Elvis Perkins in Dearland
So, I have this friend who plays music. Yawn. In Austin, that’s like saying, “I have this friend who speaks English.” Big freakin’ deal. Well, the thing is, sometimes it is. Sometimes that friend is an inspiring artist or a wildly creative voice or a rock star. Sometimes you should listen. And frankly, I think right now would be one of those times.
So, I have this friend who plays music. His name is Elvis Perkins. We met when we were both freshman in college. I found him to be quietly intimidating and he (probably) thought I was a lunatic (it was college, we all kind of were). Over the years, our friendship grew. By the time I was a senior and he had long ago left to pursue real life (and non-college) things, he shared some of his music with me. My first thought was – you’re a musician? And my second – wow, you can really sing.
A solo album followed (the haunting and beautiful Ash Wednesday). Shortly thereafter, Elvis began collaborating with a band consisting of bassist Brigham Brough, keyboardist/guitarist Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and drummer Nicholas Kinsey – all incredibly talented and creative musicians. They recently released their first official album together, Elvis Perkins in Dearland. The music, both on the album and in their live shows, seamlessly combines the seemingly incompatible: celebratory and sorrowful, fun and complex, wild and intimate. To see them perform is to smile and dance, to think and to rejoice, to feel total abandon and completely rooted.
They’ve played big festivals including Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, and SXSW, toured alongside Matt Costa, Cold War Kids, Okkervil River and My Morning Jacket and have drawn comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neutral Milk Hotel, Buddy Holly and The Band.
But ultimately all you need to know is that they’re very good. And they’re playing this Monday, May 11 at The Parish. Tickets are still available. You can listen to their music and purchase some online.
Below are excerpts from an email interview we conducted this week with Elvis as he tours through the heartland (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa). His responses touch on the complex thoughtfulness with which he approaches his music, as well as the playful abandon that he achieves.
All Saints: Words (lyrics) seem important to you. How would you describe the way you interact with words in your life and in your music?
Elvis Perkins: I'm always mishearing people due to an over-amplified band I played electric guitar for in high school. Some of my best ideas come out of this I think. The things people don't say are often equally if not more interesting than what they do. A song is sometimes full of things that can be said in everyday speak, but one of the great freedoms I see in the making of songs is the ability to say the things which would otherwise have no occasion.
We in general are so loose with our words and their meanings that the language itself and our communication through it gets watered or broken down. It's sort of a troubling thought considering how heavily we lean on words to navigate our experience and to try and tell it to others. While having actual energetic vibration, they are essentially meaningless. I in my writing am sometimes divided between wanting for words to have explicit meaning and being happily resigned to being a receiver and transmitter of charged and loved nonsense.
AS: How does the listener (audience) factor in to your process of making music?
EP: More so now that the once secret that I make music is out. When one gets the real impression that people are listening, liking and disliking, in scenarios beyond your control, in their cars and on their various machines, to the music once made by and for oneself, things at least appear to be somewhat different. Ultimately, I think the sound pleasing or energizing to one's internal audience will carry over to the external if one really knows even the slightest something about something or is at least comfortable with the potential truth that no one knows anything about anything.
AS: What's community to you?
EP: I'm not positive. I think I have always been to some degree, and perhaps more so since the dissolve of my nuclear family, a solitary; wary of things which propose persistence. I think I may yet be too much a stranger to myself to really pull off community very convincingly. More than for a sense of belonging with a particular human constellation, I see myself leaning toward being consistently in my own body while feeling tuned in to and part of the destinies of the celestial ones, our Earth most certainly included.
AS: Who’s influenced you over your life and who's influencing you lately?
EP: I think everyone we hear and see influences us in one way or other. Either we are moved to do in his or her direction or moved to not. The list would take a lifetime to recount but some names to print might as well be homer, Duran Duran, Tracy Chapman, Living Colour, Flock of Seagulls, Vladamir Nabakov, Cinderella, Shakespeare, Santo and Johnny, The Supremes, John Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, Simon and Garfunkel. These days I've been listening to a lot of old family records that have been in storage for about a decade. Among the standouts are Yma Sumac, Blossom Dearie, and anonymously packaged Hawaiian songs.
AS: What part of what you do feels like work and what feels like play?
EP: At different times and in different spirits the same event, be it performing or unloading a trailer full of instruments or doing interviews or writing, can seem either like work or play really. I aim as much as the next person to stay in the light and not weigh down the fleeting things, which are most of them.
Myself and a significant group of young, progressive-thinking, hip, tastemakers (all in skinny jeans and v-neck shirts, except me) will be present at the Parish on Monday night. This should not discourage any older, traditional-minded, socially courageous Presbyterians from attending. The Parish is a big, lovely room – easily the best sound in Austin. I promise that ears will be pleased and “buzz” will ensue…