Profile – Rich Perks
Richard Perks was born on 3rd March 1982 in Rush Green Hospital, Dagenham, Essex he began playing guitar at the age of 11.
Rich has had extensive experience as a session guitarist, performing with many accomplished artists, touring all over the world. He previously held the position of Head of Guitar at the International Centre for Music in Qatar. He has a Masters Degree in Contemporary Music from Brunel University, and completed his PhD research at Brunel University in 2013, submitting a portfolio of compositions and accompanying thesis entitled, ‘Combining Musical Identities Through Composition and Improvisation’. He is currently a Lecturer in Music Performance at the University of Kent, and a Lecturer in Popular Music (Guitar) at the ICMP London.
Interview -Rich Perks
Interviewed by Jeff Jahloon for Unfretted, August 2018
Jeff: What made you take up playing Guitar?
Rich: Well it was a kind of an accident. One night, when I was eleven, my dad was strumming a few chords on his mate’s guitar at a family party. I asked if I could try, and the fact it was so difficult really frustrated me; it was like a puzzle. My dad had this old ‘beat-up’ classical guitar at home – with steel strings on it – which he bought for £5 as lost luggage from an airport in the 70s. After that night, I spent the whole summer holidays nagging him to show me the chords to House of the Rising Sun, and generally shouting in annoyance at my slow-moving fingers. Once back at school, I became friends with an older, cooler, kid who was a great guitarist; I started to understand what playing with other people was like, what the guitar was – asides from a kind of noisy Rubik’s Cube! – and what ‘music’ actually was. That was it – I was hooked!
Jeff: What were your early musical influences?
Rich: In terms of famous players, again it was slightly accidental. My parents had set the video machine to record a show called Expo ’92 Guitar Legends – Metal Night; I’m still not sure how intentional that was! At this point I’d been playing for around six months, and the show comprised a concert featuring a whole host of rock guitar virtuosos, including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Brian May, and Joe Walsh (I know – perhaps the ‘Metal’ in the show’s title was a little misleading!). Steve Vai completely blew my mind, not least because of the size of his hands! I physically wore that video out by playing it every Sunday morning – often in bi-weekly alternation with Return of the Jedi – for about two years. Playing in my first proper band, I got really into ‘hair’ metal: Whitesnake, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Aerosmith, Mr. Big, Bon Jovi etc. The bigger the hair, and tighter the pants, the more I liked it – I basically wanted to be Richie Sambora; for a while I think that was my actual career plan.
Jeff: What about closer influences?
Rich: In terms of people close to me, our friend Paul (host of above-mentioned party, and professional musician), was the only person I knew who earned a living from playing music and ingrained the idea in me from early on. In fact, my first ‘gig’ was playing with his band at his daughter’s wedding, when I was 12; after the set, he thanked me for performing, and paid me £10! Also, my GCSE Music teacher Dave was a major influence; he was (and still is) a kind of musical wizard…He knows all the notes!
Jeff: Tell us about your year in Qatar
Rich: As I was coming close to finishing music college, and unsure what I was going to do exactly, I answered a job-ad entitled ‘Electric Guitarist – Job offer in India’. The job was twofold, involving teaching guitar in a music school daily, whilst playing jazz in hotels in the evenings (also, it was not in India, it was in Qatar!). I got the job, and went off to Doha. It was a great experience, and forced me to work on lots of stuff! I’d taught guitar for years, but the age range there was massive, from 4 to 65, and the level varied from complete novices, to guys in pre-music-college prep…electric and classical guitar (the ad guy had said one job!). The performing aspect was invaluable too. I’d studied Jazz in college as part of the degree, but only for one year out of three. The band had a pad of around 400 standards, from which the bandleader would call tunes randomly each night, and the instrumentation was often different too. We did around 120 gigs in eight months, which meant I got pretty good at reading chord charts, and attempting to sight-solo (I could never remember the sequences to so many tunes!), and I got to practice adopting the different functional roles expected of a guitarist in specific line-ups. Plus, I could do all this – making endless mistakes!!! – in the absence of the London Jazz Police.
Jeff: Did you find Qatar a bit of a culture shock?
Rich: I guess at first. Not as much as I thought I would though. The hardest thing to deal with is the way the social hierarchy is so representative of skin colour, it’s the same in a lot of the Gulf States.
Jeff: When did you first start playing fretless guitar?
