INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Amherst Drive is a musical project that sees experimental multi-instrumentalist Derek Kortepeter using his influence of growing up with the Southern California punk scene, as well as personal criticism of past and present US administrations for their conducts both at home and abroad, to create a unique sound true to his roots.
Having brought out a debut EP, ‘For Freedom and Democracy’, in January, Derek spoke to me about how he put it together, the reaction it has been getting, and why he thinks Barack Obama should be portrayed in the same negative light as Donald Trump and George W. Bush.
How did the initial idea for Amherst Drive come about?
I wanted to find a new direction for my music career. I decided to take a break from the experimental music I was creating under my name to go back to my roots in the world of punk rock.
Punk was the first genre to get me into music as a whole, especially growing up in the 1990’s in Southern California, as skate punk and ska-punk were in their strongest form as movements, so I gravitated towards it.
From where did the band name originate?
The name Amherst Drive refers to the street I grew up on for most of my adolescence in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. I felt, what with going back to my roots, that it only made sense to reference where I grew up.
What would you say was your songwriting approach?
Pretty much everything I do is based on improvisation, regardless of the instrument. I just keep playing until I get something that works. I may have preconceived ideas in my head about what I want to do, but that usually goes out the window when I start playing.
In January, you brought out a debut EP, ‘For Freedom and Democracy’. How was the recording process for that?
I started recording last July, and it was a long, but rewarding, process. A ton of hard work and long nights, but in the end, it was worth it. I am incredibly proud of what I made here.
And how well do you think the reaction has been to it up to now?
This is the best reaction I’ve had to any music I’ve made so far in my career, so I am humbled and ecstatic at the same time. I’m truly energised by the outpouring of love for this record.
Lyrically on the EP, as well as being critical of Donald Trump and George W. Bush, you also criticise Barack Obama for civilian massacres via drones, and his NSA’s mass surveillance. Does it annoy you, that while there’s been a lot of negative songs written already about Trump and Bush, there’s not really been that many criticising Obama?
The level of cognitive dissonance in American discourse is just absurd. We think we are the good guys, when in fact, we are bloodthirsty imperialists raining hellfire on foreign lands.
I call this record ‘For Freedom and Democracy’ in an ironic sense, because our excuse for bombing villages or hospitals is always “It was for the greater good.” It’s absolute bullshit, and that’s where we see how fucked up our view of Obama’s legacy is.
Obama held up the same imperialist status quo that the United States always had, but for hardline Democrats and the media, he will be a hero because he talked nice. It didn’t matter that he was murdering children with his death machines in the sky, he was given a pass and those who took him to task like Noam Chomsky or Glenn Greenwald were branded as traitors.
That’s all it boils down to really; we don’t care if we massacre millions, as long as we appear dignified doing it. As a socialist, I call out every facet of our system, regardless of who runs it. The entire US government is the enemy of the common people at home and abroad.
My great-grandfather fought in the trenches in WW1 (which is why I included a radio broadcast from that war in the track ‘Run Away’), the war to end all wars, and what did it do? Absolutely nothing. It was a waste of human life, a goddamn massacre. He took mustard gas and died of lung cancer, never having smoked, at the age of 50. What did he die for? “Freedom and Democracy.”
Fuck that, as long as we stay brainwashed by jingoism fed to us by politicians and the media, we can never recognise the evil hiding in plain sight.
How, for you, is the experience of playing live?
Terrifying and invigorating at the same time. I get this insane nervous energy at the beginning of a set, but then, I get charged by all the positive energy that the music and the crowd give me.
You say your goal is to make Amherst Drive a “true band“. What do you mean by that?
At the moment, Amherst Drive is only me, sort of like a hardcore punk Nine Inch Nails. I literally do everything from vocals and instruments, to songwriting, to production and mixing/mastering.
I want this to be a real band with more than just one member, but for now, I just haven’t found the right people for the project. It has to work like a family since you spend so much time with each other. I’ll know when it’s right.
Now the EP has come out, what are your plans for the near future?
Honestly, I’m not sure. This has been a whirlwind of emotions, so I just need to catch my breath first! I will eventually make new music, but for now, I just want to enjoy this moment.
‘FOR FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY’, THE DEBUT EP FROM AMHERST DRIVE, IS NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM, DOWNLOAD OR PURCHASE FROM THE BAND’S BANDCAMP PAGE amherstdrive.bandcamp.com
FURTHER INFO ON AMHERST DRIVE CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: