Interview: Jason Perry
How rock band A’s singer became a hit songwriter-producer for chart-busting popsters like McFly, despite never playing an instrument
ason Perry is an English singer-songwriter and record producer, who was previously the lead vocalist of the Suffolk based pop-rock band A. Since then, he’s made a name for himself as a songwriter for hire, working with the likes of McFly, Busted’s Matt Willis, Scarlette Fever and The Subways, as well as earning numerous production credits along the way.
Now also a music supervisor for Microsoft, working with composers to write music for video games, Jason’s a busy man. So we’re grateful he took time out from one of his precious “family days” to speak with us, while sitting on a beach in Essex. We took the chance to catch up with him before a three-month stint in and out of recording studios around the world, including a trip to Mexico…
You weren’t able to play an instrument, so what gave you the confidence to start write songs?
“I just assumed writing something in the bath was as good as sitting at a piano and writing it. I’m not a technical musician at all, so I never let an instrument get in the way of a good song. So I’d sing chords and riffs. Some were terrible and some were okay.”
Who inspired you?
“I got into a band at school that was influenced by The Jam, then when I was older I was more into punk rock and the Beastie Boys. I went to New York and that really inspired me. I decided that I wanted to be in my favourite band, like Beastie Boys appeared to be. That’s what I wanted A to be; I wanted people to come to our shows and wish they were in our band. So we started writing about ourselves, rather than writing fake love stories. As soon as we did that we got loads of personality into our music and we really started to fly. That’s when record labels became interested.
“Up until that point we were writing what I call ‘songwriter cliché’ songs – when you try too hard to write a song. Every time I’ve tried to not write a hit, it’s been a hit. As soon as you try to write one, I find it comes out formulaic and boring. So I always try to get as much personality into the writing as possible. Whether it’s technically any good or not, I don’t care.”
Do you have that same approach when you’re writing for other people?
“Yeah, it has to have personality so it’s the same philosophy. When people come to me I find they’ve been on that treadmill of writing banal shit! So I’ll take them out to dinner or we’ll go to the cinema or do anything apart from sit staring at an acoustic guitar. I try to get something from them, some sort of spark. Like when we were working with Kingsland Road from The X Factor last year – they’re all talented guys and they can all sing, but by the end of the day we’d got them jumping around the room, high-fiving each other and having a great time. They were having the time of their life and that’s infectious.”
And you’ve been working with McFly again?
“Yes, we went away last year to Texas and recorded the whole album live. That’ll be coming out in various incarnations over the next year. I’ve also been working with [four-time Latin Grammy Award-winners] Molotov, which is one of the biggest bands in Mexico, and I’ve just had a No 1 record with them. That was something I really loved doing, where you’ve got a band that are really good and they just need that extra 10 or 20 percent. I think we wrote a chorus for Lagunas Metales in five minutes, just walking back from the coffee shop back to the studio.
So do you speak any Spanish?
“No, that was tough because they had to try and tell me lyrics in Spanish. Some of their songs are quite political and funny as well, and obviously we need to know what they were about. What was funny about that was we had DMC from Run DMC come down to record two songs. He was making up words and lyrics on the fly and it was like super-quick writing. I was like “Yes, yes, yes!” putting it down, the he’ll try another idea. It was incredible, just two hours of unbelievable energy and then spending two weeks making it all fit.”
Do you have ideas all the time, or do you wait for those two-hour windows and blitz it then?
“I get a lot of ideas and make really rough sketches. Like an artist who’ll have a sketch pad and doodle ideas. I’ll go into a session with lots of ideas parked on my computer – it might be one line, a riff, or a chorus lyric. I’m not really one to go to a songwriting camp and sit around with guitars, desperately trying to write a song. Some people are good at that, but I find that quite hard.”
So, for you, is it about capturing the ‘moment’ of fun as a songwriter and then spending time working on it as a serious producer?
“Well yeah, I don’t want bands to watch me comping vocals and working on the computer. I want them to nail a song then leave, so it’s more exciting for them. I don’t want any dead time for the band. Sitting down watching a producer messing around on ProTools for eight hours isn’t much fun. It’s amazing how many other producers will do that.”
How do you juggle your music business role with your life as a songwriter when you need to be creative and spontaneous?
“I get bored really quickly, so if I spend two days writing or in the studio, then I want to do something business-y. Then if I’m in business mode for two days, I’ll want to be back in the studio. That’s what I loved about being in a band: you can go on tour, then you’re in the studio, then you want to be back on tour. When the band broke up, the music business side of things took over. That’s what keeps me busy. I start work at 5.30am every morning, do two or three hours of business and then do the studio stuff. I love it, it keeps me stimulated. I don’t want it to feel like a job and I’d hate to go into the studio and wonder what I’m going to do every day.”
Interview: Aaron Slater
A’s crowning glory was undoubtedly their hit single Nothing. Here’s the official video of the pop-rock anthem that became a Top 10 single in 2002, with Jason taking centre-stage…