In electronic music, experimentation can be found in unlimited sonic approaches, you just need a great ability to manoeuvre with audio and, above all, a lot of imagination.
Ivan Perilli is first and foremost a composer. His debut as Sleep City Devils shows a great skill in creating harmonic patterns and how this musicality, which is a mixture of rock and classical music, is combined with different sound treatments, some quite advanced and others reminiscent of past decades when a simple vocoder turned a track into a futuristic odyssey.
We talked to him about all his projects and about Sunscreen, his first EP released as Sleep City Devils, which anyone can download for free from his bandcamp.
You have just made a new solo debut but you are also part of other projects like the Happy Graveyard Orchestra, what have you been doing before this, did you have other musical projects?
That’s correct, I’ve been doing solo projects quite frequently, mostly under my name (and that’s how I started, basically) with songs/stories like “The Tallest man” or concepts like the “Little Robot Symphony”. Mainly, anyway, my music activities and efforts have been for the Happy Graveyard Orchestra, a small rock orchestra (or a large rock band!) I founded in 2012. Since then… 2 full albums and 3 EPs, and a number of memorable live shows of a band made of rock and classical musicians. In 2019 I also founded, together with Matt Ibbs, the Banana Planets, a studio project duo with an EP out and some good plans for the future.
Seeing your style it is difficult to guess what your musical influences have been, I guess they will be very diverse.
I’ll state the obvious here, but I simply like several genres. My childhood influences have been Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, Otis Redding and a lot of original 60’s soul music and rhythm&blues, the Rolling Stones, and quite a good amount of psychedelic sounds from California. Then as a teenager I discovered Frank Zappa and that opened up my ears a lot! Since then I grew a strong curiosity towards anything artistically unusual. I also love punk rock, big orchestral works (Stravinsky, Beethoven, Bartok, etc.) and most of the entire unclassifiable indie scene from the 90s.
Experimental music can have different connotations, what is your interpretation of musical experimentation?
It’s about breaking the boundaries, still in 2021. Doing it for the love of a new good sound, a new extended chorus, a new harmony. I think it is horrible that especially young artists think a song needs this or that structure, a song needs a catchy melody of a specific length. Musical experimentation is about putting things together that may not have to, according to the tradition, or to the handbooks. If the result is good, if the outcome is entertaining, if it makes the audience smile, if you as a composer like it… then it’s perfect, it’s a wonderful feeling. I think It’s always worth trying, that’s experimentation. But, and this is important, not for the sake of being weird and different. The result must be valid and good, or the entire effort would have been just ridiculous.
You have recently debuted as Sleep City Devils, a solo project with a melodic experimental style, a mix between modern classical and experimental rock, is this the line you are going to follow in the next releases or are you open to other interpretations?
The concept of the Sleep City Devils allowed me to be completely free, in a way I never felt before. I’ve always been doing the music I wanted but, to some extent, paying attention to the form of it, to the musical language I was using it. Sometimes, if you have a specific set of musicians, you have to write things that can be played by them, for their instruments. There are almost physical limitations, and it’s great because your creativity is challenged. But not with the Sleep City Devils… I didn’t plan, I wrote and produced every single note and sound so I enjoyed having no problem mixing the sound of an oboe with a distorted organ, or using a very saturated piano to play a guitar solo, with bending notes included. Or about a completely form structure of the songs. Again, it’s experimentation, sounding as you said like “a mix between modern classical and experimental rock”. That sounds great to me. Spontaneously, I will go on with that.
Sleep City Devils is formed by 4 members but, really you are all of them, what meaning have the three names that accompany you?
I like to write stories, most of my lyrics tell brief stories and characters I imagined out of the blue. Moving to the next level, I imagined the band, and the bandmates themselves. My brother on the guitar, Philip Phat Perilli, defines quite a clear reference to the sci-fi works of Philip K. Dick, for example. I also wanted to give a specific identity to the “scientific” work behind synths and music programming, so I came up with Dr. Eisenhower III helping me. Miss Spain on the drums? That’s a good question, but I think it’s the same reason why Monkey Island hero is called Guybrush Threepwood!
Sunscreen is your first EP, each of the 4 tracks has its own storyline, what did you want to tell in each of the 4 cuts?
“Creatures” comes musically from an old track of mine I published in 2013. I always felt that composition needed way much work, and could have sounded way better. So, as I had just to ask permission myself, I decided to re-record the key elements and work a lot on that. The result… probably 50% is completely new, included lyrics that have never been there. The lyrics depict a collage of visions, mostly from nightmares, as I had to turn into something good, so I made music out of them!
“Bella figlia dell’amore” is obviously not mine and it’s my very first serious experiment towards reassembling classical hits of the past. I think it’s educational, first of all! I love what Wendy Carlos made with Beethoven for A Clockwork Orange, so I just had to learn how to use a vocoder…
“A twenty dollar orchestra from 1108” is, according to a dear friend of mine, the most recognizable of my compositions here. I always enjoy to create a storyline, like a small movie, with a score. And here you have a probably cheap orchestra, some synth experts, a drummer, a bass player following a score that grows and grows and make them communicate to each other, even if their sounds have different origins.
“Canyon Soul” shouldn’t be there but “my brother” Philip wrote this long guitar solo over a basic bass line I was playing one night… and that’s it, the song appeared. It’s a composition about Gold, a friend of my brother, currently living down in the Grand Canyon, as a hermit or as a homeless, I’m not sure yet, no one knows.
You released this EP in mid October as a preview to an album you will release in 2022, is it going to be a continuation of Sunscreen or will it be something different?
Unlikely to be a continuation, as I feel Sunscreen is a little yet complete work. The album of currently 15 songs I am working on keeps some of the texture, instruments of course, and music models but it incorporates probably more genres.
Sleep City Devils is the aka of Ivan Perilli, but your activity is not only focused on this sound project, since 2012 you also direct and write all the material of the Happy Graveyard Orchestra, a kind of band that fuses different styles and is quite similar to krautrock, how do you define the sound of Happy Graveyard Orchestra?
There is a studio Happy Graveyard Orchestra sound that I would define as pop-progressive rock. We naturally belong to the progressive rock chapter in the history of music but a lot of our melodies are just pop, and our sound rarely turns too heavy. You can enjoy “That thing there for me” or “I’m the waitress” without thinking about it too much. There is also a live version of the Happy Graveyard Orchestra where you can understand better what I meant by experimental rock, which is what’s written on our label. Live we playing long solos, we add avant-garde moments, we interact with the audience, you can feel the rock and blues influences and appreciate an oboe or a violin jamming in. It’s a different experience from our discography.
What is the difference between the Sleep City Devils and the Happy Graveyard Orchestra?
The only thing in common is the author of the music… Sleep City Devils is, and probably will remain, my personal “escape valve” for my creativity, even when I don’t feel like releasing a song simply as Ivan Perilli. The Happy Graveyard Orchestra is not just my music but also the interaction of it with the musicians in the band, all exceptionally talented ones, taking care of my ideas and transforming them into a live experience, adding their unique touch. It’s a club, a family, and it gives me completely different scenarios to build on. As a matter of fact, unless for very rare cases, what I write for Ivan Perilli as a solo artist, for the Sleep City Devils or for the Happy Graveyard Orchestra never overlap.
Happy Graveyard Orchestra is a project conceived for live performances, do you plan to do the same with Sleep City Devils?
Unlikely, that would be extremely challenging as it would require a mix of live samples, very specific musicians, live analog equipment and a visual component… but it would be wonderful, so let me think about it.