Today, the brilliant motivational musician and author, Brian Perry, stops by the blog to talk creative process. I originally met Brian at Unity North Atlanta, but he was also friends with some of my “Atlanta music” friends. (It’s such a small world!) He’s released several amazing albums, and he recently just published his book The Myth of Certainty and Other Great News. I am so glad he’s taking the time to talk about his creativity today.
So here you go, everyone. An interview with Brian Perry!
What is your main form of creative expression?
I enter the world as singer/songwriter, speaker, author, storyteller, and that guy who writes on the back of his car. Saying “enter the world” may sound a bit heady but the truth is that is the nature of all my crafts, they are how I enter and work to understand the world as much as they are about the craft itself.
Do you work as an artist/creative full-time or do you have a different day job?
Though I have been privileged to serve as an artist full-time for significant chunks of my adult life, at the moment I do have a day job. I know we’ll explore this more later but I’m grateful for my day job helping to take the pressure off the art while also keeping me uncomfortable enough from doing work outside of my passions to be fired up about going after creating a new path.
How long have you been creating music/books/plays/films/etc.?
My first gig as a singer/songwriter was on my 21st birthday back home in New Orleans. Obviously, I started writing and singing a bit before that. All told I am so grateful to have been doing this in some form or another for 25 years or so now. Wow! How did that happen?
How do you find time to be creative if you have a separate day job?
Elizabeth Gilbert released a book awhile back called Big Magic which I highly recommend for all creatives. It’s about living a creative life. One of the biggest takeaways for me is not to put so much pressure on my craft. I absolutely want to be doing the things that I love full-time. No question. I work toward that every day. However, what’s more important to me in terms of my actual relationship with the muse, if you will, or creativity in general is just to have the opportunity to dance with it. Just the opportunity to be part of that birthing and, later, performance is what feels like something akin to self actualization for me. That’s where my deepest joy lives. That’s where my sense of who I am lives. I want to invite, seduce, coax, do whatever I can to create space for that dance in my life, for the possibility that creativity might deem me worthy of a visit. I don’t want to then immediately smack it down with “Now pay me!“
I was visualizing having a conversation with my creativity about this very thing and I literally wept at the disfunction and injustice of that kind of demanding dynamic between us. I resolved then to do the “adulting” and business end and asked the muse to forgive me and keep visiting me. No strings attached. That was a real turning point for me. Now I make it a point to work enough hours at a day job to responsibly manage my bills while being sure to leave work when I leave work. I make time – read that prioritize time – to create and cultivate my creativity in small pieces. Even five minutes here and there can be huge. In the car in the parking lot before work or during lunch are easy wins, for instance. And I prioritize time on my days off for larger chunks. Again, with no strings attached. My goal now is to gradually shift the ratio of day job to passion work until such time that it’s clear that it’s time to go all in. This new dynamic has opened up my creative life dramatically. I experiment and play more. I bring greater gratitude. I’m hopeful the opportunity will emerge to be full time in my vocation but I’m not willing to sacrifice the joy and privilege of simply being visited by and privy to the chance to create in the meantime. That is the point and the magic. And that is sacred.
Do you engage in any additional creative hobbies? Are there any you’d like to try?
I don’t know if these count but I’m a passionate film/tv fan, porch sitter, nature lover, political wonk and spiritual seeker. Outside of embracing and opening myself to the creative impulse, on my days off you’ll likely find me in solitude bouncing between a non-fiction book, meditation, some old classic film, and some jazz and (perhaps) nice adult beverage on a porch in the mountains taking it all in. These feel creative to me because they quiet and restore my mind and, again, create space for the muse to dance.
Who are some other artists and creatives that inspire you to create?
Well, you do, to be honest. (Note from Sara: Aww!) Of course I have iconic heroes who have achieved greatness in their ways who inspire me but lately what’s more inspiring to me are the artists/creatives I know or follow who seem to do it because they simply cannot not do their art. People whose names you may never hear or faces you may never see who just keep showing up to their craft over and again. They are artists, writers, musicians, designers, cooks, and on and on. Their passion, mastery, love, and grit are fuel in my tank. They push me and grow me. So thank you for that. Onward.
