Standard Sounds

Elvis Perkins Strikes Out for New Territory

Elvis Perkins had a plan. When he decided he was going to make a new album, he set out to construct a home studio. The plan was to record the whole thing himself, off the studio clock. “I invested in some beautiful recording equipment and my idea was to get it delivered to me, and bang it out real quick, acoustic, very sparse.” He bought a deluxe 1960s broadcasting console from an engineer in LA, and arranged to have it shipped to his house near Hudson, NY.

Things didn’t go according to plan. The centerpiece of the studio arrived in pieces, the innards strewn about the casing, and he had to send it back. “After that everything changed and evolved.” Rather than scrap his plans and head for the closest studio, he decided to take a different approach, one Perkins describes as “infinitely looser” than his first two records, which are fairly polished affairs - Elvis Perkins in Dearland and [Ash Wednesday]( )_ were done in the studio with skilled players and engineers.

Photo by Huger Foote

He recorded a few songs at home, and then he hit the road, working on songs here and there, and collaborating with friends scattered around the country. He ended up in a trailer in Ojai, California where he continued to work, despite a bizarre intrusion of noises. Apparently, the fluorescent lights in the trailer were picking up radio frequencies, bringing voices and waves of static into his equipment. Rather than flee, he figured out how to manipulate the wild oscillations that were flying through the light switches, and these sounds became integral to the recording, as was a Moog synthesizer that Perkins speaks of reverently as having a life of its own.

One has the sense talking with Perkins before he performed at The Standard, East Village as part of Annie O’s concert series, that the twists and turns in the making of his latest record, I Aubade, were not just something he embraced, but that they held and continue to hold a larger, more mystical significance.

The result is an album unlike anything he’s done before — a clear departure from his first two records — at once lush, gorgeously orchestrated, and ramshackle in the best possible way. His singing voice has also transformed. Though Perkins claims not to know how to sing, on this record, he has adopted a kind of lovely, warbling croon. Early Devendra Banhart comes to mind, though Perkins would surely be as baffled by that comparison. For Perkins, the songs on I Aubade, and the entire process of making music are deeply mysterious.

“I’ve never known how to approach writing a song,” he says. “I mean, I guess I must be approaching it differently, just being a different person, but it’s still a pretty mysterious process to me. If I knew better how to approach it, the records would be coming quicker. I don’t pretend to know anything about it. I think touring with one sound makes way for the desire for another sound. It’s like if you’re in a room that’s painted red for ten days straight you’re going to yearn to see some yellow.”

More importantly, I Aubade is a mysterious sounding record — the work of a person navigating the world and making music by his own idiosyncratic internal compass. An aubade is a morning song — the morning version of a serenade — and the songs have the wondrous, sun-shot quality of someone waking up to the moment, track after track.

From the title, to the instrumentation, to the lyrics — one has the sense of a musician reveling in the mystery of the creative process, and by extension, the mysteriousness of life as it comes.

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