SAVANNAH is, innately, a town of transition. College students come, study, create, and move along after graduation; soldiers and their families are stationed here for a few years, then go on to the next city.
And while it’s occasionally a point of criticism, Savannah’s lucky to have been graced by those residents who spend their time here making and sharing beautiful things that will permanently impact the way we think about art and our community.
They may leave, but our cultural landscape would never be the same without them.
Rachael Perisho is one such creator. The SCAD Painting alum and musician in mumbledust and Heavy Boots will move to Portland at the end of the month after eight years as a Savannahian.
In her time here, she’s created gorgeous artworks and displayed them in local galleries, lent her voice and musical abilities to a variety of projects, and created her own unique, decidedly Southern gothic take on folk music.
Right now, it’s time for a change. But before the lifelong Southerner treks west, she’ll play one last local show, celebrating the release of a new Heavy Boots cassette, Sister Lives.
Perisho dabbled in piano growing up, but her full musical development didn’t happen until college. At SCAD, she had a class with Ryan McCardle, musician and graphic designer.
“He mentioned something about wanting to start a band,” Perisho recounts. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I don’t play music!’ But then I just kind of thought about it, and I went on eBay and bought a banjo ukulele.”
It was a gateway drug, the perfect instrument for Perisho to learn songs and write her own.
Not long after, McCardle and Perisho formed folk-noir duo Mumbledust.
In addition to her new musical project, classes, work, and visual art, Perisho sang and played accordion and saw in The Tramp Stamps, an old-time country band with SCAD professor Greg Eltringham, with singer-songwriter Dare Dukes (a performance with him at The Sentient Bean was her first time singing for an audience), and, most recently, with Triathalon.
During a mumbledust break, Perisho began making lo-fi recordings on her phone and computer. Learning covers allowed her to explore new instruments, like autoharp and Appalachian dulcimer.
“I kind of work within the limitations of what I know how to play on those instruments,” she explains. “On an autoharp, there’s only certain chords available—I just kind of mess around and see what I can do with that. I like having limitations like that.”
Inspired by The Tramp Stamps, her Soundcloud was full of country and folk covers, but she was also writing originals.
“It was never going to be anything,” says Perisho. “Eventually, I realized I had a few songs and it would be fun to make something out of it. I had posted something online, and Jae [Matthews, of Boy Harsher and gallery/DIY venue Safe//Sound] asked me to play a show. I was like, ‘Oh no! I don’t play shows by myself. There’s no way.’ But I did! And that’s where Heavy Boots started.”
Perisho’s voice is an otherworldly force of its own, laden in contradiction: intimately winsome and spectrally brittle in moments, she sweeps vowels, wavers, and diffuses like smoke. It’s entirely devastating, and an incredible medium for presenting her intimate lyrics, which can feel like a diary, or even a carefully penned handwritten letter. 2014’s In All the Ways That I Am Small blended the quietly spectral coos of the musical saw with banjo ukulele picking and layers of Perisho’s one-of-a-kind vocals.
She favors simple arrangements to highlight her voice and narrative—a stark contrast to her visual art, which exhibits a decadent eye for detail. As a painter, Perisho gravitates toward the figurative. Through a warm palette, her meticulous brushstrokes convey more than your typical portrait: the eyes of her subjects convey haggard struggle and establish a searing connection with the viewer.
The intense detail she can convey through pen and ink was perfect for illustrating each perfectly maintained follicle that appeared in Prospector Co’s Burroughs Beard Oil Field Guide.
She’s also teamed up with MusicFile Productions to bring new flavor to the art of the gig poster, creating stunningly intricate and eerie still life arrangements.
“One of the things I always enjoyed about art was spending a lot of time on something and doing these really intricate process-oriented pieces, repetitive things,” says Perisho. “And with music, I approach it in a completely different way. I’ll kind of just record something and be done with it, or experiment and try things. So it’s a good thing to balance back and forth between because I think about it so differently.”
Sister Lives was recorded by Triathalon/Wet Socks’ Hunter Jayne with members of Triathalon as Perisho’s backing band.
The addition of Adam Intrator on guitar, Chad Chilton on drums, and Adam Laidlaw on bass transformed Heavy Boots from a quiet, solo endeavor to a full-fledged dream-pop orchestration. While the lineup was first created for a live performance, the partnership was so successful that Perisho sent the band the demo that would become Sister Lives. The boys created their own arrangement to join her, transforming the wintry chill of Heavy Boots with their own beachy summer vibes; hear the results in an exclusive preview track, "An Other," below.
“They made everything into what I could have never imagined,” Perisho praises.
Heavy Boots has released two EPs so far; Perisho finds that putting out small collections of songs best suits her style.
“I kind of write in bursts,” she explains. “I wrote all those [Sister Lives] songs in one week—then I don’t write anything for a year. It feels more accessible to me, these little bursts of projects. Then I can move onto something else. I go back and forth between painting, drawing, music, and embroidery.”
While her visual art and music processes may be vastly different, Perisho notes a similar artistic feel throughout.
“I feel like my aesthetic artistically is almost like a visual counterpart to music, and especially being able to work on album art and things like that—that really helps me a lot for making connections between themes I used in my work and how they relate.”
While she’s looking forward to exploring the Pacific Northwest’s mountainous terrain, craft culture, and numerous neighborhoods, Perisho says she’ll fondly remember her time in Savannah, particularly the experimental house shows that used to happen at 1417 Jefferson, downtown’s walkability, and the small-town environment that leads to bumping into friends everywhere one goes.
‘I’m just kind of taking a leap of faith,” she smiles. “I feel like if I don’t do it now, I won’t ever do it.”
Sister Lives will be available on cassette on August 28 via Furious Hooves; stop by Graveface for a copy, or better yet, head to the show and buy it from Perisho directly—it’ll be one of the last chances to wish her good luck in her next steps.