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His Name Is Alive

The ever-changing project of multi-instrumentalist/producer Warren Defever, His Name Is Alive have explored a veritable record store's worth of music during their decades-spanning career. In the early '90s, they helped define the sound of the arty indie label 4AD with the experimental dream pop of albums such as 1991's Home Is in Your Head and 1993's Mouth by Mouth. As time went on, their rotating lineup mirrored their shifting sounds. Defever and company surveyed sunny, Beach Boys-tinged pop on 1996's Stars on ESP just as deftly as they channeled gospel and R&B on 2001's Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth. A few years later, they fused their dream pop roots with African and Asian elements on 2007's Xmmer. His Name Is Alive entered a particularly creative period in the 2010s, combining the ambitious and heavy sounds of prog and metal with ethereal vocals on the concept albums Tecuciztecatl (2014) and Patterns of Light (2016). Later in the decade and into the 2020s, Defever revisited early ambient recordings on collections such as 2019's All the Mirrors in the House (Early Recordings 1979-1986) and reworked them on mixtapes including 2020's Ghost Tape EXP. Defever began playing music at an early age. By age ten, he was recording environmental sounds -- as well as his brother's record collection -- and turning them into ambient pieces that also incorporated piano and guitar. He started working as His Name Is Alive in 1985 while he was still in high school. Taking the project's name from his history class notes, he recorded on a four-track in his basement with vocalist Angie Carozzo. While at college, Defever met singer Karin Oliver, who, along with drummer Damian Lang, completed the band's first lineup. The trio self-released cassettes -- which sported titles like Riotousness, Postrophe, and I Had Sex with God -- that Defever sent to 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, who signed His Name Is Alive in 1989. Watts-Russell and This Mortal Coil's John Fryer remixed the band's recordings, resulting in their 1990 debut album, Livonia, which showcased His Name Is Alive's spectral vocals, poetic lyrics, and textural guitars. On the following year's Home Is in Your Head, the band's lineup expanded to include singers Denise James, Karen Neal, and Melissa Elliott, as well as guitarist Jymn Auge. His Name Is Alive's sound expanded as well, ranging from acoustic ballads to electrifying guitar maelstroms and tape collages. A track from the album, "Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking," appeared on the platinum-selling soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's 1996 film Jerry Maguire. In 1992, His Name Is Alive released the Dirt Eaters EP, which was named for Defever's more rock-oriented group at the time. The band's sound became more wide-ranging on a pair of 1993 albums: King of Sweet, a limited-edition release that combined tape effects, samples, demos, and unreleased songs, and Mouth by Mouth, which added more pop structure -- as well as elements of reggae, noise, jazz, and '60s pop -- resulting in their most accessible and diverse album to date. A new drummer, Trey Many, took over Lang's duties. As Defever's reputation as an innovative producer spread, he lent his skills to bands like Grenadine, a side project of Tsunami's Jenny Toomey and Unrest's Mark Robinson; labelmates including Liquorice (which featured Toomey, Dan Littleton from Ida, and His Name Is Alive's Many) and Tarnation; and other Detroit-area bands like Godzuki and Outrageous Cherry. Defever worked on other projects, including the folky ESP Summer (with former Pale Saint Ian Masters), and the electronic Robot World and Control Panel. He also founded the Time Stereo art collective with a childhood friend, artist/musician Davin Brainard. Some of Time Stereo's projects included films, coloring books, and cassette-only releases from bands like Princess Dragon Mom, the Crash, Godzuki, New Grape, and Noise Camp. Defever's diverse interests influenced His Name Is Alive's next release, 1996's Stars on ESP. Featuring songs written with Outrageous Cherry's Matthew Smith and Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek, among others, the album augmented the band's dream pop with touches of dub, folk, gospel, and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. The following year's Nice Day EP reached to garage rock and '60s R&B for its inspiration, and featured some of the gospel singers from Stars on ESP, including Lovetta Pippen, who was also featured on His Name Is Alive's 1998 album Fort Lake. The LP also marked the first time the band worked with another producer, recording engineer Steve King. Another Livonia native, King had also worked with Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin, and his touch meshed nicely with the album's funk, soul, and classic rock allusions. At this time, Pippen, bassist Chad Gilchrist, and additional drummer Scott Goldstein debuted as part of the band's lineup. Following the release of 1999's compilation Always Stay Sweet, His Name Is Alive became the duo of Defever and Pippen. This incarnation of the band released two R&B-tinged albums: 2001's Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth and the following year's darkly soulful Last Night, the group's final album for 4AD. However, His Name Is Alive found other outlets for their music: Time Stereo released several CDs, such as 2004's ten-disc Cloud Box set, Leaf Club, Brown Rice, and The Detroit River, as well as many digital releases, including the Summer Bird EP and a remastered version of King of Sweet. In 2005, Ypsilanti Records issued the full-length CD-R Summer Bird (unrelated to the EP), and several of the release's tracks appeared (in retitled form) on UFO Catcher, a limited LP released by the German label En/Of. That year, Defever also set up the Silver Mountain imprint, which was distributed by Sony BMG. Late in 2005, His Name Is Alive released the Raindrops Rainbow EP as a teaser for Detrola, which revamped the band's classic dream pop sound and introduced vocalist Andrea Francesca Morici, aka Andy FM (also of Detroit bands the Tranzistors and Sonapanic). Two years later, His Name Is Alive incorporated African and Asian influences into their next full-length, Xmmer. Later in 2007, Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown -- which augmented excerpts from a 2004 tribute concert to the legendary saxophonist with studio tracks -- arrived. In 2010, the band issued a limited-edition ten-disc box set of rare, live, and experimental material that also included a new album, The Eclipse, which was later released on its own. Among the other albums His Name Is Alive released around that time were 2012's Silver Family, a collection of covers of songs that influenced the band, and the following year's Home Is, a reimagining of Home Is in Your Head featuring violinist Jean Cook. The group returned in 2014 with the more widely distributed Tecuciztecatl, a rock opera influenced by prog rock, bubblegum pop, and Hammer horror movie soundtracks that arrived on His Name Is Alive's own London London imprint. They further developed this hard psych-pop sound with 2016's Patterns of Light, which was inspired by a trip to the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. A digital, limited-edition version of the album included Black Wings, a collection of demos, outtakes, alternate mixes, and covers; the band released it on their own in 2017, and Happy Happy Birthday to Me issued it on vinyl in 2018. His Name Is Alive kicked off a series of archival releases in 2019 with All the Mirrors in the House (Early Recordings 1979-1986), a collection of Defever's earliest atmospheric pieces that Disciples released in June. That September, the label delivered 6teen OK, a companion mixtape that incorporated radio broadcasts and feedback into its vintage recordings. In February 2020, the next volume of the series, Return to Never (Home Recordings 1979-1986, Vol. 2), appeared and offered a darker, noisier glimpse of Defever's musical roots. That August, a pair of companion mixtapes, Return Versions and Versions Returned, featured dubby reworkings of Return to Never tracks that included contributions from Washington, D.C.'s experimental hip-hop duo Model Home. That December marked the release of Ghost Tape EXP, a mixtape of reworked pieces that appeared on February 2021's Hope Is a Candle (Home Recordings 1985-1990), the final installment of the series. All the volumes appeared on the box set A Silver Thread: Home Recordings 1979-1990, which also included a selection of tracks from the mixtapes.
© Heather Phares /TiVo
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