Q&A with Poppy Perezz
The four piece, hailing from Mexico, Trinidad and England but now resident in the suitably cosmopolitan city of Bristol, make feel-good, sunshine-happy music for cool and groovy summer nights. Described variously as pinball electro, chirp-hop or even electro-funk-folk pop, one thing’s for certain: you’re unlikely to have heard anything quite like it before. Imagine an exotic trip through Highlife-style guitar licks, Mariachi-band trumpets, percolating basslines, disco handclaps, soaring flute solos, crazy arpeggio synth lines and video game bleeps and bloops – and you’ll get the general idea.
It was with this introduction that everyone here at Sound Colour Vibration was introduced to this wildly creative and adventurous band. With the members of the group finding their origins in very different places around the world, the music they create together becomes even more of a culture shock and melting pot of ideas that have never been tried out before. Recently, we covered their latest full length We Are Yours coming out July 16th on Beach Hut Records and the band was open to an interview shortly after. We couldn’t resist in taking on an interview like this as it represents how far the boundaries of music have expanded and how many walls can be broken down when four people decide to get in a room and create music together with no preconception of standards sourced from the norm. Guitarist Pablo Perezzarate was gracious enough to let us borrow some of his time and gave us a very in depth perspective on how Poppy Perezz formed, creative processes, translation of their latest album for live shows and more. Enjoy!
*Conducted by Xavi Vil
SCV: How did you meet and what was the reasoning behind the mixture of such colorful styles?
Poppy and I met at university in 2001. For about 8 years we were best friends and would always meet up and play music together, mainly jamming and having a laugh. I used to be in other bands and was working on other arts projects so we never actually got our own band together until 2007. In that year I was coming out of a relationship and Poppy and I met after not having seen each other for a couple of years. One evening she was at my studio and she really liked an experimental piece I was working on and just began singing on top. We recorded her melody and I guess that was the very beginning.
We developed that experiment into a song and as we did that other tunes followed and we began falling in love. So, a few of our early songs document those days of falling in love and later on that evolved into our first Poppy Perezz EP entitled “Emerald Birds”.
I come from Mexico, Poppy comes from Northumberland and our approaches to music and culture are very different but we saw in our relationship the excitement of bringing two different worlds together and we have since committed fully to focus on the aspects of our differences that bring us together as opposed to focusing on the things that bring us apart. This approach to otherness is at the very core of us as a band.
In 2011 we wanted to take the band into a new level. Our live performances were good but we were always at the mercy of the sound engineer who would not always play our electronic beats as loud as we wanted them. So we began auditioning for drummers and bass players. We first met Tony about a year ago and we did a couple of gigs together. He is a very experienced musician and we loved the influences he brought into the mix. It was a requirement that he was able to play Latin-flavours but he took it further by adding a whole array of Caribbean and African rhythms. It makes such a difference playing with live drums that we haven’t looked back. Tony is a beast when he gets going!
We were very lucky to meet Will at the end of the summer of 2011. He had played in many Bristol reggae bands and was very much into all the world rhythms we were playing. He was also very instrumental in helping us make that push prior to the singles & album launch tours. Unfortunately for personal reasons he has had to leave the band and we have now recruited a new bass player called Chris Howarth. Chris is from Cornwall and is a very talented young man, we hope to make him feel as part of the family and are excited to see what other influences he brings into our sound.
SCV: On your Youtube videos, you seem very peaceful and happy with not only your musical relationship but your life experiences in general. Does this have a direct effect on your creative output in Poppy Perezz?
Happiness is such an elusive thing! I’m glad we come across as happy in our videos and I’m sure this is more as a direct result of playing our music than us having “arrived” at that place and writing music from that perspective. That is not to say that off stage we are a gloomy bunch, not at all, we just have our ups and downs like everybody else. Indeed we are positive and optimistic so a lot of our songs are about finding and having trust in that inner strength that will take you through the difficult times. Some of the songs we’ve written have been cathartic in that sense since they talk about moments in both Poppy’s life and mine when things didn’t go according to plan but we decided to focus on that something special to pull through.
We want people to feel that optimism when they listen to our music. The desire is definitely not to escape or evade awful situations but more to fill your inner space with joy so that the difficulties of life can be seen through a different lens. In a way this is the Latin American approach to emotion and music. A lot of people in the west perceive Latin music to be full of joy and merriment but plenty Latin lyrics are about sad things such as unrequited love, injustice and death. Culturally we choose to express it differently so we can get out of that place as soon as possible.
However life can be a rollercoaster. It is just the way it is, sometimes things go well and sometimes you are wondering why bother getting out of bed. The great thing is that in Poppy Perezz we find inspiration from similar sources. Part of the difficulty and joy of bringing different cultures together is about negotiating different systems of belief and once again finding the common ground. Regardless of where we have come from and the diverse experiences we have had as individuals, all members of Poppy Perezz believe in the interconnectedness of all things and that we are all part of something greater. These ideas allow us to remain inspired and help us cultivate a constant sense of awe in everything that’s around us. This has definitely made it’s way into the music and I’m certain it will keep on inspiring us further.
