INTERVIEW: Defeater’s Derek Archambault rises from the ashes with Alcoa

Photo by Nick DiNatale.

We all know starting over is never easy. The idea of coming back to a new landscape is far more intimidating than most would seem to give it credit for. Sadly, no one seems to have known that more lately than Derek Archambault, most widely known for his vocal duties in Boston-area hardcore outfit Defeater. While the band takes up a majority of Archambault’s time, the vocalist also pulls double duty under the acoustic moniker of Alcoa, whose latest album Parlour Tricks was released last week on Bridge Nine. Though it hasn’t been an easy task for Archambault to soldier on after his hip-replacement surgery last September, the artist found comfort and support in the likes of his friends and family. Now, the artist plans a short stint with Alcoa starting March 5, shortly before he ventures out with Defeater for a month-long U.S. tour.

Substream recently caught up with Archambault to talk about his surgery, his work with Alcoa and what the future holds. 

SUBSTREAM: Back in September, you had hip replacement surgery. Coming off of the surgery, how has rehabilitation and recovery been for you these past few months?
DEREK ARCHAMBAULT: It’s been great. I’m pretty much fully recovered, as far as functionality goes. It’s really only about six weeks with the type of surgery that I had, which was the anterior hip replacement. They go in through the front of your thigh rather than the side and have to cut muscle; they just stretch all of the muscle in the anterior. It takes about six weeks before you’re walking on your own without a cane, and after that time I was about 80 percent recovered. Now, I’m about 90 percent recovered. I’m walking around fine, and still in pain occasionally, but it’s nothing like I was before. It’s all just muscular—all of the softer tissue takes a while to get back into place, and the rehab’s been helping the bone.

So, since the surgery, you spent six weeks as your main rehabilitation period. How exactly did you pass the time when you weren’t functioning as well?
Well, to be honest, I wasn’t really functioning that well beforehand. As much as I wanted to keep up my normal day-to-day before I had the surgery, I was in constant pain and such a grumpy asshole. I didn’t really do much besides work at a record store 40 hours a week, and by the time I got home, I was so burnt out that I just made dinner and that’s it. I would still function normally, but I would have to sit down every 5-10 minutes in order to give my leg a rest. So, passing the time was never really an issue for me—I’d just read a book or listen to music. It was just normal. I wasn’t bedridden after the surgery. I was on crutches, very slow moving, but I didn’t have my leg in a sling or anything. I still went out, walked my dog and everything; it just a lot slower for the first couple of weeks.

To raise money for the surgery, you posted a PledgeMusic campaign, which was successful. What was the process of putting the fund together and creating incentives for donations?
It was kind of just a brainstorming thing that [Defeater manager] Chuck Andrews and I started. The idea of a crowdfunding campaign got brought up two months before we actually went through with it. I nixed it right away. I didn’t want to seem like I was asking for a handout for fear it was going to come off as petty no matter what. So it got put on the backburner as a “last resort” option, but as my options dwindled, and my ability to walk was delaying everything, it just kind of hit the fan all at once. We said, “In order to get this band going in any capacity again, we need to get surgery done as soon as possible.”

The rewards, or whatever you want to call them, were that I said I’d record some covers or just reworkings of other songs. After that it just evolved into the poster, handwritten lyrics, etc. I really wanted the focus to be on the songs, rather than anything else. The other stuff was just for the people that could afford it and wanted to spend that amount of money on something that was really special and collectable. I just didn’t want to focus to be, “Oh my God, this asshole’s selling a fucking handmade CD for $20, what the fuck’s your problem?” However, when the surgery’s $50,000, you have to figure out a way to, at least, get a good chunk of that. I was against that from the start. I figured I’d make 200 of them and sell them for $10 a pop, but when you do the math, you realize that Pledge has to take their commission afterwards for posting it and everything, you’re only making $1,200. After that, it’s only 1/50th of the cost. I felt like a prick asking for that much money in the first place, but I think wanting it to be more about the music was what helped people get the word out about it. Plus, we had a lot of help from our friends that posted about it. Without the Wonder Years, Every Time I Die and all of the bands that I covered, it would’ve never have gotten to the level that it did.

How did you want to continue to grow as an artist from your last record, Bone & Marrow?
Bone & Marrow was just me, and then I got a bunch of friends to help me record it. Nothing was really a group effort as far as flushing out songs; it was just some stuff that I was sitting on for upwards of six years at that point. With the new record, I wrote 15 songs around September, October, and then I brought the songs to Mike (Moschetto) who plays drums in Alcoa and also engineered it. Then, our guitarist Blake, who’s a friend of mine, came in and the three of us actually fleshed out all of the songs and kind of reworked things here and there. They took my skeletons and made them more dynamic. Bone & Marrow was mostly just myself without having any outside editing, but the new record is much more of a combined effort between the band members. I’m not sure if it was just that I was more confident going in to this record than I was with Bone & Marrow. I think my confidence over the last couple of years with my voice has grown a lot more too. With this one, I just wasn’t afraid to take some more chances.

Also, I realized that nobody who listened to Alcoa right now knows where I was pulling any influences from for Bone & Marrow. I think it’s happened to a lot of people that put out “solo records,” where you put out music that you think you love and a great representation of the music that you loved, and it kind of falls flat because it’s not what people expected or within their everyday listenability. I also feel I kind of shot myself in the foot because people just expected me to do what I did with Defeater. We gained so much notoriety from the Empty Days & Sleepless Nights acoustic tracks, and I think that people just want “I Don’t Mind” over and over again. I’m really happy that people like that song still; I’m very fortunate that gave people a desire to listen to me sing at all, so I can’t be mad that people like that song. I just hope that, with this record, people let me grow out of it. There’s a lot more to my songwriting than just that one song.

In February and March, you were originally going to support Front Porch Step on a U.S. club tour, but the tour was cancelled because of the recent allegations toward FPS’s Jake Mcelfresh. Are you working on a replacement tour at all?
We’re trying to sort that out. Jake and I are both booked by the same person, so when the tour fell through and we had to call it off, my booking agent wanted me to continue to work and be able to go out and play shows. It was just kind of hard to get anything going in the midst of that because everyone involved had so much invested in it already—my year has been planned out to the letter because of both bands, so this was kind of my only shot to do an Alcoa tour, which I paved the record release around. I rushed through the recording process as well and really hammered it out in order to get it released for February. I’m trying to sort it out right now, but it’s a pretty tough thing to organize on such short notice, because I would be leaving so soon. Not to mention, Jake was on the cusp of something really, really big and think that tour was going to do really well for everyone. Right now, I’m not in any position to go out by myself at this point, as much as I’d like to get back to playing basements and halls, it’d be very difficult to book a tour like that and actually have it work out, so I can’t purge all of the money I’ve saved just so I can go out and play some shows. But we’ll see.

Surprise! Luckily, Derek was able to book a short stint of dates for Alcoa with Choir Vandals supporting, which starts March 5. Hit up a tour date, which can be found below, and be sure to check out Alcoa’s new album Parlour Tricks, out now on Bridge Nine Records.

Tour Dates:


05 – Providence, RI – DV8
06 – Lancaster, PA – Fulton Street Arts Co-Op
07 – Rochester, NY – California Brew House
08 – Toronto, ON – Parts & Labour
09 – Lansing, MI – Mac’s Bar
10 – Pittsburgh, PA – Smiling Moose
11 – Philadelphia, PA – Barbary
12 – Freehold, NJ – Gamechanger World
13 – New York City, NY – Studio @ Webster
14 – Amityville, NY – Amityville Music Hall
15 – Boston, MA – Middle East Upstairs w/ Have Mercy