Music is a means of self-discovery---some folks write it and others allow it to soundtrack their lives. Both the role of the listener and the author are integral to the craft. Toronto's own Sandro Perri understands both sides---to be the reflector and the reflected. Prior to heading to Sackville, New Brunswick, for this weekend's SappyFest, Perri brings his own collection of small audio images to the Marquee on Thursday, July 31.
"Tiny Mirrors (the title of his latest release) is a reference to self-exploration, self-knowledge, self-awareness," says Perri, calling from his west-end Dundas/Dufferin homestead. "From a creative standpoint, an album can be used as a mirror---to see yourself in a new perspective; each song lyric is a little part of a reflective surface."
Recorded over the course of two years, Perri released Tiny Mirrors in 2007 on Constellation Records. In certain circles he's known as Polmo Polpo, which, in Italian, loosely translates to "octopus lungs." Under that eight-arm moniker he released Acqua/Oarca(2001), Riva/Rottura (2002), The Science of Breath (2002), Like Hearts Swelling (2003) and Kiss Me Again and Again (2005). He released Plays Polmo Polpo (2006), Sandro Perri and Friends---European Tour 2007 (2007) and Tiny Mirrors (2007) under his birth name.
"The name is a playful play on Italian terms," he says of his alias. "I was reading a lot about octopi at the time. Since I was a kid I was interested in them, the way they propel themselves through the water beneath the foundation of their breath. Also, I was learning Italian at the time."
It's only been in the last couple of years that Perri has felt secure enough to perform solo; in the past he's dreaded being the sole spotlight on the stage. He flirted with being a full-time member of Great Lake Swimmers from 2002-2005, making an appearance on their self-titled release (2003) and Bodies and Minds (2005), but he left the band to work on his own material.
"I am starting to do more full-on production work with other artists here in town, working on a record together from start to finish," he says. "In the past I have done mostly studio post-production and mixing work for folks like Deep Dark United, Off The International Radar, Great Lake Swimmers, Barzin, The Silt, Creeping Nobodies, Alex Lukashevsky, Nick Zubeck, Isla Craig and a few others."
Perri speaks slowly, his voice is calm and rational among the clatter of the booming metropolis he's always called home. He doesn't even mention his album Tiny Mirrorsmade this year's Polaris Music Prize long list. At 33 years old, Perri seems to have grown into himself.
Upon reflection, he notes dropping out of university years ago as a pivotal turning point. With the pursuit of a jazz arrangement degree far gone from his list of aspirations and expectations, Perri describes his post-academia fury as an electronic rebellion and strongly influential to his musical development.
"When I left school I spent a lot of time making electronic music. I think I was consciously going against everything I had learned in school---the structure, the perfection. For a long time I was isolated in my creativity. It was only recently that I started feeling confident to collaborate with others."
Music is a means of self-exploration; Perri describes the birth of a song as a subconscious doodle. However, more recently he's been inviting other players into his creative process. The majority of his gigs are performed with session musicians, but Perri's Halifax debut will see the songwriter go solo with merely a kick drum, guitar, a few electronics and his vocals.
"I play with phonetics, adding words to the melody. Most often it's a subconscious thought on my mind, generally I write to relate to myself, to examine how I relate to others. I'm fascinated with human dynamics, intimate or otherwise, the progression of character and self," he says.
"In a way I guess songwriting is cathartic, at least as much as any sort of creative act is when you are finished. Catharsis feels more like a sense of relief, which comes more from the live performance aspect. It's going to be a fairly low-key affair."
Sandro Perri w/The Ghost Bees, le skiv, Thursday, July 31 at the Marquee, 2037 Gottigen, 10pm, $6, 429-2442