Published Sep 06, 2019Singer, songwriter, agreeable producer and casual gardener Sandro Perri's new album is very much an effort made in and of the great city of Toronto — but you aren't likely to find anything from Soft Landing on the next Raptors warm-up mix. The contemplative, downtempo indie-pop record is a warm blanket of unflappability, a little breathing room for calming relaxation and comfortingly vague nostalgia.
"I don't need music to make me hyper," Perri remarks in an interview with Exclaim!. "I don't go to music to pump me up. I can understand why some people do, but I look to music for other things. Usually it's about slowing down my heart rate or slowing down my nervous system or giving me some space to enter that's not too chaotic."
Perri's creative process is rather similar to his approach to gardening. He notes the replenishing, endorphin-moving quality of having one's hands in the soil, of putting something back into the world, of planting seeds that will hopefully come to flourish, whenever they're ready, in their own time. His work in the studio follows a similar path of patience and reward, allowing ideas to come to him thematically, unhurriedly, rather than forcing them down sequentially.
"What happened, about three years ago or two summers ago, [was] I booked a studio for a month, and I worked on a big pile of music that had been piling up for years," Perri remembers. "From that, I extracted the In Another Life record, and then there was all this other stuff that was close to being finished, and that became this latest record. That big pile of music had been written at various points over the last eight, nine years or whatever. I'm not tied to the album release cycle because of the choices I've made as far as livelihood goes, so I just kind of work on stuff when I have a chance, and release things when they line up thematically."
To attribute one thematic reading of the record: the lyrics and, most prevalently, the sound of Soft Landing hits the '70s pop-rock button pretty hard. This album is a breezy, summery, cocktail at sunset jam fest featuring Perri at the core of a hurricane of overdubs whittled down to the essentials, featuring contributions from fellow Toronto-based musicians like Blake Howard (percussionist), Ryan Driver (flute), Nicole Rampersaud (trumpet), Thomas Hammerton (keys), Josh Cole (bass), Mike Smith (bass and keys), Nick Fraser (drums) and John Jowett (euphonium). Perri's unhurried, thoughtfully produced guitar work is chief in establishing that chill '70s vibe, along with Fender Rhodes and Clavinet, which can't help but lend a shade of Stevie Wonder to the ambiance of the holistic experiments heard on the album.
"I was born in the '70s," Perri recalls. "It's probably an inescapable fact of life for me, as far as executing ideas; I may have leaned on that pretty heavily this time around. That may also be because there's so much guitar playing on the record. I was getting back into playing more guitar in the last several years. I ended up trying out a lot of ideas on guitar, and I was happy with them. I associate the guitar with '70s pop music, for sure — it was still very dominant at the time.
"The other thing about '70s music," Perri adds, "is the production of records was at its peak in that era. Because there is so much work on the production, as opposed to performances in a studio, maybe it ends up having some of that kind of flavour — something that only could happen in the studio, as opposed to a band in a room."
While it sounds like he's easygoing in the studio, the work Perri put into painstakingly carving away at his layers of overdubs and the meaning of his lyrics is palpable. All of lyrics on Soft Landing can be approached from different angles, however you want to look at them, benefiting from obsessively mindful editing and genuine affability and good intentions.
"[Lyrics] don't come easily to me," Perri says. "Once in a while, I get lucky and something just kind of comes, and I know it's cliché to say this, but it feels like it's given to you, and you don't have to work very hard for it, and then others, it's a process of extracting what's below all the stuff that prevents you from accessing the language that you're looking for. With lyric writing, for me, there can be a lot of that, a lot of trying to figure out what is at the heart of the song. I may not know what the song is about until I've worked on it for a while, and discovered what's there at the core… sometimes it can take years before knowing what a song is about, even after it's been recorded and released."
That being said, Perri's songs don't require lyrics, either, which takes even more pressure off.
"If I write a piece and there's nothing to say lyrically, I'm happy to just keep it as an instrumental. So when [lyrics] do show up, there's definitely a reason for them to be there, I hope."
Soft Landing is out today (September 6), care of Constellation Records.