Rain Perry Talks about “Men”
Rain Perry follows up Internal Combustion (2010) with the equally impressive Men (Precipitous Records-July 30 2013). She kickstarts (pun intended-see the interview) the disc with “Get In The Car”, a rocking song about rejuvenating a relationship, seduction and maybe almost abduction on a road trip to “where they burned the Grievous Angel”. A talented genre-jumping singer-songwriter-folkster Rain somehow weaves the five tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami into a sizzling song, “Umami”, into metaphor about falling in love. But Men isn’t really so much a disc about falling in love or out of love but more staying in love and working to make it work. “And the old couple on the front porch, Who’s starting to look the same” in “Happily Ever After”, if you believe Rain, will be you and yours, will be me and mine. The dark side/bad love rears its head on the soul-flavored “Photonegative of Love” complete with strings and funky guitar. Rain also demonstrates her ear for great songs written by others with covers of tunes from Chuck Prophet and Robert Earl Keen. Produced (and a whole lot more) by Mark Hallman (Carole King, Eliza Gilkyson, Ani Difranco). Men is an intelligent infectious rewarding disc that proves Rain belongs in the company of Tift Merritt, Vanessa Peters and Aimee Mann. But you don’t have to believe me. Tom Russell has covered a Rain song. Enough said.
HB-Congratulations of your new disc “Men” and a successful Kickstarter campaign. Kevin Gordon, Sam Baker (and many others) have used it to release their music. I think fans would rather send their money directly to a favorite artist than to a big label. Kickstarter campaigns make sense to me in this new recording world order.
Rain-I’m not completely convinced anything makes sense in this new world order. But I have a “same as it ever was” theory about that, which is that the 20th century music business was an outlier, and the natural order of things is that musicians are minstrels, traveling from town to town, bringing the news of the day and singing for our supper. Except that now we are doing so online. If we’re lucky we get a benefactor. In the old days it would be a wealthy patron, and now it’s a spot on a Nike commercial.
That historical observation aside, I will say that my Kickstarter campaigns – the one for this record and a previous one for a music video – demonstrate that people are willing to shell out money for artists they like, just under different circumstances than they used to. They want experiences and connection with the artist. So my Kickstarter philosophy is “give the people what they want” and let “helping the artist” be a bonus. And what people want are baked goods and chocolate covered bacon. So I baked about 44 batches of cookies and canned a lot of strawberry jam and knitted twelve scarves. I was required to sing Freebird as one of the premiums. And at the eleventh hour I had a sweet and generous friend spring for my big “Austin Extravaganza” spectacular.
But the great benefit to me aside from the money from pre-selling the record is that I have approached the release date knowing that I’ve got a group of supporters who are excited about and feel invested in what I’m doing. Indie art can be a lonely thing, and that is very heartening.
HB-The other side of the shifting equation: The lack of ownership of music. My kids don’t think of buying a CD. I read a blog post you wrote about Spotify and the amount of money an artist receives per play. I guess somebody profits but it doesn’t sound like it is the artist.
Rain-Yeah, well, Spotify seemed cool but in the end all they are offering is “exposure.” And as my friend Andrew Hardin likes to say, “you can die from exposure.” I was stoked when I got a statement and had 50,000 plays between Pandora and Spotify, and then I noticed that it added up to about $26.00. But I have to be honest: as a consumer of music, I love Pandora. I buy music because of Pandora, which I continue to hope is the end result of having my own stuff there. But more likely it’s what David Bowie predicted – that music would be like water. You turn on the tap and it’s there.
And anyway, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not. It’s the way it is. I’m trying not to waste too much time bemoaning the way things used to be.
HB-Can you talk about the album artwork?
Rain-I’d love to! The CD was designed by Amy Schneider and David Reeser, and they did a beautiful job of incorporating an old photograph of my grandfather’s Marine buddies. (My grandfather appears on the disc itself.) Amy does amazing collages – making old photographs current with vivid colors and paint strokes.
Once I realized I was making an album called Men, I had this idea of some kind of iconic photograph of guys. I put the word out on Facebook and got some wonderful pictures, but nothing was quite what I was looking for. And then I remembered that I’d seen a photo like that, and that it was a picture I already had. In an old photo album are all these great shots my grandparents took in Hawaii in 1946. The guys in the picture run the gamut of cocky, unsure, virile, terrified. And then Amy and David did a great job of making it pop with the pink and blue, because it could have looked “retro,” which wasn’t what I was going for.
