At the end of 2018 I was asked a question: which album(s) from the previous year have gone up in your estimation from where they were at the time? For me, the recording that immediately sprang to mind was Perennial’sThe Symmetry of Autumn Leaves, a release that I discovered quite late in 2017 and only just made my “top albums” list for that reason.
Now, eighteen months on from its initial release, the New England art-punk trio’s debut full-length is an album I find myself going back to more than any other from that year, with the indulgent combination of spiky energy, warm, cohesive experimentation and no-nonsense brevity drawing me to their music more and more with every new listen. We recently caught up with Chelsey Hahn (organ/vocals), Chad Jewett (guitar/vocals) and Wil Mulhern (drums) to discuss the past year-and-a-half, working with producer Ed Brooks (who has mastered albums from Botch, These Arms Are Snakes, Narrows, Minus The Bear and Pearl Jam to name but a few), and leading the way for all-ages, all-inclusive shows.
The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves was released eighteen months ago. What has the reaction been like to the record? Chelsey Hahn: The record has had a really amazing reaction and we are really proud of it. We try to sound as close to it live as possible and that makes it really fun.
Chad Jewett: People have been really kind. We couldn’t be happier.
If you’re feeling like you got the “The Witching Witching Witching Hour Blues”, then listen to this new track.
Let’s delve into the album a bit more. There’s a lot going on throughout in terms of sounds and experimentation, yet you’ve made the whole thing sound effortlessly cohesive! How did you put such a wildly diverse record together? How did you decide on which tracks to put where on the album? Jewett: Well we all have a lot of music we adore, so one of our real focuses was on getting as many of those sounds as possible to work within the fabric of a loud, energetic, sharp album. So, oftentimes we looked at interludes or instrumental tracks as opportunities to see how far we could push ourselves creatively in the studio, but also as a way to make the album more adventurous.
You make great use of your keyboard, and there are a lot of additional elements in amongst the songs, buzzes, whirrs, plenty of noir electro Avant-Garde arty punky shenanigans! Were these elements planned as an integral part of your sound from the start? Hahn: Thanks!! When we started the band, the plan was to really have fun playing and explore new themes with the music; we wanted to try novel approaches to post-hardcore/Dischord-esque sounds. Since childhood, I’ve recorded ambient and found-sounds and so a lot of the weird sounds on the record are things I recorded out in the world or made, for instance some of the screeches and echoes during the interludes are me recording the process of preparing a screen for screenprinting our shirts.
Jewett: Finding room for interesting sounds or surprising textures that don’t normally show up in this kind of music was part of the reason we formed Perennial. We wanted to make really exciting, energetic music that could also work as an art project.
These additional elements often make me forget the fact that you don’t have a bass guitarist (although it sounds like you do use occasional bass on the recording), as they dictate the rhythm to complete the back-line alongside the drums. I think that’s one reason your music stands out and sounds so fresh. Do you plan on remaining as a three-piece? Hahn: We did record some actual bass guitar on the record to fill out the recorded sound on certain songs, but we plan to remain a three-piece. It’s a fun challenge to be able to sound really full as a three-piece band. I now use an electric organ so it helps us reach really nice low-end tones live and in the studio.
The album The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves was released on July 18, 2017.
Did you have a plan of attack when you first formed the band in terms of a particular sound? Jewett: Essentially, we knew the music we loved, The Nation of Ulysses, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, The Hives, These Arms Are Snakes, Le Tigre, Ornette Coleman, Bratmobile, Otis Redding. The goal was to find a way to make all of those sounds work as 90-second outbursts. Our mission is to always make something surprising and exciting.
Have your feelings towards The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves changed compared to how you felt on release day? Did you learn anything during the recording process over the past eighteen months that you’ll take with you into future recordings? Hahn: I still really love the record, it’s the first album I’ve been on that has been made into vinyl so it feels really special to me. I might be more proud of it after a year than when it was first released because it’s done really well and that feels really validating to me. Perennial is the first band I’ve sung in and since recording Symmetry to now my confidence around singing in front of others has developed immensely. I learned a lot during the recording process and since recording about how I want to sound in this band and how to hone in on that sound (specifically in my vocal performances).
Wil Mulhern: I was proud of Symmetry when we first released it and I still am today. It was a great way to introduce listeners to our sound and what we were trying to accomplish. For the recording process, I’ve learned, specifically for my drumming, that less is more. Drum parts should serve the song, not be too flashy, and big fills should only happen when they’re necessary.
When I first heard your music, even before I noticed the connection to Ed Brooks, it reminded me in part of bands such as These Arms Are Snakes and Narrows. How influential was Ed on Perennial as a band, and how much input did he have on the finalized version of TSoAL? Jewett: Ed was so helpful in the mixing and mastering process. These Arms Are Snakes were absolutely a reference point, both in the writing and mixing/mastering phases, and since Ed worked on that band’s later records, he was a wonderful teammate to help us find that sound we were chasing.
Have a listen to the hectic and fast-paced title track to The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves.
What kind of music do you all listen to outside of the band? Hahn: I love Patti Smith, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Be Your Own Pet, Gossip, Blood Brothers, Camp Cope, Land of Talk, Why?, Weird Al, Black Eyes, Destroyer, The Faint, Modest Mouse and Chance The Rapper, to name just a few.
Mulhern: I listen to a wide range of alternative/indie rock including Dinosaur Jr., St. Vincent, Radiohead, The Hives, Sigur Ros, etc...
Jewett: Otis Redding, Fugazi, Belle & Sebastian, The Beatles, Eric Dolphy, Rilo Kiley, Ornette Coleman, The Creation, Swing Kids, Erase Errata, Smokey Robinson, The Make-Up, Le Tigre, Vince Staples, Saul Williams, Gouge Away, Joni Mitchell.
Your show announcements on social media are centered around ensuring that everyone is aware that your shows are all ages as well as fully inclusive, and you make it clear that anyone who displays any kind of prejudice or intolerance for others will be ejected. It’s amazing to see bands take such stances. Do you think more bands should be emphasizing this message? Hahn: Yes. All-ages and fully inclusive shows should be a no-brainer. Everyone deserves access to a safe space to enjoy music. Places like bars are inherently dangerous and exclusive. We truly wish that all bands took an all-ages/safe-space stance and helped change the music industry from what it is now where many people are excluded from shows in order to increase the profits for the alcohol industry, which tells us that the music comes second. We want to put our music first.
Finally, what’s next for you guys? What can we expect from Perennial as we move into 2019? Hahn: More shows, more tours, more releases, more art, more music! We are recording another full-length album and it’s weirder and louder and more sonically diverse than Symmetry and I really love it. We are planning to have the album out in 2019, so be on the lookout!