High Fives with … The Homeless Gospel Choir

We spoke to Derek Zanetti about This Land Is Your Landfill, punk and more

The Homeless Gospel Choir, has just recently announced a brand new full-length record, This Land Is Your Landfill, due out 24 April 2020 on Hassle Records.

You can get a taste of this new album with Young and in Love a blast of fuzzed-out, ’90s-inflected guitars and roaring bass that finds Zanetti paying tribute to the freedom that can come from artistic expression. The song reaches an anthemic conclusion with a triumphant refrain and vocal contributions from Zanetti’s fellow musicians.

We had a chat to Derek Zanetti about the new record, punk and what 2020 has in store.

Tell us a little bit more about your upcoming new record This Land Is Your Landfill?

This Land is your Landfill is a punk rock record about how every day feels like the end of the world. Being a human being is difficult and complicated! We are under constant bombardment of hyper politicized adverts telling you how to look and feel and think and vote, and pray and love. Social media (the super glue that is supposed to bind us together) has made us feel more lonely and more isolated than ever. The mere appearance of friendship, belonging, and adventure multiplied by the ferocious power of comparison culture has created a false representation of community. People are spellbound by the glittery lives of internet avatars, yet are paralyzed by their own fear of being inadequate to actually engage with other human beings.

There is an ocean of plastic trash that’s raging inside my head. I try to write songs about the beach and romance and having a nice drink on the patio, but honestly when I close my eyes all I see is an ongoing 24-hour news cycle of all the worst tragedies one can imagine. Terrorist attack in Paris AGAIN, president Trump advocating for migrant child prisons along our southern border, racism and bigotry are on the rise. Politicians using their religion to marginalize and oppress the most vulnerable and hurt among us.

I wanted to write a record about what it feels like to see this tragic manic meltdown happening all around you, and how to still surf the waves of plastic trash without letting the waves eat you alive too.

The album title sounds like a play on the American folk song “This land is your land” which is all about all kinds of people coming together – is the wordplay a nod to the current political situation in the US?

I thought it would be funny as someone who has played acoustic protest songs for the last 10 years to write a loud fast punk rock record and give a look back to Woody Guthrie. And YES its a look into the current political landscape worldwide. It seems the corporate interests far out way the interests of the people. That profits have swung the scale in a big way to side with investors and boards of directors and have left the health and wellness of the people as a secondary thought only after how they can commodify every square inch of everything.

Its a trash heap, about to be a burning trash heap.

From what we’ve heard there’s also a huge personal influence on the new record – can you tell us a little more about this?

While I was on tour supporting Frank Turner in 2018 my Father passed away of a heart attack, while I was halfway through the tour. I was home on a 10-day break when it happened so I was fortunate to be close to my family, during that time. Now to be fair, my father and I weren’t close, but his absence took a giant toll on me knowing how difficult it was for my mom and sisters. After his death, my mother grew very ill and I decided to stay home and be with her as long as she needed. So needless to say I had a lot of downtime. We would go out to the diner on Sunday mornings, go to a fancy coffee shop, we gave her her own room to sleep over anytime she wanted (which was often) and we tried to be a family for the first time in a really long time. It felt nice to be able to give my mom a break and let her just rest and be. During this time I would sit in my room for hours and hours playing the guitar thing to write sad slow country-sounding songs, about death, or having a sick mother, but no matter how hard I tried, all I could hear where these weird loud chaotic guitar parts, and drums, and bass, and giant gang vocals of angelic choruses.

It had been a long time since I was in a band, but I knew that if I wanted to be true and honest about my feelings and about the music that I was hearing, I knew I had to do it with a band.

Luckily for me, my friends are some of the best musicians and songwriters I know, so I feel like I hit the lottery.

How has your sound evolved since Normal? Was the writing process different from before?

It was worlds different. I wrote these songs with Matt Miller (Endless Mike And The Beagle Club/ wing nut dishwashers union) with the expressed intent of being in a band together. He lives in Harrisburg PA, about 3 hours east of me, so we would rotate where we would practice twice a month and write and record and edit, and rewrite and pick apart and work on songs. It was awesome getting to build something so wonderful with someone you trust. Matt has played on some of my favorite bands to ever come out of Pennsylvania, and I was so thrilled to hear he was on board to make this record with me. Luckily for us, we had Chris Number 2 (Anti-Flag) at the helm of production, and he pushed and pulled us to make the best sounds and parts and riffs. I was a magical feeling to be in that room and hearing for the first time with others what I’ve been hearing in my head.

It’s often lonely being up on those big stages all by myself with just me and my guitar. It feels and looks and sounds so much better with a full band arrangement.

What are you looking forward to most playing these tracks live in the upcoming US tour?

I’m excited on two fronts…

1 – I’ve been teasing this record and these new songs for months and I’m just absolutely tickled to play them live for our loyal listeners. It’s a new thing. It’s a different thing, that you’ve ever heard from THGC. But I think its the best version of anything I’ve ever done or put out, so I’m really looking forward to watching people’s reactions.

2 – I’m excited to play in from of all new people. the best thing about doing support gigs is that you mostly play in front of all new faces. I will be very excited to hear what strangers think about these songs, and see if we can’t win a few of them over.

When you do go on tour, what are the three most important things you cannot tour without?

A spare phone charge. I bring a pile of new socks and underwear and organic peppermint oil (for my sinuses).

You’ve always been quite outspoken about punk and how it’s such a great place for acceptance and no one judging anyone else – do you think punk and all it stands for has become more important in recent years?

I think people are in search of a deep human connection. I think we are yearning to be heard and seen and known. The whole world seems to be a high school lunch table popularity contest, with gatekeepers and bullies and social hierarchy. I think punk rock should be different. I think people are sick and tired of pretending and posing to be something that they aren’t. Hopefully, punk rock gets to be this gathering place of all different people from all different backgrounds, to come together and welcome those who need a place to be. Where we together can work towards creating platforms of egalitarianism, where we fight the evils of this world and say NO to sexism, racism, and homophobia, where we can comfort those who have been forgotten and hurt and abused, and give them a family that they can belong to without fear of rejection. Or else punk rock is no different than being a Republican or a Catholic.

What else can we expect from you in 2020? Will we see you in the UK?

In the words of the great JOE STRUMMER- ” the future is unwritten”. We are hopeful for many amazing shows in 2020 and if I was a gambler I’d bet on seeing THGC in Europe before too long!