Elvis Perkins: “Sometimes it’s the music and sometimes it’s the words that come around first”

Elvis Perkins has crafted, with his debut Ash Wednesday, a beautifully lo-key album of sweet, and sometimes bitter, acoustic folk / Americana. 

The album had a difficult birth as Perkins went through a difficult period during his adolescence. His father, the actor Anthony Perkins, died of AIDS in 1991 and his mother was on board one of the planes that were flown into the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. All these things have helped develop this album. Richard Hughes discussed the album, the internet buzz around it and the appearance of one of his songs on The OC with Elvis recently.

You’ve had a quite a turbulent upbringing, did that inspire you to have a career in music and how much of that goes into your writing?
Well, I didn’t see much else around as I grew up to lead me in any other direction than the arts. More than anything I had a creative upbringing and music was what, for reasons impossible to be known, spoke the loudest and made the most sense to me. As must be the case for any writer, what one sees and one what hears can’t help but go into what one creates. We are sponges and we are mirrors.

Are some of the songs too painful to play live, how do you cope with presenting the more difficult songs to the outside world?
No song is any more difficult than another aside from technically. It’s far more freed up in me to sing than it is to speak and singing a song in my own language, as I’ve rendered them, is about as natural a thing as there could be for me to do. So I’d say there isn’t any real coping to be done when it comes to singing unless a sore throat or bad monitors are involved.

What comes first when writing, the music or the words?
Sometimes it’s the music and sometimes it’s the words that come around first. A melody that occurs may drift in and out for years before words make any sense to it. Some are still waiting as are pages of words that have no tune and never may.

There’s been a fair amount of internet buzz around your album, is it flattering or have you taken it in your stride?
I think it would beat being completely devoid of the stuff. However tempting it is to engage in the theoretical I try my best not to and accept things as they are. I suppose that would land me more in stride than flattered, yes? I will say that since I am in the communication trade it is always heartening to know that people, be they in front of computers or out in fields, are listening, understanding, and even feeding back.

Do you have any plans for the next album?
Yes, I have thoughts and songs and thoughts that are moving towards being songs and some questions and visions and a band and a budget. We’ll probably get at it before too long.

How did getting one of your tracks played on The OC come about? Has it been a blessing or a curse?
I think somebody over there liked one of my songs and then the paperwork. It was just brief enough and quiet that I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t watching for it actually realized what was going on. It aired before my record was available and was so deftly placed that it came and went before ever reaching blessing or curse status.

What was it like touring with some great names like Okkervil River, Cold War Kids and World Party last year?
It’s all been great. My band and I have been extremely lucky with tours and they’ve been so many and with so little time between that it’s all a blur and a dream at this point. If I were to cast my memory back chances are I’d come up with some mythical beasts which might have the body of a Cold War Kid with the head of Karl Wallinger wearing Dr. Dog sunglasses playing to a French speaking crowd under a Texan sun. And it would I’m sure have the moves of Alec Ounsworth.

Do you enjoy touring or do you prefer spending time in the studio?
I’ve really forgotten how to do anything but be on tour. I can say that my parking with the trailer skills have improved greatly over the past eleven months. I’ve spent very little time in the studio and that was to make Ash Wednesday, so I feel I haven’t quite done enough of it to really consider it something that I prefer to touring. In theory though, performing before real and present people might be superior to performing to future imagined (or unimagined) ones.

Your band has swelled in numbers since you’ve started, have you found this an easy transition to make or has it made things more complicated?
As in any line, the more people there are about, the more complicated things become. But this is a good kind of complication that avails the songs all sorts of possibilities as they wind their ways home. It is strange though to sometimes feel that I’m not all alone with my thoughts anymore as I typically was when the songs we stage each night were created.

How did signing with XL Recording come about?
I met up with them at South by Southwest of 2006 and we hit it off and decided to work together. And so far it’s going quite well, I’m glad to report. It’s a fine fine label run by good good folks.

When you’re not writing or performing. How do you like to unwind?
Oh, I don’t know, perhaps a fair or some silence. Look at a book, try and weed out anything thorny in the garden, visit a friend in a prison or a hospital, maybe attend a flea market or the sea.

What’s next for yourself? Are you playing festivals all summer or are you going to get a break?!
Yes, among others we’ll be doing Bonaroo, the Newport Folk, and The Great Escape and with luck there’ll also be a dead moment or two in which to catch a breath.

Links
Elvis Perkins [official site] [myspace]