Interview with Jelena Perisic
DPRP’s John O’Boyle
Today Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you Part Two of a Three Part Special. Having spoken to the Argentinean musical maverick Rodrigo San Martin , I got the opportunity to speak to the highly talented Jelena Perisic, who added the vocals to Rodrigo’s last two albums. Jelena’s talents don’t stop there though as she is a very talented musician in here own right as well as a graphics designer creating the stunning and visual artwork for EYES. Read on my friends………
John: Hi Jelena, It’s nice to catch up with you. How are things in Belgrade?
Jelena: Hi, John! Well, it’s the usual September heat, tons of ice-cream (and figurines of Virgin Mary), political thieves, some good concerts (one of which I plan to attend, hopefully), and another beginning of the school year (for me as well, which feels totally wonderful – for the first time in my life!). Plus some alien sightseeing. Life goes on as usual!
John: For those not in the know, would you like to introduce yourself?
Jelena: I really am a low-profile type of person (which will get me nowhere in the business-world, I am aware of that <laughter>), but, for those who don’t know me, and they would like to – let’s just say I’m a modest philologist, a silent musician and an ambitious digital artist/photographer. I swim. And I fly. Metaphorically.
John: You are a woman of many talents, music only being only one of them. You are also a graphic designer and created the graphics for Rodrigo’s latest album Eyes. How did this come about?
Jelena: Thank you for the compliment! The collaboration between Rodrigo and I began as a musical one, only to be extended to the art field as well – I believe that, sometime during his work on ‘’There’s No Way Out’’ (or maybe even before that) , I mentioned to him that I love creating digital art (I think he himself has seen some of my works on the internet as well), so he suggested to me that he would like me to do the artwork for ‘’There’s No Way Out’’, as well as ‘’Eyes’’. I was absolutely delighted and honoured by the idea!
John: Have you done any graphics for anyone else or was this your first venture and something that you would like to pursue?
Jelena: This was my first venture of this sort, and, yes, it’s something I’d definitely would want to pursue (since I’ve been creating art and photography for a long time now, which has finally culminated with my Computer Design studies at the Information Technology School ).
John: One thing that struck me about Eyes was the artwork; firstly the album cover, as it is very striking visual, being somewhat disturbing, which kind of reminded me of H.R Giger, the other being the image used to accompany Ahora, a picture that seems to offer innocence and freedom that captures the essence of the lyrics perfectly. Would you like to discuss your thought process on what these two images means to you?
Jelena: Glad you liked it! Yes, my (sub)conscious inspiration for the cover was in fact H. R. Giger. The face I used for it is actually mine. I’m really not a fan of the photos of myself, but I thought that this photo could, in a way, serve as a base for the cover art. The eyes are closed, sewn in, which I thought could be perfect for presenting the idea of closing your eyes to be able to open them, i.e. see inside yourself and find your true self, and stop wearing your mask. The texture and the mechanical elements + the stitches are there to accentuate the difficulty of this process.
The photo for ‘’Ahora’’ was also taken by me, in Norway, it’s a member of our excursion team that I captured jumping up and over the hills. The way he jumped/ran suggests a lightness of both the body and the spirit, and this is what made me attach those wings to him. Combined together, these elements perfectly portray the idea of wanting to break free, to be who you are, as you are.
John: One thing that is very evident with Rodrigo’s work is his attention to detail especially lyrically, something that must be difficult to capture with the artwork. Were you given full artist freedom to create the graphics around this?
Jelena: Yes. I simply let his lyrics/music speak to me – and the artwork was the result. Given that the lyrics (as well as the music), as you pointed out, are full of details, I had tons of material to draw my inspiration from.
John: So two albums in with the musical maestro Rodrigo San Martin, how did your initial musical union occur?
Jelena: Rodrigo found me on Myspace, through our mutual love – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson. He wrote a short note, said I might be interested in his music since it’s inspired by the above mentioned band/musician. He addressed me as a potential fan of his work. Then I mentioned I could sing, sent him some vocal covers of mine, he liked it, and the rest is history. <laughs>
John: I guess it was a bit strange when you heard from a guy in Argentina who wanted to record with you?
Jelena: It was unbelievable from the start – sending my vocal covers to Rodrigo, and him wanting to record one song with me on lead vocals! I was so honoured to record that one song, so you can imagine how I felt about recording vocals for a whole album (and even more).
John: Have you ever met up with the guys or has it all been done electronically?
Jelena: I have never met them – we do it all electronically.
Jelena: Precisely. As long as each collaborating side is equipped with the technology necessary to do the work with.
John: What is your favourite song off each album?
Jelena: Hard to say, it changes all the time. But, for now: from ‘’There’s no way out’’ – ‘’No’’, from ‘’Eyes’’ – ‘’Destroy the signal’’.
