Not one music writer in a million could have predicted that the Sarah Midori Perry who became the face of the bubblegum pop trio Kero Kero Bonito on 2011 would be making ear-splitting digital hardcore in 2022. But in June, she debuted her new project Cryalot with a track called “Hell Is Here,” unveiling a whole new area code in her emotional range.
“Hell Is Here,” and the rest of the five songs on Cryalot’s debut EP Icarus, out tomorrow, are deeply personal, detailing what Perry has referred to as the first time in her life she experienced sustained anxiety and depression. But Cryalot is not a solo endeavor. Joining Perry on her quest is Jennifer Walton, a DJ, drummer, and experimental producer whose devotion to all things extreme played a key role in the crafting of KKB’s third record, Time ’n’ Place. If 2014’s Intro Bonito was the blueprint to the group’s Edenic digiverse, Time ’n’ Place brought the band crashing into the meatspace, and Cryalot’s Icarus is Perry’s new vision of this postlapsarian world.
Religious mythology was one of the many topics on the table when I spoke to Sarah and Jennifer at the start of their release week. We also discussed Minecraft concerts, pampas grass angel wings, The Fast and the Furious, and how Sarah learned to scream like Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: Time ’n’ Place was a reimagining of Kero Kero Bonito, and Jenny, I know you had a big hand in that. What drew you to the band?
Jennifer Walton: I was a fan before I ever started working with them. It’s that extremity of pop music, pushing it to the nth degree, that I resonated with from the start. [Sarah and I] spent so much time together on the road and shared a hotel room every night. Through listening to the same music in the van and talking so much, we kind of fused brains. Midway through the tour, Sarah started talking about the idea of making music together. So when we got back, we started demoing stuff, sending things back and forth. I was DJing a lot — hardcore and gabber, which Sarah’s own DJ stuff really resonated with — so that link of extreme dance music really [helped us] cross that bridge.
Sarah Midori Perry: For the Cryalot project, I wanted to write personal songs. We had this foundation of friendship even before we started writing this music, so I felt comfortable pouring my heart out when I got into the studio with Jenny.
It’s interesting to hear that you felt connected by being at almost opposite musical extremes — the harsh noise end you were on, Jenny, and the pure bubblegum poptimism of KKB.
JW: Sonically, they’re completely different, but I think there’s a link between the people that are into the more extreme pop stuff and noise music. It’s about how far you can push pop sound design whilst still keeping it commercial-ish and digestible. With Cryalot, it was fun to purposely play with that — take pop structures and actively see how far we could go.
I wanted to ask about some of the virtual concerts KKB did over the pandemic, like the Minecraft show you did with 100 Gecs very early on in lockdown. Do you enjoy performing virtually? Did it open up any new possibilities?
SMP: It was definitely a new experience. It doesn’t beat playing a live gig, but it was fun to add different things related to the music, kind of like editing videos. The funny thing with Minecraft… There were too many people on the server or something, so I couldn’t join the gig, and [the rest of KKB,] Gus [Lobban] and Jamie [Bulled,] were having problems too. So they had a stage in Minecraft, and when it was [time for] KKB, none of us could physically make it. The fans were there trying to watch our show, and they could hear the music, but they didn’t see us.
JW: [Virtual shows] did some funny things to the music that was being played live too. People were playing the most extreme music imaginable, because you don’t have to dance. Everyone’s just sitting down and watching at home, so you end up with this speedcore, 220-BPM-kick-drum music going on for so long.
Sarah, up to this point, you’ve pretty much exclusively released music with KKB. What made you decide it was time for your first solo project?
SMP: It started with an Instagram account. Around 2018, I was going through this dark phase in my life, and I wanted to make a space for myself to express that. When I got to naming the Instagram account, I was crying a lot, so I was like, “Okay, Cryalot.” It was my way of taking back control of those moments and hoping to not let those tears go to waste. I wanted to do something creative with it, but I still didn’t know what, so I started posting stuff. And then hanging out with Jenny on tour and listening to her solo stuff, I was really drawn to this darkness she has in her music, and it just felt right.
I know this new EP is about the story of Icarus, but “Hell Is Here” brings also brings to mind the story of Lucifer’s fall from heaven. Do you see an overlap between those stories, and do you identify with the Lucifer character too?
SMP: I never thought of it like that, but it is quite Lucifer-ish. That track was the first. The whole EP’s not about the dark period in my life, but that song is. It’s a song about defeat: how reality can suddenly turn into hell, and the feeling that you can’t get out of it. Looking back, it’s like some hellish diary entry from that time in my life.
Musically, that track is like two songs woven together. Were the quiet part and the heavy part conceptualized at the same time?
SMP: Lyrically, it’s kind of… When you’re feeling horrible, it’s not like you always constantly feel like shit. Some moments, you feel like you’re out of it, but then you suddenly go back in, like a wave.
JW: Sonically, as well, it was super intentional. There’s a few things that happen that were formulated to feel like the rug was being pulled out from under you, having these two sonic universes. It was really fun to play with the physical space: It’s so dense in the choruses, a wall of noise or a big wave washing over you. In those verses, you’re hopefully still reeling from the intensity of the chorus, but you need the grounding of the verses to contextualize the intensity. My favorite part is when the second chorus drops, it comes in a beat late or a beat early. When I did that, I was fully trying to body slam you into this different world. It was also really fun to play with black metal aesthetics without just pulling out guitars — trying to see what actually makes that sound in a different sonic language.
