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Lola Perrin: Rave Music for Butterflies

By Published: June 19, 2007

AAJ: There was a very distinctive ECM sound and style.

LP: That's down to Manfred Eicher. He's got very particular recordings techniques. I'm not sure what's happening to the label now; I think it is still very distinctive. They're quite into electronica now, but there's always a dominant acoustic instrument within that, driving it. They just recorded Nik Bärtsch's Ronin; he's a Swiss-German pianist—I think they're all Swiss-German. They played at the London Jazz Festival at the Purcell Room and the Berlin Jazz Festival. I opened for them in Belgium. I was really knocked out by their show, although it's not completely my cup of tea.

The ECM road show was fantastic. There were sound people and lighting people hired by the label to do everything. You were looking at a rock show. Really incredible. You hear some funny things about ECM, that they pick up artists and record them but then they don't really do much to help them. But I don't know how true that is, as these people had an awful lot of support.

AAJ: I heard that from Kenny Wheeler; [LP: I love Kenny Wheeler!] he had quite a lot of albums out on ECM. He feels like he has been airbrushed out of history by ECM. He's really quite hurt by the way he's been treated by them...

LP: I heard that from a promoter, a very important promoter in Germany; she said, "Don't go to ECM. They might sign you, maybe, maybe not. But if they sign you, they'll drop you. Even if you've got about five albums, in between they'll just drop you. Also, someone at ECM said that Manfred Eicher is busy until 2017. How do they even know he'll be alive...

AAJ: OK. You decided that you were not a natural soundtrack writer at that time. So what happened next?

LP: I had a child and then when my child was three months old I made the decision then that I was really going to try and compose. I didn't care how many years it was going to take me. That was my mission. And I wrote my first piano suite pretty quickly. I thought that was all right. I was living in Balham, in a beautiful street, all the houses were designed by the same architect, in a big estate, and it was like an Edward Hopper painting. So it was about five in the morning, in the summer, the sun was up, it was very light and I was craning my neck out the window looking for the father of my kid to come home. I noticed that the street was very quiet and it just reminded me of the Hopper painting. So I basically took that emotion, feeling really...whatever I was feeling... you're in love with someone and you don't know if they've had an accident or what, you know... and I wrote the piano suite about the Hopper painting, but it was influenced by that experience.

Anyway, I knew that work was really good, but I didn't know what I could do with it. I had a cassette with eleven minutes of music on it. I carried on writing and was just fishing around...

AAJ: So this is fourteen years ago?

LP: Yes... and I carried on writing but none of it was any good. I didn't mind. I knew I'd get there, but I took a lot of heart from the work of Chagall because when he was seventy he ripped up a lot of his canvasses and you have to know when it's not working. Or even if it is working, be brave enough to start again and really push yourself. I didn't mind. One thing I did was to spend a year writing an opera which, again, wasn't good, but I did dedicate myself; I've still got it. At some point I'll probably pull it out and maybe try and rewrite it.

AAJ: What sort of proportion of what you write do you put out there, compared to how much you produce?

LP: For many years, I threw it all away, because it really wasn't very good. But I keep these notes—like anyone who is creative. What you can do is just pinch a few ideas... But there is a lot of very dodgy corny and horrible stuff. I had a period of writing songs, and somebody put a bit of money in to record them, but it was just rubbish.

AAJ: At what stage did you know that? After the recoding was done or...

LP: I tried to promote these songs and I agreed with everybody who wrote back to me saying, "Sorry, they're just no good. It hurt but it was true. But anything that's come along and taken me off the solo piano route has been further proof to me that solo piano really is what it's all about.

Then I separated from the father of the children and I needed an income, so I trained as a secretary. That's when I really felt liberated. One of the reasons I wanted to write these songs was to make money. I thought, "I'm trying to make money from music, and the music I'm writing to try and make money is crap anyway, so if I free myself... I'll just type for someone and make music at night. I was very lucky because I moved to London and there was an Eberhard Weber fan three doors up from where I lived.

Anyway, I ended up being his typist. I worked for him for about five years. He was very understanding. He was a psychologist, a music freak psychologist. He was perfect for me. By typing his documents I learned a lot about marketing. When it came to my own stuff, I knew how to promote, from this guy. So, I was doing a combination of typing and—because my kids were at school and I could play piano—teaching.

The Perpetual Motion piano suite was influenced by children feeling very free at the piano. It was when I had written that that a friend of mine mentioned Brian Eno, because he was looking for a lyricist and he knew I could write lyrics. I did but they weren't very good. So I worked with him for a couple of weeks. I didn't know his music, but obviously I knew his name. Anyway, at home I only ever played my own music; then, "Hang on a minute, did I write this? And what I was doing was playing piano versions of songs that I was trying to write lyrics for, inadvertently.

So, I sent him loads of emails saying I'm accidentally playing your music on the piano, do you mind if I play your stuff on the piano, I don't know if it's OK to ask you this...He must have thought, "Who's this freak? What's the big deal? He didn't really bother answering. Then finally I said that there's this one in particular, it's great and I want to release it on my CD, can I, and he just got back and said, "Yup, of course. You're a great player. It's an honor.


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