John: Would you like to talk us through There’s No Way Out and Eyes, offering up your perspective on each album?
Jelena: ‘’There’s no way out’’ is like a musical journey, from hopelessness, hopefulness, anger and rebellion, to inevitability, and that’s my favorite thing about it. ‘’4378th day’’ is a melancholic, poetic piece, peaceful in temper, offering hope in a hopeless situation (i.e. the world’s end). ‘’No’’ (my favorite) portrays anger and rebellion and a need for a full-stop, which is perfectly presented with the cold and heavy instrumental work, transcending for a moment into a dreamlike states and peaceful acceptance of the need to part, to definitely say ‘’no’’, no more. ‘’War, act 2.’’ is a violent outburst turning into complete desolation, a dead-end situation. Here we, too, have some calmer parts that constantly switch places with the violent ones, like two voices inside one’s head: should you accept the inevitability, or refuse to accept the absurdity of the situation and change yourself and start from scratch.
In ‘’Eyes’’ there is also a common thread that binds the whole album: the fight between your true self and your mask, or the rest of the world, which is already knee-deep in emptiness, repetition and mass-production. The great deal of this hope lies in the existence of our loved ones, and in our ability to love, ourselves and others, and be loved. This fight is perfectly reflected in the musical structures – dark, aggravated, heavy instrumental structures slashing against the luminous, sunny and light ones. A great Porcupine Tree influence can be heard here, both musically and lyrically. This is my favorite record by Rodrigo. ‘’Con los ojos abiertos’’ is a masterpiece that I think bands like Porcupine Tree, The Gathering, and even Pink Floyd would be glad to have recorded.
John: All Rodrigo’s albums are conceptual; is this approach one that you would like to explore further with your own creations?
Jelena: Certainly. I’ve always loved conceptual albums, and I have couple of ideas for my own.
John: Are there any plans in the future for you to play live with Rodrigo and work on future ventures?
Jelena: For now, we’re just collaborating through the internet, and yes, there are plans for some new musical ventures to come. <wink-wink>
John: Like Rodrigo, you are very much a multi-instrumentalist; do you have a preferred instrument to work with?
Jelena: I work with two instruments, for now – a guitar and a MIDI-keyboard. They give me almost everything I need. I had some plans of buying a violin as well, but I gave up on that (for now), and got me a violin-bow instead, so I can use it on the guitar, which turned out even better <smiles>.
John: I know you have several musical influences that include such artists as The Beatles, The Talking Heads and Porcupine Tree to name but a few. You very much take the same stance as I on music which you so poetically phrased thus, “…and many, many, many more…to the eternal, forever oscillating, and never fully fathomed beautifully fearful amalgam of all the sounds conceivable, where the styles have no name…”. Given the opportunity which artist would you most like to work with the most?
Jelena: Hmmm… tough one. <smiles> I’d say… Steven Wilson, Peter Gabriel or David Byrne. Or all of them. <smiles>
John: On your Reverbnation page there are some rather excellent compositions whether it’s the atmospheric instrumental Sidhe or the convoluted Colorado Springs. What is quite obvious is that you are never afraid to challenge the listener, which is what art / music is about, gaining a reaction. Is this something that you agree with?
Jelena: Thank you for the compliment! Definitely. With my music, as well as with my poetry, I always strive to challenge the listener to think, as more as possible (which, even though some would try to convince me otherwise, is NOT a bad thing <laughs>). I love ambiguity and multi-layered structures, as well as minimalism, as it helps me create something which would give the listeners several different options they can choose. Or they can make up their own, i.e. interpret the song in their own way. Everything’s good, as long as the listener has succeeded in finding themselves in the song, i.e. reacting.
John: What are your main vocal inspirations?
Jelena: David Crosby, Milan Mladenovic, Anneke van Giersbergen, David Bowie, Kate Bush and Tori Amos are the masters I’ve learnt from the most, and my greatest vocal inspirations.
John: I asked Rodrigo and Craig this question so it is only fitting that I do so for you to. How do you approach your songwriting process?
Jelena: Sometimes I write/fit the lyrics to accompany the music, other times I write music according to the lyrics I wrote. This all happens quickly, most of the time, it comes naturally. And if it doesn’t come naturally – I just let it go for a while, I don’t dwell on it, waiting for it to appear by itself. Of course, every creative process requires a bit of a push from the rational, conscious side of the being, i.e. thinking and conscious shaping.
John: How do you as an artist decide when a composition requires lyrics?
Jelena: The question could also be ‘’ How do decide when lyrics require music?’’ <smiles>. Well, if I create an instrumental piece of music, I listen to it again, and again, and try to feel its parts, to see if some words or sentences would spring to mind. If they do – my lyrics are already half (or fully) written.