SCV: How does “We Are Yours” translate live?
We have changed our setup quite a lot during the last 12 months. The album is incredibly full, with quirky sounds and layers upon layers of voice or rhythms. At first we used to play with pre-recorded or pre-programmed tracks but we’ve slowly taken these out from our live sets. We now tray playing as much as possible ourselves and it has been working pretty well.
Poppy for example plays flute and synths as well as singing. She also uses a harmony pedal which allows her to add some of the harmonies on the record. I’m constantly changing between guitar and lead synth as well as triggering samples or activating Poppy’s sounds and looking after the global tempo. Tony plays to a click track and gives us all our cues. The bass man rallies the audience and helps us stay jolly.
We are quite happy for the album to be a different thing from our live performance, but the vibe is still the same. If anything, when we play live we are more up beat and we play faster but we are always reacting to the audience so we maintain good communication with them.
SCV: What sort of experimentation goes on in the studio and how much is already completely planned out?
We don’t have a set way of writing songs. For each song we write there is a long process before we finally decide to play it live. When we record the final version of a song we have everything planned out. This is mainly due to recording time being expensive. However, before this happens I do a lot of experimentation at my own home studio. It will usually come as a response to music I have been listening to. For example, at the moment I’m listening to a lot of Congolese Soukous so I’m playing around with a lot of soukous rhythms and chord progressions but particularly with the feel.
All of the songs in the album began as rhythm experiments with the guitar based on world rhythms I was into at the time: using the guitar as a percussion instrument and looking at ways in which individual notes in a scale interacted with each other when played at random but within a certain groove or feel. I played around with this idea, changing the length of the notes until almost all the beats in the bar were taken up by a sound. I then started taking sounds away, adding silences until the melodies became clearer. Then it was a matter of choosing or making an instrument to play the different melodies I heard.
As different parts begin to appear I try not to be too concerned how we are going to play this live. I just build layers and try to take away clutter, although this is sometimes difficult as I seem to like clutter. If the idea grows into a variety of riffs and parts then I’ll do a preliminary structure for the song and only then will I take it to the band at a rehearsal.
At this point anything can happen to the original idea. Sometimes Poppy will want to change the scale or Tony will have different rhythms in mind. Maybe a whole part will be scrapped. I try to be as open as possible within certain parameters. Particularly with the new songs we have been writing we try to emphasize a collaborative approach to music writing. Nowadays a song may begin with a beat or a rhythm that Tony has come up with. But what is most important for the group, is that once we start putting a song together, everyone has some input onto how the whole will sound in the end. However since I write all the melodic parts for synths and guitar and Poppy lives with me, we tend to do most of the melodic writing at home.
Poppy and I tend to write the lyrics together although most of the best lyrics happen when she writes by herself. At first we used to play with randomness to write songs. For instance, Ghosts and Skulls was written with Poppy coming up with a line and I writing the next, sometimes without looking at what had been written before. We’d then look if there was a subconscious underlying theme and edit the lyrics to fit the theme and the music. Lately Poppy has been choosing verses from a Sufi poet called Rumi that she puts to music on the spot at a rehearsal.
SCV: Why Poppy Perezz?
As I mentioned before, Poppy and I started the band by our selves. My surname is Perezzarate, so we put both our names together. We didn’t do this because we were a couple but more because we were bringing two very different cultures together and we liked the sound of this hybrid mix. So even though we have more band members now, Poppy Perezz is still relevant as a name because it talks about a multicultural Britain that we belong to and that we love. Poppy Perezz in fact doesn’t exist as a person. Even though Poppy and I got married 4 years ago, she kept her family name. But we all like that the name alludes to love and our commitment to always look for the common ground amongst our differences. Poppy Perezz is therefore the product of these differences coming together.
SCV: What were you doing musically before Poppy?
Poppy has always been involved in music somehow although she comes from a folk background therefore she hasn’t been part of bands as such but more part of various groups with whom she sings. She grew up as part of a community in the middle of nowhere near Hexham. Her dad is an amazing flautist and her mum is a fantastic singer, so Poppy has been singing and playing music all her life but never really within the music industry. Tony came to the UK as a touring drummer from Trinidad and played as a session musician in various clubs in London. In Bristol he used to play for various local bands but thankfully for us they all came to an end. I finished university in 2006 and joined a Brighton band for a couple of years doing covers of horrendous 90’s pop and making them fun by giving them a skiffle/gypsy feel. We were called Django Spears, and as the name suggests, we played Britney Spears songs in a Django Reinhardt style. I’ve been producing my own music since 1998 but have never been keen on anything I’ve written until Poppy Perezz, I now write under the pseudonym “Panzon Tropical”.