interview: ALL OF THIS TIME TRAVELLING
A few years back I heard that Sasha Perera aka Perera Elsewhere picked up a guitar and started to work on her own music. When I first heard what eventually became Everlast (her solo debut LP) I was blown away. This was the most honest, intimate, emotionally exposed music I have ever heard from her. Jahcoozi, her previous project, was a concept and the production there aimed at either the strict, functional demands of club sound systems or the radio; so just by the virtue of the design, this type of intimacy was not really possible.
This new strain of music that Sasha was making sounded like the Sasha that I knew – the one with whom I could have the deepest conversations, in the strangest places, at the weirdest times (usually late night or early-early morning). There was also a deep generosity there, making you feel welcome and at home, the way you feel at her epic, hippied-out barbecue sessions. And the music was just plain weird, in that best way possible. I could hear all the stuff that she loves in her writing (from obscure anthropological recordings, all the way through to deeply experimental electronica and syrupy pop), but remodelled and reshaped into her very own universe. Being that I am a die-hard believer in a personal, artistic truth and I champion the type of art that is singular – where you feel like you are on the receiving end of a emotional transfusion of sorts – this was it for me! She came home! And it was such a joy to see that the world resonated with her and with her music, and that she finally got the props that she truly deserves.
Her latest record – All of This – goes even deeper, and hits even closer to the bone. Plus, she produced this one all on her own! Since I had the opportunity to publish something with the kind folks at Lodown, I figured why not just sit down with Sasha and talk about all of this. So, here’s our little back and forth, with a bit of time-traveling thrown into the mix.
Lukasz Polowczyk: When I was thinking about sitting down with you for this interview, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a long journey you had made artistically. When we met, way back when, you Robot and Baba (Oren Avinash) were just recording the Jahcoozi demo…
Perera Elsewhere: Yes! Long time back. Pre-myspace and that. Pre-vegan, ayahuasca trend, pre-flickr! Jahcoozi was the first band I was ever in. I played instruments in my house as a kid, recorded myself with two tape recorders, but I was never in a band. I didn’t even know anyone in a band! When Robot burnt some CD demos, sent them to Rephlex Records (Aphex Twin's label) and they actually wrote back to us saying 'great stuff, have u got more?' I almost shit my pants. I mean Aphex Twin: how nuts is that?! It was already shocking for me that I had even started recording songs and stuff. I hadn’t even had sending a demo out as a serious idea, I was just happy to be making music. It's like I’d finally found way to do what i wanted to do....
LP: And now Robot is batting for Hollywood, you’re making Doom Folk…
PE: Yeah well, it aint that black and white I guess. There's a lot of doom in Hollywood and a lot of glam in Doom-Folk. We always hang out when I’m there. We still have a lot to share and I did a remix for his last release. I made it on New Year’s Day in my house: pitched the shit out of Delia France's vocals and used the Korg Volca and my hangover. I had fuuuuuuuun! I have a home studio, but I also share a pretty fat studio with Oren in Kreuzberg. He's not in there very often, so I’m lucky to get to use the space so much and borrow his dope gear! He's always been super supportive and plays bass in my Perera Elsewhere live band. It’s nice to work with someone you have worked with for so long.
LP: A minor tangent, speaking of back in the days – did you know that Daddy Freddy also lived at Kopernikusstr. 5 (the 1st Jahcoozi studio was located there)? That place definitely had a deep vibe. A lot of great music was recorded in that house. Those poor neighbours!
PE: Yes I did! Love that dude. Loved that track Paedophiles and Politicians by The Bug feat. Daddy Freddy off the album Pressure on Klein Recs. in 2004. And in my DJ sets I used to rinse that tune Blaze and Cook by Al Haca that featured Daddy Freddy. You, Lukasz, were also on that album, Phase Three. Long time ago in Babylon Berlin!!!
LP: Yeah, I had a few joints on there. But it feels like this was another lifetime, which in so many ways it really was. Regardless of being on there though, what Stereo and Cee did with production really changed the aesthetics of club music to come. All the producers that were shaping future sound were definitely listening to that record when it dropped. But going back to you: how is different now that you are a solo artist and don’t need to discuss your ideas with two other highly opinionated individuals? Because you write and produce everything on your records now, right?
