Warren Defever (His Name Is Alive) and Dustin Krcatovich Bury the Hatchet

The two hash out a 2019 record review, their Michigan upbringings, and more.

Dustin Krcatovich is a Michigan-based ambient artist who performs as Golden Feelings, as well as a music writer; Warren Defever, a fellow Michigan native, fronts the experimental rock band His Name Is Alive. In 2019, Dustin wrote a review of HNIA’s record All The Mirrors In The House, in which he made the claim that its premise — that it is a collection of tracks recorded when Warren was a pre-teen — was probably a lie. The review ignited what was ultimately a lighthearted Twitter beef. In light of the release of Golden Feelings’ self-titled record (out today on Impermanent Records), the two finally hashed it out in their conversation below.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Dustin Krcatovich: I contracted permanent tinnitus doing sound for Bill Orcutt — it was Bill Orcutt and Sir Richard Bishop. And you asked if I had ever talked to Bill about it.

Warren Defever: Yeah, I think they would want to know.

Dustin: I didn’t let them know directly, but I reviewed one of his albums with Chris Corsano for The Quietus, and I talked about it there. I kind of vented my spleen there. So what I’m getting at, Warren, is this is a form of cowardice on my part. This is my venue for talking out my feelings. 

Warren: The reviews. 

Dustin: Yeah.

Warren: Sometimes that’s where you ask the tough questions.

Dustin: That’s right. Let’s talk about that, since we’re face-to-face now.

Warren: I made an album a few years ago called Tecuciztecatl, and it’s about twins, twin theory, different developmental challenges in the womb that twins face — one is often strangling the other one — the history of twins in different cultures around the world. Sometimes one is always considered a demon, other people think it’s a blessing. Certain religions believe that the souls implanted at conception, but then if there’s a twin, do they share a soul, or does just one twin have a soul? You know, a lot of questions. 

But one of the themes of the album was feeling that you may have had a twin, but you probably murdered them, maybe in the womb. And we had a debate within the group, when it came time to release the album and write a press release, was I going to claim that I had those feelings? Did I have a twin? Did I feel like I had a twin, when in reality, I had overheard someone else saying they always felt like they had a twin? I thought, “Well, it would be nice if this was a more personal statement coming from me. That would be very convenient.” And everybody said, “No, don’t do it. Don’t release an album that is basically a lie. It would take away from all the work you actually put into it if you just did that one small twist.” It’s all written from the first person perspective, though, and I did explore all those feelings, but I personally didn’t have them. So it was interesting when I released an album, All The Mirrors In The House, where there had been some debate about whether or not this was, in fact, all lies. [Laughs.] 

Dustin: Well, two things that are interesting about how those play together: First of all, my mom is an identical twin, and I wonder which one of them is the evil one. 

Warren: If you know identical twins, it’s pretty clear that one is always the evil. It’s the first thing you notice about them.

Dustin: Yeah. Second twin related thing, that plays more directly into this line of conversation, is that a couple of days after my review came out — that was basically 90% me accusing you of being a liar — Shelley Salant, who helped you compile—

Warren: She transferred all the tapes. She went through, notated every crappy Bob Dylan cover where I added an extra harmonica — just really ridiculous things. U2 covers. Just horrible, unlistenable garbage. That is the thing that prevented me from going through the tapes myself. The lows were too low. And she’d come up with a notational system to mark songs that were either new age, cosmic, or at least instrumental or had lots of echo. Those were the four distinctions, and without her, I literally couldn’t have done it. It was too painful.

Dustin: She messaged me a couple of days after that review came out, and she was kind of mad that I would even, after all the work that she had done herself, insinuate that it could possibly not be true, not be real.

Warren: Right.

Dustin: Also a twin, Shelley.

Warren: Exactly. So, I’ve lied about a lot of things over the years. I really have. I don’t know why, it just comes easy to me. Ask me about something I don’t know anything about. I will give you an answer. You know, San Francisco fire in 1918 — I’ll tell you how many people died, how long it took them to put it out. Just whatever it is, I’m uncomfortable saying “I don’t know.” So there was an article in a Detroit paper 20 years ago called “His Name is a Liar.” And the writer had gone through tons of different interviews I did and just pointed out huge factual lies that I had put out there and sort of compiled them all into one convenient document. So I’m used to it. But the hard part is getting my friends to support me in the lies. And I’ve stopped asking them.

Dustin: Right, so unless you happen to luck into a co-conspirator, you’re just kind of on your own keeping your fingers crossed that you can keep it afloat. 

Warren: Yeah. 

