A hopeless romantic or an art punk? – Interview with PS Perkins
Having been through it all – from hardcore punk to the massive grunge wave and finally reaching a contemporary narrative-heavy take on art rock, PS Perkins is an interesting artist, a multi-faced musician who we can wholeheartedly present as a person who lives and breathes music. Always feeling like the strange kid in all scenes he’s been involved in, we’re glad to PS Perkins finally being able to explore the music he’s always wanted to explore and also having his unique music on a platform like Drooble is an honor. More about his inspirations, influences and his approach to writing, recording and producing find in this in-depth interview.
Hello, could you please present yourself and share how did you become a musician?
Well, growing up my family were all very into music, though few of them actually played instruments. Several family members worked at or managed record stores. My aunt worked at a Tower Records in California, and my stepdad managed one called Musicworks here in Boise. They both had huge record collections and played me all sorts of music from a very young age. By the time I was ten years old I was listening to Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath and The Beatles (of course). I loved the Beatles as a kid – who didn’t? And Bowie, too. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my aunt and her friends putting on a David Bowie record and teaching me to lip sync to it while dancing on the bed. I was probably four years old, tops – very young. I started my first punk/hardcore band around 1986 and played the high school talent show where there was nearly a riot when we started playing. I was immediately hooked. Music has always been more than a backdrop or a soundtrack to my life – it has been an integral part of virtually everything I have ever done or experienced. Everything is music, and I mean that quite literally. All matter is vibration and I really take that to heart.
Introduce your current musical projects and tell us what makes each one special for you!
I have one current musical project, but it is highly faceted and flexible. It is really many projects all combined into one thing. We call it “Mystic Tape Deck” and it is not really a “band” in the traditional sense, it is much bigger than that. It is several bands. Real bands and “fake” bands, and real bands that are tributes to fake bands. All of the material is somewhat centered around a fictional, mythological character which a friend and I dreamt up a few years back. But really – the roots of this whole thing go back much further – they stem from us pretending to be drawing album covers for made up bands when we were kids, and telling each other stories and inventing the whole lore about them.
Over many years of stewing on the ideas, I found myself suddenly developing a sort of mythology regarding these ‘bands’ and their fictional members, who are all tied to this one central mythological in one way or another.
So, Mystic Tape Deck is the collective name of all of these things. Right now, we are finishing up our first full-length record, which is entirely self-produced. It is a sort of “high concept” record written and performed by a group of multi-dimensional time-shifting beings we refer to as “BARDS.” We hope to have it ready to go by early summer, as we toss around the possibility of running a Kickstarter to help fund its release. At the same time, we are forming an all-acoustic BARDS “tribute” band known as “Keepers of the Key” that will perform much of the material live, and who also exist in the context of the mythology. Like, at this point in time, they are manifested in the narrative – what we are doing in “real life” is also what is taking place in the narrative story. It is like a kind of “live mythology.” At the same time, we are also planning our next move in terms of recording projects. I think it is going to be an acoustic based “old time classic country” record where we tackle a few standards we altered, and pack some originals in there with them as well – all with our special subtle twist added which again tethers the material to the ongoing narrative of this whole mythological entity.
You have been playing music for a long while, what has been keeping you inspired?
You are right, I have been doing this for a long time. I used to be in touring bands and did things in a pretty straight forward and traditional way. The whole time I was doing that I was sitting on this huge story idea, developing the narrative and context, mostly keeping it to myself, but I found it impossible to prevent it from creeping its way into everything else I was doing. Sometimes even to the annoyance of people I was playing with haha. I think they would get sick of me talking about it.
Eventually, I got pretty exhausted with the whole grind of playing shows, touring, packing equipment around – all the trappings of a traditional band – and I needed to escape that by doing something very different. So, it’s not really a matter of finding the drive and inspiration – it’s more of a matter of finding the time to do all the things I want to do in the time I have left. There are so many facets to this project I don’t think I could accomplish them all in two lifetimes, let alone within what’s left of the one I am living now. So, it’s kind of… I just keep on working, trying to get as much of it done as I possibly can. From a creative standpoint, it has been incredibly liberating. It feels like I am finally able to do all the things I want to do, the way I want to do them. It has made me love making music again, after having almost given it up.
How is your local music scene in your perspective? Do you feel like you belong there?
Honestly, I am pretty out of touch with the local music scene in many ways. There are bands and artists I like, whom I try my best to support but I just don’t get out that much anymore. Boise has always been sort of a small town, with a very tight community. It’s grown a lot since I have lived here, and changed a lot too.
The first shows I went to as a teenager were these punk rock shows that were being held in grange halls and community buildings. I once saw that Canadian punk band “SNFU” at the local senior citizens center, no joke. That eventually evolved into the scene as people know it today.
