Siren Call: A Conversation with Elvis Perkins


DISCUSSED: Elvis Perkins in Dearland, prepositions, festivals, Nick’s House, homelessness, and Elvis Perkins’s last show for 10 years.

Seems like you can’t mention Elvis Perkins without noting his father was Anthony Perkins, the star of Psycho and his mother, photographer Berry Berenson, died aboard one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. And so it makes sense that the songs on his most recent Ash Wednesday are suitably weary, so weary his “warble (its nasal timbre in Jeff Mangum’s range, but with Dylan as the obvious godhead) ambles.” Got that? It means his voice doesn’t run, it walks.

I got his walking-not-running voice on the phone on Wednesday afternoon. He told me some funny things.

Your record Ash Wednesday is credited to Elvis Perkins, but you’ve been touring as Elvis Perkins in Dearland? What’s that about? That’s odd to me.

What’s odd?

I think I’m having trouble with the proposition “in.”

It’s either that or you do Elvis Perkins “and” the something-or-rathers.

“In” sounds like you’re starring in ice-skating show.

That’s what we’re going for. Whatever the Ice Capades evoke in people, that’s what we’re trying to get at. Nah, I had just grown weary of the so-and-so and the so-and-so’s. So it’s just an attempt, perhaps an ill-executed attempt if it’s rubbing you the wrong way, to break free from that and suggest that the band itself is an accurate environment, not just an annex to the singer. So I think that the energy that these guys bring changes the songs and changes the whole scenery of what’s going on musical and otherwise. It feels like it makes more sense for me to be in these environs rather than just sort of hang around the “ands.”

These are you old friends?

The band was formed after the record was made, I think the drummer plays on one of the tracks from Ash Wednesday and Brigham the bass player plays on three or four. Wyndham, the multi-instrumentalist is not featured on Ash Wednesday, but I’ve known him since he was born. Our mothers were best friends for ages before each of us where alive. It’s all a somewhat ancient affair.

Do you intend to stick with this?

You seem so skeptical of the whole thing.

I feel like I have to explain what the hell this “in Dearland” thing is.

It’s meant to confuse. And possibly deter people altogether from showing up. [Pause] Yeah, we’ll be making the next record together for sure. I don’t know too much more than you do about what this Dearland thing is, but we’re on a pretty good run.

You started off this year playing Joe’s Pub in New York and now you’re playing festivals and been on Letterman. Does it seem like things are happening as fast as they appear from the outside?

Yeah, it does. And we’ve been pretty much on the road nonstop since last June, so I’ve been in a weird, transient, dream-like state, never quite knowing where I am or why.

Do you know where you are now?

I’m in upstate New York. At Nick’s house. But I haven’t had a house of my own or a place of my own in this past year. So it’s been strange and it has been moving fast, but I’m also in the same sphere of that fast movement that it seems less fast if I had had some sort of center to juxtapose what’s going on. But I’ve just been in the same motion, so it sort of feels like normal life.

And I hear the good news as it comes. And do the things that’re proposed and planned. And I would sort of like to be more conscious of what’s gong on, but this lifestyle starts making it a little difficult.

Does the process of recording Ash Wednesday seem really far away?

Oh yeah, totally far away. Sometimes, when I hear a song from the record, it does seem like another life altogether. Especially with the repetition of playing them every night. We played like 250 nights of the past year, it’s like saying any word in repetition over and over again–it quickly loses its meaning. So there’s a bit of that effect going on as well. I can certainly sing any one of them without hearing a single word of it or understanding what it means. And then it stops and the applause comes and it’s like, ‘Okay, I guess we just sang a song.’

Are there little tricks that you pull to keep yourself interested?

Sure, I’m always changing–or messing up–the words to keep me and the band on their toes. We try and entertain ourselves as much as we can while still putting on a show that stands up for first-comers and repeat offenders alike.

As a performer, how is a club show different than a festival? Since you’re playing Siren. . .

At a festival, there’s a collective desperation of the audience as well as the performers. Everybody’s a willing participant, but it is a struggle to make it through one of those days. And there is some sense of here we all are out in the celestial realm of the day or the night, which is something different than itself than being in a tiny room that’s filled with the smell of stale beer. There’s something probably ancient that resonates with both the performer and the audience that brings to mind or the cells an ancient feeling of ritual.

A little more Dionysian?

Exactly. It’s like a marathon test of endurance. Everybody’s volunteering to be there, but it is a struggle for everybody to make it and everybody to keep hydrated and not be annoyed by any of the things that’re pressing up against ones’ personal space, be it external or internal. So there’s a certain wilderness to it that turns everybody on.

Since we’re talking about this, here’s a scenario for you. If you couldn’t play a show for ten years, for whatever reason, and you have one last live show to play and it can be anywhere in the world, in any venue in the world, with anybody you want joining you onstage and anybody you want in the audience. What’s your last show for ten years like?

Wow. If I had that option of not performing for ten years?

No, that’s not a choice; it’s forced.

Oh damn, I thought you were offering that to me.

Does that sound tempting?

Nooooo. No, not really.

Where would that be? I have no idea. Maybe Crete or something. I’ve never been there. But let’s play in Crete on the most perfect day of the year, whatever day that is. And maybe play for instead of an audience of humans, maybe ten thousand Greek horses or something and see if we can’t break through multi-special barriers here. While we’re at it, we’ll get the Cold War Kids and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Dr. Dog onstage up with us.

Are there any bloggers there? Is this going to be documented?

There may be some centaur bloggers in the crowd. But this event would not be so much for the bloggers, but for the moment and the spectacle of it all.

It’s be cool though if it was documented by a centaur.

We could outfit some of the horses with bit cams or something. Or blinder cams so that we could look at it later.