All of us are born with a gift–an inherent understanding of a very specific something that we can utilize throughout life, or let fall away. In Perrin Moss’s experience, his ability to feel rhythm and play a groove that’s so deliciously behind the beat has put him in a position where he’s able to explore his passions most freely.
The 32-year-old artist laid down his very first drum track on the song “Nakamara” roughly five years ago with his band, Hiatus Kaiyote. Since then, the four-piece neo-soul-spiritual / R&B / experimental outfit has garnered devout followers from around the world and is on schedule to release their third studio album sometime in 2019. Drumhead sat down with Perrin Moss towards the end of a rare string of Hiatus Kaiyote shows in Southern California.
Perrin was 22 when he moved to Melbourne and started pursuing the drums more heavily. He had a knack for rhythm and beats derived from music from around the world, and expressed himself through a variety of percussion as well as the turntable. He was a DJ before he ever considered playing a drum kit professionally. Two years after he moved to Melbourne, Perrin joined the first band he’d ever been officially a part of – Hiatus Kaiyote. (He tells that story later in the interview).
CW: Where is home for you?
PM: Melbourne is home, but I grew up in the Blue Mountains, which is two hours from Sydney. It’s beautiful. Full of trees, beautiful bush walks, great views, lovely people…small town, a lot of vibe and a cool creative arts scene. I moved to Melbourne for the music. More gigs. More musicians. I was inspired by the musicians I found there. I could see the potential for many bands to collaborate and really pull it off.
CW: It’s been about eight years since you started with Hiatus Kaiyote. How has your view of drumming changed since then?
PM: A lot! I’ve wanted to become more of a “drummer’s drummer” since I’ve been playing drums with this band. Coming to the States, and seeing how many good drummers there actually are–fricken’ machines–it’s pretty inspirational. I definitely want to be able to do that but as I’m getting older I’m realizing that maybe it’s not my path, and maybe that’s not what I’m meant to be on the drum kit. I think I’m just meant to be myself on the kit, and kind of put as much as myself into it, whatever that is. I’m always trying harder–trying to do things that I can’t do, all the time…constantly frustrated, in a way, with my playing and going further, like if I can’t do that thing I’m trying to do. But then I’m doing something else, and that something else is good.
CW: What’s an example of a “thing” you’re working on?
PM: My kick. My feet have always been pretty bad. When I started the drums, it was like my foot was doing the least amount of work all the time. I was always re-creating hip-hop stuff with my own beats, which had a solid back-beat, but everything else in between was articulation, which is what came naturally to me. What I wanted to work on was to be able to do that with my feet as well as my hands, and switch that up. That’s the thing I’ve struggled with for sure. So I work on that a lot, trying to get my kick control up, and some days I can do it after I’ve warmed up for a while, and then other days, even if I’ve warmed up I’ll just go for it, and maybe my confidence lacks or something, or maybe it’s my technique. I’ve never had proper lessons or anything. … And I go in and out of recording and playing live. Recording is so different for me; I approach it so differently than how I play live. When I get experimental, I can get away with much more in a studio, and playing less, in the right moments–that’s what I like about recording. It’s a different hat I put on. And then for a live show, all I want to be is solid for everyone else, and also to project some spontaneity to reflect how I’m feeling at the moment–I try and push that while also being really solid. I feel like when I first started I was all energy. I’d be like ‘I’ll throw that there,’ and it might be completely out of time. Sometimes playing along with me might be really hard [laughs].
CW: I think a lot people who know your music associate your drumming with a behind the beat, sort of lag. Is that something you’ve practiced a lot?
PM: I’ve never practiced it, it just comes naturally. I practice the other stuff. I practice the stuff that I find harder, which is being really solid and not playing loose. Because that’s how I had always head rhythm. I want to keep developing and keep moving and now that I’m known for [being loose] I want to completely change that and become known for something else, if I can be. That’s just for me, because I feel like I get pigeon-holed, which I don’t like for myself. I don’t want to relax with that, because it comes naturally. So I have to keep challenging myself and try other things. … There was a period where I forgot how to do it. I was practicing so much not to do that, and I was like ‘man I can’t even play a jilted groove anymore.’ But I’m back in there now, I’m understanding my old self a bit more constantly–reminding myself where I came from. I can try this new stuff but I have to be able to slip into that when I want to. And playing with HK obviously forces me to do that.
CW: What are some of your favorite sounds at the moment? Acoustic sounds? Electronic sounds?
