By Nick Hopton
”Shit. What do I even ask him?”
That was my initial thought when I took on the assignment of interviewing one of the greatest guitarists to ever come out of the Philadelphia area, Nick Perri. Truth be told…I’ve never interviewed anyone before. Being in bands for years…I have always been on the other side of the table getting interviewed. But it’s a totally different ballgame when you’re the one asking the questions. I felt that I had to find a balance between being a journalist and a musician. I mean after all….this is Nick Perri we’re talking about. A staple of the Philadelphia music scene for close to two decades. Lead guitar for Silvertide and Mount Holly (not to mention joining Perry Farrell’s Satelite Party, Shinedown and Dorothy on tour)….and now the frontman for The Underground Thieves. This wasn’t just a normal meetup for me. I’ve been a fan of Perri and his work for over a decade. “Ain’t Coming Home’ was a high school anthem for me. The kind of rock and roll that shakes you to the core. The good stuff.
“How the hell do I interview someone I look up to without sounding like too much of a fanboy?”
So, needless to say… I was nervous.
That was until I sat down with Perri at a small rock and roll bar in West Chester. The moment we shook hands… that nervousness disappeared. Immediately, it felt we had known each other for years. This wasn’t an interview at all. This was a conversation. This was sitting back over a few drinks (scotch for me… coffee for him) and talking about music for an hour. It was relieving, to say the least. I had lucked out. Ahead of two sold-out shows with The Struts at The Fillmore (12/28-12/29)… Perri and I got to talking.
Built from members of local bands Pepper’s Ghost, K-Floor, and the aforementioned Silvertide, Nick brought The Underground Thieves together 2 years ago to build a sound that he’s always wanted to create. As evident with their infectious new single, “Let You Know”, the band is turning their influences into something new and fresh.
“I couldn’t deny Pink Floyd is my favorite band of all time and has always been. I feel like in other projects, I’ve not really let that influence out as much…though it’s always been there. I didn’t want to hide that in this band, and I didn’t want it to emphasize it either….but I wanted it to naturally exist. I think that a lot of people want me to “rock”, and that’s cool…I enjoy rocking. ‘Whole Lotta Money’ rocks. But I would get really bored playing 10 of those in a row.”
He also cites The Eagles, Cream, The Beatles…and in the same breath mentions another local icon…The War On Drugs, arguably the biggest band to come out of Philadelphia since Silvertide, as influences for the sound he’s looking for.
“The War On Drugs is one of my favorite bands in the world. They’re my boys. Former roommates of mine, good friends of mine. And I just feel like Adam is breaking new ground and raising the bar both sonically and songwriting wise. And so that’s a huge influence equally as much as the stuff I grew up on. It’s just a big melting pot.”
From the discussion on TWOD, we segued directly into Nick’s thoughts on the current state of the Philadelphia music scene.
“Well, my perspective is skewed because I married a California girl… so I became bi-coastal and haven’t spent as much time in Philadelphia as in years past. But… I definitely think there has been and will always be an incredible amount of musical talent in Philly. Equally so, and if not more than any other city in the U.S. The difference is… is the music business paying attention? Or are the artists being able to break through the threshold and get to the next level where people know about them? I guess what I’m saying is….there’s always been fucking awesome talent here. It’s just is it being recognized or heard? There’s just as much talent now as there was 50 years ago… 20 years ago…it’s just there is an ebb and a flow. It just takes an artist to breakthrough.”
Then we got deep. What does rock and roll really mean in 2019? The fact that a band such as Panic! At The Disco is being named the top rock and roll act of the year…personally has me dumbfounded when you look back at history. So what is rock and roll? And what has it become?
“The word rock and roll is so weird to me now. I don’t think what people call rock and roll is rock and roll. When I think of it… it’s something that just goes against the grain. It’s not even a genre…it’s an attitude. And it’s not about playing it safe. Playing it safe is the death of rock and roll. And I think that right now there is so much playing it safe which bums me out. Damn this is a good conversation! *laughs* I feel like I’ve never been able to quite express it that well…but that’s the core of what I felt for a long time. I asked my 5-year-old daughter once…I said ‘Tesla…do you know what rock and roll is?’ and she said ‘Freedom.’ I couldn’t believe it. That’s like the best answer ever.”
Okay. Enough of the philosophical questions of what rock and roll really is. Back to the subject at hand. The Underground Thieves.
When will we get an album?
“That’s a good question. I do not know. I think we’re definitely going to put out one more single sometime soon…”
Do you know what song it will be?
*a smile gleams across his face*
“Oh yeah, I know what one it’s gonna be. It’s being mixed right now.”
Can you tell us the title?
*that same smile stays*
“I can’t tell you.”
Alright, you keep your secrets.
The two of us share a laugh.
“But we have… and we weren’t shy about letting people know over the summer… that we wrote an entire album… we could almost do a double album… that’s all demoed. The question is finding the time to do it. We demoed 19 songs in Norristown over the summer. A few of which have had some studio work done already,” Perri reveals.
Would you say sonically the new songs are similar to what is currently out?
“Well, the next one that is done and I would say it combines the elements of ‘Whole Lotta Money’ and, if it’s possible, ‘Let You Know’ into one. It’s uptempo, it’s got groove like ‘Whole Lotta Money’…but it’s still got this kind of moody blues thing like ‘Let You Know’…so it’s like combining those two into one.”
