A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (well, actually not that long ago, and right here on planet Earth) music videos were eagerly anticipated and celebrated for their creativity. This was the pre-internet era, where the only way to see a music video was to watch it on MTV. With a captive audience and big budgets courtesy of the major record labels, music videos became elaborate works of art.
With the advent of the internet, YouTube and the corresponding decline of record labels, things have changed dramatically. Instead of watching MTV for hours at a time, hoping to see a favorite band or song, anyone can view anything at any time. The internet also means that the role of the record label as gatekeeper is over. Today, bands and musicians record and post songs and videos online quickly and easily. The downside is that there is so much content it can become overwhelming. No one is going to spend a lot of money creating a music video that may be viewed a handful of times; hence the rise of the lyric video. It’s quick, cheap and easy to produce, but lacks the creativity and “wow factor” of the old days.
So along comes Nick Perri, a true rock n’ roll Renaissance man, who excels as a vocalist and guitarist, a songwriter, engineer and producer, and a filmmaker. Akin to his retro image, Perri creates videos that are throwbacks to…well, enough talking. Watch the video to Whole Lotta Money and see for yourself.
One continuous shot of over four minutes, no cuts or breaks. How long did that take to plan?
“Well, it was certainly an undertaking and I would like to say that there was definitely some preparation involved. But I will also go on record to saying that I got really lucky,” explains Perri. “There was a lot of luck. Essentially, it was planned and executed by Austin Bauman and I. Austin has been working with me for years, and he filmed the video. I wrote it and directed it, but he was the one who really captured it. We went scouting about a week before the video date. We just kind of went all over trying to find an area and he had recommended Fullerton [California]. At a certain time of day, he said, ‘There’s not a lot of traffic here. It’s a pretty chill area and I think this is going be our best bet.’”
“We looked at few other places, but eventually we found our way back to Fullerton and we’re looking around and driving up and down the street, ‘Hey, how about this? How about that?’ We’re driving around and we found that park. We were thinking that it would be so cool if it ended in a park. We parked the car and we walked around and we found this really cool alleyway. And okay, the alleyway connects to the street, and the street looked like low traffic, too. And then that street gives way to the park and then that’s where we’re gonna end it, and blah, blah, blah.”
Whew. Sounds confusing, right? And that was just the scouting trip. Then came preproduction. “So, we found the location. Then I came home and I actually drew a really big map, and it encompassed six pieces of 8.5 by 11 paper. I taped them all together and I drew a big map of the area. And I then said, ‘Okay. This person is gonna come in here. This person is gonna come in there. This is gonna happen here. This is gonna happen there. This is where I want the guitar. This is where I take a sip of the flask.’ All these things, everything was really worked out in advance.”
Scouting, check. Preproduction, check. Now it’s time to actually shoot the video. Unlike major studio productions with permits and closed locations, this was very much a guerilla, keep it on the down-low type of affair.
“On the day of the shoot, we all met. I had my cast. I had my crew. I had everything I needed there and I presented it to everybody. And I was very clear and was able to show them, ‘Okay. You stand behind this bush,’ that type of direction. I think this is really what it comes down to when you’re doing any kind of project, is just having clear direction. That said, I did offer up to everybody was that it might not work. I didn’t want to instill any fear in anybody, but I knew the truth, which was this just straight up may not work. I just led them fearlessly and then I was hoping for the best because there was the element of traffic and we had to cross the street and we had no permission, no permits, nothing. I really just had to kind of hope for the best. It’s not like we could’ve blocked off anything. It was a public park we ended in and as we’re at the very end of the video you can see kids on rollerblades and I think they were having some sort of soccer game on the field.”
“We ended up doing somewhere between seven and nine takes, all the way through. And I told everybody, ‘Every time we’re going to go to the very end; I don’t care if someone messes up, we’ll just keep going because you never how it’s going to look on film.’ The first four takes were totally awful and unusable. Then we started to get in the routine of it. Everybody started to feel a little more confident where their timing was. The last two or three takes were all great. And then I just sat and watched them and picked the best one. I wish somebody filmed Austin who was filming me because he was on a hoverboard wearing a stabilizer, strapped to his chest, and he had this hoverboard backwards, okay? And then. so I could have playback, he had to have a Bluetooth boombox with bungee cables around his thigh. It was crazy. It was insane. So, he deserves an award for that thing.”
The full name of Perri’s current project is Nick Perri & The Underground Thieves. Another of the band’s songs is White Noise, with lead vocals that are strikingly reminiscent of a Beatles song. Perri also created a unique video for this tune, and has another wild story about its filming process.
Perri talks about the song and the video: “White Noise is a song that I wrote with two of my bandmates, Anthony and Michael Montesano. They are brothers and were in a band called Pepper’s Ghost. When I was in Philadelphia coming up in the music scene, we played a lot of shows together and they were a great, great band. They joined the Thieves about a year and a half ago. I had this piece of music and I just was stuck. Sometimes a song will come together quickly; it could mean five minutes for the whole thing, music, lyrics, everything done. This was not one of them. White Noise was a stubborn, stubborn tune that was just around and it was like a puzzle that I couldn’t solve.”
