Warren “Warn” Defever plans to spend this weekend celebrating the 20th anniversary of His Name Is Alive, the name under which he’s made music — with a rotating cast of collaborators — since 1990.
And, yes, that would be [i]21[/i] years if you do the math.
The official announcement for this weekend’s series of events — two concerts and a Sunday afternoon bike ride — states that “the band has decided to erase one really bad year from their history ... no further discussion of this will be provided.” But Defever’s own explanation is a bit less cryptic.
“I tend to round things down,” the Livonia native, who now resides in Detroit’s Corktown district, says with a laugh. In fact, he adds, commemorating any sort of anniversary isn’t his style, but Defever, 42, concedes that “it finally caught up with me that it’s been a long time. I feel like maybe now’s the time I have to be honest about it and come clean with how long I’ve been doing this.”
Numbers aside, Defever and his current batch of HNIA band members will be celebrating a significant career that’s resulted in 11 studio albums and a side project called Velour 100, as well as Defever’s work as a producer and remixer for Iggy and the Stooges, Blanche, Low, Yoko Ono, the Von Bondies, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and others. Along the way Defever’s been praised for a fearlessly artful and idiosyncratic approach that seldom stays on one path for too long — a virtue that’s earned him a vaunted reputation if not exactly stellar sales.
“I do feel like I’m in a good position where I’ve had so few fans from the beginning that I’ve never had any fear of disappointing them,” Defever explains. “We’ve been so unsuccessful from day one that there’s never a fear of messing with any formula and doing bad.
“So since we’re always at zero, I’ve always thought we could just go up from there. There’s nothing to lose.”
A music fan since he was a child, influenced by his grandfather — a Canadian musician who taught Defever and his two brothers to play a variety of instruments — Defever started making his own basement recordings while he was in high school. After a short tenure at Eastern Michigan University, he played with his older brother, John, in the Detroit psychobilly band Elvis Hitler. The group “toured constantly,” which made a profound impact on what Defever would do next.
“I really didn’t enjoy it,” he says, “so it’s possible that I wanted to do something that wasn’t like that. His Name Is Alive is a response to being in a band that had two guitars, bass and drums and played in bars and sang about drinking and cars.”
1990’s “Livonia” was, not surprisingly, an entirely different animal, full of floaty, ethereal dream pop played mostly by Defever and sung by Karin Oliver and Angie Carozzo. It was a top-seller for Britain’s 4AD label that year and was well-reviewed, an auspicious beginning that Defever tends to minimize at this point.
“It’s horrible,” he says. “I met a guy recently who told me, ‘Not to embarrass you, but I have those first five His Name Is Alive albums.’ I said, ‘You’re the one who should be embarrassed. Those are horrible, virtually unlistenable.’
“To be honest,” he adds, “there are some things from those older records I either still play or have adapted into new things. It’s not all bad — that’s my review — but I just cannot understand them. I have no connection to them whatsoever.”
His Name Is Alive these days is more of a studio entity, delivering its latest album, “The Eclipse,” in 2010. “It’s a band that probably hasn’t toured as much as some other groups,” Defever acknowledges. “We’ve always been playing, but not doing 200 shows a year. I pick and choose shows very carefully. I try to make the shows be an event, something I can enjoy and not just trying to find a bar in Oklahoma on a Tuesday night to play on the way to the West Coast.”
With its assortment of activities, the His Name Is Alive XX weekend certainly counts as something extraordinary; even the self-effacing Defever says that “its more like a super-fun weekend. It’s fun stuff, not, like, a typical festival where you wind up seeing 25 bands and it’s hard to make sense of it.”
But while he celebrates his past, however grudgingly, Defever is also looking forward. This weekend he’ll be selling an album called “The Raccoons,” made from actual sounds made by abandoned baby raccoons in his home chimney. And the next HNIA album is in play and sounding “sort of Brazilian,” according to Defever — who’s quickly compelled to temper any additional expectations.
“I say these things like, ‘It’s definitely gonna come out this year’ — jinx! jinx! jinx!” he says. “The truth is I usually don’t know. I just work on things, and they’re probably not going to be like the thing I did just before it. That’s challenging to people, I know, but it’s how I work.”
And since Defever’s done that for 20 — or 21 — years now, we can figure that’s working pretty well for him.
The His Name Is Alive XX anniversary weekend includes:
— A concert Friday, May 20, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Legendary Creatures and Golden also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and the first 100 people receive a free record. Call 313-833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.
— A bike ride at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, that begins at 2000 Brooklyn St. and ends at the Bronx Bar, 4476 Second Ave., Detroit.
— A free performance by the Wolfman Band, with Danjee Flesh Nation and Robin Goodfellow, at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at PJ’s Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit. Call 313-961-4668 or visit www.pjgslagerhouse.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to