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Episode 545

Artist: Elli Perry

About the Episode:

Elli Perry

"I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."

Flannery O'Connor once wrote those words, and with 50 letters she spelled out one of the greatest truths I know. My name is Elli. I have found my life mostly by stumbling across it in words. Some of those words have belonged to others, some have been my own. I was born and raised in Georgia by two Appalachian wordsmiths. They watched me run barefoot through the red dirt hills and aching trees that surrounded our home. They fed me a steady diet of The Beatles, the blues, ballads of bone and rust, and grits. Lots of grits. They plopped my tiny body into cars and trains and airplanes and showed me the great cities of the world. They taught me that art can transform and save. Their words have been the backbone of my life.

It was their words of encouragement that gave me the boldness to leave school as an adolescent and pursue music as my full time job. I had begun writing songs in my childhood, first on loose sheets of paper and tape recorders, and later on the acoustic guitar I stole from my dad. By the time I was 15, I had written enough to become addicted to melody and lyric. I finagled my way onto barroom stages around Atlanta to sing for strangers. I quickly learned that I preferred the taste of whiskey to other spirits, and that I would never be able to give up the urge to create and share.

I wrote and recorded and played and wrote, but eventually found myself young, foolishly arrogant, and stagnant. The words demanded more of me than I had to offer. And thus, I demanded movement. I went to Los Angeles to learn how to write a pop song and how to lose oneself. I went to Europe to learn how to live out of a suitcase, and to understand the difference between being lonely and being alone. I went to New York, and stayed, until I learned what it meant to be strong. In between, I wrote and recorded and played and wrote. When bookings were few and far between (or when I simply wanted an excuse to be around other drifters), I would busk in the New York City subways or on the steps of Sacre Coeur. I drove across this country and back enough times to put a '97 Buick Regal in its grave. And then there was New Orleans.

In New Orleans, I found a place that was dark and swampy, beautiful and broken. It was strange and foreign and familiar all at the same time. This city became the safe haven I needed to release words that had been bottled up inside of me for a long time. I sat, and walked, and slept too much, and danced in parades, and got very drunk, and read, and thought long and hard until I found the means and the songs to create my new record, "The Salt & The Sea." I didn't really know what I was making, out of this record or this chapter of my life, until I finished it. I could tell you what it's about. But I'd rather not. I think I would rather you listen for yourself, and see if the words share with you the things they shared with me.

My name is Elli.
I hate biographies.
I let my words run away with themselves. Sometimes they carry me in the wrong direction, and sometimes they save me.
Thank you for waiting patiently as they have twisted and turned in an effort to tell you who I am.

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