I’ve known James Perry for over two decades and I’ve been a fan of his music just as long, from the bedroom cassettes he made in high school to his playing in various San Francisco Bay Area bands and now, finally, his first (not counting the Internet-only release Stuck) full-length solo album, Now You’re Gone.
With additional help from a circle of friends that includes San Francisco cellist and chanteuse Erica Mulkey (a.k.a. Unwoman), Dane Johnson (of Vie Victus), his Deathline International bandmates the Count (0) and Steve Lam, among others,Ã‚Â Now You’re Gone is a rich and emotive blend of rock, electro, metal and lush orchestrations.
I was fortunate enough have heard this project from its genesis, sitting in James’ house when he played me some of the earliest demos of the songs. Before I drove across the country last summer, he threw together a “rough cut” for me to listen to in the car. So I was familiar with a lot of these songs before I actually got my hands on the real, honest-to-goodness final product. But wow, is it worlds apart from what I had previously heard.
It’s hard not to be biased, so I decided to talk to James about Now You’re Gone and let him tell you what it means, what it’s all about, and how it came to be…
I guess it’s easy enough to call Now You’re Gone a Ã¢â‚¬Å“breakup album,Ã¢â‚¬Â but what’s the whole story?
It’s about a relationship I was in a few years ago. Well, really, it’s about the latter part of it, when everything was falling apart. Yeah, it’s a breakup album. It’s all about the same person, the same situation. It was a very tumultuous time in my life with a lot of highs and lows. I always knew I’d end up writing about it, and about two years ago, I decided it was time. The different songs on the album explore different aspects of the situation. It was an intense, crazy time of my life. It wasn’t a healthy situation at all. She kept leaving and coming back, and I just couldn’t let go. It was all sorts of twisted. Most of the album is written from my perspective at the time, but the final song, “The Fire Dies,” is me looking back on the whole thing some time later, after the dust has settled and I’ve made my peace with the whole situation.
Revisiting an extremely dark part of your life has to be difficult, but to actually create something out of it must have also been very cathartic. How did you deal?
It was cathartic, and that is a big part of why I made this album. I intentionally made this album at a point in time when it wasn’t too immediate and I could look at the whole situation more objectively, but not so long ago that the pain had completely dulled and it just wasn’t relevant to me anymore. One thing I really tried to do with this album is present a complete picture of what happened and how I felt about it, but I realize now that I didn’t even come close! But that’s OK.
I’ve been on somewhat of a personal mission to try to be a more open person and not keep everything bottled up as much as I used to. My songwriting and performing lately is a big part of that. You’ve probably noticed I’m not writing songs about food anymore! (James did a humorous “concept album” in 2004 called Food Metal)
There are songs here that are dark and brooding, and rightfully so, but there are musical passages that are downright gorgeous. “Dreaming of You” features that whole outro which is brilliant and uplifting.
Thanks! I wasn’t really setting out to make something utterly dark and depressing.
You’re a person who puts on a tie in the morning, goes to a 9 to 5 and then in your time outside of that, you’ve managed to have a musical career. I know that balancing your time between your day job and your music must be a challenge, but how much of that affects your creative process?
Not only that, but I’m a member of another band as well! It’s very hard to balance it all, and it means that I can’t spend as much time on any one thing as I really should. It’s frustrating. At the same time though, my job does offer me the financial ability to fund my projects and make my music how I want without having to deal with a label telling me to rewrite my music to be more commercial, and without deadlines and all that.
The song “Not Okay” addresses that to a certain degree. Having so much going on in your own head, and being surrounded by people and obligations at work, trying to keep it all together. That was a prominent theme in some of the material on Stuck. Out of curiosity, was Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not OkayÃ¢â‚¬Â a Stuck outtake?
No, “Not Okay” was written shortly after I started the project that became Now You’re Gone. I was certainly aware of the similarity, though.
“Not Okay” is about the times where I’d feel devastated about our relationship or because I was worried about her, and yet I’d have to go through the motions of regular life at work, even though I was exhausted and felt like I was falling apart inside. I’d be there feeling like my brain was exploding, and they’d all be super cheerful, talking about their kids or reality shows or whatever, and it was about all I could take.
How will “Now You’re Gone” translate to a live performance? I would love to see a full stage production of the whole thing, complete with a symphony orchestra, a cast of thousands…
Hah! Not likely at this stage! Seeing how I’m a relative unknown without much of a budget, there’s no way I could reproduce the album live as it was recorded. Besides, I have no interest in being the next Dennis De Young! I could play this stuff live with some sort of playback device to handle most of the orchestration, but I’ve been playing in industrial bands for years that are heavily reliant on backing tracks, and part of why I wanted to do a solo project in the first place was so I could do things I can’t do in the band, so I’m not real keen on playing along to backup device. So I’ve been taking things in the opposite direction, and really stripping the songs down to their basics. I’ve done a few solo acoustic performances, and I did my CD release show in San Francisco as an “Elvis trio,” with me on acoustic guitar and vocals, plus two of the guys who played on the album on electric guitar and bass.
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How did the video for the song Ã¢â‚¬Å“WaitingÃ¢â‚¬Â come about?
