“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali’s view may seem cynical, but he’s not wrong. No matter how hard you try, you can’t control it all. Chasing perfection will only take you further from the goal. Life is messy and overwhelming and beautiful and exhilarating and everything in between, but it’s not perfect. So too is Perfectionism, the latest album from Hotel Mira released via Light Organ Records.
While the lyrics are clearly chosen meticulously, and the music itself is arranged with care, it tackles the messiest, most vulnerable parts of being human. In embracing the less shiny moments, Hotel Mira has encapsulated what it feels like to be alive and imperfect. I chatted with vocalist Charlie Kerr about chaos, serendipity, and the making of their latest album.
How’s your day going?
I’m all right, man. Just writing and drinking coffee and watching YouTube. I ostensibly have a day off, so it’s not exactly the place where I flourish most… not having a deadline or something to do. So I’m trying to take it easy, I guess.
That’s essentially how I’ve been living lately, trying to find work to fill the time. Isolation has had me reckoning with how much of my identity I put into how much I work.
It’s a mess. I mean, that nearly killed me. Not to be dramatic, but yeah. My entire life was just who I was as an artist and what I could accomplish in that field. It’s just so radically unsustainable.
I think this industry is especially bad for that. And pushing people to a point where they’re like, “if you’re not working 24/7, we’ll find someone who will,” and it’s why everyone burns out and moves to a different career where they can make decent money without this stress.
Yeah. Before the success of Perfectionism, I was really considering other things that I could do. It had gotten really, really painful.
It’s not a sustainable way to live. And especially, I think for artists like yourself, it’s hard when you put so much of yourself into a project and then people are saying, “keep going, keep doing this, put yourself out there more.” How do you ever turn off?
Yeah, especially ’cause I have that tape playing in my head anyway saying “How do I top that? How do I go deeper?” Once I’ve explored something in this song, or even the technicalities of song structure, I’ve got a really weird thing in my head that tells me, “you never want to do the same thing twice or do a variation on something you’ve done before.” That pressure adds up. I understand the realities and the whole thing, but I definitely don’t need people telling me to go deeper and to go further. I’ve got enough of that.
Well, as you mentioned, Perfectionism is doing very well so far. Congratulations. I know you got it out pre-pandemic, which is good because most artists now have been scrambling over what to do with their albums.
It’s a big question mark for everybody other than Taylor Swift, I guess. It’s obviously a bummer that the thing this band does best is on hold, which is playing live and connecting to people in person. But I’m grateful for my health and to see how some of the online reach can happen. Certain days, I even question if the world or the zeitgeist or the status quo needed to get as grim as it did for my music to make sense on a national level.
It’s kind of weird how the universe puts things in line, right? It’s like these things had to happen in succession.
Yeah. That’s how I like to think of it: some sort of serendipity or order over complete chaos. Whether it is true or not, I like to think that things happen for a reason.
Yeah. Me too. Especially when the alternative is, as you said, complete chaos.
Yeah. Which is fair too. That was comforting to me in a different way when I was really upset at times in my life with how chaotic things were. And then I think I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and that made me see things as really absurd and chaotic and everything is horrible, beautiful, hilarious and grim at the same time. I held onto that for a while and I think I’m getting through that phase as well now. I’m somewhere in between.
There are so many phases to go through right now, and to also be processing putting out such a great album. One that you’ve clearly been working on for a while, since “Jungle” came out back in 2018.
Good point. That was the beginnings of a few different things that we were trying. That was a song that I wrote and it felt incredibly special.
Did you write it alongside the other songs from the record or was it recorded over a longer stretch of time?
The first one I wrote for this album was around the time of the EP. I remember I’d watched the Oasis documentary, and me & Mike were secretly super into Oasis for a few weeks. I was like, “I think I wrote a big Oasis chorus,” and he was like, “alright, show it to me.” It was “The Eyes On You”. And that set a precedent for other things we could explore towards something more, I suppose, pop leaning. I’ve always felt like I made pop music, but with the themes of this album and wanting nothing to be out of place. That and pop music, I thought it was an interesting marriage to combine the structure of pop music and pop production, and then combine that with some of the most human shameful parts of myself.
I was going to say this album has more of a power pop sound, but then in contrast, the lyrics are a lot darker and a lot more vulnerable. Did you go into the record planning to be more open and “heart on your sleeve” with the writing?
