On Frank Turner’s UK Tour in May we headed over to Hull and caught up with opening act and all round lovely man Derek Zanetti, aka The Homeless Gospel Choir to talk punk rock and touring.
Hello Derek! How’re you?
I’m doing so well. It’s been such a nice, beautiful day here in Hull. We got everything loaded in and now I’m just enjoying the weather. It’s a smash!
Great! How’s the tour been so far? Am I right in saying these are your biggest UK shows to date?
Yes, they have been and they’ve been so wonderful. To be received so kindly and for everyone to be so generous and friendly is great. You’d think by playing in the o2 Academies you’d miss that intimacy that I like to have so much when I play music, but everybody’s just been so kind and thoughtful and they’ve really made me feel at home. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
As you’ve just said, you do prefer the smaller shows that are more intimate and you can connect with the audience, how do you bridge that gap when you’re playing rooms this size?
Well, I think that if you just go up there and are honest and transparent about what you do, people will see that. I do that immediately. I go onstage and say “Hi, I’m Derek and I’m from Pittsburgh. This music is called The Homeless Gospel Choir, let’s be new friends!” Stomp out the bullshit as quick as possible. Sure, it’s different to playing in smaller clubs, but the shows have been going really well.
How do these shows compare with the other UK shows that you’ve done in the past few years? The first time I saw you play was with Anti Flag, to a very punk rock audience, then again with Frank Iero where the crowd was much younger, and now Frank Turner who has picked up a much more mainstream audience…
What’s great about Frank Turner is that he has a legacy and background in punk rock, so a lot of those folk still come out to the shows. A lot of people from the Anti Flag shows come out to sing protest songs. Even the Frank Iero fans are coming out and making new friends with the Frank Turner fans. It’s great to see how open the punk rock community is. It doesn’t matter how old you or, what skin colour you have or what your sexual orientation you are, there’s a place for you here. Frank Turner has done a bang up job of making sure that these shows are inclusive. I just get to be an ornament on the tree, and I feel so lucky.
You’re very open onstage and in your lyrics, speaking about politics and mental health, among other things. How important do you think it is for people such as yourself who have the privilege of a platform to use it to put out strong messages like that?
I think it’s probably the most important thing. I think sometimes you look in a magazine at a bunch of skinny people with eye make up and hair styles and they’re all moving the same way and they’re trying to sell you a product, and people feel like they’re being fished for. I think if we’re able to disarm that and prove that we’re all just human beings with feelings, emotions and sadness, and that we all have a history and a past, and we all have visions and dreams that we want to see happen. I think being vulnerable and honest about those kind of things completely disarms and kind of pre-expectations and brings it back to human beings making art and doing things that they care about and having other people participate in that.
You’ve got the Xtra Mile BBQ coming up where you’re sharing the stage with Rob Lynch and Oxygen Thief, two of the best underground acoustic acts in the UK. Typically, you get to play with a lot of cool DIY musicians that people reading this might not be aware of. Who should we be checking out?
My friend Nigel who plays drums for Frank Turner plays as The Sad Song Co. It’s really sad rock n roll music, I think it’s great. There’s a band from back home called Dissidente, they’re a political ska band. They’re doing absolutely wonderful things. I’m a really big fan of another band from back home called Rue, I think they’re putting out some really great rock n roll music. I’m a huge fan of live music, so when I’m at home I’m always out at shows in clubs, and basement shows, DIY punk shows. I like to check it out and see what people are up to, and I’m proud as punch to say that I’m from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and we have a great punk scene!
Speaking of home towns, we’re based in York. I saw on social media that you had a day off there yesterday…
Yeah! It was my first official day off on this whole tour. We went to a BBQ, had some friends around and just had a chance to catch up. I had a show the night before in Cleethorpes. I wanted to play a show in a town that I’d never been to and didn’t know anybody and see how it would go. To my utter shock and surprise, we played this little cafe on the boardwalk and some 80 people came out from nowhere and sang along the whole time!
Sounds like a great day out! Nice weather to spend the day on the beach and then a punk show in the evening!
It was great! I had some Gelato and some fish and chips.
A silly question to end on then, Hollywood calls, they’re making The Homeless Gospel Choir: The Movie and you’re in charge of casting. Who plays you?
I wanna say Zac Effron because he’s almost as good looking as me. I’d probably give it to Dan Smith from the band Listener, he’s does a great impression of me. He has a better moustache than me though, which I hate him for. Other than that, he’s my best pal!
If it’s all about the moustache, why not Nick Offerman?
Yes! Definitely. Nick Offerman can play me in The Homeless Gospel Choir movie!
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m just thankful to be here and I’m thankful that punk rock still matters. I’m thankful that people are committed to creating an egalitarian space free of sexism, free of racism, free of homophobia where young kids can come and belong and feel like they’re part of something and can feel like they can change the world!