The wholly kaleidoscopic soul of Common Saints
“The idea you could create a song from basically nothing was a phenomenon for me. Like being an alchemist. I knew then that was all I wanted to do.”– Charlie J Perry, Common Saints
We’re slap bang in the middle of Autumn, which just happens to be my favourite season owing to the beautiful particolored leaves, redder than leather and rusting like weathered tin. Whilst autumn represents the death of things, it reminds us of the importance and impermanence of life. It’s a time for reflection and the release of all the things we’ve been holding onto which no longer positively contribute to the next cycle in our lives. And this is a cycle well observed by Common Saints. If the debut EP, “Idol Eyes”, represents dewy spring mornings and sumptuous summer bounty, then the second EP “Starchild” draws in the dark nights, the decay of Autumn, and “a closer reflection of reality, heavier subject matter, and emotions”.
For those who don’t already know, Common Saints is the personal project of renowned producer, Charlie J Perry, inspired by warm ’70s production, crafted arrangements, and natural grooves.
He has produced for the likes of BTS, Jorja Smith, and Maverick Sabre, and the title track from Idol Eyes has upwards of three million streams. Starchild sucks up influence from an array of styles, ‘exploring these areas through fusions of psychedelic soul & funk and Balearic tendencies, all tended by memorable songwriting and production nous’.
“The title track is kinda a letter to younger generations” explains Charlie, which pairs dreamy falsetto vocals on a smooth, languid groove that sounds like an undiscovered hip hop sample. Common Saints is currently rehearsing for shows with a full live band as well as writing a debut album, slated for release in late 2022.
Starchild falls into stores today, 29th October 2021, and we were fortunate to catch up with Charlie to talk about his new release. Let’s get into it…
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Charlie, really appreciate your time. I’ve been listening heavily to Common Saints in the build-up to this interview and getting to know you, thanks to almighty Google. But for readers who maybe haven’t yet heard your music, can you offer a little bit about your musical background?
I trained as a musician since I was six. My family wasn’t particularly musical, though they had a big CD collection that was exploratory for me growing up. My Grandfather was pretty handy on the piano and that really inspired me. My introduction to piano was mainly classical-focused, I picked up guitar age ten listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zep, and other classic rock from the era. I am fortunate to have had a family that nurtured my interest for the arts, and older family who introduced me to some inspiring things. I am a now full-time record producer/mixer when I am not in Common Saints world and also compose Classical Music.
I’ve listened to your piano pieces on Spotify, absolutely mind-blowing! Aside from piano, you’re also an incredibly soulful vocalist, but you do also play a number of other instruments. Which of those do you feel you connect with most?
Thank you – I would say that piano is my first and strongest connection. Bass guitar came quite naturally to me having played guitar from early. I fxcking love the drums – I used to play when I was young, and will always jam on a kit if there’s one in the room. I never really had the space for a drum kit, so when I moved to my London Studio three years ago, that was one of the first things I bought. I built it from scratch, Gretch Kick, Black Beauty Snare, Constantinople Hats, and Ride. Always expanding my collection, looking at an A&F Kit next, it’s addictive.
You’ve been focussing more recently on your own project, with your first EP ‘Idol Eyes’ enjoying great ‘underground’ success – I’m interested to know what events led to the emergence of Common Saints – is it something you’ve been building up to for some time??
So, Common Saints is an amalgamation of pretty much all the genres and sounds that have inspired me over the years. I was making this kind of sound back in 2015, but it took a few years to refine and get to a level I was happy with. It got to a point where I was consistently making things which seemed to all fit into the same project. Any producers or artists reading this will know that there could be no end to monikers or pseudonyms to fit all the multi genres we experiment with over our lives. Common Saints was a happy balance and encompassed different sounds and instruments that I love, and also have a lot of room for experimentation and development.
Having access to the extensive family CD collection, you’d have been listening to whatever was available growing up and programmed, as we all are when young, by the preferences of our elders (not a bad thing). How did your personal taste develop from there, and can you recall the first album you bought for yourself?
I think the first album I bought was an early Greenday album like Dookie or Insomniac and I was given Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth, and The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation when I was about eleven, which broadened my musical boundaries.
That eclectic taste in music has been carried through with some of the artists you’ve produced, including K-Pop with BTS, R&B/ Soul with Jorja Smith, and Maverick Sabre. What inspired you to become a producer, and how did your journey start?
