Nowhere Girl: A Talk with Angela Perley

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Angela Perley is prolific by anyone’s standards. Since 2010, she has released four EPs, toured throughout the U.S., produced a handful of music videos, received overseas airplay on the BBC and is preparing to record her full-length debut.

Perley, a full-time independent musician based in Columbus, Ohio, got her start in Athens, playing songwriter nights at Donkey Coffee and Ohio University’s Baker Center.

This Friday will be a homecoming of sorts when she and her band The Howlin’ Moons (which includes guitarist Chris Connor, bassist Billy Zehnal and drummer Steve Rupp) return for a show at Casa Cantina.

When I last spoke with Perley, she had released an EP titled Fireside and was about to perform at the South by Southwest music festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

Just under a year later, she has another EP, Nowhere is Now Here, and is currently playing a series of dates in Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina. We caught up to talk about the new CD and what’s ahead for 2013.

BG: The new EP’s production is superb–it’s recorded very well, plus the band sounds “live.”

AP: Thanks for saying that. We have been trying to capture more of our live sound in our recordings as of late. That’s what has been great about the process of doing the four-part EP series, because I think by this last one, we are finally learning how to reel in the right tones and energy.

Sometimes musicians have trouble transitioning from the stage to the studio, but it sounds effortless in your case. Could you tell me a bit about your recording process and how your band gets into “studio mode?”

AP: We have been recording the bass and drums together, then building off that foundation, which has helped us keep an organic feel. We usually layer in guitars and vocals last, and I always strive to take as few whole takes of my vocals as possible so I can keep it natural. Going into the studio with a relaxed mindset and keeping things in the moment is essential for us.

BG: During our last interview, you mentioned that you had just added a full-time drummer, Steve Rupp. Did recording feel different this time, knowing you had a stable, permanent lineup?

AP: Having a stable lineup is crucial to me because it makes arranging songs and live performances that much more cohesive. It just feels more like family because we’re all comfortable with each other and the music. When we first started out, the project was a little more geared towards the studio side, so I had multiple drummers that were willing to help out in the studio and to do live shows here and there. It’s fun seeing where different musicians take a song, but I still think there is something very special about having a close team that builds the songs from the bottom up.

BG: What do you feel your bandmates added to the recording, in terms of input, energy and arrangements?

AP: I feel that Chris, Billy and Steve are the most important forces behind my songs because they really take it to another level and bring my lyrics and melodies to life like I never could. I am very limited with my guitar playing, but the guys can push things and make it swing and rock. It really wouldn’t be the same without them.

BG: In addition to writing and singing all the material, you play a number of instruments on the new CD, including a saw on “Tangled on the Kitchen Floor.” What prompted that and had you ever played a saw before?

AP: I picked up the saw several years ago. When listening to old rural blues and folk recordings, it was the instrument that always caught my ear the most. I just love the sound and tone of the saw and felt really connected to it before I even started playing it. It’s the only instrument I can play lead on because it doesn’t have frets and is more about emotion and sliding melodies, which I like. I thought it was suited for “Tangled on the Kitchen Floor” because that song is very simple and stripped-down…it’s blurry like a teardrop and the saw just needed to be there.

BG: Tell me a bit about your video for “18 Feet Under.” Where was it shot and who produced it?

AP: Vital Film Works produced “18 Feet Under” and they are also under the umbrella of Vital Companies, which our label Vital Music Records is housed under. We shot the video in one of their new studio buildings in a big warehouse in Grandview, Ohio. I did the digging scenes in a ditch/swamp area right outside our recording studio and the street shots were around the Arena district in Columbus. We actually made the video in March as promo for our spring tour and are still trying to get it out there. It’s been featured on some music blogs but mainly we’ve used it for booking and sites like YouTube and Facebook.

BG: Four EPs in two years with a full-length CD on the way…you’re obviously a prolific writer. Do you write every day? Or just when inspiration hits?

AP: I write songs manically, but I have come to realize that just because I wrote it, it doesn’t mean it’s good or usable in the band. Some songs don’t make the cut but they may help inspire another song or just get my blood flowing. I will write songs on anything I have laying around: paper towels, receipts, inside books, on cash, soles of name it. My handwriting is awful, so if I can’t record it on something like a phone, computer, handheld, or camera, I just repeat it over and over again in my head so I get the melody, phrasing and words down to how I first wrote it.

BG: The last time we talked, you were gearing up for SXSW. How did that go?

AP: We had a blast at SXSW. We played an unofficial showcase there with a group of other Columbus-based musicians, so it was really rewarding and inspiring to check out the festival. The most important thing about the tour was that it was the longest one we have done so far. We played in Knoxville, Memphis, a couple shows in Houston, Austin and New Orleans, and it really lit a spark for our love of playing music together and traveling. We met a lot of great people along the way and got to take Vital’s film crew and our producer along to capture it and celebrate with us.

Lately, we’re “weekend warriors,” doing more gigs in New York, Knoxville, Lexington and Chicago. We’re also sending our music out to a lot more radio stations than we ever have before and our EPs just arrived in the U.K. last week. Our last EP did pretty well over there so we’re hoping the new one goes over well, too. We’re also selecting and fine-tuning songs for our first full length record, which should hopefully be out late summer, and planning to release a music video for “Brooklyn Girls,” sometime this month or February.

BG: This Friday, you’re playing in Athens, where it all started for you. How did your time here influence you as a musician and songwriter?

AP: Athens really made me more passionate about folk and old blues music. I really searched for and listened to that music and tried to go way back to old field recordings. I loved the rawness of the folk-rock and bluegrass scenes…there was nothing else like that and I understand that now that I’m out of Athens.

BG: Any local individuals, venues or bands that helped you in the beginning?

AP: Bruce Dalzell welcomed me with open arms and really started to get me into songwriting. My first musical experiences in Athens were playing and singing backup in bands, so attending songwriter meetings and shows really helped me to grow individually and gave me more confidence. I loved the Donkey Coffee and Baker Center songwriter nights. For full-band venues, Casa and Jackie O’s were my favorite venues. Southeast Engine was really kind to my first band and had us on a couple of bills. That’s when I really started to realize the unique pulse of the Athens scene and its artists.

Angela Perley and The Howlin’ Moons will perform at Casa Cantina on Friday, Jan. 11. For more information, visit