In our series Expatriarch Generations, newcomer artists get to pick the brains of veterans for insight and advice. This month, DJ/producer Bella Cuts interviews Perera Elsewhere (a.k.a. Jahcoozi vocalist Sasha Perera) in advance of their shared gig Sep. 19 at SchwuZ. Here is the transcription of their dialogue from Expatriarch Radio #55, in which they discuss topics like translating studio work into a live setting, playing the promo game, integrating politics into music, and earning a living as an artist.
Bella Cuts: How do you go about making a track? How do you start? Maybe it’s different each time, but is there a general thing you do?
Perera Elsewhere: It does tend to be different each time. With Everlast, I would just record something like guitar or keys, and pitch it or time-stretch it or loop it until I found a bit that I liked. Even with a vocal, I’d just do stuff without writing or planning first, and it would evolve into something else.
With a lot of your songs, you can hear all these little sounds. I wondered if you’d go around all day with a microphone and catch different sounds.
No, I just work in rooms that are not soundproofed! Which, if you have a lot of room in a track, it’s fine, because you don’t have to compress the vocals like you do with dance music.
How do you decide when a track is finished?
I don’t have a long concentration span, so I don’t want to work on a track for years. Some things I leave and then pick up again a year and a half later and realize they’re not nearly as shit as I thought. Usually I play my music for someone else and ask what they think. It’s very difficult to decide!
I’ve noticed you have all these cool collaborations and remixes. Prefuse 73, Antipop Consortium. Are those people you knew already?
I knew Antipop because I made tracks with them with Jahcoozi. My label, FoF, asked Prefuse. Planningtorock — who’s also part of Expatriarch Generations — asked me to do a remix, which I was super happy about, and then I just asked her back. Gonjasufi, I wrote to him over Twitter and said “I really need you on this album, because you’re the only person I can hear on here.” I did a project with the Goethe Institute in Nigeria and ran into a singer, Aremu. Springintgut is a guy from Hamburg who changed his cello into a MIDI sampler, and I was hanging out with him in Sri Lanka for a cultural exchange project, and we made a tune together, and I just put it on the album.
I noticed that you are going somewhere different to concentrate on music. Do you find that Berlin is distracting? Do you have a routine?
When we were making the last Jahcoozi album, we took gear from our studio here in Berlin and drove an hour away to some really empty places and really concentrated, which I really enjoyed. I’ve also been on these exchanges, and I’ve gotten used to going somewhere else to set up a mini-studio. It’s nice to have a limited setup as well. In the studio, you have tons of options.
Yeah, it can be a bit overwhelming. When you’re writing a track, there are so many sounds, you can just listen to different synth sounds all day and not write anything!
Definitely. Maybe that’s why I don’t make dance music!
You made Everlast with different recorded sounds, and then you have turn them into a live show. What did you do?
Aside from a drummer and a bass player, there is some quantized computer stuff. Without that, it was sounding like a post-rock cover band of Perera Elsewhere. There are certain manipulated sounds on the album, and we didn’t want to leave them out of the live set. I tried playing some of these sounds on the MIDI keyboard, but it became distracting, trying to recreate what I already produced and sing at the same time, and look like I’m having fun. So some of this stuff just comes from the playback. That’s life. I still play the keys and guitar on some tracks, but I don’t want to play all the time. I like to just sing and really connect with the audience.
Some of your lyrics have political ideas and opinions, whereas a lot of music is ridiculously shallow. I’m interested in how you include that without sounding like a lecture or preaching.
It’s a really fine line. As an artist and vocalist, stuff just comes out of you at some points. But I also decided for myself that I don’t want to have to write something polticial to write a song. The music is the most important. The message is important, but the music is a form of healing. If everything is shit, the best thing to do is listen to a lot of music, not listen to someone talking about how everything is shit.
Expatriarch is focused on queer theory and feminism. One song by Jahcoozi that jumps out is “Rainbow Coloured Rizzla”, which is challenging homophobia in dub and reggae, which I find really cool. But if you are making a song about something that didn’t affect you personally, how do you know that you’re not speaking on behalf of someone else?
I had a shaved head for five years when I lived in Brixton. I got a lot of sexual innuendo shit. When I wasn’t interested in someone whistling at me, I’d walk on, and then they’d shout, “dyke!” So you can relate to other people who get marginalized. I have always been part of a minority. That’s something you have for life. It’s character forming. I wouldn’t avoid it. It’s normal to empathize with other people who may be part of a minority.
Do you think it’s important to be on all that social media, do interviews and all that? Or just make music?
In an ideal world, I think most artists would love to do just one interview for their record and put it out on their own site. Maybe choose one brand partner, if they have to. At the moment, every time you do an interview or mix, you are not getting paid, but it gets the site hits. Ideally you wouldn’t be a content machine for all these people. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to create awareness for your music at the beginning without doing that. I don’t think being on social media all the time is healthy for your life or creativity. Do it, but have some discipline.
From what I understand, you don’t have a day job. In the past, people were making money selling albums. How can musicians survive now?
Gigs. With Jahcoozi I played a hell of a lot. With Perera Elsewhere, I perform less, but I DJ as well. DJing is nice, to show up without having to soundcheck.
Also, there is money from stuff like publishing and synch. That’s an industry in itself. I also get some royalties. I don’t think GEMA is the right system, but to have any money turn up, you’ve got to be happy, right? But the system is not just.
You’ve also got to know how to live in a flexible way. Your income changes. There are times when you earn more, and times when you earn less. Don’t buy a huge care as soon as you get your first check. I’ve got a bicycle. No driving license. If you keep everything flexible, you can get through. And if you want to be a real musician, in it forever, you’ve got to be willing to do some shit jobs along the way, too, you know?