Since she was 12, Elli Perry has been a musical nomad, spending years on the road touring from coast to coast, playing the gigs that came along– barrooms, festivals and concert halls alike. But in 2014, she had a crisis of faith– she was exhausted. She wanted to keep traveling, but she had lost her sense of musical adventure. She put music on the back burner and began to broaden her map, bouncing from Costa Rica to France to the American southwest. The time off from touring recharged her, personally and creatively, and she emerged from her wandering with a set of songs that would become Little Thieves. The record materialized in a mere nine days, as she recorded straight to tape with the help of a backing band that included members of Deer Tick and My Morning Jacket and the guidance of producers Adam Landry and Justin Collins.
Little Thieves is set to release on March 31st, but today, Elmore has an exclusive advanced stream. The record has a sturdy Americana backbone, but from the first taste of Perry’s fierce, smoky vocals you know you’re in for a wild ride. The album moves in leaps and bounds through the gentle strum of folk, the earworm melodies of pop, the fuzzy guitars of rock– all the while laughing in the face of easy categorization. Standouts include the longing slow-burn of “Love Is A Ship,” the danceable, tambourine driven stomp of “Fare Thee Well,” the eerie, moaning lament of “Burn The River Down” and the soaring build of “Claw and Tooth,” though each new listen uncovers moments of musical passion, driven by Perry’s raw approach to her lyrics and her truly signature sound.
You took a break from touring before writing Little Thieves; the songs were written as you traveled around the world. What was the thought behind your decision to travel– to rejuvenate, after leaving the road?
I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to travel in order to rejuvenate or to accumulate inspiration for the album. The decision I made was to take care of myself at a time when I was too frayed to continue working. The traveling was simply a natural consequence of that decision. I’ve always travelled, always moved around. I just went to the places that felt peaceful and like home. And I stayed in those places until I felt like it was time to move on.
Little Thieves deals with some painful experiences that you had to work through, but repeatedly finds the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Was that hope a common theme you intentionally wove throughout the album?
No, but it was what I was intentionally striving to do with my life. I’ve never been particularly adept at finding the light and staying in it; I’m a melancholy person by nature. I wanted that to change. I wanted to reach an equilibrium amongst the shadows and the light. I think I’ll be attempting to find and maintain that balance for the rest of my life. So I imagine that theme will keep weaving its way into what I create as long as I keep trying to figure it out.
You added indie rock grit to a previously atmospheric and more traditionally Americana sound on this album, which created a little bit of a different sound. What was the impetus for that evolution in your music?
Honestly, I think it was just a matter of finding the confidence in myself to evolve. I never intentionally squeezed into this Americana box- I think it was a place I landed naturally as a byproduct of playing acoustic guitar, writing sad songs, and being a southerner. But I don’t listen to very much contemporary Americana, and it’s really not what influences me. The stuff that gets me going has always been more gritty than pretty, more raw than refined. I wanted to make something bold. I just had to get to the point where I believed I had the chops to be bold! Once I got to that point I pushed myself in a lot of ways- vocally, musically, stylistically. I switched almost completely to the electric guitar while writing the record, and I think that had an impact on how I approached the music.
You worked with Adam Landry and Justin Collins on Little Thieves, along with members of Deer Tick and My Morning Jacket. You’ve been making music for quite some time — how was working with this team different than previous experiences?
I had a lot of anxiety about working with ANYONE at the onset of the project, let alone people whom I admire so much. That was because I had spent so much time creating these songs and carrying them around by myself. I wasn’t playing shows, so I didn’t even have the chance to sort of test them out on other people, and work out any kinks in that live setting. I was really intimidated to start working with other people again. But everyone came to the studio with their walls down. We were all very honest with one another, and we just had a lot of fun. Liking the people you’re working with makes it a lot easier to be creatively and emotionally present, even throughout the sticky moments that inevitably come up in the studio. You know you’re all there because you all believe in what you’re doing, and you can have some trust and faith in your collaborators to help push this thing in the right direction.
You recently uprooted your life to renovate an RV and live in it full time. You’re a few months in now — how has that affected your creative process?
Ask me again in another few months! So far, there’s been such a huge learning curve to just figuring out how to live in this thing that there hasn’t been a lot of time for creativity. I will say that I’ve stumbled onto a lot of ideas out on the road that I’m eager to start delving into. My hope is that living this way will ultimately encourage me to create in different environments. And I don’t just mean different places, since I’m already used to creating and traveling. I mean that very literally. I hope having the opportunity to drive my home into the wilderness inspires me to walk out the door and do my work outside. I want to be able to set up an easel and paint out in the open, to take my instruments outside and work out the next set of songs in nature. I’m interested to see what might come from creating without walls. If your creative space is vast and limitless, that certainly must impact the resulting work. That’s where I want to go next.