I remember exactly where I was when I first heard “Shampoo,” the first track on Elvis Perkins in Dearland. I was living in Cincinnati, in 2010, and a roommate was playing the record from the sunroom in the front of the house. I was drawn to it immediately, stopping what I was doing to find the music’s origin. The track was tremendous, somehow standing out in the sea of musicians already in my repertoire. From that moment on, I was hooked. Since then I have hung onto every song, always recommending his albums to friends or whomever would listen. So, when Perkins announced earlier this year he was releasing a new album–his first since 2009–I was elated.
Perkins’ music is special–moving, authentic, sad, happy, everything all at once. And I Aubade, his new release, is all of that and more. Perkins spent three years working on the record, recording and editing it all himself in his home, and the time and devotion put into the record shines through. I chatted with Perkins about I Aubade and the tour to support the record. His international tour brings him to Rough Trade in Williamsburg tonight.
Juliann DiNicola: I Aubade, judging by your statement on the record, seems like a highly personal project that you were able to see through from start to finish. How does your connection to this collection of songs differ from your previous LPs/EPs, since it was a highly independent endeavor? [Perkins released I Aubade on his own record label, MIR.]
Elvis Perkins: Of [my] three-and-a-half albums, I Aubade is the thing which most faithfully bears my likeness, so the connection for me is the most profound and the most complex. There is good deal of the good Ethan Gold coming through on Ash Wednesday and a good deal of the dear Dearland gentlemen on both that LP and the Doomsday EP; those records sound to me as they should, but with regards to self-perception and the embracing of the mystery of self. I Aubade is to date the most edifying document to me.
JD: It’s been six years since your last full-length release, your collaboration with Dearland, Elvis Perkins in Dearland. What was it like reentering the recording process after such a long break?
EP: It felt like time. I had acquired some beautiful sound equipment from the 1950s and 60s and set it up in my then-living room. It rang of right moment and place in there and I had total, wonderful-terrible freedom to will the thing into existence.
JD: In your statement about I Aubade, you said, “My previous releases had for the most part been made with steady players in studios and overheard by engineers and producers, so this was for me both a novel approach and a return to the 4-tracking solitary self of my early 20s.” Why was that an important endeavor for you to take as an artist and producer?
EP: I don’t think much about being an artist–though sometimes it’s as good and order-inducing a word as any–and chose not to declare myself “producer” of the record. (Although there was no other [person] who could have been so called [the producer].) I mostly just wanted to take different path, and while on it, to approach articulating the sound in a single head.
JD: I know you’re touring to support I Aubade, your first headlining tour in quite some time. I saw you open recently with Dearland, for Dr. Dog at Music Hall of Williamsburg and was completely blown away. What is it like to be on stage again, with a new set of songs, after performing Ash Wednesday & In Dearland for so many years?
EP: The tour is now four shows deep and off to a fine start. It’s certainly rejuvenating to have new songs to play and to be doing them and the rest in a novel configuration. Probably around 90 percent of my appearances on stage have been In Dearland, so it’s been something to experience another approach. The going outfit is a trio: Mitchell Robe, Danielle Aykroyd and myself. Last night in Philadelphia, Dearland’s own KINSEY opened the show and then joined us for several songs. Both he and Wyndham will be doing sets at the Rough Trade show as well.
JD: The instrumentals attributed to you on this record is quite impressive. When did you begin your relationship with so many instruments, and do you find yourself falling in or out of love with certain ones over time?
EP: It seems to me, with the ever-evaporating and ever-replenished stuff that is music, it’s not of any ultimate matter what body is holding it or passing it at a given moment. I suppose I began a relationship with so many–or all–instruments of music when I began one with one. Or even when [I was a] newborn; I wailed upon first hit of oxygen to my lungs.
This interview has been edited and condensed.