PE: It was a lot of fun working with two other people, especially at the beginning when we were starting out. …and I learnt a lot there about being productive and writing and finishing songs. We did spend a lot of time discussing though, just like any band I guess! We are three very different people, but we also crossed over and drew parallels about many things. Surprisingly, I never really learnt much about production at that time coz it was just cramped with two other people around a laptop! I learnt the most when i started sketching my own songs at home, recording myself and putting funny effects on stuff, in my house. They were always open to telling me stuff if I asked and letting me influence the productions too. I just think you learn the most by trying stuff out yourself, which is what I did in the end; and that is how Perera Elsewhere was born. Oren from Jahcoozi told me years ago that I should just write on piano chords which I could play, anyway, but I was kinda stubborn. It took me trying it out one day alone for myself to realise – yeah makes sense, that if I control all the melodies and don’t just write on playbacks that I can often write better songs. I bought my first sound-card and nice monitors in 2002. We shared cracks of software and plugins back then. I'm grateful for being able to have gone on this whole journey and for having shared it with them. I learnt the whole DIY home-studio thing through and with them. We produced our first Jahcoozi record on Ableton in 2002/3. We grew up in a time when technology became available and affordable. It totally changed my life and I’m blessed to be able to go into a zone and make something on my own that can be good and I can feel proud of. Simple as that. I wanna share that with people in the sense that I’m constantly telling instrumentalist or Mcs/ singers or people who have any musical ideas just to get a laptop and sketch them and develop them into stuff they couldn’t have imagined. I’m definitely an artist who's ideas have been enabled through technology rather than pure musical skill on one single instrument. I like to be part of the bigger picture even though I do play instruments. I don’t play my trumpet for 3 hours a day. I can’t be that focused on one thing. I use my computer to allow me to sketch a plethora of musical ideas rather than trying to play one instrument to perfection, something which is so subjective. I’m ultimately too un-concentrated/ lazy / undisciplined. I would also just find it one-dimensional i guess!
LP: I’ve been meaning to ask you for ages – do you ever think about what would’ve been, if you guys had dropped your record before MIA? I mean you wrote your stuff before her, or, at least, at the same time, but then through a stroke of luck she just got signed first. For those that weren’t in the know it made you guys look like you were following in her footsteps, which you weren’t.
PE: Someone told me once, maybe it was even Robot from Jahcoozi – ha! There were a zillion Kurt Cobain’s, but just one was in the right place at the right time and got the most exposure. I don’t even know if getting the most exposure is what you want for your life. I mean look at what happened to him! I don’t think about stuff like that in such detail to be honest, what if that had happened before that – there are so many factors involved, I would get a headache just thinking about it! Even if you or anyone thinks they deserve more glory than they got, there is always another guy who is even less heard of and got even less exposure and is even less recognised – BLA BLA BLA. So just try not to feel short-changed in life I would say! Not easy always, I know. I feel blessed that I am in the music industry and live from music and have met so many amazing people in the decade and a half I have been involved in it. Whenever I see someone working in a gas station bored out of their face or see people working in advertising also bored out of their face: I feel blessed that I don’t have to do that. I try to put my energy into all the different things I would like to try out musically, the people and gear I would like to work with or places I wanna go and record. Right now I have the feeling that I won’t run out of those ideas – as if a lifetime may not be enough! I think the longer you stay in this game and release music that is solid, the more respect you will get from true fans and most importantly for and from yourself. As long as I do stuff I love, I can just about deal with all the shit around us, so I’m kinda winning, whatever.
LP: Your solo records feel so personal and exposed, compared to the stuff you wrote to clubby tunes. Was it hard to get open like this? I know you wrote this material in a safe space, so to say, which is what they sound like. But now you take them on stage, and that’s a whole other game, right?
PE: I find writing in my house and writing in my studio alone and composing pretty easy to get intimate. My song writing sometimes comes out of me just using mistakes in the recording. I.e I just chop a hook out of the end of a phrase I wasn’t meaning to sing. Because I feel free to record whatever and make mistakes and experiment I think the result becomes unpredictable, that is where the intimacy lies in a way. In the end, a good song is just a little bit of melody and a vocal. If both those elements are working, it’s magic. And the rest is choice of sounds and the right amount of drama, build up and decoration. I see this now, I didn’t before. Probably coz I became a producer, rather than someone with vocal ideas and ideas for parts. But you can so hear how I have developed in the time of making my first and second albums. It's like I understood the idea of arrangements. It’s like I didn’t want to know this before I had the responsibilty!
