A new album and role as one of the city's arts ambassadors keeps the alt-country rocker hopping.
Angela Perley arrives for our February interview at the Roosevelt Coffeehouse on East Long Street clad in a black-and-white knee-length print dress, a bright multicolored scarf, a red knit winter cap and black cowboy boots. It's a signature look for Perley. The only thing missing is a guitar slung over her shoulder.
It's been a busy few months for the Columbus alt-country rocker. Earlier this year, Perley and her band, the Howlin' Moons, released their second full-length record, Homemade Vision, on the heels of being chosen to be part of a promotional marketing campaign, Art Makes Columbus, sponsored by the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
The project includes more than 20 artists from a variety of mediums, from Eric Barker, a set designer for CATCO and Opera Columbus, to Ty Owen, who does video and sound art for COSI. Trumpeter and Columbus Jazz Orchestra Artistic Director Byron Stripling and Shadowbox's Amy Lay also join Perley as featured artists in the campaign.
"We wanted to tell the breadth of stories of these people who are making art and making Columbus their home," says Jami Goldstein, head of marketing and communications for GCAC. "We support creativity."
She says Perley is an ideal ambassador. "I adore Angela and I'm so happy her career is taking off," Goldstein says. "She is a rising star and a sweet, awesome, talented person. We're glad to help her get her story out."
"We are honored to be involved with the campaign and think it is a game-changer for the city," Perley says. "I think it also helps connect the music and arts community like never before. I'm so excited to see the support that is building around art and music in Columbus and very thankful to have GCAC promoting the stories behind all the artists in the city. It is very inspiring."
Perley, who grew up in Hilliard, says music has long been a part of her life. "My dad was always blasting classic rock, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, AC/DC," she says. "I always gravitated toward that era, to the '70s. I found artists like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carol King-those woman singer-songwriters."
Perley started piano and violin lessons when she was 10, and by the time she got to Hilliard Darby High School, she was a fixture in the school orchestra. Perley credits her musical training with facilitating her move to guitar in high school. "It gave me a nice understanding of music, reading music, communicatingwith other musicians," she says.
Learning the guitar was the first step toward writing her own songs and playing in bands. She and a pair of friends formed the No Doubt-inspired power-pop trio The Frankies, which rocked a high school talent show with some original tunes and a rendition of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" featuring the school orchestra, courtesy of an arrangement by the school band director.
"I had a boyfriend in high school who was in a band, and that's what got me interested in being in a band," she says. "I was always going out to shows, and Darby had this really good culture for music and creativity."
Attending Ohio University further fueled Perley's desire to make music and opened new avenues for creativity. "I read a lot of poetry as an English major," she says. "One course was all Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. I became obsessed with Sylvia Plath, and going to poetry readings and shows at [Athens'] Donkey Coffee House. And a lot of really good touring bands were coming through, too-that really inspired me."
Through a classified ad, she connected with like-minded musicians and ended up playing with a folk-rock outfit called Vintage Green. "That kind of got me comfortable with performing, traveling around a little bit, playing for people outside your family and friends and fellow students."
She also played in an acoustic band called Scarlet and the Yellow Moons, as well as playing solo gigs. "I'm an only child, and as a female in high school, my parents had kind of a rigid curfew and they were always checking up on me. So in college I was kind of free, and it was a bit of a wild time," she says. "I was going to college and getting a degree, but all along I was thinking I was going to do music."
Not long thereafter, she met friends Chris Conner (guitar) and Billy Zehnal (bass) who would become part of the Howlin' Moons. (The band is currently rounded out by a rotation of three percussionists, following a lengthy, "Spinal Tap"-esque period of finding and losing drummers.) After finishing school, she moved back to Columbus, where she and the Howlin' Moons began playing gigs. While working as a substitute teacher for Dublin and Worthington schools, Perley was introduced to Fred Blitzer of Vital Studios in Grandview, who eventually engineered records for the band.
"Fred just asked me if I wanted to be a teacher or if I wanted to do music," Perley recalls. "It seemed extreme at the time, but the band was playing more and more, and the schedules didn't work together, and I was having no time off. So I just took the plunge and have been working at this for the last four to five years."
Perley and the Howlin' Moons played more than 120 live shows in 2015, a bruising schedule they may back off from just slightly this year. The band has expanded its regional reach. "Anywhere within nine hours," Perley says of the band's market. They've hit hot spots like New York City and Knoxville, as well as hip smaller towns like Rockford, Michigan.
The band also has received increased radio airplay and had one of its tunes licensed for use on ESPN during a college football game. But the calling card of the Howlin' Moons remains live shows. "We love playing live," Perley says.
Perley hopes to hit the West Coast and the United Kingdom someday. She says Brits crave rootsy, Americana music, and the country's compressed geography makes for efficient touring. The band recently signed with a booking agent, removing one task from the otherwise DIY operation. "I spent all day Monday at the post office sending out packages with CDs, four to five hours for 322 CDs," she says.
Which is fine by Perley. She's happy to do what it takes to share Homemade Vision with the public. The record, she says, has elements of dreamy psychedelia-lots of effected guitar tones and Hammond B-3 organ-that expands on the band's past work. "We had so much more time to work on this album, and things just sort of happened naturally," Perley says. "Our producer [Michael Landolt] had some cool ideas that pushed us out of our comfort zone in a good way."
A proud Columbus resident, Perley and her bandmates have experienced success while staying true to their roots. "Columbus is our hometown," she says. "The affordable living helps us keep expenses down and helps make it possible for us to do music full time. And the support from the people here and the arts community who strongly supports and encourages each other also makes it possible."