Long Beds on the Long Road
for Perry, writing lyrics brings him close to his first literary love: poetry
Michael Perry has never sounded more at home in a song. “Long Road to You,” the title track of the new EP by Michael Perry and the Long Beds, plays like a made-for-Moose Country slow burner. And as a published author with thousands of pages behind him, Perry displays those same phrasing instincts in his songwriting:
“How many nights / at the edge of some town / did you pull at my heart / like the sun going down.”
Sitting for an interview at ECDC on a recent rainy evening, Perry remembered how songwriting initially served as a “working break” from the book-writing process, and how – two albums and an EP later – it still takes him back to his writing roots.
“There’s a big difference between poetry and song lyrics, but there are obvious connections: brevity and the sound of a phrase as much as the meaning.” – Michael Perry
“With songwriting, there’s a certain freedom to it, and it does remind me of my very first love, which was poetry,” Perry said. “There’s a big difference between poetry and song lyrics, but there are obvious connections: brevity and the sound of a phrase as much as the meaning.”
For “Ashes,” the EP’s closing track, Perry channeled the aspirations of those early writing days. “That was a case where I sat down to write lyrics absolutely trying to pretend I was in Racy’s in nineteen-ninety … let’s say two,” he said. “And really being that poet I wanted to be where every word counted and don’t use any extras. Just create the bare skeleton of the image and let people fill in the rest.”
Musically and lyrically, “Ashes” is surreal and ghostly: “I need water he said / just water he said / I carry my heart in a little tin cup / and it’s ashes in there.”
“That’s a dark, dark song,” I told him. “Oh yeah,” he admitted with a quick smile. “I can go there.”
On the flip side, Perry describes playing live as a visceral release – a chance to witness improvisation from his band and the immediate reaction from the audience. The Long Beds, a rotating cast of talented cohorts, also bring a needed balance to his performing life. “I’m a loner by nature,” Perry said. “Ninety percent of the time I’m on the road by myself speaking at a library or doing a one-man show at a little theater or talking to a group of people in a hotel conference room. And then to come into a little 300-seat theater, walk in, and there’s my friends waiting on stage? I’ve never gotten tired of that. That never gets old.”
Between the books, book tours, and concerts, Perry turned his most famous book, Population 485, into a play. He also serves as the official narrator of the Eaux Claires Music Festival, host of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua’s “Tent Radio Show,” and weekly columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal – not to mention being a married father of two and an Emergency Medical Responder. For a guy with an ever-expanding résumé, is there anything left he’d like to add?
Perry mulled it over awhile, then admitted, “I’d love it if somebody made one of my books into a movie, and I could do a 50-second cameo in the background … sure,” he said. Then, toward the end of the interview, we find one other unturned stone. “Honestly, more than being a bit player in my own movie, I would love it if an artist of note covered one of my songs. I would love to hear some virtuosic superstar have a rip at it.”
I suggest that the song “Long Road to You” would a perfect choice.
“I’m accepting offers,” he said with a grin, leaning toward my recording device, adding “… firstname.lastname@example.org.”
And with a wry, sideways glance, the self-employed multi-tasker added: “I’ll have my people handle it …”
Michael Perry and the Long Beds will celebrate the release of Long Road to You with a show in the Jamf Theatre at the Pablo Center on Friday, Sept. 27. The EP will also available for sale at The Local Store and at sneezingcow.com, as well as on Spotify, iTunes, and other streaming services.