The Sunny Sounds of Rain Perry
Posted by Carla DeSantis Black
Rain Perry has just released her third album, Men, on her own label, Precipitous Records.
Approaching the quarter century mark of her marriage, the singer/songwriter from Ojai, California, created Men as a tribute to a two of the most important men in her life: husband, Bill Slaughter, and musical soul mate, producer Mark Hallman.
What does Bill think about being a focal point in his wife’s album? Proud. “After 25 years I am used to the embarrassing part of being part of songs,” he says.
Men is the sort of album you would expect from the writer of “Beautiful Tree,” which is still getting online love as the theme from the television show, “Life Unexpected.” Perry has a knack for taking the small tears in life’s fabric and turning them into a tapestry of heart-felt, poignant songs. She’s taken top honors in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition (folk division) and the ROCKRGRL Discoveries competition. She has managed all this despite a battle with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis.
We asked Rain what fans can expect from her latest musical foray – and more about Rain’s Men.
How do Mark and Bill feel about inspiring an entire album?
Bill and I have been married for 25 years this year and I’m still in love with him. Our relationship never feels settled. Sometimes we are fighting and wondering if we’re ever going to understand each other or be properly appreciated. Sometimes we are still finding out new things about each other and don’t take each other for granted. He’s an intense, devoted, good man and a great dad. I am grateful I’m not married to a jealous person. He doesn’t worry about all these male musicians, which eliminates a huge potential stressor for both of us.
I looked all over before I found myself in Mark’s world, and now he’s my musical other half. We have a mind meld. We independently named our pets the same name the same week. Mark is equally perceptive and supportive with all the women he works with – and he works with lots of women. He’s freakishly talented and intuitive and a wonderful human being. Can you tell I love him? He, too, is blessed with a beautiful, brilliant, understanding wife who adores him.
Are there other men in your life that inspired the title and the idea?
It’s a given that I’ve been inspired by many women. I’m just not talking about Carole King and Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris and Carla DeSantis [aww, shucks!] and Sara Hickman and Julie Christensen.
My dad raised me so he was obviously the main one. My album Cinderblock Bookshelves is all about growing up with and losing him. This project made me reflect on that question, and I recognize that there has been a series of men who encouraged me.
Our friend David Gamble used to let me play his pianos for hours when I was a kid. He hosted extended jam sessions at his house. My dad carried me out to the Volkswagen late at night. That taught me that music was important and I had permission to play it.
When I was a teenager, my dad’s pal Ozzie Ahlers was in some big Bay Area bands including the Jerry Garcia Band. I have a memory of going with my friend’s Deadhead brother to see him at the Stone Theater in San Francisco when I was 13. He let me sit on a crate on the side of the stage. He was cute and there were girls languishing backstage smoking. I distinctly remember thinking “I don’t want to be that. I want to be in the band.” He critiqued my earnest songs and took me seriously. \
Then there were the two teenaged guys I wrote about in “Girl in the Boy’s Room, ” Danny One and Danny Two. I hung out in their garages playing guitars for a summer during high school. After I got rheumatoid arthritis, I spent a couple of years not doing music at all. Then my friend Michael Bolotin said, “You need to be in a band,” and I sing in his. I learned a lot from him about musicianship, showmanship and not being scared to be onstage.
Tom Russell has been very encouraging and supportive. He was the first artist to record one of my songs, with Nanci Griffith on backup vocals no less!
I no longer play an instrument but I have lots of guitar players in my life. I’ve had the chance to perform with some of the best: Andrew Hardin, Danny B. Harvey, Martin Young, Alan Thornhill and the late great Jonathan Raffetto.
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid or ignore the most sexist aspects of the music I listened to growing up. I naturally gravitated to guys who were more female-friendly, like John Lennon with his epic love/dependence on Yoko and Paul McCartney with his cute, awkwardly x-rated obsession with Linda (“I just can’t get enough of that sweet stuff my little lady gets behind!”) and especially Bob Dylan. I guess I just grew up expecting to be treated as an equal.
