Q&A: Sandro Perri On Quicker Turnarounds, The Name Game, And Watching The Throne


Sandro Perri speaks through his music. The soft-spoken Toronto-based musician is genre-less in his approach, preferring to mold his song to his unique tastes and learnings as a way to express himself. His 2011 album Impossible Spaces (Constellation) earned him new levels of critical praise for its subtle approach to combining electronic dance music, jazz, and Brazilian tunes, as well as quite a few other influences. His tour in support of the record starts with a stop at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday.

SOTC caught up with Perri earlier this month over the phone, as he rested in Toronto before heading out on the road. He filled us in on his musical upbringing, his plans, and his love for one of last year’s big collaborative rap albums (hint: it was not Ferrari Boyz).

You’re playing Mercury Lounge on the 31st. Having never seen you live, I’m wondering: what can an audience expect from your live show?

Well, I think that it will probably an intimate show. The band is gonna be five of us; there’s drums, percussion, flute, bass, three synths and guitar. We’re gonna try—it’s gonna be a more live sounding, and uh, not stripped down but a less produced version of the record, I suppose. We’ll probably play a couple of older songs as well. It’s hard for me to have a perspective on what the audience would experience. I’ve never been to the Mercury Lounge so I’m not really familiar with the venue. We definitely like playing intimate shows so hopefully it’s a listening crowd.

What was the instrument that you played? Did you have any formal training when you were younger?

The first instrument I played was a snare drum. I was probably 10 years old or so, and my brother had a drum kit. About six months after that I picked up the guitar and took private lessons, just learning classical and rock music. Later in my teens, I got really into jazz and studied jazz for a few years in high school and after high school. I kinda dumped it all and got into electronics and did that really intensely for a while, before coming back to playing guitar. I’m trying to integrate that together with electronics and compositions and studio work, trying to integrate all that I have learned. The guitar iis essentially the main instrument that I play, but then there’s percussion and the last few years I’ve played a lot of keyboard as well.

On your downtime, what type of music do you listen to? Any recent favorites?

Well, I listen to a lot of Brazilian music in particular. Some of my favorites are Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben, Maria Bethania. So I listen to a lot of that stuff, that seems to be a really consistent thing for me. I listen to a lot of Watch the Throne. [laughs] That was probably my record of the year. Kanye’s solo record was amazing as well, but I thought Watch the Throne was pretty incredible. A lot of really interesting things are happening on that record, musically and emotionally. The way they interact with one another, I thought that was really interesting. I listened a lot this year to Mickey Moonlight. He’s a DJ/producer from London and his record was put out by Ed Banger Records at the end of the year. I think it didn’t get a lot of attention but it really should have. I thought it was really awesome, a really unique electronic record.

I don’t know what else. Some of the standards. I’ve probably worn out my copy of On the Corner by Miles Davis and Bitches Brew and that era of Miles. Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, I’ve probably listened to that I don’t know how many hundreds of times in my life. It’s hard I could probably go on and on, I think I don’t make a conscious effort to listen to all styles but I end up listening to all kinds of styles just because I get interested in particular artists regardless of the genre and just get into their personalities. That can happen in any genre, I think.

To go back to Watch the Throne for a second because that’s awesome, what’s your favorite song from it?

Oh that’s so hard! It’s really tough, but maybe… what is it called, Murder something…

“Murder to Excellence”?

Yeah that’s right, Murder to Excellence. Yeah, I think that’s the one. That one really is devastating. It’s really phenomenal, the production and the writing. But like I said, it’s really hard to choose a favorite on that record.

Sandro Perri, “Wolfman” (live in 2011)

To shift back to Impossible Spaces, where the hell did “Wolfman” come from? It’s definitely a standout on the record but it’s not every day you run into a 10-minute epic about a literal wolfman.

[laughs] It’s hard to say! I mean, I think what it came from was that I wrote it over the course of a few months. The way I usually write is that there will be sections of ideas that come to me. I guess the thing with recording is that you tend to write a lot of similar things all around the same time; similar rhythmic feel and similar tempo and writing things in the same key. So I think all of the parts of that song came to me at different points over the course of a few months. It just became evident at some point that they could all fit together with a little bit of massaging. And it just happens really slowly for me, it’ll start with one line of a lyric and then I’ll just sort of work off of that and develop an idea. I think that the whole concept of the Wolfman story… it wasn’t like that from the beginning. That developed over the course of a few months and then it just seemed like an ideal way and an interesting way for me to tie a bunch of ideas together It was fun. I’ve never really written a song like that before.