Well, I thought about getting a video made for a song on this album because it was something I’d never done before and I thought it would be a cool thing to do. Originally I thought of it as a means to promote the album, but later I came to see it as this really cool piece of art that I commissioned and got to participate in the creation of. I decided on “Waiting” because so many people told me that song was “the single.” Mareesa Stertz directed the video and came up with the whole storyline and everything. We went back and forth about it quite a bit to make sure it was something I was into and comfortable with. Then we had one day of shooting last August. That was a lot of fun, I totally felt like I was playing rockstar! Mareesa had a great crew together, great people, really well organized. It was a long day but it was cool. As you can probably tell, the whole thing was shot on green screen. Aside from myself, the rocking chair, my guitar, Corinne the puppeteer, the toy piano, and the candle, just about everything else in the video was added later. The visual effects guy Jeremy did a such a great job, I hired him to create the front cover image for the album.
The cover art, with the butterfly necklace on the ground is a very poignant motif. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, but I began to see it as not only a symbol of something that’s been cast away, but also as a leaving behind of something frail or beautiful or innocent. Is there a story behind the cover?
You pretty much nailed it. There wasn’t an actual “necklace” in our relationship, but many relationships have the leftover “stuff.” After the big fight that ended it all, I gathered up a box of her stuff and dropped it on her porch, but I forgot a bunch of it, including this one stuffed frog. I couldn’t even bear to look at that thing, it made me so sad. In my mind, it came to represent all the hopes and optimism we went into this thing with, all these hopes for the future that would never come to pass now. That’s actually something I’ve been thinking about writing about at some point, how you go into some situation with starry eyes and crazy hopes and dreams, but eventually those hopes die out and you realize all these wonderful things you imagined for the future aren’t going to happen now.
You’ve been writing, performing and recording your own music for over 20 years now. Have you felt some of those same feelings in regards to your love of music and your desire to express yourself through music?
Well, you know that way back when we were in our first band together, we were sure we were going to make it! I’m 35 years old now and these days I figure I’ll be extremely lucky if I even break even on this project. But I guess I’m not really all about “making it” anymore anyway, if there even is such a thing anymore. I suppose that’s a dream that has died for me, but I’m not sure I want it anymore anyway. I feel like there’s a certain freedom in making music for me and funding it and releasing it myself, and not having to deal with deadlines or people telling me to change my look and sound to keep with the times and all that. I want people to hear what I’ve done and I think I’ve made some really good stuff that people can probably relate to and connect with, and it would be nice to have more financial resources to be able to keep doing this and do even better things, but, I like being able to make music how I want, when I want, on my own terms.
Who are some of your influences? Or more specifically, are there any artists or bands who you feel shaped your sound on Now You’re Gone? I mean, there are a lot of different colors and sounds on it.
I was raised in a house where classical music was always being played, so I think a lot of the classicalisms come from that. I’ve also recently gotten into the films of Sergio Leone, and Ennio Morricone’s scores are just so great. In particular, some of the parts where the orchestral music is supposed to lend a sense of foreboding or growing tension are very much modeled on Morricone’s work.
As for rock and metal, let’s see… Devin Townsend is a huge influence and inspiration. I love how he manages to make music that’s unmistakably heavy metal, yet with a lot of pop melodies and harmonies, and yet the end result isn’t wussy. I also enjoy the hugeness of his work. Jesu too, I love how Justin Broadrick uses detuned, sludgy guitars, and massively processed vocals, and all these really abrasive elements, and comes out with something very beautiful and soothing. VAST is another one, for sure. Gary Numan and Depeche Mode. Hell, part of “Beyond the Pale” is an Yngwie Malmsteen ripoff! I’m not really sure where the indie pop side of my sound comes from because I’ve never really studied any of that stuff very closely, although I’ve been exposed to it for years.
What’s your next move?
Well, first I’m working on trying to get this music out there and doing some live performances. There’s also a Deathline International album to finish… that’s been in the works for years and I’d really like us to get that finished and out there soon. I have a few vague ideas for the next album, but I’m not too worried about it right now. I don’t know if the next collection of songs will be as tightly focused in topic as Now You’re Gone is. I also don’t know if I’m going to do as much with the orchestral angle next time, I kind of feel like I’ve taken that as far as I want to. But who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind. With both Stuck and Now You’re Gone, I felt at the time like there was something I just had to get out of me before it completely ate me up inside, so… I’ll probably start on the next project the next time there’s so much pressure built up inside that I can’t handle it anymore.
I’ve been thinking that my next album might be a bit of a throwback in a sense. Back before the advent of the CD format, albums tended to be about 40 minutes long because of the physical limitations of records and cassettes. I’ve been thinking I’d like to have a good, solid 40 minute album. I like what I did with Now You’re Gone where there were longer songs and some experimentation, but I think I’d like to put out a really compact, solid album. About 40 minutes, 8 to 10 songs, all killer no filler, you know? Not that I consider any of what I’ve done on Now You’re Gone to be “filler”, but I’m just thinking about a different approach. Maybe something like Led Zeppelin III with a rock side and an acoustic side. We’ll see.
Now You’re Gone can be purchased now at CD Baby and it will also be available via iTunes and Amazon in the very near future. However, we’re giving away four copies of the CD! So send your name and address to ben at popdose dot com with the subject line “Now You’re Gone” for a chance at winning a free copy of Now You’re Gone!
James Perry will be playing on Monday, September 28th at The Cat Club in Hollywood, and more gigs are in the works. Go to www.jamesperrymusic.com and get info on all of James’ current and future projects.