Dustin: When I told Fred Thomas the other day that we were doing this, he said that when he toured with you, he found out later that people for years didn’t believe a word he was saying because he toured with you. [Laughs.] 

Warren: It rubs off. You know, if you’re creative, if you have a good idea, you’re going to say a thing like — when I was driving here today, this morning, I saw a bear by the side of the freeway and he flipped me off while I was driving. I couldn’t believe it.

Dustin:  It’s crazy how that happens in Michigan. People don’t talk about the bears.

Warren: A lot of bears. Well, the suburbs are encroaching on their their area, so they’re starting to come back into the cities.

Dustin: From whence they came. People don’t talk about that either.

Warren: It’s tough here, especially in the suburbs, because of the wildlife.

Dustin: I saw five badgers in my backyard this morning.

Warren: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a badger. I would love to see a badger.

Dustin: I thought I saw a badger, but it was just a groundhog, which I don’t really know what the difference is between the two.

Warren: Totally different. A groundhog is cute, and whatever. A badger will kill you. Badger will take you out.

Dustin: One part reptile, too.

Warren: I don’t know if that’s true. [Laughs.] That’s a lie. 

Dustin: I grew up in a small town in Michigan, so to me, that kind of playful lying makes total sense. I mean, I made up a girlfriend when I was in ninth grade. You know, who just lived the next town over.

Warren: That’s a classic.

Dustin: Yeah. Not the first person or the last person to do that. But you have a sleepy existence, you are into creative things and haven’t really found your group of people with whom you share those interests — I think it makes total sense to just make up a whole second life.

Warren: It starts snowing in October, and sometimes it’s still snowing in May. That’s six months of darkness. Gray skies, rain, snow, cold horribleness. Everybody here is crazy. Everybody here should just move. It’s unhealthy.

Dustin: I was texting with a friend yesterday about our health regimens — I’m from Michigan, she’s not, but she’s lived here for probably 20 years. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was exercising every day, doing yoga every day, meditating, riding a bike. And that ended almost immediately after moving back, and then definitely after the first winter.

Warren: If we were in Costa Rica right now, it would be very different. We’d be at the beach drinking coconut juice out of half a coconut. No one’s raising their fists at the sky saying, “What did I do?” I’m going to Costa Rica.

Dustin: That’s way smarter. I was going to retire in Finland, which is like the opposite.

Warren: You have Stockholm syndrome, and you’re actually going towards the pain. Walk away from the pain.

Dustin: I think you’re right. So, Livonia—

Warren: It’s six-by-six square miles. The streets are all laid out in the grid. When I was in high school, it was 99.9-something percent white. It was not a multicultural community. It’s one of the worst places a person could ever be. I think of it as a place where a city should be, but there isn’t. It’s like the absence of life. John Sinclair had a quote about Livonia, and it was, “I’d rather go back to jail than go to Livonia.” I’m sure it’s great now, but my experience there was purely negative.

Dustin: When did you get out of Livonia?

Warren: In 2010 or 2011. I was the last person left. I looked around, everybody was gone. All my friends, everybody I knew.

Dustin: I’ve never seen so many houses look identical.

Warren: Oh, it’s amazing. When they make movies where they’re making fun of suburbia, that’s the thing they’re making fun of. And it’s worse than you can imagine. Because let’s say every single house on your street hires the same lawn company to spray the poison chemicals on the lawn, so they’re all the same shade of green. But you choose not to because you don’t like the poison chemicals in your garden, so you use a natural thing and then you’re also just plucking out the weeds yourself manually. Well, you get letters from the other people in the neighborhood, anonymous letters, pointing out that your grass is the wrong color. It’s hard. But eventually they figured out they could complain to the city and then the city would send a fine.

Dustin: Wow. And I’m not I’m not here to disparage Michigan — I grew up here. 

Warren: Oh, it’s all great, except for those six square miles.

Dustin: I grew up in Otsego.

Warren: Oh, that’s north of the meth belt.

Dustin: Otsego is less than 3,000 people. It’s between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Of those 3,000 people, 2,878 of them are on crystal meth right now, actually. 

Warren: You’re lucky you got out.

Dustin: Yeah, I feel that way. I got out a a week before I graduated high school.

Warren: The timing is a little suspicious.

Dustin: My sister had an apartment that I could stay in for the summer, and I had a job at a multiplex in Kalamazoo. It was heavenly. Everybody who worked there was in a band, or pretended to be in a band, or pretended that they were going to be a filmmaker. Those are my people.

Warren: Kalamazoo is like an oasis.

