Cosmic Dancer: A Conversation with Little Man’s Chris Perricelli

Flyer Little ManLittle Man’s new EP, Orbital Amusement, is their hardest rock to date. Feedback, unrelenting guitars, Zeppelin-sized drums and driving, oscillating waves of distortion build and then break into bright, layered choruses about enlightenment, lust and transcending one’s ego. Orbital Amusement is a pile driver that surprises with each listen. Somehow, even the air raid sirens sound funky.

I interviewed Little Man’s Chris Perricelli last July, a few days after he’d opened for Ike Reilly at First Avenue. Perricelli lives above a St. Paul antique store and the interview took place at dusk on his improvised rooftop patio. The humidity had finally broken and our conversation was accompanied by birdsong, traffic noise and Perricelli’s stone Buddha fountains.

Craig Planting: “Are the vintage clothes you wear an aspect of your artistic expression?”

Chris Perricelli: “The clothes from the 70’s just actually fit me. (laughs) The cuts are different. Clothes now are baggier. I’m not trying to say anything; the clothes from the 60’s and 70’s are just more interesting to me.”

“Do you ever get looks because of your clothes and your height?”

“You have no idea. My height has always been an issue. It doesn’t matter where I am; I’m always getting looked at. Just yesterday someone stopped me in the street and said I looked like Frank Zappa. I get that all the time.”

“How do you deal with it?”

“What can I do? I’m just out being myself. I’m 5’2”. This is what I look like. My heritage is from Italy and I just stick out in a land that is mostly Norwegian.” 

“You might have a better shot at becoming a star because you don’t look like everybody else.”

“It might help out in some way, but I never want to talk about trying to be a star. The whole star-business is not a good place to be psychologically.” 

“You’ve described yourself as introverted. How does that reconcile with your on-stage persona? On-stage you’re like Marc Bolan, actually dancing and strutting with your guitar.”

“Everyone has both in them.”

“But, it’s a pretty strong dichotomy.”

“Performing is what I love to do. It’s magical to be pulling in energy and giving out energy and being in the moment with a song. I like it loud and to feel everything that’s happening, especially with the feedback. It’s like being a magician, trying to keep things together and to use them at your will. It’s a spiritual experience.”

“That’s nirvana for you?”

“It literally is nirvana for me. I just bought a gong and had it on stage at First Ave next to my amplifier. We kept building the music up and towards the end I went over and just bashed and bashed and bashed on it.

“Get it on, bang a gong…”

“It was so much fun.”

“Is it hard to come down after a show?”

“Yeah, we ride pretty high after a show. My heart’s pounding. We feel great. The endorphins are running. I don’t really know how I deal with it. I just talk to people afterwards and try to be in the moment with the people who are there.”

“2007’s Soulful Automatic made quite a few year-end best of lists. Then when 2008’s Of Mind and Matter came out is was only available as a download. Do you think that hurt people’s chances of hearing it?”

“Yeah, I think so. It was only available as a download at its release. It was kind of a risk. We tried to save some money. The industry at the time was not quite ready for that, but we wanted to try something new. But it definitely did sell some.”

“Is it a challenge to make a living in this new world of downloads and file sharing?”

“Yeah, it’s hard to be an independent musician, to do what you like to do and to make a living from it. But, there are quite a few people that do. You just have to be very creative and have to have your hands in all sorts of things at the same time.”

“I would imagine that you’d rather be writing and performing than putzing with websites.”

“Yeah, and now I have my own label, Modern Moon, so I’m doing everything myself. I can’t wait around to be signed by some record company. I can’t wait around for success. I have to do it on my own, but it does take me a long time to earn the money to do what I want to do with the band.”

“So far there’s been a different Little Man line-up for each of your four albums and two EP’s. Are you hard on your rhythm sections? Is Little Man a band in name only?”

“Well, I’m the constant because some people can’t hang-on with the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. Some people have to get paid.”

“You don’t feel like you’re a hard taskmaster?”

“I might be. I’ve gone through a lot of people. This band needs someone who is leading and guiding and I’ve had my eye on things for a long time. It’s just hard to find people who have jobs and who are flexible enough to be in a rock band. Maybe the guys I have now will be in it for the long haul. I hope so. They (Sean Gilchrist: drums, Brian Herb: bass) are very much into the live shows. They bring an element that Little Man hasn’t had before. They have their own characters happening and it works well live.”

“Both of those guys are big so the size difference between you and them is visually striking.” 

“I don’t know how that happened, but it works. I just want to play. I have to have a rock band. I want people with me.”

“The cover of your new EP Orbital Amusement combines photographs of supernovas with carousel horses. How do these images relate to the music?”

“My original idea was to have carousel horses going around the Earth. It didn’t work, but I liked that concept. I was thinking of an amusement park orbiting our planet.”

“With the current wars and famines happening, is Orbital Amusement an appropriate title?”

“I’m not that political. I feel sad when I think about all of that, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the EP, or its title.”

“Why an EP instead of an album right now? You’re a prolific songwriter.”

