Hunter Perrin has done just about everything he can while playing guitar. He’s been based in Texas and Brooklyn, started a handful of bands, worked on soundtracks and toured with a legend in John Fogerty. But 18 years after his first record, Wild Card is Perrin’s first album as a solo vocalist. It’s a worthy debut that greatly benefits from his expert guitar playing and a willingness to mix genres around a 50s ascetic.
Wild Card features 10 songs but clocks in at an efficient 23 minutes. Aside from an instrumental and a couple other tracks, Perrin keeps his guitar work relatively uncomplicated. It’s his vintage melodies that capture most of the attention. And while he certainly doesn’t have the voice to lead some of the fuller, rowdier bands he plays in, Perrin’s vocals work perfectly with his songwriting style.
Perrin softens and even trails off in his vocals for a few tracks, a technique that manages to work with some very different moods. “Time to Lay It Right on Down,” a song about finding a little time to relax, is genuinely calming. “Another Lonesome Night in a Lonesome Town” barely features any accompaniment outside of a middle section with lyrics about a happier past. It feels like a briefly cracked smile in the middle of a depressing night alone as a result.
But Perrin’s understatements are at their most powerful for “A Tear from My Bloodshot Eye.” Instead of a mournful wail or a bitter sendoff, something the lyrics could’ve easily allowed for, Perrin sounds like he’s trying to keep it together and about to fail. It’s a compelling song, and a compelling case for Perrin to keep at it as a vocalist and lyricist. His choices are just unusual enough to make his retro sounds feel fresh.
You’ve had quite a career before this album, including some soundtrack work and three bands you started. I went through those records and I got to hear you play western, surf, rockabilly, swamp rock, Eastern European and even some punk then with Thunderado. How did you pick up so many styles of guitar?
Well, I grew up in Texas. I was born in the late 70s and grew up in Houston listening to everything. My family’s a bunch of musicians and would listen to Tejano, and reggae, and 50s rock and roll, and country. I just got exposed a ton of music kind of growing up and I liked it all. I think I turned into a bit of a mutt, really. I would just really enjoy listening to everything and playing everything. So I find myself today kind of all over the map, but I try to stay focused on one project at a time and really get the sound the way that I like it for that project.
I’m one of your songs on the album you declare “California is My Home.” Like you said, you’re a mutt musically and you played the Texas circuit. You lived in Brooklyn. How did you settle on Los Angeles for your music scene?
Well, my wife is an actress and we were living in New York almost 20 years ago. And then we moved we moved to L.A. because she wanted to get involved with movies and TV and commercials and stuff. We moved out here in ’04 and I’ve been here ever since. And I just really like it. It’s kind of a cool spot to play guitar for me because it allows me to really explore and celebrate all of the styles that I like. You get some 50s, rockabilly, rock n roll, country. You hear a lot of that out here, which is fun, but then you can also get really involved with some more contemporary rock and roll sounds like indie rock, surf rock. Anything’s fair game out here and it’s really a good place to be to play guitar.
Do you feel like you’ve drifted more toward some of the local sounds like surf since you’ve been living in L.A.?
Maybe so, I mean I’ve always liked surf. I grew up listening to a lot of Freddie King. He had some instrumental records that I liked a lot. I think people think more of his blues records, but some have this kind of cool upbeat like party music. I’m thinking specifically Just Pickin’, Sen-Sa-Shun, Hide Away. That was popular along with those frat rock instrumental songs in the late 50s early 60s. But I guess with California, you get more of the reverb-drenched what everybody really thinks of as surf music with Dick Dale. So yeah I’m getting pretty surfy out here. I do think it has an effect on people as songwriters and as musicians.
You start your album and your lead single That’s You That’s Me That’s All with being told off and end the track in a place of understanding and security. Hunter, can being told to “go to hell” really be a positive thing for a relationship?
For me, it can. Sometimes I need to be told what to do. (Laughter)
I feel like if I read the lyrics for “A Tear From My Bloodshot Eye” I would be expecting this wailing country vocal. But you come at it from more of a trailing, mellow perspective. How did you decide on that more subdued rockabilly sound for your debut as a solo vocalist?
I wanted to explore this kind of 1950s sound world instrumentally. So the acoustic guitar brushes on the drum kit, upright bass guitar, clean electric guitar: sounds that didn’t take up as big of a space in the mix. I thought it suited the songs really well and I wanted the vocals to be theirs in the same context, so it’s kind of a more introspective, as you said subdued, aesthetic, which I just think is cool. The lyrics are personal and for me, it draws the listener in a little bit more. It doesn’t sound like the singer shouting at them, but more reflecting what’s going on in the narrator’s mind.
I think your wife may know something about this from the movies, but there’s something more unsettlingly compelling about someone nonchalantly falling apart as opposed to doing it in a more typical-country-song-of-the-era sort of way.
Yeah, that’s an interesting way to look at it and I agree with you. I mean I love songs that are overt and it kind of hits you in the face with what they’re trying to say, but also like ones that allow you as a listener to kind of take what you need as you’re hearing it and think how does this relate to my life. To me, this is a song about saying goodbye when you really don’t wanna say goodbye. Like you said, subtly and slowly falling apart.
To me, you have this very distinct style. You have those great clean guitar licks, you have lyrics that will frequently repeat and not just the refrain, but you also have short songs. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen someone with such a consistently short run time on almost every single one of their songs. And not just on this project, but really all the projects you’ve had creative control of. What is the appeal of the short song for you?
I remember when I was younger one of our mentors, (Texas musician Gerard Choucroun) he was like really into short songs. He goes, “man I love these short songs. They kind of come in and do what they’re supposed to do and then they leave and they’re over and they’re gone. There’s no extra junk on them.” I was probably 13 or 14 when I heard that and I just always remembered that and I’ve always liked short songs. I’m a big fan of The Ramones and punk music in general. It’s usually really short. Sometimes live we’ll stretch them out a little bit, but not too much. I just l think they’re cool. You don’t get bored.
I think when anyone has spent time with American royalty such as you have, I have to ask about it. You toured with John Fogerty of CCR for four years and even played on some of his albums.
Yeah, a couple of his records, and we made some DVDs back when people were making DVDs. But yeah, I mean, what a what a ride. He’s a hero and I loved playing in his band and making records with him. Just a great guy and he’s honestly one of my favorite musicians ever. I think from the beginning he had a really strong vision of who he is and the type of music that he wanted to create and he just nailed it from out of the gate. I just I’m such a fan of Creedence and to play those songs is just a real joy.
I should also point out that the song you two played on together that you picked for me to play on air (2007’s It Ain’t Right) is 1:49 seconds long.
I’m on rhythm on that record called Revival. We recorded together in 2007. It was actually up for a Grammy for Rock Record of The Year that year. And we got to play at the Grammys with Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, which is pretty amazing. He wrote this rockabilly kind of song and I played acoustic guitar on it. I always liked this song a lot. Yes, it is very short and I think it speaks to me on a lot of levels. I love how it comes in swinging right of the bat and you’re like “woah what’s going on,” and then boom, it’s over.
Trevor Christian hosts the radio show Country Pocket on Long Island’s WUSB 90.1 FM, which can be streamed at wusb.fm