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Interview Thu Oct 15 2009
Alex Perkolup is a musician who currently plays bass and guitar in the critically acclaimed progressive rock band, Cheer-Accident. Originally formed in 1981, Cheer-Accident has maintained an impressively fresh and interesting sound, oscillating between noise and pop, refusing to be categorized. The music is moody, complex, and highly composed, but never muddy. Perkolup has been one of the three mainstays in their ever-evolving lineup for six years. He has also played in Bobby Conn, Lovely Little Girls, and The Flying Luttenbachers, among others.
Do you have formal music training?
I started lessons at eight and went on until I was about nineteen. I had one guitar teacher for nine years of that time who was a big influence on me. I started playing because of Eddie Van Halen. I came out of the metal school of musicianship. I was really into difficult playing and my guitar teacher recognized that. He introduced me to King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gentle Giant and some progressive rock bands, so he was very instrumental in my influence.
What is it about "difficult playing" that you are interested in?
The challenge, which is both mental and physical. It's complicated, so you really have to get inside of something. Then you give it a certain sense of freedom with your playing. Plus it hurts your fingers.
What inspires you?
Literature. I'm very much into H.P. Lovecraft and the Weird Tales writers, also Cormack McCarthy. There's a specific type of writer I like, and I like to use their techniques of creating stress and relieving it in my music.
What is it about that "certain type of writer" that you are attracted to?
Subject matter is important to me. I'm into science fiction and horror. The Weird Tales Writers describe a type of terror that isn't physical; it's inter-dimensional. It won't necessarily attack your body but it will attack your mind, so you have to slow down time to notice it and to defend yourself. In terms of writing style, there is an old style of trying to build up tension. Writers, like [Edgar Allen] Poe, used to use short sentences, down to one-word sentences. But Lovecraft and McCarthy in specific, instead of writing short, choppy sentences, would write insane, run-on sentences, moments of stress, so it's like a person going mad. They will write a page and half with no period. And then, when you get to that period, you're overwhelmed and you have to put the book down and recover from it. I look at writing style as a compositional style, which I try to translate into my music writing.
How have your musical tastes evolved?
I used to always look for a certain, superficially complex type of playing. Now I look for complexity that lies beneath the surface, deeper in. The deeper it is, the more I like it. In fact, it's to the point where if I like something immediately I know it's not going to last long. But if there's something about something that I like, where I can't quite like it yet, I know it has a chance of being something I'm really going to get into.
In your own playing, did you make a distinct transition from guitar to bass or have you always played both?
Both. In Cheer-Accident, I play bass live, but on the recordings I play both. It's funny because when you're younger there's kind of an ego thing about it. The order is lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, and then the bass player, in terms of glory. But you can definitely transform the function of the bass toward the front without taking away from its function. Actually, being in control of the lowest frequency is a very powerful space to be in. It's almost like moving plates on a planet.
Are there any performances in particular that stick out in your mind?
The last time Cheer-Accident played in Würzburg, Germany, it went really well. It wasn't well attended but it was the best show we've played since I've been in the band.
What made it good?
We all got on the same wavelength and it went somewhere. We did a long, freeform improvisation that reached really high levels of chaos, and it worked. Too often, with bands that do live improvisation, the rule of thumb seems to be don't stop playing. But they don't necessarily have something to say.
Then it gets boring.
Yes, it has to be a listening experience. Even if you're playing nothing, silence is your part. You're playing silence. So what I am trying to say is that it really went somewhere, like a hurricane.
How are the songs written in Cheer-Accident?
Each of us is free to come in with demos, which are basically finished and everyone learns the parts. Lately we've been doing a little more of an organic compositional style between us, it's more democratic. Each of us is responsible for close to a perfect third of the new pieces that we've been working on. I prefer it that way because it's more of a conscious collective activity, but it's not always that you can have a concise group of people that can work like that, it takes time to develop.
How do you like playing in costume?
I prefer it. When you see a band playing in costume as an ensemble it brings an emphasis on the conscious collective of the group. Instead of "these are our work clothes, this is just what we're wearing today" it's like "we're wearing these because we're here!" It's like a sports team. And the other part is, especially with makeup, it's like you're hiding behind this stuff. In Lovely Little Girls I would wear eight-inch long prosthetic noses, weird bonnets, and all this other stuff, and the costume freed my personality up a little bit because I didn't feel like I was held accountable. Instead, the costume is somehow held accountable, so I'm more inclined to act like a nut.