I had an excellent conversation with Lynn Perko-Truell, the drummer of Imperial Teen, about the band’s upcoming Europe shows, soon-to-be-released music video, and her experience living through the changing music scenes of the 1980s to today.
After The Show: That’s great that Feel the Sound comes out in the UK next week – how are you feeling about playing the Isle of Wight festival and the London show?
Lynn Perko-Truell: We’re excited – we haven’t done a show in the UK for probably a decade. I’m not sure how we got in the Isle of Wight mix – we were pretty surprised. It wasn’t really on my radar, so we’re looking forward to it. And then we’re playing a small club in London called The Borderline…two totally different types of shows.
Congratulations on making the Spin 100 Greatest Drummers list a couple weeks ago. I know you were in The Wrecks as a teen…how did you realize that you wanted to play drums professionally?
Once I got started it was really a different connection to music. I had been a music fan with radio and some pop but I was more into rock like Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Neil Young. I went to my first punk rock show, a band called 7 Seconds, in Reno. I was so close and could feel the energy. Hardcore/punk rock in the early ‘80s was really pop – so many sing-alongs with the choruses and getting people involved. I can still picture myself in that basement and that blissful feeling I had.
I got my first kit when I was probably 17, and I wish I still had it because it was a classic Ludwig kit. I moved to San Francisco to try and be in music in a bigger city and be around a bigger population. The scene was so supportive and I just felt like a drummer, not a ‘girl drummer.’ Drumming sort of chose me too – I couldn’t help it. I just loved it.
Can you talk a little about your process recording drums in the studio?
It’s changed, the whole recording process, as you know. You feel a lot of pressure because you have to play it perfectly. If you hit the wrong cymbal or did the wrong roll you had to live with it. They can just do it digitally now – that takes a lot of that pressure off. I recorded the drums live in the studio (for the last album). It’s still really satisfying when you know you don’t have to do it again and again. I always set my kit up the same when I play live, absolutely.
There’s a YouTube video of you drumming with Dinosaur Jr. for a tv show in Europe – how did that come about?
That was really cool. Sister Double Happiness [Lynn’s old band] was playing a show in San Francisco and J [Mascis] was there. Murph, the drummer for Dinosaur Jr., had broken some bone so he needed somebody to do this big TV show called The Word, which was really popular at the time. They asked my manager if I had a passport, and I went over there and found out it was live to an audience…over 2 million people! We practiced for a couple hours before – that’s the only time we played it. And J and I are still friends to this day – I see him a lot.
I just read that the venue Maxwells is closing next month…is a live album something you might want to do again?
Oh in Hoboken? That’s so sad. That was really well captured on that album [Live At Maxwell’s – 2002]. I don’t know that we’d want to do that again, with everything on YouTube. I don’t have any desire to do a live album.
I noticed that when you play “Don’t Know How You Do It” live, you postpone the snare and play tambourine instead, which sounds so good.
Oh good, does it? I’ve never listened back to that. We chose to do that just to set a different mood live. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. Roddy and I both get to play tambourine together which is really a dream come true.
What can you share about the upcoming Imperial Teen music video?
It should be out by the 9th – it’s for “No Matter What You Say.” An old friend of mine – his name is Norman, he used to be the editor of that magazine called Alternative Press – now he works at Warner Brothers with Kimbra, a really popular singer.
This guy, Guy Franklin, does all of Kimbra’s videos. He really likes the song “No Matter What You Say.” He lives in Australia and he knows Emily Browning, this up and coming actress. It’s a fascinating video to me – it doesn’t move really quickly at all. Her acting – you can see so much emotion in her face. I’ve never met Guy and I’ve never met Emily (we’re not in the video).
Can’t wait to watch. I was thinking about your line “then and now seems like a different scene.” Does it feel like you live two separate lives, or are your music and family roles a little more intertwined?
They are totally two different lives. I have three kids and a pretty busy husband and a house that’s chaotic, so getting out of here and getting everything organized and everyone’s schedule figured out… That song comes from the place of my first band and that solidarity and living as a musician, and everything was about playing music and getting on the road and seeing shows. And now, it’s like a machine, it’s scheduled. Life changes as you get older and you can’t do the things you used to do. And also I don’t have that same community – my community is split in many different ways.
Have there been any unexpected benefits of being a mom and a musician, and how do you balance your time between running a household/family and doing music?
I am forced to listen to [mainstream] pop music more. The kids think it’s cool that I’m in a band…that’s kind of fun but they don’t really care that much, honestly. We watch The Voice together, it’s fun.
I haven’t been writing much at all lately. I have a studio in my basement – I don’t practice that much at all. I have little stuff on my computer I’ve written down because it was in my head, but right now it’s not much of a balancing act. I’ve been playing so long that all the old Imperial Teen songs, we don’t even have to think about those songs, mechanically, when we’re playing.
“It’s You” and “Shim Sham” both seem to be about the passage of time and friendship enduring that passage of time. Why do you like to explore those themes in your songwriting?
I guess it’s just pretty natural when I think about how I’ve really had a lot of luck in many ways – being able to tour so much and be part of that whole grunge movement – seeing the best and worst of it, and moving into a pop/major label culture, getting ‘played on the radio for real’ culture.
The passage of time and where my life has taken me, from running from one show to the next, to now the whole family life which is something you can’t imagine ‘til you’re living it. So I guess I just can’t help it. That music and that creative outlet for me is so important. We [Imperial Teen] are a family, the four of us. We have a tight knit between us and we’re lucky to have each other.
Yeah I love “Too many songs we sang are left unsung / Another dream unwritten / The record’s done.”
We have tapes and cassettes –‘cause we’re so old fashioned [laughs] – of parts of songs. There were so many pieces of songs that never were completed, so that’s where that comes from.
Are there any Imperial Teen songs you haven’t played in a long time but want to?
Yeah we just started playing “Room With A View” again, that was good. Here’s my iPod I have to look at some songs to answer that. I listen to them when I’m doing the dishes [laughs]. I like that song “Fallen Idol” and I really like “Captain.” And “City Song” is fun too.
You’ve witnessed such drastic paradigm shifts and fluctuations in the music industry – are you more discouraged or encouraged by the current state of the business?
I’m encouraged by it. I think to be discouraged would sort of be unwilling to accept the changes and I don’t want to be that person. I think it’s really cool how so many bands can get their music out now. It does put out the pipe dream of being discovered by a major label and getting advances. I lived through that time – we spent so much money on a Sister Double Happiness record and it was a debacle and led to our demise. I appreciate Merge Records and XL and labels that are having such success because those are real music lovers who started those labels. It’s coming from a really pure place – it’s not so much business as the integrity of the music and the artist.
Feel The Sound is out in the UK this Monday 6/10.