PERISH Talks Mental Illness and Raw ‘No Way Out': Video Premiere
"The waters rise, and there's no way out," singer-songwriter PERISH laments in her powerful new video for "No Way Out," illuminating the struggle of anyone suffering from mental illness.
The visual, which ends with a moving PSA, taps into the struggle of bipolar disorder and depression. Filmed over three days in Hollywood, Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, PERISH plays in "the concept of opposites," she says. "We have the dark city night then the bright desert day. So, we put a pool in the middle of the desert. The fact that it rained out of nowhere in the middle of the desert on our last evening of shooting was serendipitous."
Alongside counterpart Max Gray Wilbur (How to Get Away with Murder), PERISH is seen running for her life, but the meaning is far more metaphorical than skin deep. "It would have been too easy to make a line by line Bonnie and Clyde story line," the singer shares. "While my character did steal a Bentley, the lovers were running from themselves and their lives more so than that of the theoretical police."
For aesthetic inspiration, she turned to Pinterest and Instagram to comb for "the most repetitive styles or symbols" (grungy neon signs, raw portraits, faded colors in the desert). "The story started writing itself really," she says. "I then fleshed it out into a script (minus dialogue) and left room for on-the-spot inspiration and adjustments. It wasn't until I looked through the script for the first time after writing it that I discovered that was the song's story the whole time."
Below, PERISH opens up about mental illness, the video's significant imagery and falling in love.
What does some of the imagery, such as the burning rose and the mirror house, represent?
I never fit into a single category pool. Instead, I always hung out in the middle, taking turns dipping a toe into either side, included yet somehow completely isolated. It became hard understanding identity, especially in a society that needs labels to function. It was around 18 (I'm 26 now) when I then found character in being a personified juxtaposition. To the stranger's eye, I was this "pretty" girl (or rose), but all the while, I felt so dead inside. Shortly after that, my sister and I spontaneously got matching dying rose tattoos. Little did I know then that that would be the last time I saw her alive. Given its weight and permanence on me, my obsession with dead roses only grew with time and become part of my identity and style.
The mirror house (and other mirror moments) all stemmed from the idea of perspective (which is also another tattoo of mine). Never being able to escape that feeling of "limbo," I became really good at reading people and then mirroring whichever side of whichever trait they desired. I seem to be easier to digest that way. Let me be clear, though, I've never tried to be someone I'm not, but I have created a habit of taking one part of myself and molding it until it becomes full body armor.
The confrontation of my bare, literal and metaphorical, self in the mirror is actually the real climax of the story.
What was the chemistry like between you and Max Gray Wilbur?
Max and I got along famously, which was crucial for bringing him into the project. I had met him while helping out a student project earlier in the year; I was getting some rust off of the ol' acting chops and he was playing my opposite. I'd only ever done theatre and musicals growing up, and after being on so many movie sets since moving to LA, I was curious about getting back into film acting. When it came time to cast, I more or less had my mind already set on him. I knew we already had onscreen chemistry, and he was one of the few genuine people I had met since moving here. Seeing his reaction to me explaining the premise of the video was hook, line and sinker. He believed in it and its purpose.
What role did he play in helping you tell your harrowing story?
Max honestly was my backbone while shooting. We had "a script," but most of the footage is us improving in the moment. And again, I've never thought of myself as an actress, so having someone I could trust was critical. I was caught somewhere between being this character in this story line, while also feeding off of my real memories...I was in a delicate mindset, but he made it safe. Plus, he didn't mind my incessant repeat playing of Dermot Kennedy the entire shoot. He quickly started singing along, too.
Did you make conscious decisions to play with color, from moody neons to bright, poolside glows?
It was very intentional. I wanted it to be obvious when there were these shifts between opposites. Her in the passionate reds and pinks (her more manic side) is a different person from her in those blue depression moments. When we were shooting her writing in her notebook as he sleeps, the lights were on a cycle changing through the whole spectrum, as how she would be cycling through her whole spectrum internally.
The clean slate of the desert was where we found that middle ground, where she was battling shifting from one to the other until it left her simply washed out.
Suffering from bipolar disorder and depression, what is your day-to-day like?
I wish I had an easy answer for that. Honestly, I never know who I will be when I wake up most days. After dealing with insurance issues, I've been off my mood stabilizing medication since I moved to LA nine months ago. And it has truly been the toughest nine months of my life. After shooting the music video, I actually went into a deep, deep spiral, probably the worst of my life. There were several weeks that I woke up with a panic attack every single morning. I had to start scheduling to wake up hours earlier than I needed to so that I would have time to calm down and hopefully carry somewhat of a normal day.
Some days, I emotionally blackout, remembering only flashes of things that terrified me. But nothing scares me more than when I can't even stand to listen to music. That's when I know I'm just the shell of myself.