Rich: Whilst working the hotel circuit in Doha, I’d often meet Arabic Oud players. The instrument fascinated me. It was so like a guitar structurally, yet so different in terms of timbre and technique; on top of that, there were the microtonal inflections within melodies (similar to those I heard daily in the calls to prayer). The whole sonic palette intrigued me immensely. But I had enough on my plate wrestling with jazz chords I couldn’t solo over and revising classical guitar pieces to teach, so couldn’t consider learning oud as well. I came back from Qatar to pursue my Master’s degree and wanted to focus on something different, fresh, and exciting. One day, with the oud – and the thought of how it might sound through distortion and a ring-modulator – in mind, I purchased a cheap Mexican Strat and – quite barbarically – ‘converted’ it to fretless. Once it was finished, I started playing. It was hard. The same frustration I had as an 11-year-old with a beat-up guitar was back; I loved it!
Jeff: Why did you decide fretless was a good idea?
Rich: Ha, I’m not sure I’ve ever decided that! No, I love the gliss possibilities, the vibratos, the inflections, the way you can bend-down to a note naturally, the microtonal possibilities – the stuff we all love about it! I enjoy the limitations it provides too you know? As a musician practising for hours over many years, you build up so many instrument-based prejudices (by accident of course – almost as a consequence of acquiring such familiarity with the instrument), and the fretless guitar broke some of that, and allowed me to think in a really different way. It creates a kind of feedback loop with my ‘normal’ guitar playing too. Whether it’s re-structuring/voicing chords due to ergonomics and having no frets, or trying to create a two-tone downward ‘bend’ smoothly on a fretted guitar, for me it’s opened up a dialogue, working in two directions, that helps keep both instruments fresh.
Jeff: Did you find returning to fretted after fretless guitar improved your technique?
Rich: In some ways yes, for sure. I definitely look at the fretboard less and use my ears more now. It changed lots aurally; I hear equal-tempered intervals as quite ‘out of tune’. Major thirds are the worst (barred ‘E-shape’ chords drive me nuts now!).
Jeff: The project: Fretless Architecture: An Exploration of the Fretless Electric Guitar took place in 2015 and 2016, any plans to take this forward into the future?
Rich: Yes, this was an opportunity to work closely with a bunch of excellent composers – who tend to think very differently to instrumentalists – to create a repertoire of solo pieces for fretless electric guitar. I put out an international call for scores; the idea was to explore the sonic possibilities of the instrument, with as few limitations as possible. The process enabled me to learn a lot about my playing approach, develop new techniques, and explore different timbres. This project forms part of my ongoing academic research at Kent, so there’ll definitely be another ‘leg’ in the future!
Jeff: The “Strung Together” project looks really interesting, how did it come about and how did you get it all together?
Rich: I think this is the project I’m most proud of. It all happened by chance really. I play for an Iranian pop star, Ali Azimi, and at some point during the North American leg of his 2016 world tour – at an after-show party, and arguably having drunk one too many! – I met the director of Diaspora Arts Connection, an organisation based in San Francisco which promotes the music of US residents who are originally from different parts of the world. I mentioned that I’d been involved in many cross-music-cultural collaborations in the past and, after another few drinks, it was decided I’d go out at some point to lead a collaborative performance project with Bay Area musicians. I thought it was just ‘party-talk’, but a few months later she called me, and it was on! We sourced four other performers, originally from Iran and Syria, to form a quintet (oud, saz, santour, percussion, and fretless electric guitar). The premise was that, over the course of one week, the ensemble would co-compose, rehearse, and present a programme of original, part-composed-part-improvised, eclectic music. I would act as musical director, provide some mini-compositions as starting points to get us going, and be responsible for the overall curation of the project. It was a real success! While tough at times, we managed to create a one-and-a-half-hour show of completely new, hybrid music, in just seven rehearsals. The process was so much fun, and the other musicians were amazing (incredible players and really cool people!); everything seemed to work, and we all got along well. The final show was sold out, and was streamed live via social media, where we received positive comments from people watching all over the world (including: Iran, Syria, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, all over the US, and the UK) – it was pretty mad!
Jeff: Tell us a little about the making of the album Imposition?
Rich: I’d been studying early graphic scores by composers like Cage, Cardew, Wolff etc., and also lots of freer improvisatory stuff (Bailey, Zorn, Braxton etc.); so was experimenting a lot at the time with various methods of physically representing music, as well as different approaches to improvisation. This album is a snap-shot of where I was at, playing around with the idea of control vs. freedom, combining improvisation with composition. It was a really good learning experience; I called in a lot of favours from great musicians to help; and it ended up forming a big part of the groundwork for my later research. I used the fretless on a few tracks too!
Jeff: What about the gear you use now, how many fretless guitars?
Rich: I have two fretless guitars at the moment. One is the converted Strat (which has been quite heavily modified; pickups, wiring, nut, tuning pegs etc.) and the other is a converted steel-string electro-acoustic (which I use more for practice than playing live really). I’m a Strat man at heart, but I play all sorts of fretted guitars, depending on the call.
