Creation myths are, by their very definition, unreliable. They are stories we pass down, particularly about ourselves, shaped by the passing of time and the general fallibility of our memories. If you’re lucky, maybe sorting your own personal mythology is easy. Maybe you kept a good journal. If you’re a songwriter, perhaps you hung on those earliest attempts at expressing yourself through music. For musician Elvis Perkins, the songs assembled on Creation Myths manage, in their own way, to do both – showcase an artist working at the height of his powers fully in the present, but doing so with songs that date back to his earliest days as a performer.
“The long and short of it is, is that these songs were all written long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” laughs Perkins, when asked about his “new” record. “These songs very well could have comprised what would have been my very first record, and yet the fates had a different say about how life would go, and that somehow that did not entail properly recording these songs. The only form most of these songs has ever existed in was maybe as four-track demos, but for some of them the only existing reference are some old live recordings from an open mic night I was doing in Santa Fe around the turn of the millennium. The songs just never got around to finding what I guess will be their more or less final shape until now.”
Perkins, of course, has a long and storied career as a maker of songs, releasing several celebrated albums since his appearing with his debut, Ash Wednesday in 2007. After recording what was ostensibly his fourth album – the soundtrack to the 2017’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter, a film directed by his brother, Osgood – Perkins was presented with a small window of time before diving back into the cycle of writing and recording of a new record. Working once again with long-time producer Sam Cohen, Perkins decided to finally record some of the songs that had been floating around in the ether for the better part of two decades. “I’ve carried them with me since their genesis, and I’ve always suspected that they would be documented at some point, but you never know when you’re gonna have that window, when it will finally feel like the right time.”
The nine tracks on Creation Myths represent a kind of parallel sonic universe to the songs that would eventually end up on Perkins’ four studio albums, beaming forth from the same musical universe, but often stretching out in unexpected directions. Opening track, the expansive and beautiful “Sing Sing,” is a sort of spectral missive for a future generation – a glimmering light beam aimed at “the future archeologist, the broken cardiologists, the anesthesiologist…in you.”
Throughout Myths the music makes subtle nods to Americana (“The Half Life” “See Monkey”) and spooky, blissed-out folk (“Iris” “See Through”) , but never lights for too long on any one spot. The wonderful cageyness of the songs, according to Perkins, was perhaps part of the reason they had previously never found a permanent home.
It’s easy to imagine that revisiting one’s earliest work might present an equal number of thrills and horrors—an experience akin to reading old diary entries or suddenly being asked to step back into a frame of mind that may have only existed during your early 20’s. For Perkins, the experience was both jarring but ultimately enlightening. “I hadn’t been playing these songs live for decades, and yes, it was a challenge to inhabit them and make them feel fresh.” he says. “Luckily there was never a time when anybody was rolling their eyes in the studio. There was maybe a naive quality to the songs, but they didn’t feel immature or half-baked. I was lucky that the right sensibilities were there, and that I wasn’t alone in feeling like these songs were worth the air they were going to take up in someone’s room or car or house.”
If there is a lyrical or thematic through-line to Creation Myths, it might simply be a longing for connection, be it romantic or spiritual. “My muse has gone away for the summer today,” Perkins sings on “Mrs. & Mr. E” before asking, “Oh why can’t you be closer to me?” On the epic, swooning album closer “Anonymous” he sings to a love that takes on many metaphoric forms before asserting, “I know who you are, but who am I?” It’s a question that feels both prescient and important, regardless of age.
“I wrote these songs when I was rather inexperienced and untested in terms of romantic relationships,” he explains. “I don’t know who the people are in these songs, for the most part. I’m not even sure if there are real people that I’m singing to or singing for or being inspired by. Even though I was in-experienced, I seem to be predicting the kind of person I would become. There’s a certain bravery in some of the lyrics. I look at them and think ‘Where did I get off declaring these things in a song?’ The answer is that I just didn’t think about it. I wasn’t self-conscious at all, and I had no real expectations for any of the music. I was just creating for the sake of creating. Sometimes you do the best things when you don’t know what you’re doing yet. I called this record Creation Myths because, in a way, I really don’t know how these songs came into being. Also, I don’t think I have the brain or the soul capacity or even the patience to make these kinds of songs anymore. Still, it was satisfying to spend time with them, to consider each with its own autonomous creation myth, each coming from disparate corners of the globe or some now inaccessible and disparate corner of my brain.”
Elvis Perkins has a long and storied career as a maker of songs, releasing several celebrated albums since his appearing with his critically acclaimed 2007 debut, Ash Wednesday (XL Recordings). At the time he toured extensively with his Elvis Perkins In Dearland band and in 2009 they released both the Billboard charting Elvis Perkins In Dearland LP, and the Doomsday EP, both via XL. In 2015 Elvis released I Aubade via MIR.