Now, ladies and gentlemen…the reason I’m talking to Nick Perri, to begin with. Two sold-out shows with the UK glam rocks darlings…The Struts. But…given that this is Philadelphia, they are in The Underground Thieves‘ territory. A massive set of two homecoming shows for Perri and the Thieves. What exactly do these gigs mean to him and the band?
“Oh, I’m stoked. They’re definitely big for us. I just heard that the second night sold out. So two sold-out nights in my hometown? It’s magical. I’ve been friends with The Struts for a long time. I have yet to be to Fillmore as well… so yeah we could not be more excited. We’ve done headlining shows here… few shows at the Ardmore… a show last year at the Factory with Slash which was cool. But yeah this is great. I can’t think of a better homecoming than doing two in a row during the holidays.”
Perri’s coffee finally arrives. Even though I have a glass of scotch, I’m not the only one drinking now. It just feels more comfortable. I also note how gracious he is to the waitress for bringing it over. It goes a long way to see someone who’s been near the top of the rock world not lose that element of being human and treating others well. Says a lot about him.
Given that you’ve always been the lead guitar player…how does it feel to step to the front?
“Fucking amazing. You know… I actually don’t know what people think… and maybe its better that I don’t. But I’ve always sung. It just so happens that I was in bands with people that were unreal singers. It didn’t make sense for me to be like “Hey Walt (Silvertide) I got this one”. Like Walt Lafty is one of, I think, one of the best singers of our time. So I would write with him. I would write melodies and lyrics…and he did a lot of it, I don’t want to take anything away from him. He’s a wonderful lyricist and melody writer. But I was a participant in that process. And I remember writing “Ain’t Coming Home’ with him in the spare bedroom of my parents’ house, so I’ve always sung… I just haven’t done it on records as a lead. And I don’t know how other people feel about the sound of their voices… and I don’t even think that’s relevant though. If you have something to say…then say it. I guess it was my time… I just said fuck it…I’m gonna sing some stuff.”
We talk about our voices and how the hardest thing to do as a singer is to truly like your voice for what it is. It always sounds better in your head, but hearing it back can make you hate it. Glad to say both Perri and I no longer hate our voices. No… it’s not so far as to say we love our respective voices… but not hating it is pretty damn good in its own right. Find me a singer that loves their voice… and I’ll show you a liar.
I tried to dig in on tour stories. The good ones… the ones you hear rumors about. Especially with Perri… as he has been on tour with some of the most legendary bands of all time. Motley Crue, Van Halen, Velvet Revolver…the list goes on. But…he sticks to the way of the road. Not even a hint at one of THOSE tales.
“I’ve got 50 of em. To be honest, and I’m not just saying this… but there’s quite a few that I absolutely cannot ever repeat to any human…. ever. Then there’s a handful that I could repeat… but if I said them in print I would be ostracized. But it was fucking wild dude. Just wild. There was a run where we opened for Velvet Revolver…. right into Van Halen… then directly into Motley Crue…. kind of all back to back. And after that, my liver just needed a rest.”
Velvet Revolver, Van Halen… AND THEN Motley Crue?
You’re lucky your liver is operational.
Then I hit him with the heaviest question of the night.
Are you satisfied with how far you’ve come? What you’ve accomplished. Or do you still want more?
“That’s a fucking epic question.”
He takes a long pause to really ponder this one.
Internally I think “Hell yeah… you’re getting the hang of this.”
“No. I’m not satisfied. I’m satisfied with who I am. I like who I am at this moment in time. I’ve made a shit ton of mistakes, and I’ve had a lot of shitty things happen. But I think everyone does… everyone’s lives, you know there’s no perfect ride. There’s no such thing. But I’ve gotten into the past couple of years… a feeling of acceptance. And I’m mentally in a place where I’m feeling good about myself and what it is I’m doing here. But I’d be lying if I said: ‘Yeah I’m good, I don’t really have any other ambitions’. No…I’m nowhere near where I want to be. And I think that’s one of the things that drives me when I wake up in the morning. It’s a blessing. I am who I am now. And I’ve got a better grip on existing in this dimension. But I’m still excited because there’s still stuff I want to do. And that’s a motivating factor for me to stay in this wacky ass business for so long. I have to make the cover of Guitar World before I leave this place.”
I think to myself… “Okay…we got the deep ones out. Let’s throw some fun ones now.”
If you could play with one artist, living or dead….who would it be?
“There’s no doubt… no competition… it’s Jimi Hendrix all the way. For me… there’s no other answer. Of course, there’s a lot of other wonderful people I would love to meet… but if there’s just one… it’s him.”
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
“Ohhh goddammit. Do I have to pick one? I mean I love them both… I mean I have to choose The Beatles. But with that said…I can’t imagine life without the Stones. But I have to choose The Beatles.”
Alright…one last fun one.
“They’ve all been fun,” he says with a laugh.
Yeah… but this is the one that everyone has been wondering…
Seeing the number of reunion tours that are going around…The Black Crowes…Motley Crue…do you think we’ll ever see Silvertide again? Even just for one show?
He takes a sip of his coffee….and grins…
“I’ve learned to never say never. If I was a betting man…like if I had to put money on it…I would say you would. I couldn’t promise. There’s no active talking about it….but if I was a betting man and you said “put your money on yes it’s going to happen or no it will never ever again, not even one show”….I’d put the money on yes.”
We share a smile. Nick ends it with this…