PM: At the moment I’m really heavy into the electronic side of things, and incorporating that with the drums. I’ve always thought about it like that–putting things on top of cymbals or on top of drums. I thought, ‘that’s cool, but how do I make it sound like a studio?’ As light as I play in the studio sometimes, if I’ve got a mic close to a drum, or something that gives my overall drum kit a flavor from the way that I’ve EQ’d it or in the way I’ve compressed it…it’s hard to do that live, so I tend to hit harder when I want to emulate an emotion, or a style on the drum kit. I might put something on the snare drum and hit it harder, or on the side, depending on what tone I want to create. So now I’ve got the Simmons involved and there’s triggers as well as acoustic stuff, and it allows me to play at a much quieter level, like how we play in the studio but still producing a lot of sound. …
The Simmons is like a drum synth, so it’s an SD9…so I’ll have my hi-hats with a guitar Piezo mic or whatever, and that would just be a white noise trigger, just put it to noise and have the decay be pretty short, but when I open it up it still sizzles, like a hi-hat, which is cool. On the snare I have the same thing. For the toms, I’ve just got one tom at the moment–I have done the elaborate thing of having them all out but now I’ve just got the floor tom and I have two triggers on that. One of them I choose to move around pitch-wise, I might run it through some reverb to make it seem like a synth or something. And most of the time I have the floor tom sound as dead as possible, and it might not even sound like floor tom anymore. Just have the Simmons, and the low end…I can just f*ck with the decay, I can make it longer if I need to, so I’m doing a lot of one-hand, one stick under the armpit changing the tone and hitting it like that. And I’ve got peddles that I’ve been experimenting with, but I haven’t got the gain structure right with them yet, and the cabling…so I’m just keeping it simple at the moment, but I’ve got good ideas for the future in terms of that. The sounds are pretty basic, nothing too electronic sounding–more like an extension of the drum kit. You can tune the floor tom to sound like the floor tom would, and that’s what I do. It’s just chunkier–you don’t need a mic, you can just turn it up. It’s the thing underneath it all, or it can be on top of it all. But how I have it in the studio is just underneath so you barely notice it. It just kind of hugs everything and glues it all together. It’s a nice in-between thing, and when you want to put stuff on top of it that needs quiet, like synthetic, then you can. It’s not such a gap between the acoustic drum kit and an electronic sample, or whatever you’ve got.
CW: What would you say is the ratio for electronic and acoustic sounds used in a Hiatus show?
PM: At the moment, and we haven’t really played this new set up much in the States yet, but I’d say like a good spliff, 70/30, not too much electronic. But in my monitors, I tend to have a bit more, I tend to not have too much of the drum kit in there…just have the Simons going and the band…it makes my life a lot easier. Not as much feedback, it keeps the levels down and it cuts through.
CW: Do you ever play to a click live?
PM: No. We play live to sequences and other soundscapes.
CW: When you’re rehearsing for tour, is there a member of the band that you try to lock in with the most?
PM: Everyone at different moments of the song. It depends what the flavor of the moment is. Like “Breathing Underwater,” it’s totally Simon’s synth, but I’m also listening to everyone at the same time. “The Lung” would be [Paul] Bender, because he’s mainly playing that whole thing. And then “Breathing Underwater,” for the intro, would be Nai, so there’s all these different moments in the same song that you listen to.
It’s a four-piece band, so there’s a lot of playing off of one another. You don’t really think about it too much.
CW: You’ve toured off of your first two albums extensively, and eventually took a year break. Now it seems you’re ramping up for what’s coming next. Can you say anything about the feel of the new album?
PM: It’s a good evolvement for sure. It’s heavier. Maybe a bit darker, sometimes. But it’s hard to tell at this moment, because it comes out of the studio when we’re recording it, and it’s a certain thing, and then when we’re mixing it, it’s another thing. It can change so much. Some of the songs I feel like will be challenging to listen to, in a good way. And others will be easy to listen to. It’s going to be a mix, again. Even if we thought that we would never want to do a total “schizophrenic” album, sometimes it just ends up being like that, because it’s who we are as a united four-piece. We all might have a different idea of it, but it doesn’t even matter, because no matter how much one person tries to move it, the direction always ends up being a Hiatus project, and a Hiatus album. It always ends up being schizophrenic because we split it so evenly and try to be so diplomatic, and get everyone’s idea across. So it always ends up being a crazy sound, which is exciting.
CW: I love that description of the music being schizophrenic. What’s been a challenge you’ve had to face in creating the rhythmic components for this music? How do you decide the vibe of the rhythmic components?
PM: It used to be something that I’d never done before–every song had to be something that I’d never done. Because I was learning how to play drums. So pretty much every new song had something new for me to learn, because I’d never done it. I knew I could play one beat, so it was “okay, let’s try and work out how to play this new beat.” These days it’s still kind of the same thing, it’s like “what can I do that I haven’t done before?” I feel like if you approach it like that, you’ll always have this energy in the song that you might not have if you’re doing something that comes naturally to you. And sometimes it calls for that, and sometimes it calls for you to do what you can do, and do that really well. It always depends. I always hear the sound of it recorded before I play it, if that makes sense. If I were to play a single beat, in my mind I’d know how long everything would be decaying for. Even if you were recoding a kit with no flavor, I’d know that “okay, this mic will give my kick drum this vibe,” so approaching it in a recorded sense. You hear some chords, you hear the bass line, hear the melody, and imagine how that’ll be mixed, and then listen to where the drums could sit in that mix, and that determines my energy for how to approach it. And then you just do that and bounce it off everyone else. And someone might say “I wasn’t actually feeling that, I was hearing it like this.” It starts from there. Generally, we all play what we want each other to play.
CW: Are you inspired by anything you’re listening to right now?