Sarah, I know you’ve been working on your death metal scream for a while. What went into practicing your technique? Were there any vocalists you drew inspiration from?
SMP: It’s something I always wanted to try. The first time I got the opportunity was when [KKB] recorded “Only Acting.” Gus kind of locked me in a room with a mic, like, “Go crazy.” And then, through touring, I was doing it every night on stage, and I got the technique of not killing my voice, but still managing to scream. I really enjoyed it and it’s something I wanted to do more of. So when “Hell Is Here” came along, I was like, “Yeah, more scream.” I grew up listening to Melt-Banana and Linkin Park. That’s the first time I experienced that kind of singing. Now I can just turn it on.
Do you have any tips for folks who want to get into that kind of screaming?
The hardest thing is doing it. Switching from singing to suddenly screaming is a really unnatural thing unless you’re really emotional and not fearing it and letting go. Just go for it, and it’ll all be fine.
Let’s talk a little about the visual side of the record. Sarah, I know you’re pretty serious about costume and makeup work, and you got to do some pretty cool things here. Can you talk about the process of creating a new look for this whole record — especially the wings you built for the “Hell Is Here” video and the “Touch The Sun” cover?
SMP: World building thing is something I really enjoy doing. I sometimes think I write music so I can delve into world building, so the visual side of things is super important to me. There are three wings we made for this project, and it would’ve been much easier to just get these angel-feather pretty wings and call it a day. But I really wanted them to look like the wings Icarus would’ve worn — human made and quite DIY. I collaborated with my mom to make the “Hell Is Here” wings out of Pampas grass her neighbor kindly donated to us. She was about to cut it, and my mom was like, “Don’t cut those! We need them!” And the “Touch the Sun” wings were made of branches that fell from a tree in the garden.
For the “Hell Is Here” video, I worked with this amazing director, Josh Homer, and we built the world together. I was inspired by how claustrophobic artists’ studios look, especially Francis Bacon’s. There’s something really scary about them. So I wanted to recreate an art studio and fill it up with all the paintings and sketches I’ve been holding onto for years. It’s all my personal work.
To me, the record splits naturally into three parts, with “Touch The Sun” and “Hurt Me” representing Icarus’ flight to the sun, “Hell Is Here” representing the fall, and “Labyrinth” and “See You Again” describing a period after the action has transpired. Do you think that’s accurate?
SMP: I definitely feel like this EP is a journey, and I want it to sound like a story. I wanted to sing about all aspects of the Icarus story and rewrite its common interpretation as a cautionary tale. I wanted to celebrate the courage of Icarus, but I didn’t want it to be like, “Everything’s gonna be fine. We’re not gonna die.” So “Touch The Sun” is about that childish feeling of invincibility, but “Hell Is Here” is about failure, and “See You Again” is about how, yeah, Icarus flew too close to the sun and died, but he’s immortalized through the story. It’s the end, but is it the end?
Making a song called “See You Again,” you’re already fighting from behind because you’re competing with Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s end song from Furious 7. Are y’all fans of the Fast and the Furious franchise?
SMP: I’ve seen a few of the films, but I’ve never actually listened to that track…
JW: I feel like I just got body slammed by that question. How can we compete? It all comes back to Charlie Puth.
Sarah, I know you first heard the Icarus story as a song-poem in school. Is the poem you read in Japanese at the beginning of “See You Again” based on that?
SMP: Yeah, I wanted to write my take on that song after many years of listening to it and being inspired by it. I wanted to do it in Japanese to add a mystery to it. Japanese is quite pretty or poetic. There’s so many words you can use for one thing, so it’s really fun to use when you’re writing a poem. I actually found the song on YouTube recently. It sounds really old. It was a hit of nostalgia, and it’s crazy how much I remembered the lyrics.
You’ve talked about how making this album helped you get through the first real period of depression you’ve had in your life. How did you work through that and turn it into something constructive?
SMP: For the first time in my life, I didn’t find joy in creating, so when I started this project, I wanted to create something from those moments to push myself to find that joy again in creation. The Icarus story is a philosophy of life I always try to live up to, but in that period, I felt like I’d forgotten about it, and I wanted to remind myself.
JW: The main thing that makes the EPs sound the way it does is that we recorded it all in my box room home studio. We were both feeling pretty… whatever, so [it helps] being in a relatively safe environment where we can experiment and that isn’t tied to paying studio fees. You can just rock up one day, like, “Let’s try this crazy vocal move.” I was gonna bring it up earlier, but all of the screaming for “Hell is Here” was redubbed in one day, on the hottest day of the year, with Sarah under a duvet, and that does lead to a certain intensity of performance. Sarah didn’t complain once and then comes out of this duvet absolutely drenched — that’s metal, by the way.
In the context of the rest of the project, the album’s first two songs feel retrospective, looking back on a more innocent time in your life. Do you think of the hyper-optimism of your career as flying close to the sun?
SMP:I don’t really think of it like that. I’m still flying towards the sun. It’s great to think back now on how this project wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t go through those dark moments, but now it’s linked to something positive. So my master plan has worked: I came out of hell, and now, onto the next.