Little Man’s new six-song EP might be called Orbital Amusements, but it’s grounded in swampy, earthy riffage like nothing the band has done before. That’s neither a bad thing, or an unrecognizable shift: The crunchy, swirling, and psychedelic ’70s sound of T. Rex and Led Zeppelin is still there in guitarist and songwriter Chris Perricelli’s playing, and the George Harrison-esque, Zen Buddhist-inspired spirituality in his lyrics is as strong as ever. But Amusements thunders in a whole new way, thanks to the the jolt of creative electricity Perricelli got when his restless muse found a new way to make noise via—technical guitar-geekery alert—a new set of custom-made guitar pedals. With a new, more propulsive rhythm section in bassist Brian Herb and drummer Sean Gilchrist, Little Man’s sound is now flavored with a thick grunge-metal that Gilchrist jokingly but memorably describes as “dirty rumble beefy.” Little Man plays an album-release show for Orbital Amusements at the Turf Club on Friday, May 27 with The Rockford Mules—and onstage accompaniment by, appropriately enough, a pair of hula-hooping dancers, The Cosmonettes. Before the show, The A.V. Club talked with the band about how the new songs grew out of both cutting-edge tech and old-school spiritual symbology.
The A.V. Club: Considering the album title and the Cosmonettes, I have to wonder—is Orbital Amusements a concept album about hula hooping?
Chris Perricelli: No, not at all. [Laughs.] But it works with space and orbiting and sexy girls and bodies moving and gyrating. So that’s good.
AVC: What inspired you toward the heavier sound on Orbital Amusements?
CP: The music’s still coming from the same spot it always has. It’s just that this is more of a modern record than anything I’ve done.
Brian Herb: One of the first things that jumped out at me is that Chris didn’t want to play any old songs. He said, “I’ve got this basket of new stuff. This has to happen now.” That was really inspiring.
CP: I wanted to work with new sounds, but I didn’t have the equipment to do it and I was wondering where it was going to come from, how was I going to change the sound to some way that it’s never been. And then I met Zach [Vex, Minneapolis-based founder of custom guitar-pedal company Z.Vex.] The tones that I was getting from those pedals and effects just made me want to write massive riffs. It consumed me—seriously, I had a hard time falling asleep. First thing in the morning, I’d plug in and riff off them for a while. I’d come back to them at the end of the day, and in the night just think about them. I couldn’t get my mind off them. It really catapulted the songs to where they are now.
AVC: How did the new equipment change your songwriting?
CP: It’s a thicker sound that I’ve never used before. It evoked dirt and mud and darkness, a darker side of spirituality. It just brought this stuff out of me. Just like in Buddhism, making you look really deeply inside yourself, and peeling away the onion, getting back into your original self. There’s a lot of dirt in there. Hearing these [guitar] sounds made me think about it, [and] I was able to write lyrics that were making me feel that way.
AVC: That theme really stands out in “The Tower,” which I assume is titled after the tarot card.
AVC: You’ve talked before about finding inspiration in tarot cards. The song describes the same scene as the card, with lightning striking a tower, which crumbles—it’s a symbol of being forced to re-evaluate your life, whether or not you wanted to.
CP: Yes, it’s a forced change. It’s the rug being pulled right out from under your feet. You were happy, you’re all set, and then something happens that forces you to see things a little differently and reassess and start from nothing. Your ego’s just been totally smashed. And “The Shadow” is the same sort of deal—it’s [about] facing reality, not escaping, but facing. Most people have a very difficult time dealing with reality, you know? Including myself. It’s difficult to stay here [touches his chest] and not be escaping from whatever.
AVC: It’s interesting that you say they’re dark lyrics, because the viewpoint expressed in the song is not dark, but optimistic. It’s about growing into the light. It’s not a Nine Inch Nails song.
CP: No, or a Black Sabbath deal either. That’s where it comes from, but it doesn’t stay there. It grows. [...] The lotus flower is the perfect symbol for what this album is all about. It grows in the mud—it’s got its roots there. It grows up and through the water and [becomes] a beautiful flower. It’s a very cosmic-sounding record, but at the same time, it’s very inward-looking as well.