I was influenced by all the songwriters who taught me how to write by attempting to copy them when I was a kid: the folk rock pantheon like John Prine and Randy Newman and Jackson Browne etc. but also Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer.
After the success of “Beautiful Tree” did you write any of these songs thinking, “This would make a great television theme”?
Well, not specifically, but the success of that song – which is really a ditty – reinforced something I’ve been trying to do, which is simplify as a songwriter. I tend to overwrite. I’m trying to say more with fewer words. But on “One of Those Days” I did think about writing something that would work in a sensitive moment on a TV show. Busted.
Is there one song on the album you are particularly proud of?
I’m not ashamed to say I love this record and all the songs on it. I’m proud of “Get in the Car” because it’s a rock song and I haven’t written too many of those. But the most special one to me is “Atlas.” I do not know where that one came from. I did not intend to write a fairy tale about what would really happen to the world if Atlas set it down (sorry, Paul Ryan – the answer is not “become a post-apocalyptic welfare state”). It’s a stream of consciousness thing involving my husband, who works so hard, and Mark, who does too, and some swirling amalgam of Protestant work ethic and grief and art. I love the big lunk Atlas and I’m happy he found his way successfully onto this album.
What is your songwriting routine like?
Whenever I get ideas, I capture them and file them away for future reference. But to actually finish them I have to get away from my mom life and hole up for a few days and write. My family has been very good about allowing me to do that from time to time. I always go somewhere at least a couple of hours away because I need that car time to listen to inspiring music and enter a different mental atmosphere. I lock myself in a motel room with a keyboard, or, more recently, my iPad, and slog through song ideas for seventeen hours a day, punctuated by coffee, Trader Joe’s salads and a walk. It’s not fun. But it is really fun driving home with several freshly minted songs.
Tell me about your Secret Suppers.
It started with Elvis! We went to Graceland, and in the gift shop I bought a copy of the official cookbook. Then I read an article about Secret Supper Clubs and I thought, “I could do that.” So I sent out an email to my local Ojai mailing list inviting people to “A Dinner Fit for a King,” including a showing of Viva Las Vegas under the stars. I charged money, and people actually came!
After the first one, I decided to make them a dinner and a concert on a theme. So far, I’ve done “Elvis,” “Spooky,” “Merry,” “Academy Awards Edition,” “10 Years of Edible Ojai” (songs about food) and then another Elvis one, but re-imagined with healthier food and songs about Elvis, to round out the first year. We’re taking a little break while I release this record, but I expect to be back at it next year.
And Songwriting for Civilians?
I started teaching songwriting classes, and soon realized there are lots of folks who would like to write songs but don’t think of themselves as musicians. So I created a program that quickly teaches how to understand song structure and write songs. I have a second class I call “The Recidivists,” which is more like an ongoing songwriting workshop. My favorite thing about that is that I’ve had students who were writing all kinds of weird stuff, from the requisite earnest singer/songwriters to devotional Harmonium music to Zappa-esque rock opera to a love duet between a rocking chair and a Slow Lorus.
Does your artsy hometown of Ojai creep into the songs at all?
Ojai is definitely a part of “Big Train.” I moved a lot as a kid, and I’m lucky that of all places, the last place my dad moved me was here. It’s got some of the usual small-town claustrophobia, but it’s also beautiful and filled with lots of interesting, supportive people. It’s close but not too close to LA.
Name five other men who inspire you.
1. Robert Earl Keen, because he wrote “Then Came Lo Mein” which is on the record and is one of the most clever and sweet songs ever written about a longterm relationship.
2. Chuck Prophet, because he wrote “Let’s Do Something Wrong” and so many other killer songs, and because he puts on the best show ever and is not afraid to embrace Rock God clichés and make them his own.
3. Andrew Sullivan, the blogger I obsessively read throughout the day, every day.
4. The guys I’m working with on an environmental campaign. They are working hard to do the right thing but they’re also really funny.
5. James Franco, because I just saw “This is the End,” and I’m impressed how someone that talented is always up for making fun of him self. The fact that he’s so cute and hot has nothing to do with it.