Q&A: Craig Perry

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The Street to Stage finalist on how he started out, his influences, and what happens next

By Salma Sobh
Sep 16, 2013

How did you first get into singing?

I opened my mouth, relaxed my diaphragm. [Laughs] No, just ignore me, sorry. I didn't really, to be honest with you. I never started off as a singer, and I still don't claim to be a singer per se. I would say that I'm a musician, first and foremost, and singing just helps me write the songs that I write. I'm crap at karaoke, I can't do it. I'm much better singing my own songs than I am singing other people’s. So I started off with the instruments and singing came later. I studied music in university, creative music. And then I was part of a band, which I wrote the songs for. I wasn't the lead vocalist, I did backing vocals. And I think it's a confidence thing as well. As you get older, you start to develop your voice more. I now know what my limits are; I know what my range is. And when I write music now I can write music to suit that.

Did you start off playing your own stuff? Or covers?

I started off learning the piano. Well, keyboard actually. I had keyboard lessons for a few years. Then it got quite boring. It was, obviously, playing other people's music. I taught myself piano for a while, and I think that, as part of that process you start to automatically develop little things to sing or hum along to. I picked up the guitar when I was 14 or 15, that's when I really properly started to learn songs. I started off learning songs that I liked to listen to, so stuff like Green Day. Loving that Dookie and Nimrod stuff. “Time of Your Life” on acoustic guitar, that was the perfect one to start with. And Oasis, of course, that whole Britpop era was really inspiring; Oasis, Ash, Blur, Pulp, Suede, all of those bands really inspired my guitar playing. And at the same time, obviously, Radiohead were already huge with OK Computer, but Muse came out and they, for me, were a big influence certainly on [my piano playing]. It's got such a big sound. That thought really inspired me. So that's when I really started writing pieces of music – they weren't all songs necessarily at first, they were more classical-sounding, film music even, if you will.

Had you ever shot a music video before?

Never. When I came into this competition I didn't have a single piece of music that I'd even recorded in a studio, let alone a video. I didn't have anything at all. So this whole competition each week has been in a studio recording music, and then shooting a video. It's been a nightmare, but it's a good nightmare to be in. It's cool. It's bloody hard work. And the reason the first one is the way it is – I know it's a bit rough in places – is that I got into this competition off two YouTube videos. One at a live performance somewhere, and one in my bedroom playing one of my songs with really crap quality audio and video. And I got in, hopefully because of the songs. So that's why the first one is very simple, I wanted it to sort of reflect that slightly raw, acoustic-only feel. It's only a guitar and a vocal track. The second one is an acoustic track, but is a bit more evolved. I had real string musicians in for that, there's a bit more of a narrative in the video. I wanted to try and portray what the song meant. And then the third one is another evolution. It's a bigger song, it's drums and guitars, and a cabaret-style video.

You’ve composed the string parts as well?

Yeah absolutely. I didn't write it out note for note; when I originally recorded that I used keyboard strings. So when I got the three string players in, we sat down and we worked section by section. There's obviously gonna be improvisation there, to a degree. I can't say that every single note is my own, but it's the feeling you know? It's the same with the drums. I did the vocals, the harmonies, the guitars, the piano, the bass, but the drums… I'm not a drummer. So I had a drummer in, he listened to the original track, which I'd already done. And we worked together on it. It's a collaboration, but it's still my song.

Do you gig much?

Not really, no. I have a day job, so I'm working long hours. And I was working really long hours especially when I was based in Dubai. Now we're in Abu Dhabi, which affords me a little more time. And it all kind of started last December. I used to work for Dubai World Trade Centre, and they had a U.A.E. National Day talent competition within the company. So I put my name in, said I'll give it a go, and I got selected to go and play. That was a pretty big audience, there were nearly 2,000 people at that event. And I played one of my songs, “Hurricane,” and won the competition, which was great. And now I'm working in ADNEC in Abu Dhabi, I have a bit more time. So that was great, it was a good kick start, I think. I did some stuff with The Fridge, I did a singer-songwriter showcase. I played on a couple of boat parties, and then I heard about the competition. So it was the perfect platform to move on from there.

Who’s your favorite artist?

Muse definitely. Big, big influence for me. Damien Rice as well. I don't wanna compare my songs to his, they're not the same as his, y'know he's a little bit moodier than I am, but those are probably my favorites. And then obviously, without sounding clichéd, the big bands. Pink Floyd and all of those have definitely influenced. I f***ing love Aerosmith. Just for that emotion, right? That, for me, is what it's all about. That's why I love Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne and Muse and Radiohead and all these guys. Because when they play music, I either believe them, or I feel something. Do you know what I mean? It's really important for me. I think it's harder to do in a video, and I found out now that it's quite hard to get emotion across sometimes, especially in a studio environment. But I think it's really important to get across a feeling of something so that when people listen to you, they believe you, or they react in some way. Sometimes they hate it, which is fine. At least it's a reaction.

What’s your endgame?

If I'm being completely honest? Do I want a career in music? Definitely. I would love to be able to give up my day job, which I'm pretty good at as well. That's not me being arrogant, I had to be good at it because I knew music wouldn't pay the bills. But I would love to be able to finish work and either work as an artist – not huge, I'm not looking to sell millions of records – or I'd love to produce a record where people want to listen to it, and then buy it. That would be great. And the ultimate goal, and I've always said this, would be to be playing a live gig somewhere, and if just one person who wasn't my friend sings along to those words. That would be the ultimate, you know? And to do that in a gig setting and have that one song maybe where people are just singing along, and you can stop singing and still hear them singing your song, that would be f***ing great. Excuse my language.





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