With his new album In Another Life, the Toronto musician rethinks what a song is and what it can be
SANDRO PERRI with MATTHEW “DOC” DUNN at Tranzac (292 Brunswick), Sunday (November 4), 9 pm. $20 at the door.
What if a song could last forever? Can a song be a place not only to share ideas but to test them? What can you learn from and about a collaborator when you play with them?
These kinds of questions occupy the mind of Toronto musician Sandro Perri, whose curiosity has fuelled his creative output for the past 20 years.
“Making music is a way of trying out different sorts of relationships between ideas and sounds and concepts,” he says over the phone from his home studio. “Also it’s a way to develop a different level of relationship with people.”
Those driving principles inform Perri’s latest album, In Another Life (Constellation), his first solo outing in seven years.
Since the NNNNN-rated Impossible Spaces, he’s kept busy with his Off World project, a series of collaborative recordings made with Eric Chenaux, Brandon Hocura, Jesse Zubot, Andrew Zukerman and others.
He’s also done mixing, arranging and production work for LAL, Tasseomancy, Andre Ethier, Kira May, Bernice and Bonjay.
Though it bears only his name, his solo work often hinges on collaboration, too, and In Another Life is no exception, featuring contributions from long-time friends André Ethier and Dan Bejar.
“The only difference in this scenario [versus Off World] is that I have all of the say in what happens, and control over the dynamics in writing the music,” he explains.
Still, the projects feed each other.
“In working with so much electronic stuff on Off World, I was more in that mindset and ended up applying that curiosity to this new record when that hadn’t been the intention at all,” he says. “[In Another Life] was going to be a much more acoustic live record, but because I had those gears turning, it bled over into the process.”
The album evinces this influence immediately, as the synth sequence and warm keys introduced in its first few seconds are also what sustain the title track over its 24 minutes. The repeating melody is the sound of a dream bubbling forward, of endlessly unfolding possibilities taking shape.
“It just came out very, very fast,” Perri says of its songwriting process – uncharacteristic for him.
The song, both melodically and harmonically, feels like it’s never going to end. Yet in that tension, it also feels meditative and purposeful.
“You can ruminate on a problem, you can sit there and roll it around in your mind and look at it from different angles and maybe never actually solve it,” he explains. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable process to go through.”
The second side of the album is a similar experiment in form. Everybody’s Paris (the only other song on the album) arrives in three separate parts, with Perri starting things off before handing it over to Ethier and Bejar. It began as something of a joke.
“It felt like one of those songs where you could just say ‘everybody’s anything’ [instead of Everybody’s Paris] and it wouldn’t matter,” he laughs about the open nature of the song’s lyrics. “Then at some point I became attracted to the idea of it being exactly that: a modular song, that could be passed around and have lyrics added to it, with the essence of the song still there, but have it be this multidimensional thing with different interpretations.”
Perri likens the process to the way three MCs might riff on an idea in a single rap. He purposefully kept the title of the song broad to allow for a multitude of interpretations from collaborators and listeners alike, and he admits he still doesn’t know what the lyrics Ethier or Bejar wrote for their parts, which he provided instrumentation for, are about.
“[With these songs] you come up against your limitations as a listener and say, ‘Okay, is this going to keep going?’” he asks. “You either shut it off or you stick with it and go to a different place. Perhaps you notice your tolerance levels expanding or your attention span growing back to what it was five years ago. I’m attracted to things that slow down my brain because everything else is trying to speed it up.”
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