Derek Zanetti is anything but normal. As an activist, author, and artist from Pittsburg, Zanetti is unconventional at its best.
To start off the interview, I ask Derek if he had any particular influences when creating The Homeless Gospel Choir’s music. He admits he’s a massive fan of all kind of music, tending to draw influences “from everything from Rage Against the Machine to Billy Bragg. I love The Clash, and Woody Guthrie”.
The Homeless Gospel Choir’s recently released new album, Normal, is packed with politics and personal anecdotes, and hits a chord with everyone. I ask Derek what the inspiration behind the album was.
“Normal is a very personal album for me, referring to my own life experiences with mental health, and loss of friendships” Derek tells me. The personal and politics are heavily also mixed together throughout the album, and Derek admits he used America’s current political landscape as a “musical backdrop”.
“I wanted to draw a line connecting current corruption and how it’s being normalized”
With the Trump administration in power, Derek expresses his concern over the “fear and pain for a lot of non-rich non-white Americans.” The aim of the album was to “start a conversation about how we are to resist. The cover of the album features two puppets – one is the Devil, and the other is the cop, and they’re best friends. I wanted to draw a line connecting current corruption and how it’s being normalized.”
As an author as well as a musician, I ask Derek about the two books he’s written, Existentialism: The Musical and Remembering Everything. Similar to his album, they’re filled exploring the topic of mental health and personal struggle. “Both of those books where written in response and in regards to my own mental health journey,” he says. “I knew that something was off in my head, I was ashamed to admit it or talk to friends about it. But once I was able to take control of my own life, get diagnosed, get treatment, find a support system, go to therapy, I felt more comfortable talking it out with people”.
“DON’T MUCK ABOUT! ASK FOR HELP!”
In the UK and the US, mental health is a big issue. The topic is considered controversial and is not talked about enough. At the University of Nottingham, we encourage students to seek help if they are struggling with a mental health issue. I ask Derek if he has any advice for students going through a tough time. “DON’T MUCK ABOUT! ASK FOR HELP!” he emphasises. “Don’t wait until tomorrow, don’t wait because you think it’s gonna get better or go away. DO IT NOW! Surround yourself with people who are going to help you grow and get better, and cut out the bullshit people in your life.”
Moving to a lighter topic, The Homeless Gospel Choir is supporting Frank Turner on a huge UK tour. With around 19 tour dates, both artists will be heading all over the UK. Having visited the UK before with Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance), I ask Derek if he’s excited to come back.
“I’m so thrilled to come back to the UK. Frank Turner has always been so kind and encouraging to me and my music. I’m excited for all the shows and meeting loads of new friends.”
“I love touring in the UK. The people here are so open and kind and excited about new music. The support and community that I’ve been able to establish here in the UK has been glorious. I’m so thankful.”
With the interview drawing to a close, I ask Derek if we can expect anything in the near future from The Homeless Gospel Choir. “Well, after the UK tour, I’ll be accompanying Frank Turner on his USA tour” he explains. “I’m always up to something. Keep your ears and eyes open!”.
The Homeless Gospel Choir’s latest album, Normal, is out now.
Zoya Raza Sheikh