Translating is bloody difficult to get right. It’s especially challenging when they’re the words of one of the most iconic singers in British musical history: Morrissey. However, Perrecy makes it look easy. He transfers the songs of The Smiths and Morrissey’s solo career into German, but also gives them his own distinctively Teutonic twist. His cut-down ukulele playing, sharp sense of humour and liltingly mournful voice breathe new life into the familiar tunes. Here he is in action:
LUNKHEAD caught up with him to talk about his influences, style and future.
How were you first introduced to Morrissey and The Smiths?
“By a gay hairdresser from New Orleans. You don’t want to know the details.”
Why translate him?
“Short answer: why not? Very long answer: a couple of years ago, I was in Barbados at a discotheque and saw/heard some German women (who knew English) dancing and singing along to reggae tunes, totally ignoring the misogynic and homophobic lyrics that – if the song was in German – would have made them call for the women’s representative (rightfully so).
Obviously, there is a switch in the German brain that, when it comes to listening to music, instantly turns off the comprehension of language and meaning. Knowing that, I started to translate reggae songs verbatim to show the (at that time non-existent) audience what they were dancing and singing along to.
But then came the turning point on the 13th December in, uuuh, I can’t remember the year. I was at a Morrissey concert with a friend. It was an incredible show. After the concert, I sat at home playing my ukulele (all the reggae songs were accompanied by my ukulele, of course, because I didn’t want anything to distract from the lyrics and their stupidity), and it all sounded so unsatisfying. So I played a couple of chords and then – all of a sudden – a chord change caught my ear. It sounded like… yes, it was First of the Gang to Die. And so I came up with the idea of recording the song. I’d never played a Smiths or Morrissey song on my ukulele before.
I recorded the drum machine from my old €200 keyboard, a bass line and then the ukuleles. It progressed very quickly. Then it came to singing. And there wasn’t even a single moment of hesitation: it had to be in German. So I translated the song verbatim, recorded the lyrics, mixed everything in my own very poor way and mailed it to the friend who was at the concert with me. He didn’t answer for weeks. That was the beginning of Perrecy.”
Do you find that your German audiences already know the songs or are they hearing them for the first time?
“Both. Everyone knows the tunes. No, actually, that’s not right. When we opened for a band with a rather young audience and I saw some very disoriented fifteen-year-old pairs of eyes. But, when we headline a concert, you can say that everybody knows the tunes and that most of the people know the lyrics well. But, since Morrissey’s lyrics aren’t self-explanatory, after almost every concert somebody will come to me saying “oh, that’s what he meant? Thanks, I didn’t know that”. And that’s not because my English is so good (in fact, it’s not), but because I take time to translate (verbatim), and when the songs are in German, the switch in German brains that turns off speech comprehension does not disengage. But, then again, a woman in her mid-40s who works for a newspaper once asked me in an interview where I get the ideas for the melodies from!”
What would you say to “Big Mouth” himself, if you met him?
I recently went to a sold-out performance by The Smyths, a cover band. Why do you think their music is so popular?
“The music of the Smyths? Good songwriting? Probably because it’s the best guitar music ever written and because Morrissey’s lyrics are unmatched. And because the music represents youth to many followers who want to hold on to it. Go to a Morrissey concert and look at the crowd when they play a Smiths song. Nostalgia. We’ll see “barrier-free” printed on Morrissey tickets, sooner or later.”
Do you have a favourite song or lyric?
Your sound is very distinctive – have you ever thought about performing original material?
“Yes, when I was 15. The downside was that it always sounded like A Flock of Seagulls, who were long past their peak then. But that was long before I discovered the ukulele.”
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Would you ever play in England?
“Hard question. World domination? Sorry, I’m German…To be honest, to play in England is one of my dreams. ‘Hallo Manchester’ – I would die for that. But London would be ok as well…”
To find out more about Perrecy and to see his gig listings, visit: facebook.com/Perrecy