“I sent them what I had and said, ‘Guys, I may throw this away because I’m fed up with it.’ They told me to let them live with it for a while. What they ended up coming back with blew my mind, how they had heard things that I wasn’t hearing, and that’s the true joy of collaboration. For something like this, it’s sometimes ideas that are uncovered that would normally just not come to you and this is a perfect example of that. I couldn’t finish this one on my own and my bandmates stepped in and really helped me unlock it and uncover the magic that was there. Once it was done, I was thinking, ‘This is special. It’s just a special tune.’ When they sing together in harmony, they have always reminded me of a Lennon-McCartney kind of harmony.”
As with the video to Whole Lotta Money, the planning and execution for the White Noise video was not a simple undertaking. Would Perri have it any other way?
Perri chuckles and says “Yeah, well…so, we knew that we had something special and then it was just about how we’re going to present this to people. I’ve always been, even though I’m from Philly, I’ve always just been enamored with the kind of the Southwestern, Southern California desert thing. Joshua Tree, The Byrds and Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and obviously the Eagles, are an inspiration. So I called everybody and said, ‘Hey, let’s go to Joshua and try and do it there. It just was a matter of figuring out what we wanted to do. I wrote out a video treatment, like a little screenplay, and we did it.”
The video features extensive aerial shots that were filmed using a drone. “Again, Austin Bauman is just an amazing cinematographer and he came with his bag of tricks. He had multiple cameras. He had a drone and another friend of mine, Taber Nash, he’s just a rad dude who has all the big-kit toys. Taber had the vintage truck and he also brought a dirt bike out there. So there were shots where Austin is…we don’t think of danger when we’re making our videos, right? If I was to describe it, you’d think we were crazy.”
“My buddy Taber is riding a dirt bike and then Austin is strapped to the back of the bike but the opposite direction. So, Taber is facing the handle bars. Austin is facing the back tires. But because you have to hold the camera and you can’t hold on anything else, they bungee tied their two waists together. They are tied together and Austin is shooting off the back of this dirt bike as we race on this dirt road through the desert. And that’s how those side shots of the truck were got. So, yeah man, we just pull it off the best way we can, guerilla filmmaking all the way.”
In addition to being heavily involved in songwriting, recording and filmmaking, Perri also has a big (though not necessarily enjoyable) part in the business of music. He admits, “I’ll have to tell you this. Booking shows is just the freaking hardest thing and organizing tours and all that. It’s my least favorite part of the whole business. It’s absolutely brutal, but you’ve got to do it until you break through. When I was in Silvertide, I guess I took it for granted. I took a lot for granted back then. I was young and I just didn’t realize how lucky we were and how good we had it. But the band did so well so quickly that I took for granted having a huge team. We had the label, A&R, booking agent, manager, business manager, tour manager, tour accountants… we had all that stuff and I would just show up and play the gig.”
“I guess in some ways I could say that’s what I’m working towards getting back to, because I had a taste and it’s delicious. However, until I have the luxury, which is really what it is to have a team like that, I’m doing most, if not all of it myself. It’s certainly fine but there are aspects of it that I enjoy more than others. Writing the music, playing the music, doing the videos, I love that stuff. I wouldn’t want someone else doing it. Then you’d start to get into more of the business stuff, the financial stuff, the accounting, the merchandising, the tour, prep and planning, and hotels and vans and flights, and all that stuff sucks, and I hate it. But I’m doing it while I have to do it. On the flip side, we’ve had some really great opportunities. We just did two nights sold out in my hometown, Philadelphia, at the Fillmore, opening for a band called The Struts who are good friends of mine. Those were amazing shows, and I absolutely loved it.”
“A month before those shows I started planning, and I had these four, five and six-foot-tall metal cactuses fabricated that had 18 individual light bulbs in each cactus. I wanted props. I wanted lights. I wanted fog. We had two fog machines, industrial strength fog machines. It’s about putting on a show and how we’re going to present this music visually, because I’ve always come from the school of thought that it’s entertainment. If you are not going to give somebody a show, then they can just go home and look for the record. I’m sure there are people who despise that kind of visual thing and think it’s cheating, but not me.”
The music business has always been a tough nut to crack and doing so with no label to lean on is doubly difficult. Perri is both gracious and grateful for the chance to explain both the creative process and what goes on behind it. “I really appreciate it,” he says at the conclusion of the interview. “Thank you for the kind words and for the support. It means a lot to me because at this point in the game, especially as an independent artist, getting the word out is really what it’s all about. I make the videos and I make the music, but it doesn’t do any good if nobody sees it or hears it. We’re up for a few really big tours this year. I hope that they come to fruition in a nice size room supporting a bigger band. So thank you, and thanks for taking the time.”