Sandro Perri Talks
Sandro Perri has been involved in a plethora of projects which imbibe a whole host of seemingly incongruous genres; elements of dub, disco, folk, experimental electronica (the list goes on…) are transposed into a rich, complex, sometimes virtuosic mix. Lyrically he exhibits poetical prowess which involves allegorical fantasy ('Wolfman') and plaintive valediction ('Impossible Spaces') with an always redeeming attunement to consciousness and reality.
Despite the overwhelming schedule of live dates he's got lined up, Sandro answers, not with artistic distance and reticence but concise insight. Here we discuss Arthur Russell, jazz, disco, his hometown Toronto and differ on whether a John Updike aphorism means escapism or a new reality…
Your touring schedule this month seems pretty daunting in terms of how long and where you’re going in a relatively short space of time, have you toured Europe on this scale before, and which places are you looking forward to visiting in particular?
Yes several times. I look forward to it all but I always get excited about coffee in Italy.
How do you like to translate your work to a live setting; do you like to depart much from how it sounds on record?
Its a departure, for sure, due to the nature of how I make records. Also the idea that the two are different rings true for me. Hopefully the essence remains.
You’re involved in a whole host of projects besides your solo work; Glissando 70, Polmo Polpo, Double Suicide, how would you define the difference between them all?
The only differences are the collaborators involved, the concept or restraint factors and/or whether it's vocal or instrumental music.
And you’re from Toronto which has recently given rise to artists who’ve received international acclaim; Grimes, Dan Snaith (of Carbiou & Daphni) & Azari & III to name a few, do you think there’s a local vibrancy currently which reflects the general success of these recent exports?
We have really good arts funding, which is the main thing that makes cultural export feasible. Combined with varying degrees of talent and novelty there is a lot of music from Canada getting heard. The vibrancy factor sort of ebbs and flows depending on your perspective.
More specifically with yourself, can you describe what it was like, growing up in Toronto, as an aspiring musician; was it an accommodating place?
Absolutely accommodating, and hungry. Lots of musicians without too much history to contend with, almost like a clean slate. Except for maybe not wanting to sound too 'Canadian'. The sound of Canada is typically quite sober, despite all the beer.
Have you perceived a change at all with the scene you’re involved with there?
Yes, which is normal. Things change every few years, people age and lose interest or run out of ideas. Right now, from my limited perspective, it seems like there are maybe not quite as many obsessed
young musicians here as there was 10 years ago. Which might even be a good thing.
With ‘Impossible Spaces’ you produced and made the artwork yourself where previously you seem to have done a lot of collaborative work, what do you think made you intent and committed to this kind of autonomy?
The artwork is mostly me finding images and manipulating / reassembling them. I haven't really worked with a proper designer. I tend to like the unprofessional look!
The lyrics are pretty profound and seem to have quite a personal dimension to them. I read in a great interview with yourself for the Toronto Standard that the title track deals with the loss of a friend, did you exercise that level of autonomy because you were the only one capable of expressing these very personal feelings?
I mostly just try to exercise my imagination, which might include some form of personal experience. Its not confessional or exploitative as far as I know; there is a lot of extrapolation, observation, questioning, etc.
Do you think you’ll continue to pursue this individual approach in the future?
I can't imagine there is any other way!
There’s so many elements and changes in the music on ‘Impossible Spaces’ which gave me the impression that it’s construction was quite complex and maybe not a methodical process; can you describe how a track usually came together?
The songs were written on guitar, started as fragments, played for months, some for years, fiddled with and put through structural changes. Lyrics added and revised, arranging with the band, recording, many takes, some splicing and editing, lots of overdubs, more editing, vocal recording, more editing, mixing, polishing and mastering.
I read in a previous interview some thoughts regarding the National Parks project, I thought it was interesting how you mentioned it as an idyllic, peaceful place where you almost didn’t need to create, or at least didn’t feel as compelled to as you would in a city where you seemed to cite a more necessary need to assemble a creative escape. Do you think this kind of theme is addressed on ‘Impossible Spaces’, in the song and in the album as a whole?
I had never thought of that directly but it's not impossible to imagine that idea as part of the group of themes. As I see it, the record does touch on imagination, fantasy, memory, distortion, delusion, change and acceptance. Maybe other things I can't think of yet too.
Those comments brought to mind that John Updike quote: ‘’What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” – do you think the creation of music holds that kind of escapist premise for you; a coping strategy through retreat?
I love that quote but I hadn't thought of it as referring to escapism. I read it as art offering up a new space in which to view reality, rather than an escape from it.
There’s an emphasis of a love for jazz and Brazilian music (mentioned in your bio and in previous interviews), how were you exposed to this kind of music initially, and what do you think it was about each of them that struck a chord?
Jazz through learning the word improvisation and Brazilian music through an old friend, although I would say I like individual artists rather than the genres. The constant throughout that strikes a chord is when I sense playfulness and invention.
Taking a look at the considerable number of performers who’ve have been involved with Polmo Polpo in the live setting, is there a kind of free, improvisatory approach that’s been instilled by a jazz influence…?
At select times, yes. But mostly it was very structured. Improvising is taking advantage of being alive, acknowledging the moment. The structure is more like being aware of your natural rhythm, breathing, eating, sleeping, etc.
I also read that you attended Jazz school but you don’t seem to adhere to formality, was there any cause for something redemptive from that experience, something like knowing the rules before eventually breaking them?
School helped me understand why I wanted to do some things and not others. I learned a lot. I don't think I break any rules though…the rule book as I understand it is pretty slim!
Speaking of influences, with Arthur Russell, I wanted to find out what it was specifically about him and his work that has seemed to prompt a reverence from yourself?
Playful and inventive, and a high degree of intimacy in his music, which I really like.
Your 28 minute version of ‘Kiss Me Again’ received approval from Nicky Siano, that must have been a proud moment. How did that project come together?
I sent it to Nicky Siano looking for some reaction, I was excited about it and also wanted to investigate the legal side. He was the co producer of the original, after all. This was before the reissue explosion, so I didn't have anyone else to send it to. I looked up Mr and Mrs Russell in the directory but thought it might be a little strange!
It’s such an incredible song, I heard David Byrne features on the B-side ‘Version’ of it. Apart from the fact it’s incredible and all of the talent that features on it, why do you think you were drawn to that song in particular?
I think you nailed it, it's incredible! It also has sections which aren't clearly verses or choruses, it seems to work as a suite of hooks.
The Glissando 70 artwork seems to recall the West End disco label in aesthetic and with all of the mention of Arthur Russell, it seems you have disco in mind in a lot of your work, what do you think it is about this kind of music (and dance music in a more broader sense) that attracts you?
I don't know…it can seem vacuous and/or transcendent at the same time, which I like. Depending on it's quality and where your mind is at. Dancing is also a fundamental part of music.
Disco seems to have shrugged off the ‘Studio 54/Saturday Night Fever’ view of it, with its countercultural roots emphasized in recent years culminating in a greater popularity and influence, have you seen or experienced this difference in reception at all?
I'm too young to have a perspective on it outside of media, although I can vaguely remember the saying 'disco sucks'. I've always liked the Bee Gees though.
A few tracks off ‘Impossible Spaces’ have just been remixed by DFA & Phonica. It seems your music goes beyond any set scene or genre in its appeal…
It's a nice thought, less concern about that kind of thing is good.
What are you working on currently?
A lot of new songs, all written on piano.
Have you felt a weight of expectation in any of this work, due to the praise ‘Impossible Spaces’ received?
Hopefully the record makes room for the unexpected!
What are your plans once you finish touring?
I'm gonna eat fewer cookies and sleep more.