Imagine being at a concert where there are 36,000 people in the audience—but at the same time, the venue is completely deserted.
That’s what happened on August 14 at the Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. On stage were Nick Perry & The Underground Thieves, and in the front row seats were not prime ticket holders, but a huge television screen facing the band showing fans viewing the concert on Zoom. After each song a faint scattering of applause could be heard from the few family, friends and road crew that were allowed in.
Welcome to live music circa 2020.
“Obviously, it was different and a little weird but the truth is, if you put me on stage, if there was one person there or even if was just the road crew, families and our team, something happens,” says Perri. “It’s like that for every performer. Even just the difference between rehearsal with no one in the room and being there with a couple of people in the room, I still get that nervous energy because it’s a performance and you want to do your best to entertain and put on a good show. We had no idea that 36,000 people were going to be watching live, which is mind blowing. We thought there would be a few thousand, so I think that as well helped energize the moment and we just did our thing. That’s what we do. I didn’t think too much about it other than we were going to play a show.”
Perri might accurately be called the hardest working guy in the music business. He been going pretty much nonstop since the age of 16, when his band, Silvertide, was signed to a record deal. In addition to being a guitarist and vocalist, Perri is a songwriter who has placed tracks in movie and television shows. He has also been extremely involved in the production of music videos for his songs. He is very active on social media, not only posting the usual music and live show details,, but also information on his music gear and “behind the scenes” videos on how various tracks were recorded. He has recently been tapped by Gibson Guitars as one of their endorsees and can been seen in Gibson videos demonstrating various instruments.
He is also one of the nicest guys in an industry that is notorious for being ruthless and cutthroat. Unfailingly polite, Perri uses the word “grateful” often times in conversation. That is one of the reasons it is so pleasing to see his new album, Sun Via, debuting at the #6 position on the Top 10 US Rock Album iTunes chart, an amazing feat for an independent artist. “Yes, it feels great” Perri explains. “There’s no other way to say it. Anyone who’s following me knows I have been putting in the work. I have put in the time. This is not some fly-by-night operation; this is literally what I do. I try not to take myself too seriously, but I take what I do seriously and it feels great to have the response that the album has gotten, not just in America but all over the world. I still haven’t caught up on all the messages and comments that people have left. It’s an incredible outpouring from all over, so I am incredibly grateful and it feels like a whirlwind that I am trying to enjoy every moment of.”
When it is mentioned that it is nice to see good things happening to good people, Perri exclaims “Wow man, you’re making my day! I really appreciate it!” After a brief pause he continues, “I don’t know how to be any other way. This is just the way I am and probably my parents deserve the credit as much as me. I’m a parent now and I pass along things to my daughter that I think are important, and top of the list is just being a good person and leading with your heart and hoping that the rest will fall in line. It’s been a crazy journey, and for people who have followed me from the beginning, from Silvertide, they know that even though I’m still a young guy, I’ve been doing it a long time because I started so young. I call it joining the circus. Getting signed at 16, it’s been a crazy wild ride, a lot of highs and a lot of lows. If anything, I’ve probably learned more from the lows just about being humble and about being thankful. If I sell one record or one T-shirt or one ticket, it means a lot to me because I know what a precious and rare opportunity this is because I’ve had it all go away a few times. This time around, especially to be doing it under my own name, the way I’ve always wanted to do it, I’m trying my best not to take any of it for granted and to just stay humble, focused, grateful and try and enjoy every moment of it.”
Along with the good karma generated by the success of Sun Via has come success playing live, first opening for The Struts and then for Blackberry Smoke on four shows. Again, with bands having to be creative in finding ways to present live music, these are drive-in concerts.
“I’ve done two drive-in concerts so far. One was the first ever done in the city of Philadelphia opening for The Struts, who are good friends of mine. They were kind enough to have us on their show and we did another show in Butler, Pennsylvania. I have to say, same as the livestream, it’s different. I took me a minute to get used to it up on stage, not hearing or seeing people, but not really hearing anythng but car horns,” he laughs. “It’s obviously really unique, but we’re living in an uncharted time and so I think any forward movement is good movement. It’s one of those situations where I’m saying yes to everything. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. I’m really thankful for the Blackberry shows; those guys are good friends of mine as well and have been very supportive.”
When the pandemic first began to dominate the news headlines in early March and the lockdowns and “stay at home” orders came down, at the time expectations were that it would be only a few weeks until everything would reopen. We all know how that has played out. Days have stretched into weeks and weeks have stretched into months. It is quite possible that the months could stretch to be a year, as so much about the virus is still unknown. Through timing and sheer luck, Perri considers himself to be in a fortunate position.
