Beyond the Surface: Singer George Perris on Choosing the Path of Music, Life's Low Points and Catalysts, and Going Back to Basics

To be one’s true self is the goal in life. This blog series would not exist if it werent for a reunion with an old friend who had all the makings of a modern-day Mozart. But at a pivotal fork in the road, he chose the path behind a desk, instead of one behind a keyboard, which would’ve honored his gift - like Mozart did. Now, 20 years later, he’s unrecognizable, this friend who once had music radiating from every cell, especially when singing in random bursts of happiness. The years have taken their toll - not just in the added 20 pounds that don’t belong, but in the heaviness that comes when living someone elses life, and not one’s true purpose. The life you came here to live.

As a writer, this inspired me to highlight the special souls who chose to follow their true path. The tougher path, but one that honors and expresses the powerful gift of music they’ve been given. To live the Mozart life. May some of their words help or inspire you to find your true calling in life.

Channeling surfing onto a public television station, George Perris was so effusive in each song at his “George Perris Live from Jazz at LIncoln Center,” his joy was so apparent, I couldn’t help but be affected by it. It made me stop and watch. The songs were from his “Picture This album,” on which the Greek-French singer co-wrote several songs, all of which really seemed to fit him and his spirit, that I thought he co-wrote all of the songs. Perris, who plays and also composes on piano, is currently working on a new album, which he co-wrote most of the songs on.

Perris shares about being an ambassador for the Horatio Alger Association, how a window can open when it seems like all the doors have closed, and his upcoming album, which will also be supported by another public television special.

I discovered your music coming across the public television special at Lincoln Center Plaza. Im sure your new fans in the U.S. are happy that happened, finding you seemingly popping out of nowhere onto our TVs at that wonderful place that is Lincoln Center.

Public television was an incredible opportunity for me to get in the homes of American audiences. I feel so fortunate that so many people discovered my music through that unique performance from “Jazz at Lincoln Center” in New York. It was a moment I will never forget, one of those unforgettable concerts that I will hold forever in my memory. Later on we embarked on a promo tour around a few cities in the U.S. to support the show and I got to meet wonderful people across the country that truly believe in the power of good music and the importance behind it. As we’re getting ready to release my second PBS special later on this year, I’m filled with excitement and can’t wait to meet my friends across the U.S. 

The songs that I stumbled across on your PBS special that caught my ear, for their upbeat, uplifting energy were “In Your Eyes,” “It’s a Good Thing,” and “Falling Into Beautiful,” and after replaying the album for days, I’ve also appreciated “Shine” and “Drift out to Sea.”

On “Shine,” the Horatio Alger Association – they give scholarships to young students, so they’ve awarded more than $130 million in scholarships, which is huge and I wrote that song thinking of all these kids who come from a very difficult childhood, because that’s the point of the association, is that they find kids that come from a very difficult childhood, and they offer them a chance to become who they want to become. That was why that song was written, it was written especially for all those kids.

Will your new album sound similar to “Picture This?” Can you talk about the new album, is it upbeat, jazzy for example?

They’re not jazzy, even “Picture This” was not jazzy. The common thread around this album is that I co-wrote all the songs - music and lyrics with some amazing songwriters and producers. For this album I wanted to give a clearer idea of who I am, of my identity, so even though there’s a base of Western pop, ballads and strings, the other half is ethnic music, so you’ll hear some Greek instruments, Greek rhythms, so it’s a blend between Western pop and ethnic. I think this new album has more sunshine to it.

Do you see yourself as more of a singer than songwriter?

I’ve always seen myself as a singer, even though I’m a musician, I’m a pianist. I write some of my songs, so songwriting is part of who I am and it took me a long time to cultivate it and to accept it. So all these are elements that are within me, the basic thing will always be the singing. I will always be a singer above anything else. I’ve known I was a singer ever since I was three and a half, four years old.

Since you’re predominantly a singer, do you see your voice as an instrument that should be taken care of? If so, do you do anything to take care of your voice?

We’re like athletes, it’s two little muscles and we have to work on them every single day, so I’ve been taking singing lessons for 13, 14 years now, ever since I was 17, 18. The technique is the same for every singer - it’s basically learning how to sing with your diaphragm. I don’t smoke, I do drink, but not when I’m on a tour. Or if I do drink wine, it will be once every two or three or four weeks, because we’re celebrating something.