PM: I’ve always loved Marcus Gilmore. I love Chris Dave. Justin Brown, who plays with Thundercat…he’s incredible. I love watching him play. He smashes it so hard and he has so much flavor as well. I love the drummer for Azymuth, a Brazilian band from the ‘70s…they’re really f*ckin cool. And producers have always been a massive inspiration for me, they always have been. And because I started off as a DJ, I’m into scratching and all that stuff…starting off scratching was actually an interesting way to approach music rhythmically, because it’s just one note at a time. It’s like phrasing, like rapping almost. It’s interesting to try and phrase something over a song or sixteen bars or whatever. That kind of stuff all inspires me. Also, music from all over the world–India and Brazil…all those rhythms inspire me a lot. I just want to be a drummer that can somehow emulate that feeling of a whole bunch of people playing together. That would be the ultimate goal…and that infused with some modular synths and shit. Some crazy cross-world kind of vibe.
CW: Do you often play a lot of world percussion instruments live?
PM: When we first started with HK I did, but then I moved more towards the drums…I used to use a cajon at first with HK. That’s actually how I got the gig. It was really random. My other band had broken up and it was a bit of a low point for me…I was going to play percussion at this house, downstairs, and I walk down to see Nai and Bender playing a song. I just jumped on the Darbuka, which is a Turkish drum, and I started to play along with them and they asked me to come play percussion with them. We had a rehearsal at my house, which was random, too, and they said “Can you play drums?” And I was like “Uh not really, I can kind of hold a beat down.” And that was it, that’s how it started. We played “Nakamara,” which was actually the first song I played and wrote on drums, which is pretty wild. Then other songs like “Lace Skull”–that was the first time I ever played a shuffle beat. We slowly moved on from that and slowly got rid of the percussion…and in those days all the bells that I used to bring, getting really textural with it. I’ll just keep going through phases, you know? Hopefully one day I’ll just have this massive kit that incorporates all the things I love about music, on the rhythmical side. I can see it. I’ve actually set it up before, on recording sessions, I’ve almost had my dream kit with all these Brazilian floor toms, and weird hide drums, and all-skin drums…kick, snare, floor tom and electronics with all that as well. It’s f*ckin’ hectic, and pedals and all sorts of shit. But that’s for recording situations. When you’re going to be there for five days I like to set up this crazy kit. It’s really fun. But I enjoy playing a simple kit as well.
CW: What’s something that you’ve learned for the new album?
PM: I learned how to play heavy. This is one thing I actually tried to re-record, and I think I’ve got it…it just kind of ends up in this climactic, heavy state, where it’s almost just noise, but my ability and strength in playing, as I said before about my kick and stuff, when I’m playing that hard it all goes out the window. And that’s something that I’m trying to work on–hitting hard but trying to maintain a pocket. I did two takes over this thing that was all improvised and knows no tempo…just bass and synth going f*cking crazy. I was listening to Bender’s effects pedals but without the click track in my ears, so I was just reacting to the pedals and to him playing. I was putting time over the other time, but in my own world. I had to learn this random composition, and did it twice through…I felt like I didn’t really nail it. The energy was there, it was cool, but then I heard it and I knew I wanted it to be “this thing” and it wasn’t “that thing.” It’s not about being shit or good sometimes, but for me, it’ll make me feel better if it’s good, especially if I’m mixing it and hearing it over and over again, to actually have something down. So I just tried to play that more, and learn the composition…make it a composition, and have my moments, where I do “this thing,” and it comes up during “this part.” I just learned it and then tried to nail it. That was one of the biggest challenges so far on this record, and there’s still more to come probably. But for that thing, it was just at a dynamic that I don’t usually play at, which was really loud and hard for a long period of time.
CW: How have your side projects, Swooping Duck and Cleaver Austin, fit into your life as a busy artist?
PM: Swooping Duck started off as me Bender and Simon. We played a lot with HK and we’d always be rehearsing, coming up with so much shit, and it was improvising half the time. I think some artist pulled out of a gig one time and they asked HK to do the gig, and Nai couldn’t make it, so they asked us to do an instrumental thing. We were like “Yeah okay we could do that.” And that’s how it started. Then we started doing these improv residencies and playing like once a week. Lots of people started coming, and we just made up the whole set. Two hours and no compositions. No pep talks before-hand, just get on stage and vibe. It was nice for a long time and then it got really hard. “Okay, f*ck, now it’s really hard to improvise this many times in a row without repeating yourself.” Then eventually you realize you’re not improvising anymore and you’re just cycling through rhythms or things, which is great, but we kind of started writing songs. We wanted to keep doing gigs and it was a nice little vibe, and that’s pretty much the band. We love playing together. It’s similar to HK in some ways, and we go all out–we try and do stuff in that band that we can’t do with HK, and push our own boundaries.
And Clever Austin for me has been happening since before Hiatus. It’s my exploration in sound in general. I started off, as I said, DJ-ing and sampling, making beats and MPCs, all programmed and then less programming, slowly getting rid of samples, and then playing everything out.
PM: Drums is one of those things that I picked up. I love the drums a lot, but it’s not like everything for me. Just music is everything for me, in general. Every other instrument that I learn helps me with the concept of a song and how I can approach a song on the drums.