We’ve been following the adventures of Warren Defever and his enigmatic project His Name Is Alive for nigh on three decades. Last year, he released the first in a trilogy of vinyl-only archival recordings from his formative years, All The Mirrors In The House. Compiled together, the formed a fantastic blast of dark, occasionally sorrowful, and very beautiful music. He’s back with volume two, the equally beautiful Return To Never, which follows along in the same manner. But we noticed something interesting. One of the songs, “Piano V,” felt quite similar to a song we’ve heard many times by The Cocteau Twins. A quick tweet to Defever verified his fandom, and we had a fun little chat with him, this time talking about his inspirations.
Take a listen to the song below, and if you like it–and why wouldn’t you–purchase it. It’s out today via Disciplines.
You’ll be glad you did.
Purchase His Name Is Alive Return To Never: Bandcamp
What I like about “Piano V” when I heard it was it instantly reminded me of a song by your former label mates, Cocteau Twins—specifically, the song “Oomingmak.” It made me remember the story of “Universal Frequencies” and you going into the studio to recreate “Good Vibrations” by memory. Then I recalled the cassette you released last year that had you playing along to the hits on the radio. As a budding young musician, was that your method? To try and recreate songs you liked, and in the process learning about production and arrangement?
It was one of my methods, yes. Some of the most embarrassing tapes rediscovered during the transfer and archiving process was me trying to subtly add my own additional harmonica and guitar to classic recordings by Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker. Although the intent was never to fool anybody or trick an unsuspecting listener I did try very hard to come up with believable and accurate sounds and performances. There is a song on the album that is scheduled to follow Return To Never that is absolutely a tribute or homage to the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and his guitar tone but on this track, “Piano V,” the sound is the result of experimenting with echo and reverse echo and double reverse echo on a backwards tape of piano.
From what I gather, these recordings stem largely from the mid-80s, and yet they carry the influence of the label you’d soon call your home, 4AD Records. Do you remember where/how you learned of the label? Do you remember what the first 4AD release was that you heard or owned?
The first 4AD release I heard was the Aikea-Guinea 12″ single by the Cocteau Twins, which I bought simply as a result of thinking the cover design was the most beautiful record sleeve I had seen. The textured and patterned design was really unusual for the time. I remember playing it over and over again. The song has a very echoey guitar sound. It really stuck with me. From there I sought out more Cocteau Twins records, which also led to other 4AD releases as well. My two favorites will always be Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares and Sleeps With The Fishes by Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook.
The story of your correspondence with Ivo and you sending him tapes and him replying is quite well known. What kind of advice did he give you? What sort of ideas did he suggest? How much credit would you give him in helping form the initial HNIA sound? Will any of those recordings see release as part of this archival trilogy?
At the time I ignored most of his advice, and I look back now and think about the opportunities I missed out on. I don’t want to reveal too much about our discussions but he was the head of a very successful world famous company giving advice to a teenager who was barely able to make a sandwich. His encouragement and support really did help to recognize that this music was something worth doing and not just a complete waste of time. I can’t really credit any one thing for the sound, it comes from so many sources but without his interest I doubt I would’ve continued working on music. The third volume in the series will include some of the recordings that i had initially sent to Ivo
Ivo clearly thought highly of you—after all, he did dedicate the This Mortal Coil 1983-1991 box set to you. What are your thoughts of him? Does he still follow your creative journey?
Ivo and Vaughan Oliver were heroes who inspired me since I was a teenager who then became my lifelong friends, both in their unique ways. It was an honor to be able to work with them for as long as I did and I learned so much from them. I still send music to Ivo regularly.