How do you find inspiration for the music? Is there somewhere deep within where the inspiration comes from?

Inspiration comes from everything. It comes from my own life, who I am, where I’ve been, the people I have around me, it comes from the lives of the people I care about and then it comes from the planet. We live in a very turbulent era in the history of this planet, I think, we’re going through some very dark times, even if we don’t realize it, so an artist by nature is more sensitive to all these things. I’m inspired by what is happening in politics in societies around the world because you hear stories about so many things - the war in Syria, immigrants, you have refugees, you have bombs exploding left and right around the world, so all these things, they do inspire you one way or another.

It’s said that when we’re most connected to our true selves, for example, some of the best songs were written in minutes. What’s your take on that, do you feel that in those inspirational moments you’re most connected to your true self? Have any songs come to you in that way, with such ease?

The song “Picture This” happened like that. I wrote the lyrics on a plane. It just came as I was sleeping, I think I woke up and it was right there. I literally wrote the entire thing in minutes. The body of the song was there. There’s two or three songs on this new record that happened this way as well.

Do you have a daily musical process?

My routine changes when I’m on tour, it has nothing to do with my normal everyday life, because when I’m on tour, touring demands a discipline that is incomparable to anything else, because when you’re traveling for 10 months and you have shows ahead of you, you have to be extremely careful because people have paid a lot of money to see you, so you owe it to them to give them every single night 160 percent of what you have. So that demands a certain level of discipline, which means I don’t speak when I wake up in the morning, I eat specific foods. I will avoid fried things, alcohol, unfortunately for me I have to avoid desserts (laughs) because I love my desserts. And then every single day you have to warm up and practice for a minimum of 30 minutes and then you go to sound check, then you have your meet and greet. So touring, you’re like a robot. When I’m off tour, it depends on what I’m doing, when I’m working on a new album as I am right now, I’ll take things easy. I’m not going to push myself to practicing the voice every single day. Especially if I’m coming off a tour, for example, I had this huge tour from June to September, afterwards, I needed to recover. But when things are normal, usually I do vocalize at least four to five times a week.

When did you know you had this gift of music and how did it manifest for you? How did you start to do the human discipline it takes to channel your gift, hone it and bring it forth?

I still don’t know if I don’t have the gift of music. But what I do know is that I have the need to sing. It’s not the same thing. The gift of music, we’ll know in 60 years after I’m dead. I’ve been extremely lucky, I’ve been very fortunate in my life - a lot of people love my music, a lot of people follow me, and hopefully in the next few years my family’s going to be bigger. My fans, I call them “my family.” But what I do know is from the age of four, I knew that singing was the only thing I wanted to do in my life. I knew it was the only thing that inspired me and because I was coming from a very difficult divorce, my parents divorced when I was very little, it was a very rough chunk of time. The only outlet I had, the only way I could express myself and the only way I could console myself was through music. It was through singing. So I knew at a very young age that music was the only thing I wanted to do with my life, now for the gift of music, that we’ll see.

There are divine moments of serendipity, where a catalyst opens the door that leads to the path we’re meant to be on, which obviously you found, the one where we live out the fullest expression of our true selves, when we are most true to ourselves. What was that moment for you and how did it happen?

I’m a firm believer in that. And there’s not one moment. I can tell you in my life there have been quite a few moments of people I met, things that happened, that either happened in order to protect me from something, or people came into my life to take me to another level or to teach me something. There have been many many moments like that. There have been moments of artists that I met that you probably don’t know here very well, like Mario Frangoulis is another Greek artist. Mario is a very dear friend of mine, or Lara Fabian, French speaking, a massive star in Europe, she’s also a very good friend of mine. When I met (my manager), it was one of those moments where it was a very defining moment, we found each other. So I can’t say there that there was one moment that changed the course of my life. Every few months something happens, and I go somewhere else. (laughs)

What inspired this blog series was seeing an old friend who has a special gift of music, but didn’t choose that path, who, 20 years later, isn’t living the life he thought he would live. People who make music and get to travel the world doing so are a rare example of a life where one is able to honor and channel their gift of music. What are your thoughts? And do you feel you’re consciously living the life you thought you would be living?

