Talking Internal Combustion with Rain Perry
If you watched the first season of CW Network’s “Life Unexpected” you’ve heard Rain Perry’s strong clear voice sing the theme song “Beautiful Tree” from her 2008 release Cinderblock Bookshelves. Confession: I didn’t. I hadn’t. How did we get here? An email offering a cover of Bob Seger’s “Till It Shines”, a song I know but don’t own, by a singer I had never heard of somehow caught my eye, then caught my ear and left me wanting more. Internal Combustion (Precipitous Records), produced by Mark Hallman, is an Americana gem that finds room for gospel, folk, country, rock & roll and soul in Rain’s music tent.
The usual cast of contemporary intelligent female singer/songwriters (Suzanne Vega,Vanessa Peters, Aimee Mann, Tift Merritt, etc.) are easy reference points but those comparisons might sell Rain short. She’s a confessional folkie with a rock and soul heart. The piano driven “A Perfect Storm” could be a long lost Warren Zevon track, there’s a fantastic cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and Tom Russell and Nanci Griffith have both recorded a Perry song (“Yosemite” from Cinderblock Bookshelves). Need I say more? If you are or aren’t familiar with Rain Perry I hope you take the time to read the brief interview that follows and I’ve added four of my favorite tracks from Internal Combustion to my NoDepression Music Player for your listening pleasure: “Till It Shines”, “Let’s Get It On”, “Ambulance Song” and “Keanuville”. Enjoy!
HB- Internal Combustion is my new favorite disc. I hear rock, soul, gospel, country and folk. Could you name some influences or favorite artists?
RP-First of all, thank you! Wow. As a hippie kid learning to play the piano & guitar, I learned by studying songbooks my dad and his friends all had around. John Prine, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, the Band – the fundamental folk/rock pantheon. My dad took me to see The Harder They Come, and I fell in love with Jimmy Cliff. I was also heavily influenced by Emmylou Harris’ genre-bending approach to choosing songs, and love the way she finds the heart in a song and makes it her own. And I loved Rickie Lee Jones and in fact used to babysit her daughter when she lived in my town, although that’s another story. But I also love rock and roll, and even though it might not always be apparent in the actual music, it informs my songwriting. I know every word of Quadrophenia and have a very soft spot in my heart for Eddie Vedder and Joe Strummer (god rest his soul). And Bruce Springsteen. And Los Lobos. And oh yeah, let’s not forget Chrissie Hynde.
HB-Internal Combustion is a great title for an album about love, lust, desire and obsession. The internal combustion engine as a metaphor for matters of the heart is brilliant!
HB-Your cover of “Til It Shines” puts a sweet power pop spin on Bob Seger’s song and your cover of Marvin Gaye’s ” Let’s Get It On” reworks and remakes his classic into your own. What are some other songs/artists you’ve covered?
RP-As far as recordings go, I’m also doing a Paul Simon song on Internal Combustion, and I did a Randy Newman song on my first album. But live, I often cover songs by all kinds of other writers because it’s fun. Some friends in Ojai and I often do shows on a theme – like “songs of 1964” or “Twisted Love Songs” or “Dylan Revisited.” I’ve covered songs by The Cars, by Jane Siberry, even “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap. I did a show of all Texas songwriters, since I record my albums in Austin with Mark Hallman.
HB-“Keanuville” paints the portrait of an all-knowing obsessed fan. Is she a character sketch based on people you’ve met at shows?
RP-Okay, let me just state for the record that I went to ONE Dogstar show, that’s it. I admit I nurture a small – okay, large – crush on Keanu, but what I learned when I went to see his band is that in the spectrum of obsessed Keanu fans, I am an utter amateur. Actually, this song is pretty much a transcription of a conversation I had with one woman before the show started. Everything in the song (except the bridge, where I took a little license) is exactly what she said. We’re working on a video for “Keanuville.” I’m kind of excited about it!
HB-You capture the essence of loss and the fragility of life in “Ambulance Song”.
It is a great song but it is so painful to listen to if you’ve suffered a similar loss or been on the receiving end of one of those early morning calls that literally changes your world.
RP-My mom died when I was seven, so I know. I drove by this accident scene and it just occurred to me that someone had just gotten one of those calls. Having gone through a loss like that and come out on the other end of it fundamentally okay, I had this strong desire to somehow reach out to whoever that person was and let them know it would be alright someday. Not for a while, maybe.
HB-What’s the weirdest gig or gigs you’ve ever played?
RP-That is an easy one. I sang “Sunshine On My Shoulders” in a funeral home for someone I didn’t know. A guy who used to work in the guitar shop I went to became a mortician (???), and one day I got a call that there was a funeral happening that weekend for an old lady that had passed away and they needed a singer. So I took the gig – it paid like $100 – and a guitar player and I stood in this alcove off to the side of the chapel behind a chiffon yellow curtain and did that song. All we could see was the casket from inside this stuffy little room with asbestos ceiling tiles. I have no idea if the deceased liked that song – maybe her son picked it!
HB- If you haven’t heard them yet you should really check out ___________ !
RP-Matt the Electrician! A great songwriter. And if anyone hasn’t heard of Eliza Gilkyson, that’s a shame. She’s my hero.
HB- Any plans for a fall tour?
RP-Yep! Doing a couple mid-atlantic shows in October, a few western dates in November, and am working on the East Coast for December and Texas for January.
RP-Thank YOU! Delighted you like the album.
Note to Rain: I was so impresssed with Internal Combusiton I bought a copy of Cinderblock Bookshelves. I’ve now heard “Beautiful Tree” but I still haven’t seen the show. No cable.