voting time.
6. What effect has your hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had on you musically and creatively?
Pittsburgh is the best city in America so naturally it’s easy to write the best songs in America while I’m living there.
7. What do you do outside of music and how have you balanced that with being a musician?
I also make art, and I write a good bit. I have one book out in the world already, and I’m working on my second. When I’m not singing with my guitar, I take my book out on the road and do reading from that. People seem to like it pretty good, so when I get too old to be punk, I’ll just write more books, I guess.
8. Touring is often perceived as having a certain grandeur although that is not always the reality. What have been some of your highs and lows on the road?
I’ve toured pretty heavily for the last five years. I don’t have many complaints. I’ve never broken down, I’ve never been robbed, and I’ve never had to sell any of my ethics to get money for gas or food. Obviously I’m not in Guns N’ Roses, so sometimes I sleep on the floor at someone’s house, or in my car, but I lived in basements and on recliners for most of my adult life, so I’m always grateful for any kindness someone shows me. Touring isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad it is for me.
9. If you could be remembered for one song you’ve written, which would you choose?
That’s a hard one to answer. I guess I’d say I hope if you like my songs you like all of them, and even if I get forgotten, I think I’ll be fine with that too. Because when you’re dead I don’t think you care about people who are living. You’re too busy being dead, and enjoying the nothingness.
10. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I’ll be touring quite a bit. I’m working on a few splits to be released early next year. I’m going to Europe this December, touring the south east in November with my best buds In Listener, hopefully finishing the new book I’ve been writing. I’m planning on playing a bunch of shows with Anti- Flag and traveling and touring with them. There is a lot on my horizon. I’m excited.