Reversely, my mania can be quite addictive. Mania removes the sense of consequence. It removes the idea of permanence. I designed my entire website one night because I was manic and couldn't sleep for days.
How do you cope?
Music. Art. I'd be lying if I didn't mention drugs and alcohol. Just like in the video, they play a factor on either side of my swing. Medication helps, when you have it. But medication also changes you. Those who've been through similar struggles will understand this. There's a switch in you that turns off. As an artist, that switch terrifies me because it's what allows me to be an artist, to be a creator. In order to do what I do, I have to feel everything to the utmost degree...Every artist or genius is some sort of crazy. Without going into the science of it all, it's a fine line of finding what waters down the world enough to drink, but stops before you feel as if you're just floating through your own life...
Since beginning these deeper mental struggles in LA, I've begun writing (and self producing) my sophomore release. The core of it is focused on my mental battles, putting a microphone to the civil war going on inside my head. The first single, "Wonderland," will come out this winter. I have to admit, though, it wasn't until shooting this video that I remembered why I've chased down this silly dream for so long. Music saved my life. I started making music so I could do the same for someone else.
When did you learn you were bipolar, and what's your journey been like?
I've been a sad girl with a smile on her face for as long as I can remember, but I didn't have a diagnosis until I was 23. As I'd mentioned, I always felt different. I noticed everything. I felt everything. I can feel changes in people's moods in a way I can almost physically touch. I later came to understand that as being an empath. I didn't know how to deal with these constant surges of emotion, so I "flipped my switch" and shut myself off from the world, isolating myself whenever possible. I surrounded myself with sounds more than people.
I also didn't have a white-picket-fence childhood. I had an absent father, a cancer-surviving, working-class, single mom, and an also bipolar older sister who fell heavy into drugs and alcohol before high school. We lost her to an overdose five years ago. In my mind, I had reasons to be sad; I had villains to make me a victim. It wasn't until after college that I noticed that there were no more villains, but I was still busy fighting a war. It turned out that the war was actually just against myself.
Has it been easy to discuss your journey so publicly? Depression has such a stigma attached to it. What do you hope people learn with this song?
For most of my life, I've based my worth on the idea of being perfect. Being a woman in the entertainment industry, there's also an added unspoken pressure to be just that. Until this year, with all of the loss across the media, no one would talk about it. When Chester Bennington passed in July, something in me switched. All of my apprehensions about being too honest with such dark material vanished. Linkin Park was one of my biggest influences growing up. In fact, Hybrid Theory was the first guitar tab book I ever bought. Listening back, I was drawn to the pain in their music. It was his real pain, you can't fake that s---. That's what I mean by purpose. That's what I mean when I say every artist or genius is some level of insane. Only a couple weeks after he committed suicide, we started pre-production on the video.
This is why I'm writing this record. That's why I made this video. Mental illness is something impossible to understand unless you've lived it...
"No Way Out" also depicts you falling in love. How did that relationship develop while you were also going through mental illness?
Falling in love is what sent me into getting help. I don't think he realized just how serious my condition was until a few months of us living together here in LA, which was after two years of dating. It's funny to think about it now, because he didn't mean to...but he's what made me accept myself...
In the song, you sing, "you make me feel alive." Did the relationship help you mend?
I'm not sure there is such a thing as "mend." There is simply surviving. And for someone who survived by evading emotion, there is a tectonic shift of the body when you inject the most potent emotion, love, into the bloodstream. There will always be an earthquake, especially for someone who feels every emotion twenty-fold. It becomes dangerous rather quickly. He didn't know it then, but he joined my team of opposites... "He's the antidote and the disease / You make me feel alive, but you're killing me."
When did you write the song?
I wrote this song back in July 2015 after seeing the music video for The 1975's "Robbers." I was doing a different music project at the time, and we were writing for our first record. I just happened to meet my boyfriend around that same time. There is a scene where the two lovers kiss as he's bleeding out from a gunshot wound. They make out, both faces covered in his blood. I wrote "No Way Out" in ten minutes on my acoustic guitar after seeing that scene. There was something inescapable about that kind of connection.
At the time, I didn't care too much for the song. It seemed too easy to write. It seemed too literal and didn't have enough wordplay. In fact, I never wanted to cut the song, so I sat on it for two years.Then when it came time to start recording as PERISH, I was digging up old songs and everyone seemed to love it. Still apprehensive, I brought it to my producer Jon Santana in Nashville, and he suggested rewriting the bridge. I had already written the "you make me feel live, but you're killing me," but at the time, it was the only line in the bridge. At this point, over a year deeper into the relationship, the truer meaning of the song finally poured out. That meaning became even clearer when I was writing and filming the video for it.
If you or someone you know is suffering, please contact the National Alliance on Mental Health helpline at 1-800-950-6264.
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