I had been writing songs on the acoustic guitar young, with dreams of becoming a singer. Some of the more electronic music I was listening to back then definitely inspired me to get into production, which I picked up around 14 when I was introduced to Reason 3.0 – I was with a friend from Holland and he showed this software from Propellerheads and I had a go… I was instantly hooked: The idea you could create a song from basically nothing was a phenomenon for me. Like being an alchemist. I knew then that was all I wanted to do. It was like a computer game, but instead of points, you get tunes. Still blows my mind to this day.
I think ‘alchemist’ is a fitting description for the role of producer. Are there any magical or memorable moments that stick out for you whilst working in that capacity, for the artists you’ve produced?
There are so many! Some of the most notable – I was living in London some years ago in Harlesden, shortly after I had met Jorja Smith, we had a 2-day writing/recording session together and came up with the whole of “Project 11”. We were both going through some emotional times and that gelled massively in the form of that EP. Almost like capturing a photo of time. We then took the songs to Mark Ronson‘s (then) studio in Tileyard and recorded Maverick Sabre on the track “Carry Me Home”. Both Jorja and Maverick Sabre have such incredible voices, so to capture their performances was very special to me.
Writing and recording sessions allow you to be open and creative in a comfortable space. You end up learning a lot about yourself and other people, so the development of myself and my music is my most memorable experience.
The artists we’ve just mentioned have had incredible successes in their careers. The BTS track ‘Singularity’ for example, has over 170 million streams on YouTube and 181 million streams on Spotify, and Jora Smith’s ‘Teenage Fantasy’ stands at 25 million views. Those are incredible achievements. What do those statistics mean to you, and how do you measure your own success as a producer and as a solo artist?
For me, this has changed as I get older. Initially, there is huge pressure from the ages of 18-30 to find a job or a career that can support you in the economic system of the world. When in this stasis, success is usually defined as financial and material worth, and while that is a relative necessity in our lives, it is not everything and there is a spiritual path that has more nuance than material desires.
I now develop and explore a more spiritual side of my existence and music. Songs take on new meanings and the concepts behind them have deepened. I want to leave something behind, and share my journey along with my musical trinkets and mementos. I want to do something epic and ambitious, make wild albums, write piano concertos, push the boundaries and put money where most modern record labels fear to tread (like hiring a full Philharmonic Orchestra for an album and recording it in the Gol Gumbaz). All this for a celebration of sound and music and life. We’ve been here so long, but for no time at all… Achieving these things and letting that define me, rather than my material possessions, is my idea of success.
Those are incredible ambitions – a full orchestra playing in the Gol Gumbaz would be intense! The pushing of boundaries links back to the desire to experiment you mentioned earlier, that celebration of sound as a lifelong, personal adventure. Do you give thought to how your music lands with the audience when they hear it, and what reaction would give you the most satisfaction?
I guess I want to give the audience the feeling I had when I created the song. The fun I had creating the song, and the joy I have listening to it. I always want to make things that I would like to listen to. Music creation has been such a big part of my life for many years, so it follows me around and almost narrates my journey. I am certainly pleased to be making music, and also find great love in sharing it with the world.
Can you give us a bit of insight into your creative process?
Sometimes a song can start with a concept, or a riff, or a beat. It just depends… Maybe you went to the Chihuahuan Desert and took Peyote with a Mexican Shaman, witnessed yourself existing along the astral plane and a melody came to you in a gust of wind? It’s interesting to explore songwriting from different states of consciousness… Through various forms of meditation different states can be achieved. Whatever floats your boat really. I remember a quote from Bowie saying “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being; a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” The idea I lead with is to make good sounding and good feeling music, and if that comes to something and people like it then cool, you’re on a vibe.
Speaking of vibes and occupying alternate planes of existence, it’s been pretty surreal for everyone for many different reasons over the past 18 months or so. You’d released your first EP whilst still in lockdown last year which is packed with uplifting, feel-good tracks which speak of love, unity, and togetherness. How did the pandemic affect you as a musician, and has it had any influence on the music you’d been writing during that time?
Lockdown has been many different things to many people, although fundamentally it’s a last resort / tough situation considering the restrictions on our most basic of needs like socialising. I live a relatively solo life when working on music, so initially, I wasn’t too phased.. however, it certainly took its toll a few months in. No being able to see your friends or family, no hugging, all the fear and anxiety surrounding health. The unfortunate situation with politics at the moment surrounding our liberties is worrying, to say the least. The release of Idol Eyes and having that to work towards was a blessing. Something positive for an otherwise bleak world landscape. The time really put things into perspective for me and the heights I want to take Common Saints to. Starchild is more along the lines of the lockdown; the fear, the anger, the sadness, the loss, the hope.
