Perennial break down every track on their new LP ‘In the Midnight Hour’
Perennial recently released their new album In The Midnight Hour, which we said in our review will bring you right back to early 2000s dance-punk with such influences as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Blood Brothers, The Rapture, Nick Cave, The Sonics, Motown, free jazz, and more, and for even more on this album, co-vocalist Chad Jewett has now give us an in-depth track-by-track breakdown. Stream it below and read on for what they had to say about each song.
If you're in Massachusetts, Perennial open for Giraffes? Giraffes! tonight (4/15).
“The Skeleton Dance”
A lot of what we write gets filtered through what we think would be compelling live. We wrote “The Skeleton Dance” very purposefully to be the set opener, so it’s quick and has a lot of dynamics – the sort of stuff I think makes for a good opening. Originally the song began with a single guitar playing the main riff, but that sounded a bit too plain for the record we were trying to make, so we instead started crafting this echo-y, free jazz intro and Chelsey wrote a new verse to sing over it. That switch, from this loose improvisational sound collage to this really taut, sharp post-hardcore song made for a good metaphor for the record in our eyes. The main riff has a lot of MC5 in it too.
“In The Midnight Hour”
“In The Midnight Hour” was one of the few songs that developed from just playing whatever came into our heads during practice. Wil and I were playing around with this very Motown bass-and-drum groove and it eventually developed into “Midnight Hour." We remain forever enamored with quiet/loud dynamics, and this song pushes that about as far as it can go, with this really hushed bridge where it’s just Chelsey and I whispering the hook, all the way back to this bombastic final chorus. Wil is such a brilliant songwriter and storyteller as a drummer; able to create and wring out those dynamics for all their worth. This one’s another really fun live number.
“Soliloquy For Neil Perry”
We looked at “Soliloquy For Neil Perry” as a chance to really use the studio as an instrument, which [producer] Chris [Teti] totally encouraged and helped make possible. The song has a very 1966-era Beatles groove (not to mention some mid-career Jam energy), so we started piling on those sorts of aesthetics: fuzz bass, backwards guitar parts, wah-wah pedals, lots of organ and tambourine. It’s got this fun retro quality to it that we really got a kick out of in the studio. More than once the four of us (Chelsey, Chad, Wil, and Chris) would be laughing at these very over-the-top '60s Mod choices we were making on this song, piling on the groovy early psychedelic stuff. You don’t hear a ton of wah-wah pedal in post-hardcore these days. Alas.
“Lauren Bacall In Blue”
“Lauren Bacall In Blue” is an ode to our cat (and fourth member of Perennial), Wasabi the Cat. “I clean my claws in the blue of the moonlight." The original version of this was a more spare, sinewy punk song, so we really wanted to cut it up and glue it back together in a new way for
the LP. Thus we added the dance elements in the verse – drum machine, cowbell, programmed synth bass – and the post-bop jazz ideas in the bridge, with our friend Mike Buckland adding this great evocative trumpet a la Miles Davis’ work on the Elevator To The Gallows soundtrack, which Chris really captured beautifully in the mixing stage.
“Food For Hornets”
This was another one that we reworked from an earlier version, this time adding a sort of ambient electronic outro with a new verse. We really love albums that feel like a whole world unto themselves, with a whole set of ideas and images and motifs. So we added some lyrical references to “In The Midnight Hour” here to create those fun echoes. Chelsey’s vocal performance is really unbelievable here, as is Wil’s drumming. It’s a tour de force from both of them. The bridge was also a fun one to come up with, this slowed down, leviathan breakdown in an otherwise very wiry dance-punk rush. The idea of the two-note main riff comes from our love of James Brown’s mid-'60s singles, where the guitar is often just this tight, minimalist accent on a larger groove.
Most of In The Midnight Hour is very sharp and angular, so we wanted to have this nice respite in the middle of the album where the sounds could be a bit more round and ambient and lush. I ran our Alesis drum machine through a distortion pedal and a digital delay pedal and then cut all of the treble and most of the mid from the results, so that it created this soft, dreamy quality. The song really came together when I tried layering two versions of the same programmed beat, one in 4/4 time and one in 6/4 time, panned to either headphone. It ended up creating this neat sonic back-and-forth: very Stereolab-esque. The title is a nod to Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s “The Lyre Of Orpheus."
