Posted May 3, 2022 by Jeff in Tunes

Rain Perry Explores Her Family History — Warts and All — on Highly Personal New Album

Rain Perry photo by Timothy Teague
Rain Perry photo by Timothy Teague

Not just another singer-songwriter, Rain Perry moonlights as an activist. She co-founded Ventura County’s CFROG (Climate First, Replacing Oil & Gas) in 2014. In 2017, she formed Every Child Returned, a multi-state vigil in front of facilities holding separated children and babies. She co-managed a Houston field office for Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign and worked as a Digital Organizing Director for Mission for Arizona in 2020. She currently serves as Board President of The Townies, Inc., a storytelling collective in her hometown, Ojai, CA. Over the past two years, she even managed to write and record, A White Album. She recorded the LP, her fifth collaboration, with Mark Hallman, who serves as producer, at the Congress House in Austin. Hallman also plays most of the instruments. Featuring guest appearances by Ben Lee, Akina Adderley, BettySoo and Wilco’s Mikael Jorgensen, it offers a look at her own family history through the lens of race in seven original songs and two covers. She recently spoke to us via phone from her home.

When did you start writing the songs for A White Album?

Not too long after the pandemic started. I thought that if I was going to be locked down, I should create something. A lot of the Civil Rights protests were happening during that time, and it all just came together. It took a long time. I faced more writer’s block on this project than I had in the past. It was hard to write but I wrote the songs over the course of 2020 and into 2021.

What made you want to look at your family history?

I think the most powerful music about any kind of social change or any topic really is much better if it’s personal. Nobody really wants to hear a lecture. I know I don’t. Early on, it became clear that to approach this fraught topic that we as a society are having such a hard time talking about was to be really personal. I wanted to take a look into my own life and myself and my family and see what I see if I looked from this lens. I did a lot of journaling, and some memories came to mind. I just followed those threads and it turned out there was quite a bit.

You worked again with Mark Hallman. Talk about what he brings to the album.

He’s my other half. He’s just a miraculous human being. Aside from being an incredible record producer, he plays fortysomething instruments. I used to play the guitar, but in my early twenties, I got rheumatoid arthritis and haven’t been able to play the guitar since then. I do a primitive demo on GarageBand, and he orchestrates them. He knows exactly what I’m trying to do. He’s an incredible human. Over the course of five records, we’re really developed our sound, and it just keeps growing. He’s relentlessly curious and loves trying new things, as do I. We bring in some people for certain things. But for the most part, he plays all the instruments and sings backup vocals too. I’m very lucky.

Talk about the Congress House, where you recorded.

I love the place. I even made a documentary film about the studio and [Hallman]. It explores the impact of the music business with the streaming economy and how it affects this one guy and the studio and musicians there. [The city of] Austin grew up around the Congress House to the extent that it made sense to let it go. [Hallman and Co.] have moved on to another really cool old studio called Cedar Rock.

“Melody and Jack” references an interracial relationship. Talk about the story behind the song a bit.

My mom’s name was Melody. I just picked the name Jack. As I was looking back, I remembered that my grandmother had told me this story a few times about this friend of my mom’s who was black who told her in her kitchen one day that he loved my mom and that he wanted to marry her one day. I thought it was a sweet, cute story, but it wasn’t until I looked at it again with everything going on in 2020 and 2021, that it hit me that it was almost exactly the same time when Emmet Till was murdered. That was in all the newspapers across the country. Almost a chill came over me. I realized it wasn’t safe for him to say that. That could have gone a really different way for him. I wondered what his life was like and what ever happened to me. The song is just me looking back at that story.  

One of my favorites is “Your Money.” What’s the story behind it?

I talk about my grandfather. He was one of those people who got a GI Bill after the war. It was supposed to be the great equalizer after World War II and help the middle class and do those things that build wealth, which is go to college and buy a house. I thought of it as this great thing. After I had this conversation with my friend who teaches history, she explained to me about redlining, which I didn’t know anything about because it never affected me. I realized that the very thing that helped so many people build a future in America was completely cut off to black GI and GIs of color who could not buy houses except in redline neighborhoods. I was trying to draw a comparison between my grandfather telling me those things that you say about saving money that you take for granted as between true when they aren’t true for everybody.

I love how whimsical it is.

It’s a snappy little ditty about racist housing policy. I was thinking of “Silly Love Songs” when I was writing it and trying to get that three-part vocal outro thing.

Talk about some of the guests on the album. First, there is BettySoo. How do you know her?

I know her from Austin. She’s recorded at the Congress House. She’s one of my friends from Austin. I’m always looking for the right place to ask people to be on my records. I wanted to sing with her, and it just felt like she was the right person for that song. She sings on “None of Us Are Free.” I didn’t write it. I think Ray Charles was the first person to record it. Solomon Burke does a great version too. She sings the duet vocal on that, and it’s really fun.

And there is Akina Adderly . . .

She sings the Stevie Wonder song “Visions” as a duet with me. It felt important to have voices that are not white sing duets rather than back-ups. It brings up this issue about how we white people need to talk amongst ourselves and get our stuff straight. It’s nobody else’s job to educate us. When I asked them to sing on the record, it was like “Do you want to take the time to participate in this thing I’m trying to do?” They both wanted to, and I was happy that they did.

And there’s the Pihcintu Chorus.

They are a chorus of girls who are refugees. They are from Maine. I had written this anthemic song and reworked the poem at the Statue of Liberty in my own words. That was the last song I wrote and was really stumped. I took Mary Gauthier’s songwriting class. In that class, I wrote that song. Thank you, Mary, for helping me finish my record. I was looking for a chorus, and I thought there must be a chorus of immigrants or refugees. I Googled around and found them, and it turned out that the director and I have some mutual friends. I reached out to him, and he liked the idea. They recorded their part in Maine. They are recording their own version of the song and will sing it on their record.

And finally, there is Ben Lee.

He sings the final song. I met Ben originally in 2009 or 2010 when we both were playing ourselves in a music festival episode of the TV show Life Unexpected. I wrote the theme song for that show, and Ben had some songs on it at different times. We played ourselves, which was pretty surreal. We were in Vancouver, and I met him there. Years later, we found ourselves in some of the same activist groups. We were involved in some of the same civil rights type of groups. We reconnected and he’s a great guy and a real good human. I love his vocal on it.

Will you tour behind the album?

What is touring anymore? The plan is kind of different. I won’t tour it in any kind of traditional way. It will be a theatrical musical performance. My first record I did with Mark [Hallman] was a memoir of my childhood. I performed a one-woman play that went along with that. This is a bit of a sequel. I’m currently developing this as a theatrical piece, and that is how it will tour. It’s a cross between this play called What the Constitution Means to Me and [the concert film] Stop Making Sense, whatever that ends up looking like.  

Photo: Timothy Teague


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].