Starchild is the title of your latest EP which has been released today, and those emotions and sentiments definitely come through in the music; a darker, more introspective vibe. Would you say that’s a fair observation? How would you describe the evolution from the first EP, Idol Eyes, to the Starchild EP?
Absolutely. Idol Eyes was more of a Utopian concept. Starchild explores deeper and more difficult emotions. Every day has a night kind of thing. I didn’t want to be tied to one sound or concept in my music but explore a host of emotions and feelings. Although the darker introspective stuff is not always daytime radio, it definitely has its place. I feel like Starchild is perhaps more in tune with the current world state.
Is there a particular Common Saints track that you’re especially proud of, or that has special meaning for you?
I love all of them for different reasons, they all mean a lot to me individually and as a whole. “Idol Eyes” has a special place in my heart as it was the first song I released, and lyrically it captures something very peaceful and visceral. One record that springs to mind is “Dreams” from Starchild EP. This one is very close to me and develops in its meaning across the song. It’s a love song really, and it is meant to give nurturing strength, self-questioning, and fortitude.
You draw inspiration from music from the 1960s – 80s and produce beautifully blissed-out psychedelic, and funk-filled songs – which artists would you say have significantly inspired you? Who would you have on your ‘Best Of All Time’ Spotify playlist?
This is a long list.. I’ve been inspired by many artists, composers, and musicians over the years so I couldn’t say that one has done more than another as it’s a big melting pot of influence. I grew up listening to Debussy and Chopin, both of whom have inspired me and had some influence on my playing and my sound. This all comes across in the DNA of my records.
In terms of contemporary artists that I love and have been significant, I would have to say Pink Floyd, Lonnie Liston Smith, Bill Withers, Beegees, Bowie, The Who, CHIC, Change, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Candi Staton, Patrice Rushen, Minnie Riperton, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cymande, Air, Shuggie Otis, Dexter Wansel….. There’s many more 🙂
I understand that you’re currently rehearsing for shows with a full live band. Can you tell us a bit about that; how it’s working out, and what we might expect at a live Common Saints show?
I am carefully putting together the live show, but with all the disruptions this is looking like a 2022 debut to the stage. To begin with, we will likely do some intimate venues in the UK like the Jazz Cafe plus a few more. I imagine the gigs being like a journey with lots of visual art. The big dream is to do world tours! I think once there’s an album or two out, we can explore some very exciting things…
Thinking about those shows, if you could pull together your ideal band to perform live with, who would you bring in (from the past and present) and why would you select those musicians?
Wow, that’s a good question haha! Drums – James Gadson (He just got that groove, right in the pocket). Bass – Jaco Pastorius (no explanation needed). Lead Guitar – Dave Gilmore (Seminal psychedelic guitar excellence). Rhythm Guitar – Nile Rodgers (El Rey del rhythm guitar).
Last question, and one I like to ask for readers who may be starting out on their own musical journey or looking to further their careers… in anything really… what advice would you give to them from your own experiences so far?
Believe in yourself.
There is amazing art in the world to be inspired by, even just the beauty of nature and the earth itself. Do something that makes you feel good, and in turn, it may well make others feel the same. Challenge yourself creatively, and in turn that will create inspiring music and art. Be bold; even if you haven’t quite achieved the sound you want; Believe in your concept. Take your time.
In terms of amazing art, there’s a consistent style to the images you’re using for your work, and wondered if you can tell us about your selections and where they come from, and is the transition from the technicolour, summery covers from Idol Eyes to the more subdued and darker hues for Starchild a conscious one which supports your “for every day there’s a night” comment?
So the cover art was created by Daren Newman. He does a lot of psychedelic artwork and I’m a big fan of his. The covers always start with a concept and Daren does his thing. The colour pallette on Starchild was to reflect the deeper tones and feelings within the EP.
Thank you Charlie. And to close… I spotted something that might ring a bell for you. A quote “everything you do and everyone you meet in life is an opportunity. Some are more beneficial than others, but all are opportunities to acknowledge, learn and increase your stems…”. It’s something you shared on one of the social platforms, which struck me as good advice – and something you’re clearly practicing. The opportunity for us to talk with you has been a most pleasurable one.