“Tooth Plus Claw”
This was the first song we recorded for In The Midnight Hour and I think a lot of the recipe is here in this one: lots of organ and synth bass, Chelsey and I trading vocals back and forth, the jazz elements in the drums and bass. I think our love of The Blood Brothers comes through especially clearly on this one – those gnarled, minimal guitar riffs in particular owe quite the debt to them. This song feels like an especially good entry to celebrate the work of Rachel Field and Ed Brooks of Resonant Mastering, who really got what we were going for on this record and did a brilliant job making this album sing and roar. They are poets. “Tooth Plus Claw” is about trying to live a peaceful life in a world that can often feel so cruel and brutal.
“Melody For A New Cornet”
We wanted to write songs that you can move to, and “Melody For A New Cornet” embodies a lot of that. We had fun treating this one like a science project in the studio: playing with the drum dynamics, adding programmed beats and synths, getting adventurous with the stereo mixing. I love the idea of a song with a very danceable groove that then gets turned into something abstract, while still keeping that groove at heart. The lyrics are another ode to Nick Cave, this time “There She Goes, My Beautiful World," where Nick sings to a muse in search of the cosmic brilliance that inspired great artists of the past. In “Melody For A New Cornet” there’s another stack of books to contend with: Ovid and Sophocles and Emerson. I wanted my chorus vocals to be as deranged as possible (think Kurt Cobain on “Scentless Apprentice”) so we saved this one for last on my vocal day and I just screamed myself hoarse. Chris plays a really cool guitar part in the chorus, adding this neat feedback/harmonic thing that gives it that extra atonal edge.
“Hour Of The Wolf”
Wil wrote every note of this one, and it very much fits the 60s garage rock aesthetic that’s at the heart of Perennial. You could see this one showing up on a Sonics LP. It’s one of a few “haunted house” songs on the album (the title is a nod to an Ingmar Bergman horror film), which ended up being a theme for the record overall: how your imagination runs away with itself in the nighttime. Chelsey and I wrote lyrics describing an imagined house full of ghosts, but with the imagery hewing more towards the uncanny and surreal: a piano full of vines, eerie sounds from the basement, trees scraping at the window pane. I absolutely love the vocal sound Chris got here. It’s no small feat to get that kind of eerie echo while also keeping things sharp and immediate. But that’s why he’s the best.
“Perennial In A Haunted House”
This one is really Chelsey’s highlight performance on the record. Her vocals here are just brilliant, particularly that last chorus. This was a song that we all worked really hard on getting the dynamics right for, making sure that the energy was always building and that there would be plenty of surprises, all while keeping a pop structure. I’m rather fond of the pre-chorus breaks here, where Wil does this great, minimal disco beat that compresses everything down before the big choruses. We knew pretty early on we wanted this to be the first single from the album, the first thing people would hear from In The Midnight Hour, so a lot of care was put into making sure “Perennial In A Haunted House” really had that magic.
“I Am The Whooping Crane”
I was listening to a ton of Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch as we were working on the LP: that great free jazz sound with lots of space and these evocative vibraphones was very much on my mind. So the verses on “Whooping Crane” were built around that aesthetic, with the choruses then launching into these punk flareups with lots of organ, another Nick Cave echo. For the end of the song, we knew we wanted something huge and dramatic, so we wrote this wild breakdown that Wil made all the more compelling by placing his drum fills at a really interesting angle in relation to the downbeat. Lastly, we really wanted a bit of Motown Sound on this album (a foundational influence for us), so we came up with the interlude that leads into “Absolver”, complete with the big echo-y snares and organs and tambourines. It was incredibly fun to put that section together with Chris, trying our best to reverse-engineer those amazing '60s singles.
I’ve always liked the idea of the last song being a short, kinetic burst rather than something too overwrought or too long. “Absolver” is almost exactly one minute, but as with “The Skeleton Dance” (which is also quite brief), so much of the In The Midnight Hour sound is there. Chelsey has these really groovy organ stabs in the main riff sections that I just love. For the very end of the song we added this tidal wave of feedback that basically takes over, like pieces of a collage being glued on top of the original image that is that main riff, which was a bit of a nod to the end of “Supply and Demand” by The Hives, which ends their 2000 album Veni Vidi Vicious in a similar way. The idea was to end with this last ghostly howl, then a few seconds of quiet. The nighttime at its most haunting, the nighttime at its most calm.