Born in New York (with Ukrainian and Hungarian roots), and educated in Switzerland, pianist Lola Perrin is now based in London. Following an early career producing soundtracks for television she went into a period of musical isolation until she launched her solo career in 2003. Ever since, she has attracted increasing attention across Europe as a performer and composer
In the autumn of 2006, on a double bill with her brother Roland, she played at Spitz on the closing night of the London Jazz Festival, to rave reviews. Her music has affinities with jazz, classical and minimalism, and is mainly inspired by visual artists. Perrin collaborates frequently with film makers, and the results are a feature of her live performances.
Lola Perrin has released two albums to date, Perpetual Motion (Blue Planet, 2003) and Fragile Light (World Quarter Music, 2006). She is performing at the First International Conference on Minimalist Music at Bangor University in September 2007.
All About Jazz: You started learning the piano aged four, which was classical training. You've said you were a refugee from classical training...
Lola Perrin: I had a very good piano teacher. When I was about fourteen I wrote some music that unfortunately got lost. It probably wasn't any good but it would be really nice to see it now. I think I wrote about two pieces, very short. I got into university as a musicologist, and it just didn't work out at all. None of it, not one aspect of being at university worked out for me. That was at York. Socially it was a disaster. I got into a really big pickle with the department over my non-attendance. A very bad situation with an individual, which kind of forced me to leave the course. I could've gone back a year later, but I didn't want to.
I will never go back to York. In addition, I was really a misfit in the departmenta lot of people have felt that about that particular university. And maybe studying music in general, a lot of people feel like misfits. It's not a good place to be because music is such a powerful emotion that if there's unhappiness around or just discontentment around, the process of studying it or doing it or being in it, you cannot put that side by side with the immense feeling that you get from listening to it or studying it, which can be very rewarding.
So the whole thing was very odd. While I was there I started writing again; that was when I started composing, and almost immediately I got a little band together with, as usual, non-music students. One of my very good friends, who was an English graduate, got us a really big commission from [Britain's] Channel 4, to make a Cutting Edge documentary about women in prison, quite a big budget. She was working on that for about a year. It seemed like a good way out for me, to slip away from the course.
AAJ: Was the first time you'd done that on the Cutting Edge thing?
LP: It was a collaborative thing. A lot of the music was not collaborative but the process was collaborative. I worked with some of the women who were featured in the drama documentary. I developed a couple of the music pieces with women who happened to be creative. The program was about how most women go to prison for things like non-payment of fines. This was a few years ago but it's still true...
AAJ: So what was the music like?
LP: It was very dynamic jazz, without performances being improvised. I did that and then I did four or five other soundtracks, some for that particular director, some for other directors. But I found the combination of trying to find the work and then actually doing the work [laughs] not very rewarding. My interest is not in production, it's not in post-production. I'm really glad I had that experience, but I did dislike it. I don't want to be confined. At the end of the day, I didn't think the music that I was doing was very good. I didn't really rate it. So I thought OK, I'll step back a bit and take the pressure off myself and really try and work out what kind of composer I am. And that took a long long long...long time.
AAJ: When you say it wasn't very good, was that because of the constraints, or the way you had to produce it? What was dissatisfying about it?
LP: The constraints. Having a timetable. Knowing that in three minutes, two and a half seconds you have to stop that particular emotion. Some composers do that and revel in it. I was discovering that I wasn't really into that at that time, although nowadays I think I want to do this work again, now I've developed my sound. It was hours and hours and hours of work, and then rewrites and then always going back to the first sound that the director had rejected, "Oh actually. I want that first idea you ever showed me.
I'm trying to write something like me, even though I don't know what "me is. That's why there was a bit of conflict there.
AAJ: You say that the music was jazzish. So, in the run-up to going to university, what sort of things were your influences? What were you listening to?
LP: I was completely drowning in ECM. Loved it. Just ECM. Any ECM album. And also some Bill Evans. I'd overdose on those albumsPat Metheny, Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett, some Chick Coreaactually, a lot of Chick Corea, really a lotGary Burton, people who started the ECM thing. Then ECM went a bit more spacey, but at the beginning it was much more dynamic. I had an over-emotional response to it, and I'm glad I did. It really got through to me, really moved me a lot.
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 pianistI 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...