“I wanted to create a record that was more prominent guitar-wise. This group of songs had that general feel to them and I wanted to showcase the sounds that I was getting from my new Zvex effect pedals. They made me want to create monstrous riffs and songs that were a little darker, a little heavier. This band has that vibe, especially live, and I wanted to have that on a record.”

“Most rock this heavy is about something negative like betrayal or predatory sex, but even with the darker elements, these songs are actually positive.”

“Right, there are darker elements that have inspired the songs, but I think that overall there’s a spark of goodness, too.”

“The verses sound ominous and then you break into big, almost-Pop choruses.”

“That’s the sun shining out of the darkness.”

“Who or what is a “Gorilla Fighter”? Is it related to T. Rex’s “Rabbit Fighter”?”

“That did cross my mind (laughs), but, no, this has to do with battling against one’s ego.”

“The gorilla is your ego?”

“The gorilla is everyone’s ego. It’s anything that is possessive or anything that you think you are. It’s what pulls down the veil and makes everything seem like an illusion.”

“And makes everything dissatisfying?”

“It actually makes you feel satisfied, but it’s a trick. It isn’t real. That’s the biggest theme of this record. What you think of yourself or who think you are is actually your ego. Underneath all of that is who you actually are. It’s like the lotus flower. Out of the mud comes this beautiful flower that floats on the waves. There are so many elements to us, but our egos build up illusions.” 

“And your song “The Tower” is about smashing all of that down.”

“Yes, completely.

And it’s based on the Tarot card?”


“Do you believe Tarot cards can predict the future?”

“They could, but I’m not into divination. I’m into spiritual awareness. That’s what the cards do for me.”

“The song “Megaphone” is about lust, right?”

“It’s about being away from someone. This is the part of the EP where the astronaut is millions of miles away. It’s a cosmic booty-call. (laughs) It’s sexual expression through music, I think.”

“What does the shadow in “Shadow” signify? Why is it so foreboding?”

“The shadow is all of the things you don’t like about yourself. It’s the dark side of everybody. You have to have the negative side to understand the positive one.”

“What are the characters in your songs escaping from?”

“Reality. It’s tempting to escape into our fantasies when things are difficult, or when they aren’t what we wished for, or expected. But, life just happens. It’s the mind and the ego that labels things as good or bad.”

“Allan Watts said: ‘true Zen is not the life of the solemn and sexless ascetic, but the liberation of the mind from traditional thought forms.’ That seems to sum up a lot of your lyrics.” 

“I read his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity and it completely worked for me. From Watts I learned that I’m not my ego and that I’m a part of everything. Many, many little things are all a part of the one thing.”

“Everything is interconnected.”

“He helped me understand that to a point where it really made sense. It’s difficult when you’ve felt all of your life that you’re an individual. I was gung-ho for that way of thinking when I was a kid and when I was going through college. I believed everything was separate. Through Watts I began to understand that might not be true. Maybe I’m not just my consciousness. Maybe I’m not just me. Maybe I’m you and everything on Earth and everything beyond the Earth. Watts said that you’re not born into this world, but out of this world. We come out of this (gestures towards the setting sun in the leaves above us). We’re an expression of everything.”

“Watt’s also said: ‘The universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game. Everything is connected and mutually interdependent so there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed.’ If that’s true, how do you measure success?”

“Defining success is difficult. I started with the guitar when I was thirteen and when people tell you that you’re good at something you want to keep doing it. That sets you down a certain path, but then some will expect you to be a star and will say: ‘when you get big…’ or ‘when you become successful…’ It’s great to have encouragement, but it’s not your personal success, but others’ expectations of what success means to them that can be aimed at you. And I feel I am successful. I’m doing what I like to do.”

“Do you have a creed that you live by?”

“I’m just trying to remain in the present. It’s one thing to read Watts and gain some knowledge from him; it’s another thing to actually live it. Zen is not something that can necessarily be talked about. It’s beyond conceptual thinking. It’s something that you do. It’s about every day, normal life. It’s about realizing that this, right now, is nirvana. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are something much more than our individual selves.”

“Do you consider British Glam Rock from the early-Seventies more interesting than the music being currently made?”

“Oh, incredibly so. That’s real people playing real music. Those guitar tones have so much passion in them.”

“There’s an earthiness to them.”

“There’s just so much going on. The theatrical things are so great and all that vintage gear sounds so warm. We use vintage gear when we record a lot of the Little Man albums. And David Bowie…where would we be without Bowie? He killed himself. That’s the amazing thing.”

“That he killed his Ziggy Stardust character?”

“Yeah, he didn’t keep it going. He killed it and went on and he wasn’t left to be Ziggy forever. He created something that he could evolve from. Bowie is also into Buddhism and there are similarities in his letting go of Ziggy and the letting go of one’s ego.”

“Is George Harrison your favorite Beatle?”

“I like what he wrote, but I could say that I am George Harrison and so are you. Everyone is George Harrison.”

“Do you feel like one of Joseph Campbell’s heroes on a journey of self-discovery?”


“Is the journey more important than the destination?”

“There is no destination. That’s the whole point. There has never been a destination.”

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