When you’re a kid and you dream of doing this job, because it’s a job, it’s a profession, it’s something very serious, and you dream of having what we call an “international career” and to travel, you don’t realize what that actually means. You don’t realize what it includes, what it entails, and you don’t realize that you’re going to miss some very important moments from the people you love, whether it’s birthdays, Christmases, New Year’s, child births, weddings, difficult moments as well, because you cannot be there. You don’t realize that. You don’t realize you’re going to be living from your suitcase literally for quite a few months a year, so then your whole brain starts functioning in a different way, you don’t know what clothes you have here and there. I’m extremely grateful for this gorgeous blue sky for what it has offered me and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been around the world, I’ve sung in so many places that I would have never even thought of. I dreamed of it, but you know how many people dream of this life and they never get it?

I’ve said in that blog post about living the Mozart life, that it may be a tougher road to choose, but you’re fully living your true selves, being most true to yourself. Do you resonate to that? You did not choose the 9 to 5 path.

Completely. Without a doubt. I live a life the way I wanted to live it and that’s why I’m so grateful to music and to my voice, because music gave me freedom, it gave me the courage to be who I wanted to be and it gave me the luck to lead my life the way I wanted to lead it, and that is to me the most precious form of freedom.

But to embark on this path you chose, was that difficult? You didn’t know you would get here.

It was difficult, it is difficult and it will be difficult. It keeps getting more and more difficult. You have to be practically a lunatic to want to keep being in this toxic business. And I use the word “toxic” in full consciousnes because I do think that show business has become more toxic in the last few years.

But you carved your own path, that Lincoln Center concert was like kismet.

I guess it was, I worked very hard for it, nothing was handed to me, no doors were open. God knows we had to knock on thousands of doors until a window opened and even before I started traveling, I worked a lot in Greece. Again, a lot of closed doors. That’s the difference between European and American artists, if you’re American, little by little when you start working here, and if you break out, you are a star in one of the biggest markets in the world and automatically that opens the door for the rest of the world. If you’re a Greek artist, Spanish or French artist, you may be huge at home but it does not necessarily mean that your music is going to travel.

How did you know that this is your life path, your calling? How does someone know when they’re on the correct path?

I think that there’s an inner voice that let’s you know that you just cant stop, even when you’ve completely abandoned yourself because you’re too tired, or you’re too disappointed. Trust me, 30 to 40 percent of this job is learning how to be disappointed all the time and dealing with it because you’re always judged, rejected, criticized, so through out all this, there always is a tiny little voice that says, “You know what? Don’t worry, keep going, keep doing it. One step at a time, and then we’ll go there and from there we’ll go there.”

You’re carving your own sound, your own path.

I think that I have only found my sound now with this new album. I think that finding your sound is a challenge, it takes a long time and if you’re lucky, you’ll never find it, you’ll keep exploring, keep trying out new things. And some of the artists that I have admired the most in my life, they tried so many different styles of music and that’s what made their sound at the end of it, it was their quest.

What is your definition of success for you, especially on the path you chose?

My definition of success will be if 10 years from now, 15 years from now, I will have left a few songs that will become a part of people’s memories, like songs that changed my childhood or my adulthood. There were songs that changed and shaped who I am today. There are songs like “Jesus to a Child” by George Michael, it changed how I thought of things, and some very old songs. There are a lot of songs. Success for me is if I will be able to offer people some songs that will shape their lives, and change their lives, that is to me a big success. And of course success comes with numbers as well because you can’t ignore the numbers. I do want to sell records, I do want to be able to fill big houses like I do in some countries around the world. I would love to be able to do it here in America as well.

Life gives us catalysts, a release valve, which often is our lowest point in life, that allows us to push up to the next, hopefully better chapter. Like a desert, wilderness period in life, that helps raise our consciousness and stay true to yourself and your own path. What was that low point for you that helped you push yourself further, evolve and do better, and what did you do when you had that epiphany?

There have been quite a few low points in my life. The first one was when my parents divorced and that taught me that at any moment in life, your speedometer, it can turn around and go back to zero. And when that happens, you have to embrace it, accept it and start from scratch. So I’ve never been afraid of moments in my life where I reached the ground. One of those was very recently actually - a year and a half ago, I was so criticized and judged, mostly by people in the industry and a lot of rejection. I lost the key to my house. I could see a beautiful house in front of me but I couldn’t get in. So I kind of lost, who I was. It was a year after (Lincoln Center). So I kind of lost who I am and where I’m going. At first I got very scared because I couldn’t function, I couldn’t sing anymore, I hadn’t written a song in a long time. There was a huge artistic block, I was completely blocked emotionally. And then I decided I would go along with it, I embraced it and I took some time off. I went on holiday, I went back to my little beach house in Greece on a tiny little island. I started cooking every single day, seeing my friends, the people I love, swimming in the waters. I went back to the basics - which is people, good food and nature. That’s it. And that’s how little by little, I got out of that crisis.

