Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

09/29/2018

Perlo: A (Fairy) Tale of Two Cities coming to the Old Church Concert Hall

By ANA AMMANN // Henri Bardot (27) and Marie Hsiao (25), the Portland-based, dream-folk duo Perlo will be at The Old Church Concert Hall on Monday, October 1.

Hearing Henri Bardot (27) and Marie Hsiao (25), the Portland-based, dream-folk duo Perlo, tell the story about how they met is like listening to a fairy tale - something right out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, in the best possible way.

From a musical perspective, Perlo joins the ranks of masterful songwriting couples like The Swell Season and Everything But The Girl. Their latest effort, Day by Day, is a dreamy collection of pop-songs that are replete with feeling yet feel almost delicate. Lush compositions, tender arrangements, dulcet harmonies and ethereal vocals come together against an electronic backdrop to invite you inside what you can imagine to be an intimate conversation.

Watch: Masters by Perlo


Theirs is the story of long-distance admirers turned real-life creative and romantic partners, and it is ripe for a Hollywood treatment.
The story begins in New Jersey, where Marie (who also performs as Mree) grew up as a very shy child playing piano and guitar. She credits her childhood music teacher for encouraging her to write her own compositions; and a winning performance at her middle school talent show for giving her the courage to overcome her fears of performing in public.

She began posting covers on the then newish social video platform, YouTube in 2008 as a teenager. Views of her renditions of songs by artists and influences like Sufjan Stevens and Imogen Heap began to swell from thousands to millions. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver acknowledged her talent when he tweeted her cover of his band’s song “Michicant”. By the time she graduated from high school in 2011, Marie had already released a self-produced, full-length album which debuted at #18 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Chart.

Meanwhile, 2500 miles away, here in the Pacific Northwest, Henri Bardot was living a similar music-fueled existence. The son of hippie parents who had successfully cashed out of the LA music scene to open a recording studio on Orcas Island, Henri spent his first year of college at the University of Washington in Seattle, playing a lot of music in and around Ballard.

It was during his freshman year that Henri happened upon Marie’s first album, Grow. Inspired by her “do it yourself” ethos, Henri decided to write, perform and record an album of original music on his own. “Seeing someone so young do so much on her own gave me the self-belief to think I could do it myself,” recalled Henri. “I even said to myself, ‘one day I want to work with this girl’.”

Deciding to pursue music more formally, Henri transferred to music school in Minnesota. There he apprenticed in studios, ran sessions and honed his musical chops. Like Marie, Henri too was posting videos of his songs and covers on YouTube as a creative outlet.

When Henri posted a cover of Mree’s song “Atmosphere”, she took notice. “I saw it immediately and thought to myself, I have to meet this guy. Why can’t he live closer!” She reached out to Henri by email to let him know she had heard the song and liked it, but the exchange between them was brief given their geography.

Two years later, in 2013, Marie started her Freshman year at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU Tisch. That same year, she put out her second album Winterwell, Henri released his own debut and he found himself in New York.

“Henri emailed me to say his album had come out too, and since we were mutual fans of each other’s work, we should meet up and chat,” remembered Marie.

“A job opportunity in NY had fallen through,” explained Henri, “so I ended up staying with my friend Rob Moose to help him set up a home recording studio. Rob played with a bunch of bands Marie likes, so that bought me some credibility. I wasn’t just some crazy stalker!”

Moose is a highly sought-after instrumentalist and arranger whose arrangement, production and performance credits include recordings with John Legend, Alabama Shakes, Jim James, The National, The Decemberists Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, among many others.

Marie accepted the invitation and the two met for the first time at a restaurant called Perlo. Marie was 19 and Henri had just turned 21.

“I was supposed to leave a couple days later on a Friday but ended up cancelling my flight home to Washington so I could stay longer,” said Henri.

After finally returning home from New York, the two were in each other’s lives every day. For two years their relationship grew long-distance. “After I left school I began working on my new album and he was working on his,” shared Marie. “We started to help each other - I was doing vocals for him, he was doing mixing and engineering and drums for me, so we thought, why don’t we just work on music that is both of ours? That’s how Perlo began. It’s been interesting both of us coming from solo working habits. We each do everything ourselves - writing, playing all the instruments, producing, and recording. It’s awesome to have someone who you really admire working alongside you giving you feedback to influence your music. That wouldn’t happen if you were just working by yourself,” she explained.

There is just one outsider invited into their creative process, New York friend Rob Moose. “He has such a great ear. He is like our ghost producer. We always send him material early on to get his feedback. Throughout the making of Day by Day, he was traveling as part of Paul Simon’s farewell tour. We would send him tracks and he would record violin parts from his hotel room and send them back,” said Henri.

Now ten years into their music careers, both Marie and Henri are trying to get back to the artists they were when they were just starting out. “I’m trying to get back to my roots where music came naturally, when I wasn’t thinking so much about how to impress, but how it felt best to create. We are both striving to have a really pure process, making sure that whatever we are creating, feels honest to who we are as people,” shared Marie.

“For me, the point of making music was always a means of self-exploration. It is a never-ending cycle of getting back to your truest self. That is what I need to remind myself of before I get too down the rabbit hole in over planning the song before I’ve written it, because when that happens, life doesn’t come to the song,” said Henri.

The decision to make Portland their home came after a weekend visit when Marie made a tour stop here while supporting a UK artist. Henri drove down from Seattle to see her, and like their very first meeting, it felt like the universe was conspiring their next move. “It was a really wonderful, almost magical experience,” Marie shared. “We were getting free donuts at Voodoo, the hotel where we were staying randomly gave us a free bottle of wine and upgraded us to a room with a hot tub, and playing at Lola’s was the best! After two years of long distance, we were itching to be closer, so we made the decision to each move here and explore it together.”

This fairy tale is far from ended. See Perlo and all their magic yourself Monday, October 1, 8pm at The Old Church Concert Hall supporting Kate Davis. All ages. Tickets $15 - $20. And catch them this winter on tour with Novo Amor.

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