As David Foster Wallace wrote in his novel Infinite Jest, “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.” For senior Chris Perry, whose music is greatly inspired by Wallace, this unspoken belief is expressed and confirmed through his prodigious songwriting.
Although Perry’s solo musical career debuted just over a year ago with his first song “Roman Candle,” Perry has been writing songs since before he could play guitar. He has always appreciated songwriting as a form of self-expression through which he can “filter his emotions,” but he recognizes that he has come along way since his outset.
Perry’s first try at songwriting was in middle school, when he and his brother, 2011 LGHS alumni Phil Perry, wrote and performed Led Zeppelin-inspired rock music. In his sophomore year, Perry continued songwriting and played drums in a band called HYPE he formed with other LGHS students. Considering these endeavors a part of his musical infancy, Perry notes that his style has diverged greatly from those of both his brother and his previous bandmates since he began working independently.
While songwriting as part of a group gave him experience, Perry feels that he only found his individual style once he worked alone. The music that has emerged as a result of his solo projects has led to introspective, personal lyrics; the vocals backed up by only guitar add to the impression that Perry’s songwriting is a natural, direct transposition of his consciousness.
Perry decided to teach himself to play guitar once he began pursuing individual songwriting. Other than taking AP Music Theory and participating in school choir, Perry has had no formal musical training. This has never inhibited his creativity; Perry explains, “I never think, ‘I have these chords, now I need to use theory to determine which chords will follow.’ It’s always kind of a crap shoot.”
Just as his composition is uncalculated, Perry’s songwriting schedule is also spontaneous and irregular. Perry describes his writing process as “these little clouds of inspiration, that come down and rain ideas on me for a while, and then they leave and I can’t think of anything.” Perry writes whenever inspiration strikes, most often after reading books by authors such as Wallace.
Wallace is not Perry’s only inspiration when writing, as many of his songs are full of homages to books, movies, and other musicians. For example, the title of his song “Dedalus Stomp” is a reference to James Joyce, and the song has ten other references to various works of art throughout its lyrics. His most recent song, “Blind Amnesia,” was influenced by a novel by Yukio Mishima. Other authors from whom Perry draws inspiration are Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Perry’s literary interests have led him to consider a future career in English, and he plans to major in English in college while also continuing songwriting. “My main two career options are musician and writer,” admits Perry, “So, you know, [my] plan B for musician [is] a writer… Not really a great plan B. I just want to do something I’m interested in.” Perry hopes to find compatible musicians to work with in college, but plans to continue working alone for now to discover his own personal style.
Other musicians who have inspired Perry include Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, and Ty Segall, whom Perry knows personally. Perry also has a nostalgic appreciation for Vampire Weekend, and resembles the band’s frontman Ezra Koenig, if Koenig was crossed with a lumberjack. Perry listens to a wide range of music and says, “I never want to exclude anything, because I feel like there are good examples of music in any genre. But I can’t really listen to most pop-punk, and I can’t really get into really cheesy power metal.”
In addition to drawing from authors and other musicians, Perry says, “I get a lot of imagery from movies.” Although he spends less time watching movies than he does reading or songwriting, Perry is a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, more specifically his movies “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights.” Perry explains, “I don’t pull the same influence from movies as I do from literature, but any art that I interact with I get something from, otherwise I wouldn’t be interacting with it.”
While Perry’s many muses find their way into his work, it is important to him that this integration is never a copy-paste insertion of other media, but a meaningful assimilation of art that inspires him. “I guess it all comes from me,” explains Perry.
Perry’s attitude toward music and art in general comes largely from reading Wallace’s Infinite Jest. What specifically resonates with Perry is how the novel “interacts with sincerity and irony and how irony affects our culture and perception of the world around us.” Perry further explains that the way “art culture has become so ironic and sardonic that we have trouble legitimately interacting with art” has been something he has always felt, but been unable to verbalize as Wallace does in Infinite Jest.
Right now, Perry interacts with his listeners through social media and the occasional LGHS talent show performance. Perry’s artistic ability, individuality, and originality set him apart from the deluge of other singer-songwriters sharing their work on the internet. If history repeats itself, as it often does, the progress Perry has seen so far should continue to make him worth keeping tabs on in the future, whether that be through the spoken or written word. Check out his music and follow his soundcloud.