Why do you create?
Because I must. As I mentioned earlier, creating is how I enter and seek to understand the world. The process of creating is a process for me that’s part therapy, part mystery, part play, part rampant curiosity, part touching the sacred, part seeking to sate some darkness within me. It is somehow simultaneously how I stave off the demons and yet step fully into my joy.
I like to think that, fundamentally, the job of artist in my “lane” is that of a documentarian, translator, poet, and advocate for the soul. In all my crafts, I observe the world as I see it, direct the reader or listener’s eye/heart to the part I think is critical, work to evoke a feeling, and invite the listener to open up to whatever emerges for them – no small ask of those kind souls. My goal is to tell the truth of whatever emotion or observation I’m offering. My hope is that in doing so both the audience and I might get to dance those deeper currents art can take us to for just a bit. My broader hope is that, in sharing my journey through my craft, I might help us live a bit more fully, deeply, and even happily ever now, not later. Even in the darkest of my offerings, that deeper, more joyful and meaningful experience of life starting right now is the point.
Mine is a journey to marry impact, inspiration and vocation. To ground the poetic and transformational in pragmatic and accessible. In the end, it seems, letting my own “freak flag fly” – if you will – has not proven to be the banishing, isolating force I feared it would be but rather the most universal part of who I am. The more I embrace and share the naked truth of my journey, whether in song, my book, posts, video, speaking, or simply on the rear windshield of my car the more I seem to liberate others to embrace and step into their own truth. Or at the very least it seems to lighten the burden they are carrying and help them feel just a little less alone. The simple fact that more than two decades in I’m still getting to do this is so humbling, confounding and deeply inspiring and moving for me. I am so very grateful.
What advice do you have for other creatives?
I was asked this recently for another interview and It was a gift to ponder the notion. The tools and opportunities to create have never been more accessible in my lifetime. However, that same ubiquity of opportunity can sometimes cloud the canvas. My first decade as a touring artist was devoid of the pressures and responsibilities of social media. This was a huge gift for me because it created the space for creating. I would connect with listeners at shows and appearances but then be able to disconnect and open up to the internal rhythms of the craft and the creative muse.
I think it is important to encourage developing artists of all ages to focus less on constant self-promotion and engagement and more on developing their craft to offer a level of depth and impact worth engaging. The point, after all, at least for me and the creatives I most respect is to serve their craft and to have more opportunities to continue to develop within it and then give the fruits of that to whomever may resonate with it and/or need it.
And, to whatever extent you are able, continue to seek out and engage community – a tribe. The notion of competition among creatives is a false one. I came up in New Orleans. Back home the genre you were in was irrelevant. As a young folksinger, it was not at all unusual to have some aspiring or established jazz, funk, country, rock, rap or whatever artist come up after a set somewhere and give props and offer support. It always blew me away and put wind in my sails and pride in my heart about where I hailed from. It also was just what was done. We supported each other. To me, that’s what’s at the core of any truly rich and vibrant creative community. It seems to me that Atlanta – while far more geographically disparate – is developing a similarly supportive scene amongst creatives of artistic and entrepreneurial stripes. More of that please.
What are you working on right now?
Well, we’re still early on in introducing folks to my book, The Myth of Certainty…and Other Great News, so that’s ongoing and an exciting new path. Also, I am working to record a new record soon and release a couple of records that I didn’t properly do so in recent years.
But the truest answer to your question is that I am working on getting out of my own way. To be honest, mine has been a journey to get out of my own way and into my own way. Until recently, I have resisted the eclectic nature of my passions. I hated myself for not fitting into one category or another, missing utterly that such an aspiration is not the point or the payoff. This has long, I believe, impaired any so-called breaking through as I did not full inhabit my own artistic skin. Until recently. What I am working on is moving past that. I don’t exactly what that looks like yet but that’s kind of the joy of it as well as the pain.
Where can people find you and your work?
Thank you for letting me pick your brain, Brian! This was a great interview. I’d also highly recommend Big Magic to everyone who reads this blog. And like you siad, never underestimate the power of five minutes here or there to create!