It’s been a tough time for music, losing many of its legends or those we grew up with whose music was our soundtrack. What are your thoughts on time, how it seems to go by faster each year. Perhaps it’s made you reflect on what you want to achieve in the time we’re given here? Do you think about time much and what you want to achieve in the time we have?

First of all, I’m very stubborn, so the more people in this business remind me that time goes fast and you have to rush, the more I put my foot down and stop caring about time. Time is my friend. I grew up, I had the time to mature and I don’t regret anything. Time is very precious to me, I’m not scared of it, I’m not afraid of it, I’m not afraid of my first wrinkles. As far as the artists that have passed away, George Michael was one of my idols, he was one of my favorite people, he was proof you can start in a very pop career, easy career and evolve to a legend and write profound songs and leave a mark in people’s hearts and he was Greek. He was one of my favorites, so I was really, really devastated when he passed away.

Unlike any time in history, we’re in a overwhelming digital era.

As far as music is concerned, I’m not afraid of it, just like in the ‘80s we went from vinyls to CDs, I had my little Walkman, that’s where I heard my first music. So it’s only natural we move on to the next thing, and the next thing is digital music whether we like it or not.

There is so much detritus, noise and schadenfreude. What’s your view on that, and how do you find quiet in this era? What do you do to connect with your Higher Self, your true self? How do you ground yourself, focus on your own life path and purpose?

I turn this off (points to his iPhone). I send an email to my team saying I won’t be reachable for the next week or so. And when I go back to basics, I go back to nature, my little house at the beach, I grow my own tomatoes, I cook food, I make these huge meals where 20 friends gather around a table and that’s all I need.

I’m a firm believer in doing mitzvahs, especially in the tougher times of our lives. To give back, be of service in some way, to use our time most wisely, can only help us in the end. What are your thoughts and do you try to do your own mitzvahs to help others, even in the smallest way?

Of course. To me that’s an auto purpose in life. I try to help as many people as I can, I don’t expect anything in return. I think that if we all did that, I truly think that love is the only proof of man’s genius on earth. It’s the only thing that connects us to each other. And if we all stop for a minute and realized that, and we didn’t vandalize the word “love” because nowadays when you say “love” – it’s like someone drew a pink little cloud, we vandalized the word and we’ve made it obsolete. So if we stop for a moment and thought about how important that is, then we would live in a very, very different world. So I try everyday as much as I can to help people, friends, family members and I’m also an ambassador for the Horatio Alger Association, where through what we do we help a lot of young students find their path.

What advice do you have for people who have the gift of music, but don’t know how to start channeling it, to develop that gift and bring it out? Everyone needs a creative outlet.

That’s actually a very good question. I would say just follow your instincts, never stop knocking doors, I would tell them to go the old fashioned way, forget these TV reality shows and all that stuff, because at the end of the day it might get you famous for two weeks and then you’re done and then you’re completely done unfortunately because you’ve been overexposed. So go the old fashioned way. Try to surround yourself with people who share the same vision that you do for music. Do gigs, knock on every record label’s door, find every single executive that has ever worked on this planet and send him an mp3. God knows I have, back in the time we had CDs when I started in Greece - I printed a pile with 200 CDs with my first demo and I would go show after show and give one to every singer musician, producer, anyone I could find, I would give them one.

What do you do to help pick yourself up when you’re feeling down, and help you stay the course? Is there a song you play that inspires you when you’re needing some inspiration or to pick yourself up?

To me it’s listening to music, to the music that comforts me. There’s no specific artist. I hear a lot of classical music, a lot of opera, singers that you prob don’t know about like Nana Mouskouri, you guys don’t know her here, she’s a pop singer back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and ‘80’s, she’s the best selling female artist of all time on the planet. She’s Greek. I listen to George Michael, a whole bunch of different artists. Every moment has a different sentiment so it depends on how I’m feeling. I’ll cook a lot. Making food to me is an expression of love and it’s an expression of joy. I find joy in doing that. Or being in nature.

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