Permahorn talk ‘My Blood Carries My Dreams Away’

Scottish/Serbian London-based duo, Permahorn – self taught musicians Saint Pauly (guitar, vocals, percussion, knobs) and Jexy Pesic (bass, vocals, drums, switches) – deliver a collection of beautiful raw yet reflective & intense tunes, with their intriguingly cathartic debut album, ‘My Blood Carries My Dreams Away’, which is due for release on 1st December via Shimmy-500.

Hello Permahorn, please introduce yourself!

Hi! We’re a duo, based in South London – Paul is from Scotland, Jexy is from Serbia and we’ve been recording together for about 18 months now.

You have just announced your debut album by releasing the title track ‘My Blood Carries My Dreams Away’, can you tell us a little bit about the song?

The song was supposed to be the last one on the album but it’s now the opener. Which makes sense as most of it is backwards. We originally sent about 15 demos to our producer, Kramer, and he picked the songs to work on. His feedback on this song at the time was: “OK, this could be the last song on the LP, a completely fucked up outro event. Like a bad trip. Send the listener home wondering “what the fuck was THAT?” Yeah, I think that’d be a GREAT OUTRO for this collection of songs; a completely fucked up “what the fuck were they thinking?” kind of event. I also think that anyone who actually listens to the entire LP will be thrilled to hear it end in this fashion. Anyone who loves these songs enough to listen to ALL of them will fucking ADORE this song.”

The problem was that the demo was recorded on an old 4-track – Paul had recorded a song years ago on tape, turned it round and sang over the backwards version of it. So we had to re-record all of it. It’s amazing that it took about 12 layers of guitars and keyboards and feedback and drums loops to recreate what was originally, guitar, bass and Casio keyboard. The biggest problem was the backing vocals – Paul just could not hit those high notes any more! In the end we cut the vocals from the old tapes, so Paul’s duetting with his younger self on this one.

How does the songwriting process work in the band? Is there someone who comes up with the music and someone who concentrates on the lyrics or is it more of a collaboration?

It’s a collaboration. We play together now, but for the songs that make up this album, we didn’t record any of it at the same time in the same room – one of us would come up with a riff, or bassline or chord sequence at home and we’re share the files online for the other one to build on top of. This would go back and forward for a few weeks till we’d layered the songs and felt happy with them. We’d do a rough mix and then, if we were happy, we’d send it over to Kramer to work on.

Most of the lyrics on this were written by Paul but Jexy is very much the quality control guardian. The slightest wrinkle of her nose and it’ll get changed. But we’re really supportive of each other – we’re new to this, we are both quite shy and lacking in confidence so I think we both understand the need to support each other.

Do the lyrics you write have specific personal meaning or can they be interpreted by anyone who has experienced similar life experiences?

Anyone can interpret anything in their own way. There are lyrics from other artists that we’ve absolutely adored, and been disappointed to have them “explained”. The thing is, we were both going through separation. Relationships were breaking down and it was a very emotional period – but the music was a fantastic escape from this. The songs are dark on the surface, but there’s a hope underneath – we were wrestling ourselves free. So that longing, that desire comes through. The spoken parts on Lynch Mob, for example, were made by cutting up text messages that we’d sent and muddling them up. So they’re very specific to us, but anyone who’s been through a similar experience will, we’re sure, be able to relate. Human connections and all the emotions and frustrations that go along with that as relationships take their course are not unique to us. But it always feels that way. As an individual, you can’t help but experience your situation, your feelings, more intensely than others.

You are self taught musicians, do you feel that helped the creative process possibly allowing you to come at it from a completely fresh angle?

Jexy bought her bass to make music just 2 years ago. So it’s an amazing achievement. The thing is, we love listening to music, but we’re highly critical. We have no training, but there are good and bad outcomes from that. We have no real framework – so we’ll experiment. We don’t automatically know which chords “should” go with each other so we not constrained by that. And in terms of technique, we have to play to our strengths – we want the music to be honest. Initially we would get frustrated that we couldn’t do tricky guitar solos. But the truth is, we hate guitar solos. So we strip everything down and keep it simple and build it up in layers.