There was a four-year gap between Tiny Mirrors and Impossible Spaces. Do you feel like you’re going to live within the new record for a while, or do you want to cut down the time between releases this time around?

Ideally it’s not going to take four years. I mean, I really hope it’s not. Part of the reason, a big reason actually, that it did take so long is that I was working on other records for other people in the production capacity. Also, I did want to take a bit of a break and just work on writing new stuff and just get into a new space to push myself a little further. Ideally, Il’l do that for the next one and it won’t take four years. I’m definitely going to be touring more than I usually would this year, but I already have written a bunch of new material and I’m gonna start demoing it by the end of the year. Hopefully it will come together a little more quickly, but the thing is, I think that you never know until you start working. It’s not good to push it to meet a deadline because you can really easily compromise the potential to do something new for yourself. Ultimately that’s the goal, you know? There’s no real rush to do it. I understand that professionally, it’s not a good idea to release one record every four years but creatively speaking it’s just the way. I like to work things and explore a lot of different versions of songs and try out different ways so to answer your question, hopefully its not going to be four years. I’m aiming for a quicker turnaround.

Is it tricky to do produce your own music? Normally you have a separation between creating and producing but if you’re doing it all yourself, do you run into problems?

Yeah, sometimes you can get a bit myopic about it and lose perspective, for sure. The upside of that is that you go really deep into a vision. You learn about how to execute really complex things that you might might not want to ask somebody else to do for you because a) they might think you’re crazy or b) you may not be able to afford their time. I spent a lot of time working on the record and if I had to pay somebody else to do that, it would just be insane. I would have spent way too much money on the record. [laughs] It’s hard, a lot of these ideas are very difficult to verbalize so it’s hard to ask another person to try and understand what you’re hearing in your head. So that’s the upside. There’s always a good and a bad, a positive and a negative to that situation. All of that being said, I worked with 3 or 4 different engineers on this record, and they helped me out immensely in executing things and getting the sounds right.

Sandro Perri, “Love & Light”

You’ve had a bunch of side projects in the past. Do you think you’ll return to any of those, or do you see them as something you did and it was great but you want to move on to something else?

That’s a really good question. I mean it’s hard to know. You always think about that: what’s the next thing that I do, what will it be? Something that I should call something else? I guess like everything it comes down to what the music ends up sounding like. I always let that dictate whatever decision I’m going to make about something and I find that whenever I make aim for something I usually don’t arrive there. I’ll arrive somewhere else and something unexpected will happen and I’ll have to change my plans anyways. I usually leave it until the music’s done and then decide if this is under a certain project or is it just under my own name. The whole name thing is just a game really, and it’s sort of a way of messing up your whole marketing and your branding. A lot of people think its not really that smart from a professional standpoint. Mostly it just serves a little separate space for yourself where you can be sort of anonymous and try out different things. I have a few things like the Glissandro 70 project with my friend Craig here in Toronto, we’re working on some music. So hopefully that we’ll be able to finish that up sometime maybe next year.

What’s the one place that you haven’t been to that you would want to tour at?

Oh, probably Brazil. I think South America, Brazil specifically, I would love to go to. And I seem to be getting a lot of fan letters from Brazil lately, not that that’s a really accurate indication. It would be really nice to go there. And stay there for a little while as well, experience some music directly there.

Lastly, I tried to see if you had a Twitter account, and I couldn’t find one. Are you not on Twitter at all?

I have an account but I don’t use it. At some point, you realize that you have to get an account because if not someone else is going to use your name. So I have one, but I’ve never used it and I don’t imagine I’ll ever use it. I don’t seem to feel the compulsion to communicate that way. But you never know. Maybe I need to take some inspiration from Kanye or something and start tweeting, you know.

If you tweet rants like his, I guarantee you’ll get followers.

[laughs] Yeah. Maybe I should do that.

Sandro Perri plays at Mercury Lounge on Saturday with Bhi Bhiman.