NEW YORK — Loss is something Elvis Perkins is all too familiar with. His father, Anthony Perkins, famously creepy as Norman "Psycho" Bates, died from AIDS-related complications on Sept. 12, 1992. And almost nine years to the day, his mother, model-cum-photographer-cum-bon vivant Berry Berenson, boarded a flight that would ultimately crash into the World Trade Center. Soon after that day, he began penning songs that over the next six years would evolve into his first album, "Ash Wednesday," released earlier this year and for which he and his band, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, have been touring exhaustively.
The album's title itself evokes images of the day after 9/11 when ashes literally and figuratively settled over New York, but Perkins said the name came from his producer. "I was thinking more obscurely about album titles," he says. Indeed, he's a deep thinker on most subjects, offering weighty philosophies about the whys and wherefores of life in general.
Take his own distinctive moniker, for instance. "It's hard enough to know who one is in this world, and that was, in part, the problem of being named Elvis, because there was this monolith of a person that had already taken the name," Perkins muses.
His incredible introspection has informed the delicate lyrics of "Ash Wednesday," an album that swings from heartbreaking to hopeful, garnering him praise as an heir apparent to Bob Dylan. While Dylan tackled the major issues of the day in his canon, so, too, does Perkins, even if that isn't necessarily his aim. For him, songs are merely his best way of communicating at all, especially when it comes to the loss of his mother.
"I normally let the music talk about it; it's my best attempt at making any sense of the senseless or what can be understood by people in their right minds," he begins. "The music in general for me was something of an alternative route to communicating and processing, alternate to what's available to be known about anything about that day. I didn't want to hear anything from the President; I didn't want to hear anything from the media; I didn't want to hear anything from anybody, really, as none of it was any good."Whether the album is cathartic for him, he does not know. Either way, it's keeping him busy. Having just wrapped up Lollapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival, he and the band are in France. They return this fall to tour with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah before embarking on yet another European stint, after which the band expects to start work on album number two. He has not been in one place for more than two weeks, has not paid rent and has not received snail mail, he says, in over a year.
When asked if all the travel makes him homesick, Perkins gives, of course, a lengthy reply. "I haven't had time for missing anything. I mean, I miss myself on some deep inherent level because I'm constantly in a different city and don't really have a sense of home externally and that gets in the way of the sense of internal home. Weeks will go by when I haven't checked in with myself or I just feel dislocated in some way and worried that I'm broken or something." He goes on for some time in much the same vein, but it's best you hear about it for yourself on his next album.
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