Dustin: Yeah. Especially when you don’t have anything to compare it to. It might as well be New York. It might as well be Seattle or whatever, Paris. Kalamazoo is basically Paris.

Warren: Right. They call it the Paris of the Southern Peninsula. So, we had named our first album Livonia, and it didn’t occur to me that because of the really beautiful art that 4AD would put together for it — Vaughan Oliver did this really beautiful cover — that people would think Livonia was a positive thing, and they associate it with positive feelings. And to me, it was purely negative. It was named after my torturer. I thought I would put it out there and then through some sort of phase cancellation, I would be free of it, you know, and I was not free of it. And what’s weird now is, I look back, and I did lie when people asked me about it. I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, there’s beautiful rolling hills, there’s clubs where we read books in the park and we trade leaves and we put them in books and we trade the books and you collect other people’s leaves. It’s gone back for a couple hundred years now and…” It’s just weird, making it seem a little more idyllic than it was. 

And then when I see pictures or videos of shows we had done, I still lived with my parents. I was 21, I was still a kid. Maybe not legally, but my mom was buying the clothes for me that I wore. And if I said, “Hey, we’re doing a photo shoot for an album,” she would say, “I think you should wear this shirt.” So if there’s a show, I’m usually wearing a shirt that my mom bought for me at T.J.Maxx. I think a lot of bands, you just assume their mom didn’t pick out their clothes for them. And there was that Velvet Underground documentary that came out last year, and there was something really interesting in it that I never had thought of before, that Maureen Tucker lived with her parents most of the time she was doing The Velvet Underground. And so she would sometimes stay over with someone else if the show went too late, but mostly she would go back home to her parents. And they had stories like, “Yeah, she was telling us about all this crazy stuff she saw…” I hadn’t really heard of other people doing that. So it was just really me and Maureen Tucker. [Laughs.] 

Dustin: [Laughs.] I think in retrospect, it probably would have been better, up through age maybe 26 or so, if my mom had bought my clothes for me.

Warren: I’m not embarrassed by it. I mean, I’m embarrassed on a certain level, but I didn’t pick out those clothes. It’s not my fault. Blame my mom. And you’re not gonna blame my mom, so we’re good!

Dustin: I mean, poverty picked out my clothes for most of my 20s, so.

Warren: Well, that was the other thing. I might have mentioned this in the liner notes to one of the albums, but once a year, the other ladies in the neighborhood would grab old clothes from their kids, put it in a garbage bag and drop it on our porch. We weren’t the richest people in Livonia. We weren’t the poorest, but I’m thinking now as I look back, we were one of the more poor people, at least on our street. So I was often wearing clothes from 10, 15 years before. I did have bell bottom jeans with a peace sign patch, an American flag patch in the ‘80s. They were legit hand-me-downs from my hippie neighbors kids’. That never worked out.

Dustin: That probably worked out in the long run — I feel like the positive thing about never being able to fit in is that eventually, you find a way to make that work, if not to your advantage, at least to… 

Warren: Well, you know, I’ve tried to make it to my advantage and tried to really put it out there, and then writers just question the whole thing, whether or not it’s even legit. It’s weird. 

Dustin: [Laughs.] 

Warren: I just I felt like, OK, we’re going to make the best of this home tapes, these experiences I had playing polkas and waltzes with my grandfather at trailer parks and fiddle contests. I’m going to be honest, I’m going to put it all out there. And then immediately shot down by one of the more legit publications in the world, The Quietus.

Dustin: It was a positive review!

Warren: I did consider that people would question it when the liner notes said, “This might be fake.” 

Dustin: It’s just so good, and I know that it’s because of many hours of Shelly’s careful curation…

Warren: If I was going to lie about it, it would be better. A lot of times, the cassettes would just be labeled, you know, “guitar echo” — the best song on that tape is called “Guitar Echo.” You wouldn’t have those kind of utilitarian titles if you were trying to impress somebody.

Dustin: Yeah.

Warren: There’s one song called “From the Night Tape.” Well, it’s a song on a tape that was just labeled “night tape.” Just to be clear where these things are coming from.

Dustin: It’s interesting that Shelley ended up working working on those. And just to clarify, Shelley Salant has played various instruments in the band Tyvek. She does a really wonderful solo endeavor called Shells that she’s been doing for about 10 years or so. But she had this habit of recording tapes and completely forgetting that she recorded them. And she would put them out like three years later and be like, “Oh yeah, I think I did this.”

