Even if a work of art isn’t an autobiography in the strictest sense, it tells the story of the creator. The ideas and themes present in a novel or an album are a reflection of the inner workings of an artist’s brain. That story is important, as it can help those of us on the outside looking in understand where an artist is coming from. Indie-pop band Saint Slumber and their frontman Joshua Perna are firmly taking control of the narrative, telling their story one song and EP at a time.
Even the best storytellers have to warm up and Perna is no exception. When I talked to Perna at the end of August, Saint Slumber was already hard at work on the follow up to upcoming EP, Youth//2, which drops this Friday. He explains with a chuckle that because the process of recording and releasing music is so long, he has to talk a bit to remember where he was mentally when writing the music that – to us – is brand new. “This is fun for me because talking about it gets me back in that state so I can get excited about it again,” Perna says with an eagerness in his voice that makes it crystal clear that telling this story is a delight for him.
As you might have guessed from its name, Youth//2 is not the beginning of Saint Slumber’s story. That would be Youth//1, the debut EP released last year from the quartet, whom along with Perna is rounded out by guitarist and his childhood friend Aaron Brown, bassist Adam Jessamine, and drummer Matt Carpenter. As Perna explains it, he views the Youth projects as one large narrative. He describes Youth//1 as a “very bold, egotistical kinda thing” which will eventually lead to Youth//3, which he envisions as “a record on grief, the end of youth.” That makes Youth//2 the middle of Perna and Saint Slumber’s story. He describes the EP by saying it’s “that in-between place where you’re looking back, like enough time when you can look back on things and be nostalgic and be regretful, but at the same time there’s a lot to look forward to.”
As Perna mentioned, part of that middle period of growing up is looking back at where you came from and for Saint Slumber that means looking back at Youth//1 now that some time has passed since its release. Perna says that when a project is released it’s too close to truly reflect on, and time has now given him perspective on the band’s first EP. He reveals, “Youth//1 really seems like a very brash and unhinged testament to my ego. Just the way it’s arranged, it’s very loud, it’s very pushy and lyrically it’s talking a lot about urges and wants and needs and I kinda make it about ‘me me me.'” As most artists tend to do, Perna says he is becoming more introspective and smarter about what he’s feeling as he grows as both a person and a musician. He says that each EP is an interesting snapshot of where he was in life when he wrote it. While we’re talking about how nice it is to have snapshots of your work from different eras, he laughs and compares it to looking back through old Facebook posts and cringing about what you wrote when you were a teenager.
While social media can be a good tool used correctly, Perna is no fan of the obsession with it that permeates music and society as a whole. He acknowledges that some of that just stems from his own bad habits using it, saying, “My personal issue is that I feel like I need to disengage a little bit, I need to be a little more present in my own life.” At the same time, he says that he’s somewhat forced to stay a part of it because of Saint Slumber’s band pages on social media which he believes are nearly mandatory to attract fans and listeners in 2018. By his estimation, he says the actual music is 50% of a fan’s interest with the rest being made up of interest in the story and narrative of who the band are and where they come from. He finishes his point by saying, “You have to give up a lot more of themselves as a musician nowadays. You can’t really do the cryptic thing, it’s not really a luxury most of us get.” From talking to him you get the sense that Perna deeply cares about telling his story to the world, he’s just not enchanted with many of the current tools used to do that.
The urge to tell Saint Slumber’s story in their own special way is what led Perna to come up with the ingenious introduction video called “Welcome To Saint Slumber.” “We have this story, and we take it for granted because we know what this story is, but when we make new fans that’s not something they can understand right off the bat,” he explains. He says that the video is a good way to give incoming fans a “crash course” on the history behind Saint Slumber, and believes the video will become more useful over time as more new fans find the band. As much as Perna fervently believes in the importance of story, he also believes that thirst for narrative extends to music fans as well. He says, “That’s what people are looking for in general, they’re looking for story. That’s what resonates with people, they want to know what the narrative is, what the drama of it all is. When we’re succeeding people root for us because they know our story.”
Part of that story stems from Perna growing up in an incredibly small town in Pennsylvania, a town he estimates only had about 300 residents. There’s obviously not a lot in the way of music going on in a town that small, so he had to explore his options himself. He says, “Being in an isolated place really jump-started my relationship with music because I started as a drummer, and I couldn’t find anybody at all who could write music, so I picked up bass and then I taught myself guitar and then eventually I couldn’t find anyone to sing, so I taught myself how to sing.” This development was so central to his career and Saint Slumber that he believes none of this would have happened had it not been for that background. Perna explains that if he lived in a larger city he likely would have just stayed a drummer and joined someone else’s band, a fate that Saint Slumber’s fans are surely glad we avoided.
Perna is trying to incorporate that story of growth into not only the lyrical content of Youth//2, but into the very music. His philosophy has evolved in the direction of “less is more” as he says, “I’m trying to strip things away. I’m trying to be a little more vulnerable, whether it be lyrically or musically.” He explains that this EP has a greater range than anything Saint Slumber have done before, while at the same time being more focused and concise than previous projects. Listening to the singles from the release, whether the fiery and pointed “Stay Away” or the introspective “Infinite,” you can hear what he’s talking about. Each track from Youth//2 has a distinct purpose, both on its own and as part of the whole. This is the maturity and the story that Perna talks about when he explains where the Youth project is going.
As our conversation comes to a close, Perna becomes deeply focused and passionate, saying, “I think our real tagline at this point is that we’ve completely taken on the creative process ourselves, so for all of our filming and all our producing and all our recording.” He explains again that everything Saint Slumber does themselves is to give people a clearer look at their story, with no outside filter or expectation to change it. There’s an intensity in his voice when he talks about this that makes it clear that he’s telling his story as it is, no exceptions. To confirm this, he explains, “My biggest fear is if I look back 10 years from now and stuff didn’t work and my only excuse is just blaming somebody else, that’s not enough of an excuse for me. I would always wonder ‘what if I had just tried a little harder.’” After hearing everything he has to say, it’s clear to me that trying hard is never going to be an issue for Perna and Saint Slumber.
That drive and discipline permeates all of Saint Slumber’s work. Whether in their songs, music videos, or other video projects, Perna and the rest of the members of the band have clearly poured their all into everything they do. Saint Slumber has a story to tell, and they’re not going to let anyone else try to tell it for them. The story of Saint Slumber is theirs and theirs alone, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.