A star starting to shine more brightly
Angela Perley has traveled thousands of miles to play music since she graduated from Ohio University a decade ago. It’s ironic then that her biggest thrill came in her hometown.
The Columbus native and her band, the Howlin’ Moons, opened for Lucinda Williams at the Valley Dale Ballroom this summer.
“Lucinda is like my Bob Dylan,” says Perley. “She’s my songwriting (hero) … in my mind, there is nobody higher than her.”
It’s a coin flip when you meet your heroes, but it came up heads for Perley.
“We were blown away when she said ‘Thanks to Angela Perley for opening tonight’ on stage a couple of times, then she was surprised that we were surprised,” Perley says. “She told us the music business is hard and we’re all in this together, just in different phases of our careers.
“She told a story about opening for Tom Petty in the ’90s and how it took his crowd a little while to warm up to them because not that many people were familiar with her music. But (Petty) would come on stage to introduce her and it helped break the ice with the crowd. It was interesting and very cool because she is doing some shows with Tom Petty later this year.”
A night like that makes those days driving 400 miles in a van worth it. A word of encouragement from somebody who has traveled the path can validate the career choice.
“For us, the guys in the band (guitarist Chris Connor and bass player Billy Zehnal) since it started, it’s always been this slow build. We can feel it,” Perley says. “It’s like, ‘OK, let’s keep doing this because good things are happening.’
“We don’t have high expectations. We know from other bands … how hard it is, even for bigger bands. We’re lucky to get to the point where we’re able to do it. I love doing it. It’s inspiring. It inspires me to write songs.”
Perley might want to adjust those expectations. The band has expanded its regional scope with trips to Texas and Colorado this year. It is booked into November, but she wants to start recording a third album in December.
“We’re going to try to make the next record a little more raw, a little more live,” Perley says. “We’re putting a couple of new songs into the set. They’re pretty close (to finished) and kind of ready to go, so we’ve been playing those out live.”
The first two albums – 2014’s “Hey Kid” and 2016’s “Homemade Vision” – have hints of classic rock filtered through the country-punk sensibilities of a young woman from the Midwest. The easy comparison is Perley’s Columbus colleague Lydia Loveless and Erika Wennerstrom’s Heartless Bastards, which coalesced in Cincinnati.
That shortchanges Perley, however, who delivers her songs with a singular voice ably supported by Connor and Zehnal.
“We’ll keep traveling and we’ll keep playing,” Perley says. “The experiences and the people we meet in each city … you feel like you have a family in each part of the country, which is really cool.”
It’s a cool place to be in this phase of their career.
Watch Perley and the Howlin’ Moons perform at the Nelsonville Music Festival.
Originally published in the Enquirer August, 2017.