“I’m just excited to be doing something. I’m also grateful because I have a lot of friends, a lot of peers in the music industry who are kind of just stuck in neutral and I feel for them. It’s so interesting…if you asked me this a year ago, I would have been complaining about how long everything was taking. The record was taking forever, I was missing show opportunities because I was trying to get the album done, and it seemed like ‘man, this is a tough spot to be in.’ Looking at the way things have played out, how the album was finished just as things were going into lockdown, I’m so grateful that the timeline happened the way it did because this whole time I’ve been busy. I’ve had a full-length album to promote intensively, and it’s done, it’s in the bag, it’s into the world, and I have the opportunity to play these shows. It’s one of these weird circumstances where the timing of it really played out to my advantage this time. Obviously, none of it is a good thing in the world. It’s a rough time. It’s not a good time for anyone to be doing anything. That being said, I think we are making the most of what we can do right now.”
The closures due to COVID has brought severe financial uncertainty to millions of people who have lost their jobs or have had their wages reduced severely. Again, with the prospect that society may not fully reopen until sometime midway through 2021, the financial outlook remains murky. When asked if he’s able to make a living doing the sporadic live shows and online album sales, Perri says “If you ask me again in six months, I’ll give you a better answer. The truth is, I don’t know. We’re taking it one day at a time. Is this sustainable for the long run? I don’t know. Probably not. We’re all hoping that the drive-in thing is a band-aid way for artists to get out and earn a few bucks to kind of hold us over. But I would say everybody’s looking forward, and hoping for a return to normal, and not just concerts but for everyone, for a million reasons. School most importantly for kids. We’re all hoping that this situation gets under better control as soon as possible so that we can go back to some of the daily activities that we once shared and enjoyed. As far as making money right now, at least at my point in the process, a lot of it is reinvested anyway. I’m not doing this to get rich and famous. If that were the case, I would have quit a long time ago. My goal is to just keep making the best art that I can make and make a living doing I and, even if it’s a humble living. So, I guess under that pretense you could already say that it’s a success. I’m already successful. Of course, I want more, everyone does. I want to reach more people. I’d like a little bit more security and I’m sure my wife would too. Who wouldn’t? At this moment in time, which is all we really have, I’m grateful for what I do have and to be able to say that I am staying afloat at this moment in time. Ask me in six months and I’ll give you a better answer. At least for now I think we’re doing what we can to stay afloat and hoping for the best.”
As to Perri’s previously-mentioned collaboration with Gibson Guitars, one might wonder how that came about. As musicians are well aware of, major music instrument manufacturers usually collaborate with major players. In the case of Gibson, go to the “Artist Collection” on their website and you will see Slash, Joan Jett and Eric Clapton models among others. Perri explains: “It’s a no-brainer that Gibson supports guys like Slash and Jimmy Page. That being said, I think they are very much in tune to the next generation and what’s happening with the younger audience. And good for them, because they should be. I’ve fallen into that category with a few younger artists as well, and they really rallied behind what I was doing. They’d asked me to score a 14-part documentary called “The Process” that they launched and that’s something I’ve been working on. In six months, I wrote 70 pieces of music for it. It was a mammoth undertaking. It’s been a mutual, l beneficial relationship on both sides.”
The phrase “the new normal” is often used to describe what the world is going through currently. Actually, the case could be made that it could also be described as “the new abnormal.” Nothing is normal right now; every day seems like an experiment and a learning process. Every day there is conflicting news about what is or isn’t happening with reopening society and the fight against the virus. Perri reflects on his role in the big scheme of things.
“We thought about delaying the record, and I have friends, peers who have finished albums and are kind of sitting on them and waiting. At this moment in time, if I wasn’t putting out some type of art on a daily to put a smile on someone’s face, then I’d have virtually no contribution to the world. I am grateful for the audience I have and I’d rather be doing something than nothing. It’s not just for me and it’s not a selfish thing to do this so that I’ve got something to do every day. I want to do this to share my art with others. I’ve already been written and told how much people love the album and how much it’s lifted their spirits and it’s already doing what I hoped it would do. Of course, I want to keep sharing it and have it get bigger and wider and reach more people and all that stuff, but I am very happy and fulfilled with what already has gone down during the last couple weeks. It already feels like a success.”
“If I’m playing some small part in making somebody feel better or bringing a little joy to someone at this time, it makes it all worth it. Absolutely.”