Angela Perley is alright
There’s a deep resolve threaded through Turn Me Loose, the new album from Angela Perley.
Time and again, the musician turns her attention to a world forever threatening to fracture, singing: “Every time I turn around something’s breaking”; “This world … leaves you holding on to too much misery”; “Life is complicated.”
And yet, somehow, Perley perseveres, striding onward amid the accumulated heartbreaks, missteps and unfolding global tragedies, here buoyed by a lush, country-tinged soundtrack that serves as instrumental balm. These can be dark days, but Turn Me Loose is inherently warm and comforting – a sonic safe space in which the singer is free to wrestle with a host of internal and external complexities.
“In a way, the songs are almost a practice for me, or almost kind of a therapy,” said Perley, who will celebrate the new record with on Saturday, Jan. 21. “And music has always been that way for me, but even more so with this album, which was like, ‘Okay, let’s just get it together.'”
Perley traced a majority of these fractured vibes to the lingering effects of the pandemic, which shuttered much of the live music industry for the better part of a year beginning in March 2020, leaving the singer temporarily unmoored. “Losing music affected everything. My identity, everything for me is always wrapped up in music,” said Perley, who found herself unable to write through the spring and summer following the initial shutdown, her thoughts weighed down by the harsh realities of COVID life.
So, rather than attempting to force inspiration, Perley set her guitar aside and took up roller skating and distance running, embracing the outdoors as an escape from stay-at-home confinement. In those times when she did start gathering again with musicians, in late winter 2020, the group would huddle outside, drinking, listening to records and talking about anything other than the industry from which they were temporarily exiled.
Going through this process, Perley said her relationship to music gradually shifted, becoming less of an all-consuming part of her identity. “It’s so hard to do [music] independently, and it’s always kind of a battle,” she said. “You’re putting so much time and energy into things, and at the end of the day that’s not what life is about. I have to enjoy my time with my family and friends, and to have time for myself, as well. … I have a wider perspective now.”
Amid this ongoing evolution, the songs slowly started to return, Perley's shifting thoughts taking shape in tracks such as “Do It for You,” a gently propulsive song on which the musician champions the idea of learning to center oneself.
Elsewhere, Perley balances songs about feeling deeply unsettled with instrumentation as comforting as anything in her catalog – a feel she traced to the casual vibe of recording sessions, which were shaped by the familiarity between the players and offered welcome respite at a time when she was trying to set down roots anew.
“I’ve been through so many changes in the last two years. I don’t think I was in the same place for more than six months at a time, and that was really hard and left me feeling really unstable,” said Perley, who ping-ponged between apartments, crashing with friends and staying at her dad’s place. “I’m kind of like a cat, where I need to have control over my environment, and the last couple years I didn’t have that.”
To escape this feeling, Perley made regular treks to Nashville, a city that has become a home away from home for the singer – road trips that informed the sense of wanderlust that bleeds into the recordings. On “Get Enough,” the song's narrator boards a plane, consumed by thoughts of escape, while “Here for You” finds its protagonist scraping together their last $37 and setting out on the highway, driven by little more than a desire to leave their past life behind.
“I feel like I’m always trying to escape a little bit in my writing," Perley said.
More recently, though, Perley said she has started to embrace certain realities, describing Turn Me Loose as “kind of like a last hurrah” in terms of how she approaches making a career in music.
“Not to say it’s the last, but this album wraps up a chapter of a different life and a different way of living as an artist,” she said. “The dream of being a musician, a rock star, that’s always the cool thing that you’re kind of [striving] for, but it’s always elusive. I’m a Pisces, so I’m delusional all the time. ... But I feel like I’ve become more realistic, where I’m just trying to pay bills and do what I love, and that’s success for me.”
Though Turn Me Loose has unsettled roots, Perley said she ultimately landed in a better place in the process of making the record. This idea is reflected in the album’s final words, which the musician described as “another little pep-talk for myself,” and which subtly capture the reality of emerging on the other side of a rumble ready for whatever might come next.
“Yeah, I’m alright," she sings.