And then David took that great photograph of the easel, which is a reference to the song “Atlas.”
HB-Chuck Prophet and Robert Earl Keen are two artists that show up on the NoDepression forums and you cover them both on “Men”.
Rain-That’s because Chuck Prophet and Robert Earl Keen rock! They are two of the most compelling songwriters around. But aside from being a big fan of both of them, it was these two particular songs that worked so well because they both revolve around the more challenging aspects of being in a relationship. And with this record I wanted to be forthright about the joys and the difficulties of making love work over the long run.
When Chuck Prophet sings “let’s do something wrong, let’s do something stupid,” it seems like a pretty straightforward cheating song. But it’s more nuanced than that. I can’t speculate where exactly he was coming from, but where I’m coming from when I sing it is that feeling of loving someone but just not getting along and thinking, “please, can we please do anything besides this?” So for me it’s not about breaking out of the relationship but about breaking out of the rut. Plus I think Chuck’s Randy Newman influence is shining through in the bridge and it’s so cool.
“Then Came Lo Mein” – aside from walking a very fine songwriting line between humbling cleverness and humbling beauty – is the most accurate description I know in song about coming out on the other side of a major battle stronger and more committed. It’s one of the most perfectly crafted songs I’ve ever encountered. I mean, “I was steamed, I was fried, but you stood by my side?” Come on. It’s a master class in the Extended Metaphor.
HB-I might be the least tech savvy blogger on NoDepression. What is an iPad Garageband acoustic guitar and an iPad Garageband upright bass?
Rain-Here’s a long answer to that seemingly simple question. I grew up playing the guitar and piano. When I was 22, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I lost the ability to play the guitar and haven’t been able to since. So when I write, I write in my head. Then I record an embryonic demo on piano or Autoharp or something and I send that to Mark Hallman, my producer, and we talk about the instrumentation and build it from there.
Then Apple invented the iPad version of Garageband, and it’s amazing because it has all these cleverly designed instruments that you can either sequence yourself or use preset riffs. So for this record, I wrote a lot of the songs in Garageband, which had the added benefit of breaking me out of a kind of mid-tempo lull I sometimes find myself in.
On most songs, we just replaced each track with real instruments playing more developed parts. But on “Happily Ever After” I was delighted to see that Mark chose to keep my original iPad recording of the guitar and bass. He put some groovy delay on the guitar but the performance on that song is me, which is pretty satisfying!
HB-Rain rocks out on “Get In The Car”!
Rain-Actually, Rain and Mark Hallman rock out on “Get in the Car!” I wrote the basic power trio parts as a stripped down almost surf-rock song, and Mark put on all those crunchy guitars and B3 and everything and made it a killer track. That’s what he does. Or, like on “Umami,” he decides to have two basses and no guitar.
HB-“Atlas” might be my favorite song on the album. Atlas as a man, Atlas as men. Where did that come from! It sounds like it just flowed forth or maybe you just make it sound easy?.
Rain-I am so happy to hear you say that because it’s my favorite song too. I just feel such affection for the big guy. It’s also a stream-of-consciousness thing about the Protestant work ethic and art and grief, and the legacy that men inherit of carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Of all my songs, that one was the most from the stratosphere, you know? Like Atlas just appeared and I had to write his song about him. But it took awhile.
And this is another song where Mark Hallman knocked it out of the park. I gave him a looped drum track, the piano part and the vocal, and he just sat with the story and built the drum fills and the lovely guitar and bass figures around the lyrics. And boldly put a synth up front. And also – I figure No Depression readers are more musically literate than most – Mark’s brilliance is also in the little things, like the fact that the piano hits on the one throughout the whole song but in the last 8 bars it hits on the two.
I will add that once I got the basic story out, I went back to Atlas Shrugged and made sure I quoted it correctly, because I guess on some level this is also a treatise that there might possibly be another result than “dystopian socialist nightmare” if Atlas set the world down.
HB-“Men” is not Rain’s “Shoot Out The Lights”. You sound like a realistic woman pretty happy with herself, her men and the ups and downs they share.
Rain-“Her men.” That’s cute. No, it’s not “Shoot Out The Lights” because I’m still married but boy, I aspire to that level of emotional honesty. They always say marriage is hard work and yes, it truly is, but part of what can make it hard is the false idea that “happily ever after” means “happy all the time.” I figure there are enough pop songs out there that promote a fantasy of perfect love. I’ll write about the real, messy thing.
HB-Best of luck with the disc Rain!
Rain-Thank you, Hal!