John: Does this affect the way you compose your music?
Jelena: Yes, but in a good, experimenting sort of way. Each of the above mentioned processes is equally interesting.
John: I have gone on record stating, “I become more and more intrigued by her beguiling ethereal atmospheric wizardry. I would love to hear what Jelena could do in a studio environment. This is one lady to look out for….” Are there any plans in the future to record and release an album of your own material?
Jelena: Thank you again for your kind words! I hope I’ll record something of my own, sometime in the future. I like the idea of making music as a ‘’sound landscape’’ (which Brian Eno has so aptly put it), with lots of atmosphere in it, a music that, even without words, could almost accurately describe and bring different situations to mind, something like a soundtrack for each part/category of life. I don’t really see myself as a live-performer, I’m more like Brian Eno perhaps. <smiles> But – who knows what the future can bring.
John: What does the future hold for you as an artist?
Jelena: Right now I’m trying to focus on my career as a digital artist/designer. Music is, unfortunately, hardly something I could do for living (not in my country, anyway), so I was always ‘’forced’’ to regard it as a hobby. Don’t ask me where my university schooled music-friends end up (most of them at least, which aren’t among the lucky ones), so I don’t kid myself that I, as a musician-amateur, could do something ‘’big’’ here in Serbia.
John: Always being one on the lookout for new music and artists, what is the music scene like in Serbia and who would you recommend to investigate?
Jelena: Well, we certainly did have our best bands during 80’s, 90’s and 70’s (I can name a great number of bands from those times which were so great that they even were more original than some of the bands from the USA, UK or Europe that served as their inspiration). I haven’t been that much into Serbian music scene lately, because I find it not progressive enough (I don’t mean it in the terms of progressive-rock), and it seriously lacks true soul and emotions. Some interesting bands still can be found though. But that’s only my opinion on our music. As I said earlier, it’s almost impossible for the most of our bands to make music (original and unique music) and live from it, and the only way to earn some money with it is to be as mainstream and as quality-lacking as possible. Some original bands did get a wider acceptance though, like Consecration for example, but things move so slowly here. I’d recommend some bands, for example my friend’s band, called Centralna Aktivnost (a great New Wave/Post Punk band) , my friend’s band Armageddon (a great progressive-metal band, my friends Splet – a tribute band to Tool (they started out as a tribute to Tool, but now they have their own stuff as well), and Block Out (a strange and dark rock-band from the early 90s that still sounds great). First three bands haven’t recorded anything yet, and I really hope they would soon.
John: What are your favourite five songs you wished you wrote and why?
Jelena: Wow, a great question, I have never thought about that. Let’s see…
1. ‘’The working hour’’ – Tears For Fears . Because Roland Orzabal’s songwriting and his voice always were one of the greatest inspirations for me, and this is, in my opinion, the best song they ever wrote.
2. ‘’Budi sam na ulici’’ – Ekatarina Velika. Because this is, in my opinion (which is shared by many), simply the greatest band that Serbia ever had or will have, and I believe that I, subconsciously, incorporated a lot of their spirit into my own music. This song echoes Simple Minds, but with our special Slavic spirit to it.
3. ‘’Sowing the seed’’ – Ryuichi Sakamoto, a theme from ‘’Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’’. Because this instrumental piece was etched in mind ever since the first time I heard it, many years ago, and it somehow seemed to echo my own spirit in some way.
4. ‘’See Emily play’’ – Pink Floyd. Because… I love Syd Barrett and his great, fragmented brain products (which this song doesn’t truly represent, but nevertheless). I felt that my brain was functioning like that, many times. But, there’s something more to it… I’m simply over touched by the image of the main protagonist of the song, and the dark childlike shimmering sun-shadow shifting psychedelia. Feels as if something of it grows inside me as well.
5. ‘’The great curve’’ – Talking Heads. Because I adore the multilayered vocal and guitar structures, and the wild, hypnotic, almost tribal rhythm. They give the impression of unspeakable richness, and yet, the song consists of only one guitar chord. ‘’Remain in light’’ is probably my favorite record ever – a most unique minimalistic, multilayered masterpiece, an ideal I somehow wish to incorporate into my own music as well.
John: If I was to press the play button on your I Pod what would we be hearing now?
Jelena: Oh, all sorts of stuff! From The Beatles to Depeche Mode, from dEUS to Yukihiro Takahashi, from Cocteau Twins to The Hook And The Twin or Delicatessen.
John: Well Jelena as ever it has been a pleasure. Have you got any closing words you’d like to say?
Jelena: Thank you so much for this lovely opportunity, John! As for the closing words , I’d say: swim your own way, and nurture your dreams and wishes whenever you may. See you around, somewhere in space/time/internet continuum!