Warren: Shelley’s first tape, in the notes it says, “I found this in this cassette in my four-track, I’m pretty sure it’s me, I honestly can’t remember.” And once she put out the tape, I was like, “You gotta do a show.” And she was like, “No, I can’t do a show.” She’d never played solo before. And so her first show was at Noise Camp. And I don’t know if I forgot the name on the tape or ignored it, but on the poster it said Shells.

Dustin: She did a synth tape that she also wasn’t 100% certain that she recorded called Water Damage.

Warren: One of her roommates is probably really great.

Dustin: [Laughs.] And mad. You alluded to your upbringing playing music with your grandfather, playing polka.

Warren: For him, he believed music died in 1953 with Hank Williams. That was the end of music. He would refer to the Beatles as “yeah yeah music.” Rock & roll music — he seemed to have some patience for Elvis Presley or some of the artists from the ‘50s. We could sometimes would do “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for him, that was modern. He had a friend that wasn’t an Elvis impersonator, but definitely looked like Elvis — had the hair. He would come out and he would sometimes sing a couple of songs, and I was was like, Whoa, these are different. This is cool. Because I was trapped in this weird time warp, and I’d hear oldies radio like, This is perfect. This is so cool. So early on, rockabilly did make a lot of sense to me.

Dustin: But how do you think you got from that point to what the public has heard?

Warren: There’s a direct correlation between having to play folk music, country, and Western — two different things — polkas, waltzes when your kid is, it ruins your ability to have friends and communicate with people your same age. The concept of what music was on the radio was just so foreign to me. I was basically forever alienated from society. So my life was ruined since my earliest memory of someone throwing an accordion at me and then laughing at me while I tried to play it because it was too big. [Laughs.] So sad. It’s actually not a leap to imagine someone sitting at home trying to figure out how to record, having a pair of headphones, having a tape deck, having a microphone and just trying to figure out how these things work together, since they had no friends and couldn’t relate to anybody.

Dustin: Right. I got into music initially because when I was 12, I made friends with a bunch of 20-something underground cartoonists. 

Warren: Wow. That is a bad crowd. 

Dustin: A bunch of creeps.

Warren: Yeah. And the cartoonists know they’re creeps.

Dustin: Yeah. And especially, you know, it’s the early, early to mid-’90s, it was a particularly creepy time. Don’t get me wrong, many of these people, I’m still friends with and they’re very wonderful people. But definitely there was one incident where I was talking with my one other friend who could navigate this world with me, and saying something about sneaking a look at a Playboy at a party store. And one of the cartoonists, who was probably 29 at the time, was like, “Don’t fuck around with that. Just go straight to Hustler.”

Warren: Wow.

Dustin: [Laughs.] I was 12 years old. And none of the people I knew, luckily, were like Mike Diana or Jim Goad or whatever. But, you know, that spirit of transgression, as it were, was alive and well. 

Warren: I like it when you put it like that.

Dustin: It sounds nice, right? It sounds a lot more tender than, you know, jokes about incest or whatever. 

Warren: So, if you’re listening to rockabilly, if you listen to Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, The Sun Sessions — I can’t hear them without focusing on the sheer amount of echo and reverb on them. Just crazy overload. It is a cartoon music, it’s very unnatural sounding, very artificial sounding. And it was when Purple Rain came out, I remember realizing that I could recognize I was hearing effects. “That is a pedal, that is echo, that is a flanger, that’s a phaser.” And I wanted to do that. I appreciated it. But does that have to come from rockabilly? No. It can come from dub. It can come from reggae. It’s built into certain kinds of music.

Dustin: Yeah. At a certain point for some people, the effects become the biggest part of the draw.

Warren: That’s where we’re at now, where the plug in and the effect in the computer is so much better than the music that the people are playing. Which is totally fine.

Dustin: Yeah, no judgment. But if you were to take the effects off — and I’m certainly not going to name any names — of a current, ostensibly guitar pop group, some of it might be sub-Shaggs level.

Warren: You’re making them sound good again.

Dustin: [Laughs.] Well, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Warren: I’m so sorry. We can do a fact checking next time. 

Dustin: I’m going to go in and insert more lies. There’s not nearly enough half-truths and misdirection here.

Golden Feelings is the one-person band of Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Dustin Krcatovich. The alias is also used for Dustin’s myriad side hustles. Aside from his music, Dustin is a graphic designer and illustrator whose work has graced the pages (physical and/or digital) of Esquire, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Portland Mercury, The Funny Times, and The Ann Arbor Paper. Dustin is also a music, film, and culture writer of middling renown and the founder of the small friends-and-family record label Impermanent Records.