As far as feeling like I “belong” well that’s a very complicated question to answer. Yes, and no. Making music in the late ’80s and early 90’s you know, Seattle grunge was what was really getting attention so that is what everybody always wanted to do. I’d get into a band and it was just sort of this unspoken thing that we all aspired to play that sort of stuff. But I was a little different, as you can expect of a kid who was more into The Residents than Pearl Jam. I always wanted to do something different – I loved “art rock” and experimental industrial noise rock, my tastes were more varied and avant-garde than most people I knew. I had a drum set at one point that was made almost entirely out of scrap metal junk, which I had salvaged out of alleyways. How do you reconcile that sort of thing with what was happening in the scene at the time? The answer is, you don’t.
You got into a band doing virtually the same thing as everyone else and you waited for that moment when you found the right people who understood what you wanted to do. In my case, that moment never really came until much, much later after the whole grunge thing finally settled down a bit. So, in a sense, I never really felt like I “belonged” in the music scene here at all, but at the same time, I was a pretty integral part of it.
What is your all-time favorite record and how did it change you as an artist?
I’d have to say my all-time favorite record would be “Cultosaurus Erectus” by Blue Oyster Cult. It had a collaboration with sci-fi comic writer Michael Moorcock, it had a saxophone jazz break on one song, it was just this weird, out of character record for them that I thought was just brilliant in so many ways. This is a tough question to answer so, I am just shooting out an answer here, but I definitely wore the grooves out on that record, and many more, a few times. It was kind of their most “arty” record. They were my favorite band for many years. The thing about that band that I loved the most was the “hidden narrative” behind many things they did, and there were clues on every record. Bits and pieces of an untold story that finally culminated for them, at least in part, with their “Imaginos” concept record. The thing is, they kind of got screwed on that record and there were a lot of unfortunate band politics going on for them at the time which ultimately led to the album not being understood by the label, and it really got messed up in terms of the narrative it was trying to convey. I was very excited that they were finally doing this record I had waited for them to do for many years, only to have it end up being kind of a disappointment in the end because it got so jacked up. Otherwise, I would probably be saying that was my favorite record.
What are your favorite software and hardware tools for music production?
We currently record everything on a Tascam DP24-SD portable console and export the raw wav tracks to a computer where we mix and master using PreSonus StudioOne. Recently we have started doing a sort of mix of things where some bits get recorded directly into StudioOne while we do other parts on the Tascam. I am an old four-track guy from way back when we did all this on cassettes, so the digital process has been sort of new to me. It’s taken me some time to get used to the many ways that differentiate it from what I know. There was a pretty steep learning curve, so that has also been a bit of a setback in terms of what we could churn out as we were learning how to do it at the same time. I love the digital recording process though. In so many ways it is simpler and more cost effective. You don’t have to sell your house to buy a tape machine, you know? And you don’t need a truck to move it.
What is your songwriting process like?
It is so different than it used to be. I used to write everything on an acoustic guitar and then it would get translated into a rock band formula. Nowadays it takes many different forms in its inception. I have had songs that started with my goofing around with a wacky synth part, and I have had songs that started with lyrics that we built music around. Really there is no set way we do things, that’s kind of the beauty of it. It can happen anyway we allow it to happen, it’s just a matter of being open to possibilities and paying attention.
Out of all the live shows you played, which one was the most memorable, and why?
Another tough question, because there were so many memorable shows along the way, all of them special for wildly differing reasons. I played a sold-out show at the Showbox in Seattle, opening for Modest Mouse – I think there were 1800+ people there that night. They weren’t there to see us, but it was still pretty great. It was total chaos, we were pretty dysfunctional in terms of having our collective act together, but it was definitely memorable. Also did a short northwest tour opening for Built To Spill which was pretty memorable and fun too. We played this classic antique theatre in Eugene Oregon at the end of that trip, and our band essentially imploded after that tour. Something about doing shows as an opener when the headliner is selling out every show just somehow gets into people’s heads in a weird way that changes them and they can’t go back to seeing themselves as this little home town band playing for six people ever again. It takes a really steadfast vision to get past that. I suffered from it too and actually had to undergo some sessions with a private therapist to help me sort it all out and get my thinking processes stabilized again.
What is your biggest musical goal?
Really, at this point in my life, I just want to make music and have it heard and appreciated. Getting signed to a label and all that stuff used to be important to me but it’s just not anymore. The landscape of music has changed so dramatically, it’s just not necessary to do that sort of thing anymore. I just want to have fun making music exactly the way I love making it, doing exactly what I want to do with no expectations whatsoever. I still catch myself getting mired in those kinds of thoughts and fantasies from time to time, but I don’t let myself get carried away with them anymore. So, the simple answer is that my biggest musical goal now is to produce music entirely without any kind of expectations weighing down my creative processes.
How has being on Drooble helped you as a musician?
Well, I wouldn’t really say it has helped me as a musician so much – except that we got a lot of plays and listens here which is great of course. It has, however, helped me as a person in many ways. It has connected me to people whose stories and interests parallel my own. It has given me scope and perspective. I would say it has also helped me as a promoter too – it has helped me mold my story and made me a more effective communicator. I love the community I have found here whether they like me or not hahaha. I can come off as cranky and cynical at times, but at heart, I am really just a hopeless romantic.