Jeff: Any favourite pedals / amps?
Rich: Well…this could be a whole separate interview! I love Mesa Boogie amps and have a couple; I don’t think you can top them for an overall sound. But I’m also really into the cleans on Fender amps, and I’m using a Blues Delux Reissue a lot for sessions at the moment (It’s sounds like a small Twin, and the pre-amp isn’t quite as ‘coloured’ as a Hot Rod or DeVille or something). Pedals-wise – Stock Gear: Crybaby wah; Tubescreamer, HotCake, Klon, and Rat distortions; Boss DD-3 and DD-7 Delays (in relay). Fun Stuff: Electroharmonix POG; Arion SCH-Z Chorus (for nasty John Scofield type sounds); Moog ring modulator; and I’ve just treated myself to a Strymon Big Sky reverb (which I’m still getting my head around – but it really is something!).
Jeff: What about the future, any upcoming plans?
Rich: I’m planning to put together another cross-cultural collaboration in London later this year, or early next; I’m working on some funding at the moment. It’ll be fretless guitar, oud, sorna, percussion, and live electronics (i.e. laptop). The band’s gonna be called Linoleum Magic Carpet.
Jeff: I love your FB photos, you look to be having a serious amount of fun, pulling faces, drinking copious amounts of beer. Are you so much fun all the time?
Rich: Haha! Thank you! But unfortunately not! I think it’s fairly common for musicians to have Jekyll and Hyde style fluctuations between self-deprecating neurosis and party-animal blow-outs, and I definitely fall into that camp! (The former is just not so good for FB pics!).
Jeff: Tell us about the motorbikes?
Rich: Back in 2011 my housemate and I decided to buy motorcycles and take Direct Access courses to get our licences. I don’t get out on it as much as I’d like, but it’s great fun when I do. I mainly wanted to do it before I was thirty, so I could save something better for the mid-life crisis: I haven’t decided what that is yet, but it’s not too far away!
Jeff: Any other hobbies outside the bikes?
Rich: I’m quite into the gym, and enjoy a game of squash.
Jeff: I know the desert island scenario is a bit of a cliché so give me your favourite six tracks of all time.
Rich: Woah, killer question! I’ll try, but I’ll probably have changed my mind by the time this goes out LOL!
– You Are What You Is – Frank Zappa
– Dirty Mind – Jeff Beck (In fact anything from this album [You Had It Coming] – outrageous!)
– Silent All These Years – Tori Amos
– Way Out East – Mike Stern
– Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 – Schoenberg
– While It Lasts – Colin Riley and Tim Whitehead (Homemade Orchestra)
(Can I have a 7th?! !) Jeff: Go on then…
– Welcome to The Jungle – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Jeff: Favourite books?
Rich: Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell; Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Grant Naylor; A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole; Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond, Michael Nyman. I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, Alan partridge.
Jeff: Favourite films?
Rich: Ghoststbusters, The Empire Strikes Back, Reservoir Dogs, Four Lions, The Omen, No Country for Old Men
Jeff: Favourite TV series?
Rich: Blackadder (II), South Park, League of Gentlemen, Inside No. 9, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Peep Show
Jeff: Favourite cold drink? (I think I know this one)
Rich: Ha! It’s probably Diet Pepsi in terms of consumption (I’m a bit of an addict!) closely followed by – yep – pretty much any American IPA!
Jeff: Favourite hot drink?
Jeff: Favourite food?
Rich: Chicken, in any format. Though I had a stuffed-squid on holiday this year, and it was a bit of a game-changer!
Jeff: If you could own any guitar in the World, which would you pick?
Rich: Too hard Jeff!! I really don’t know. I like the Suhr stuff a lot, though I’ve never owned one. Maybe they’d be up for making a double-necked fretless / fretted monster-axe for me? – Though I sense a lot of saving-up would be required!
Jeff: If you did not have your musical career, what job would suit you best?
Rich: In fantasy-land, I’d love to be involved in writing comedy; I can’t think of a cooler job?! (Though given I’ve had zero experience at it, probably not an obvious fit). I’m not sure I can imagine doing anything else to be honest.
Jeff: If you manage to escape the UK after Brexit, where would you like to live?
Rich: I love Canada. I’ve been lucky enough to see a fair chunk of it, and generally really like the vibe (particularly Vancouver). I like Denmark and Sweden too; really cool places, and they seem to have really switched-on social-awareness. It’s hard though right? – lots of places seem amazing when you’re just visiting. I think London will always feel like home.
Jeff: OK, lets make a date for Vancouver, I do hear they have some pretty good IPA there. Thanks for the interview and your time…
Strung Together: Fragment(s) #1
Rhapsody No. 1
Imposition – Unfretted album review