When Derek Zanetti’s dad died in 2018, he assumed it would be easy to write slow, sad acoustic songs.
“But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t get myself to write anything sad,” says Zanetti, who releases music under the moniker The Homeless Gospel Choir. “I was like, ‘My dad just died, my mom is sick and in the hospital, my life is going downhill. It should be super easy to write a sad country song.’ But I couldn’t get one note of it out. All I could think about was super loud, crazy, and chaotic noise-punk. And that’s the only thing that I could get to come out.”
Unsure of what to do with the blaring jumble in his head, Zanetti turned to his friend and fellow A-F Records member Matt Miller of Endless Mike and the Beagle Club.
“When I tried to explain [my situation] to [Miller], he was able to speak the language pretty well,” says Zanetti. “When we got together, [the album] came together creatively like peas and carrots. I haven’t been able to write a sad song since then.”
The album Zanetti is referring to is This Land Is Your Landfill, which debuted on April 24 on A-F Records in North America. And unlike Zanetti's previous albums, This Land Is Your Landfill is a boisterous, politically charged, full-band record that captures The Homeless Gospel Choir as the punk rock family it was always meant to be.
“The songs that I made for this record are louder in nature, and I thought it wouldn’t be fair of me to put out a record this way and then play it by myself on an acoustic,” says Zanetti. Up until This Land Is Your Landfill, The Homeless Gospel Choir was a solo project. Zanetti wrote, recorded, and toured himself, making friends in the punk world as he toured— friends who he later called upon to contribute to the album.
Produced by Anti-Flag’s Chris No. 2, the album features a remarkable mix of punk rock collaborators. In addition to Miller, there's Maura Weaver (Mixtapes, Ogikubo Station) who joins Zanetti during live performances when scheduling allows. Megan Schroer (Boys, Kitty Kat Fan Club) played bass for the record and “... sang all the beautiful harmonies you hear,” says Zanetti, as did Steve Soboslai of Punchline.
“The band The Interrupters had a day off in Pittsburgh, they were on tour with Dropkick Murphys and Rancid, I think. And we asked Billy [Kottage] to come play trombone on the album,” says Zanetti. “We hit it off immediately and became great pals.”
There’s also Craig Luckman (Small Pollen, Belly Boys) and Rick Steff (Lucero), who lives in Memphis. Steff played accordion and organ for the album.
“I thought it would be more difficult than it was to get other people involved,” says Zanetti. “Everyone I asked to be in the band were my first picks. I showed them the songs that [Miller] and I wrote, and they were all in. I was honestly expecting a little bit more resistance.”
With a caravan of musicians involved, This Land Is Your Landfill bolsters Zanetti’s witty yet unabashedly earnest songwriting with a wall of distorted guitars and pounding drums.
“I think even sad music should be a celebration of some sort, and I couldn’t find a way to celebrate these songs until I brought other people along,” Zanetti says. “That’s when I felt that joyous feeling. I felt stronger about the feelings I was having instead of ashamed.”
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Derek Zanetti of The Homeless Gospel Choir
Along with coming to terms with his emotions, Zanetti learned more about others while creating the album. Growing up, Zanetti was raised in an Evangelical Christian atmosphere in which they weren’t allowed to watch movies or listen to music.
“I never really learned about the outside world, I didn’t know how it all worked,” he says. “Punk rock has given me my first real-world experience about what it’s like to be kind and what it’s like to do things with a purpose. I’ve had a chance to understand how other people operate, live, and function. And through that, I think I’ve grown as a person and I think my songs have grown too.”
Zanetti sees two songs in This Land Is Your Landfill, “Lest We Forget” and “Social Real Estate,” as markers of that growth.
“They just sound so different from anything else I’ve ever made,” he says. “I was able to summon bravely to create something bold and unique like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Hopefully, the art that we create refers back to something that lives inside of our hearts. Hopefully, whenever other people hear the music or songs, something resonates out of their hearts that causes them to see the world differently, or to see their neighbor differently, or to consume things differently. Hopefully, This Land Is Your Landfill a conversation starter.
“Hopefully as we all continue to move on and meet new people, those experiences can change us for the better, and we can learn what it’s like to be somebody different from ourselves and show compassion, and mercy, and kindness towards people different from you.”