It was funny to start getting feedback, when people picked up on the fact that we’d have three bars, and then four bars – or have a song with no real “chorus” but three phases that progress during the song. To us, that comes naturally – it’s going to wind some people up, without doubt, but we like artists who find their own voice and are true to it – Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese, Tall Dwarfs – that homemade, heart on sleeve ethic. And really, those artists have written some astonishing songs, with melodies that are beautifully heart-breaking. But they’d still get laughed off in an X-factor audition.

You worked with renowned producer Kramer (Bongwater, Galaxie 500, Low) on this record, how did you find the experience?

He’s fantastic. A real character. And an audio genius – he got what were trying to do, right away. He really listens to a song and enhances it, teasing out the right instrument at the right time. We are big fans of Shimmy-Disc so it has been an absolute honour to work with him. He provided guidance all the way through – from long conversations about mic placement and vocal recording tips, to unrepeatable anecdotes about his time in the music industry, covering everything from Rough Trade to Tarantino.

Paul thought it was a scam. We’d uploaded a demo (Daniel) to a site asking for help with mixing as we were interested in seeing what difference this would make. We listed the bands we liked the sound of and got a reply from some guy claiming he’d produced all those bands – “my name’s Kramer”.

We were gushing the first time we did a video call.

What’s been nice is that he has gone way above and beyond mixing – adding effects, instruments, changing arrangements – and it’s been a real creative collaboration. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly but he respects that ultimately it’s our music and our decision is final – he doesn’t get upset. He told us which songs to focus on, which needed more work and which ones we should ditch. And it’s been an amazing learning experience for us – we never dismiss out of hand his suggestions. With one or two we couldn’t quite see it, but he was always working towards this being a collection of songs, an album, and the sum of the parts is something greater than the whole.

Where do you think your sound fits in today’s music industry?

A narrow band on the margins. I think the industry part of “music industry” is the big differentiator. Digital has made it easier to get music out there and to find music, which is great, but the business side of it sucks you dry. The first bit of feedback we got when we started sending songs to places to review/release was: “Can you cut the intro, get straight to the fantastic riff, no one listens to long intros now, no one will wait.” But we wait, we like the pay off, the investment – that build up. Long intros are fucking awesome.

There are labels out there doing interesting stuff – Kill Rock Stars, Trashmouth, FatherDaughter. But we were skipping through the new music playlists on Spotify the other night and the really successful stuff just sounds like one long global song – all the same. Same effects on the vocals, same style, same pace. I guess it’s always been that way, but the sheer volume of it all in the digital world makes it seem overwhelming. We’re under no illusions – our sound is not what people want in the background, but then a lot of the bands we love weren’t massively successful in terms of sales. We’re not doing this to get rich, fortunately, ha ha!

If you could tour with one band who would it be?

The Beatles? Exhume two of them and do a puppet show. Maybe someone like Low or Luna or Nick Cave. If we want a more rock’n’roll blowout, maybe Fat White Family. But we’re probably a bit sheltered and sensible for them.

For those who haven’t seen you perform, what is a Permahorn live show like?

Kramer told us to hone our songwriting abilities and gather a body of work before playing live, so we’ve been holed up writing for 18 months. We’ll need to find a way of playing as a duo or employing some support as we’ve been recording all the instruments ourselves. I’d love our live shows to be extensions of our hidden personalities. To be revealing, to be intimate, powerful, prone to the occasional bum note but all the better for the flaws.

What does the rest of 2017 and beyond hold for the band?

The album comes out on 1 December. It’s strange because it takes a long time to get out and we’ve got about a dozen new songs in the pipeline. I think mentally we’re on the next one already. It would be great to finish 2017 as Christmas number 1 (does that still happen?) but failing that, some nice words about the music from people we admire would be a lovely Christmas present.