The Greek-French vocal sensation George Perris, talks about addiction, the industry – its highs and lows – as well as his passion for singing.
For George Perris, music has always been a given, a constant in the face of this turbulent and ever-changing world. Through music, the singer seeks to portray the parts that, for most, are ordinary, unseen: the sea near his house in Athens that looks like it was painted by artists, and the little corner cafe in New York that feels like home amidst the cacophony of angry cab drivers and the frenzy of the city.
The singer says that telling it all comes with the territory. Not afraid to bare his soul, he touches on difficult subjects that plague many families and individuals. The new single, co-written by George Perris, Eric Rosse (Sara Bareilles, Maroon5, Tori Amos, Idina Menzel) and Sasha Sloan (John Legend, Steve Aoki), “How Many Does it Take,” takes a closer look at how addiction, particularly alcoholism, represents entrapment, not solely for those actively going through it, but for their loved ones as well.
Here, the singer opens up with BELLA and tells is all. With raw honesty, he tells us about his career, his new single and the story behind it.
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Tell us about your family background and how you got started in the industry.
I was born and raised in Greece by a French mother and a Greek father! I kind of grew up in a funny and “double” way: everything was Greek from morning till noon; my friends, school lessons, etc. As soon as I went back home, everything would turn French: tv, music, books and of course we spoke French at home with mom. That allowed me to pick the best elements that I wanted to from each country and make them my own. When I was 5, my parents divorced, and it was a very violent and hurtful period for me. My brother and I were separated, each living with a different parent and having to cope with a new reality and lots of verbal abuse. At that moment, it was as if the speedometer of my life turned to zero for the first time. I had to start again. Ever since then, it has happened again many times, especially with the job I chose to do, but I learned not to be afraid of it, to embrace it. A few months before I turned 18, I went to an audition that Mimis Plessas, one of the most legendary Greek composers, was holding and he picked me. We went on a big tour around Greece and Cyprus that year and that was it: I was a professional singer! Since then, I haven’t stopped working and chasing my dream.
What is the story behind your new single How Many Does It Take?
It’s a song about addiction, alcoholism in particular. I wrote it one night while I was watching someone I love destroying himself piece by piece, and I was utterly unable to help. So basically, this song tells its story through the eyes of someone observing the person they love struggle with addiction, even though the addicted “Never stops, but he says he can”, as the song says. I never wanted to reveal who I wrote this song for, as I, very, simply believe that it could be about anyone: father, partner, friend, brother, sister, it doesn’t matter. I think that more or less we’ve almost all had someone in our life who battles with addiction of any kind. I also wrote it, along with Eric Rosse and Sasha Sloan, as a helping hand to anyone who’s going through the same situation as I was. Sometimes we forget that even though the addicted is the one going through the main struggle, the people surrounding them are also going through an equivalent and hurtful impasse.
How is this single different from your previous work? How do you think you have evolved as an artist?
I’ve been recording albums for the last 13 years, but this was the first time that I decided to co-write all the songs on the record and also the first time that I didn’t care at all about any sort of pressure that I would be under to please anyone or to do “what’s right for me”. I spent too much time trying to be the good guy, not saying “no” to things I didn’t want to do, only because I wanted everyone to be happy with me. In the end, I realized that this doesn’t take you anywhere, you just spin around yourself not knowing where you’re supposed to go. So, for this record, I decided that I wanted to share my new music through a lens that’s crystal clear. Honest and adamant about what I have to say. That’s why I call this album my liberation album, it helped me surpass my own limits. I guess that it partly comes with time and maturity, but I’m also very grateful to Eric Rosse, this incredible producer, for helping me day by day remove all these little thorns off of me.
Is it hard being in the public eye; especially when you are baring your soul to the world – the personal details of your life, your thoughts and sorrows?
Telling all comes with the territory! If you’re not ready to share your entire existence with your audience, then you might as well do something else in your life. This job doesn’t allow you to hide or to pretend you’re something other than what you are, cause at some point you’ll get caught! You know, when you come from a small country like I do, you don’t necessarily have the support you need. You have to fight for every inch of your career’s path, so when you’re lucky enough to live your dream and to go around the world doing what you love most, you simply don’t have the luxury to think that it’s hard being in the public eye. Quite the opposite; you’re grateful. I have received so much love from my people, that at the end of the day it makes it all worth it, it wins over any hardship. That’s why it’s so important for me to give back, any way you can. Whether it’s through an organization, like the Horatio Alger Association, an association that grants scholarships to young students facing adversity for which I am an international ambassador, or just helping an old lady cross the street or a young artist find their way.
How do you stay strong during tough times in the industry, and which have been the moments that have made it all worth it?
Well, I can tell you for a fact that nowadays you probably have to be either insane or really love the music more than anything else in your life to do this job! The industry has become toxic. There’s a perpetuated perception that music has no value, first of all financial and therefore spiritual. There have been many times in the last few years where I have been taken on a trajectory where I was humiliated or bullied by people in the industry. And you know, when you’re an artist, because you’re more sensitive by nature, you’re not equipped to handle it. Nobody gives you a manual at the beginning of your career saying “beware, literally everybody will have an opinion about anything that they think is negative about you and will throw it relentlessly at your face, no filter!” There was a time a couple of years ago, right before I started working on this new album, where I had completely lost myself. I felt I had no value whatsoever. It took me a long time to recuperate and realize that it was up to me to change the way I was affected. I have to admit that there were moments where I wasn’t strong at all. But then the music, this divine “creature” that is music, helped me find my way. In my case, it happened when I started my singing lessons again, and day by day, I would re-discover why I wanted to do this in the first place: simply because I loved it more than anything else. Every time I’m on stage, every time I’m recording, every time someone tells me my music affected them, it makes it all worth it.
If you had the chance, what would you tell people struggling with addiction?
I don’t feel it’s up to me to tell them anything because addiction is caused by a very deep and personal trauma. That’s why I used my weapon, my music to say something. I would only tell them that there’s people around them who love them more than they could ever know and that they’ll be there at any moment to help them. And that love, along with effort, is enough to cure any trauma.
Finally, at BELLA, we operate on the ideology that beauty is defined by each. What does beauty mean to you, and how do you find it?
Oh I’m right there with you guys! Beauty to me is the combination of every single perfection and imperfection that causes emotion. It’s the smile of the person you love, the way they’ll put their hand on your back, the freckle you absolutely hate on your face or when you have a good day and you tell yourself in the mirror “hmmm you’re ok!”. As cliché as it may sound, I try to find beauty every single day in little things. I look for it in the sea close to my house in Athens or at a little corner cafe in my other neighborhood in New York. I find it when I cook food for my friends, and we all gather around a table for hours drinking and eating! I find it in the eyes of the people I love, and in those gorgeous moments of loneliness.
Ultimately, through music, George Perris aspires to make positive changes and give back to a community he cares deeply about. To work towards a more compassionate and just society; one where everyone, despite hardships, gets the love and support they deserve. As a case in point, the singer supports the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a non-profit educational organization, which provides scholarships to deserving young people who have demonstrated integrity and determination in overcoming adversity. More information at www.horatioalger.org.
Don’t miss the singer’s 2nd Public Television Special, “Live at the Acropolis” that will be aired this June on PBS stations across the USA; featuring a performance with Australian superstar Tina Arena.
By Rose Aljure