Yeah, its interesting, coz of the energy of the music while producing and the performance aspect are totally different. I don’t play the record in the same format on the stage. It would be boring to do that. And it wouldn’t work coz it’s listening music, something beautiful about the static spooky weirdness. But live I mix it up more. I actually enjoy the unquantised tracks loads, like interpretations of album tracks. I play with my drummer Toto Wolf and bass player Oren Gerlitz and it’s fun to go totally off-the-radar and play something louder with nuts energy in the middle of quietly-scary quantised doom-folk-opium-den tuneage.
LP: Do you have a particular time in the day that you devote to writing and recording? I had “All of This” on major repeat when I was travelling and I had my headphones on – and a lot of the tracks made me think of dawn, for some reason. And coming back from a night out and enjoying the contrast between the club and the silence you encounter when you leave. And your vocals sometimes sound like whispering, as if everybody was still asleep..
PE: Ha! Funny you say that! No particular time to write, I just do it whenever I can. But yeah, there is an emotionality which is exactly where you place it, this weird zone of being communicative and being uncommunicative, being open and being introspective – like post-club. Maybe it’s coz I grew up in the 90s and I did have a lot of those post-club moments? I’m just happy to think of you and other people in those headphones listening, coz I did make a lot of it on headphones coz I work in different places, I don’t always work on monitors when I’m editing. So in the end it is really intimate what I’m making for you, every detail of how you hear it in terms of pans, effects, automation, filtering, time and space in music. I put time in to decide those things and that is also what gives it emotionality, I guess: the panning of a glimpse of a whisper across your head, in your headphones. That is when you are close to me. Yes. Weirdly intimate.
LP: What about your audience – has it changed with the music?
PE: I’m loving the fact that I have such a wide range of audience, especially in terms of other artists who have told me they dig my productions. That’s often the greatest compliment! Gonjasufi and co. or King Britt – ie. more established artists like them who have reached out to me. Or Chino Amobi from Non-Worldwide (a contemporary music meets political art platform) or Kiran Gandhi, who is an amazing drummer, activist and singer based in LA. Or even the Grammy-nomiated pop duo and identical twins Teegan and Sara. It’s amazing to have such a range of people who have been listening to the album.
LP: Did you start writing any new songs since the record dropped or are you gonna soak up experiences first?
PE: Yes, I've started writing again. And I was travelling in West Africa for the Goethe Institut giving some audio workshops in May. I recorded some people. Also an amazing singer called Fattu in Capo Verde. I need to go through some of that and finish it. I also started writing a couple of things in Berlin and something in Hamburg with a friend called Andi Otto. Bits and pieces, loads of Baustellen (construction sites) to finish up!
LP: What do you think about what Berlin had become? It was a whole different place when we met. Sometimes I think that maybe we were all a bit too vocal about how cool and cheap it was and helped to start this avalanche…
PE: I guess there were loads of vocal assholes before us lol! Berlin in the 80s was also full of loads of poser musicians blabbbing about how great it was and how much they love wearing black eyeliner and being away from mummy and daddy in Southern Germany! …we weren't the first people who are guilty of this. It’s just that the internet was listening this time around and the brands are there to repeat us and so did the City of Berlin with its poor-but-sexy campaign etc. Whatever! You get much better food than you did before in Berlin and you pay a price for that kinda of choice! We can’t undo what is done. We can either leave or make the best of it. I still love it as a city. There are still pockets of Berlin I don’t know. Just a little trip on the ring-bahn (the subway) is fucking exciting at times! I got 1000 lakes around the city, it aint that bad here! Don’t forget I come from London, where u feel like a prisoner coz of money and infrastructure and traffic and general shit quality of life! I still go out a lot. I have lots of friends who play. I buy music, I DJ so I enjoy being in that environment and enjoy the exchange of music and ideas and naive enthusiasm that people can also have about things. I like the way that culture quotes itself and then quotes itself wrong and makes an unknown bi-product that then gets another name. I leave the city a lot coz of gigs and projects and coz I like to travel. I’m always happy to come back and enjoy the liberalism of berlin.
LP: You’re absolutely right! Whenever I think of alternatives, Berlin always wins in the end. There’s nothin like it or comparable, if you take everything into account. There aren’t so many places where you really feel free like that.
In closing, I just want to say that I really miss the Lick My Crack song (note: it was a staple during live Jahcoozi shows) and I hope that an acoustic version will be added to your set sometime soon..
PE: Funny you say that! I already had an idea for that. Still too dope that tune! …. all u ladies pop ya------------ Yes, we were early... on that tip!