I fell in love for the first time, or rather I was with somebody who I really felt taught me the meaning of safety in a romantic relationship, as well as unconditional love. It really did a number on me. When you experience something that amazing for the first time, it makes you look at the rest of everything leading up to that and think, “wow, I never realized how fucked up these other things were,” or what have you. I think that’s kind of the genesis. A lot of the vulnerability of the record was really that my world was being turned upside down by the idea that I could be loved and I was worth loving and that made me kind of… I don’t know, like for a song like “Speaking Off The Record”, I felt more invincible than ever.
So I was able to dig deep and talk about all these things that I swore I’d never address publicly, just in fear of what people would say. Or if the people I was singing about who attacked me or whatever would come after me and one way or another tell me that their experience of those events was different. So I was genuinely terrified to release a couple of these songs, but the safety of having someone love me or what I perceived to be an unconditional love made me feel like I could risk the idea of everyone else hating me, I guess.
That’s beautiful. It’s like the clarity of being able to address those feelings and how you see yourself and perceive things around you made you more clear in your lyrics and how you communicate as well. It’s very cool.
I’d like to think so. The editing process goes right up until I’m singing in the microphone. I’m like, how do I say that better? How do I say that more concise? But this record definitely had a few moments where it felt like it cost a lot. We were making it under these difficult circumstances of seventeen 12+ hour days in a row. That was how we recorded nine of the songs on the album. So I was dealing with the moral and ethical ideas of making a record like this and wanting to be respectful of my ex’s privacy, but also wanting to express myself and… that strange dance as an artist of cannibalizing these experiences and turning them into songs.
And the fact that there’s a universe where that does more harm than good if you’re not careful. I was really afraid that no one would like it and that this person would still be hurt, and no one would have benefited from it other than me on some level in an egotistical way. I was completely freaking out over that existential problem. And the entire time I was making the record, I was like, “I don’t even know if this is a good idea.” So it’s been amazing for everyone to connect to it as much as they have, and having had people come out of the woodwork who I haven’t seen in ages and tell me that some of the more “heart on the sleeve” songs really mean something to them.
It’s a big part of my life for sure. But on a macro level, I think it’s a big part of culture and doing everything we can to avoid our humanity and seek perfection and avoid vulnerability. But then we also notice that when anybody else does it, we we want to champion it and we think it’s the coolest thing in the world. So it’s a strange juxtaposition.
I think this album connected with a lot of people and I think in no small part, it’s multiplied by the fact that we’re all going through a lot. Especially while isolating, you have a lot of time to think about things.
Yeah. Not to be a historian of my own music or something, but I think that’s an ongoing theme when I look back. Just wanting to make music for outcasts and people who feel lonely and discarded and isolated. If you feel terminally unique in any sort of way, this music hopefully can be used to make you consider that more people feel like that than not.
I love that term, terminally unique.
I definitely stole it.
I’ve found that while isolating, my music taste has totally changed. I’ve had to rework all the playlists I listen to. Do you have anything you’ve been going back to a lot lately?
I really loved Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers is probably my favourite songwriter these days. The new Fiona Apple album came out this year, I thought that was really cool. Oh my god, I love the new Strokes album. That was really amazing to me. I thought that that was probably their coolest album since First Impressions.
Wait, was that only this year??
Yeah, man. Dude. Dude, it was… it was 30 years ago, but it was also March.
I have zero concept of time anymore, I have to go back and make a map of when everything happened.
I wouldn’t blame you. Things fall by the wayside when there’s, you know, an awe inspiring civil rights movement and a pandemic, I think you have to treat everybody with these very gentle approaches because if you make it through the day with your sanity, it’s been a good day. Being very on top of things is not something that I feel I can ask of anybody right now.
Yeah. It’s mostly just getting through things and remembering that this is something we’ve never faced before in our lifetime. So it’s okay to not be at full productivity all the time.
I’m really glad that for a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to figure out what life would be like if I wasn’t trying to be a musician and just trying to enjoy my life outside of those things. I made that a priority not long ago. And it has been probably the best foundation for living under these circumstances that I could have asked for. So that was amazing serendipity.
I locked into doing the hard work of trying to enjoy things in between projects because I truly used to have an attitude of… kind of judging people who stopped to smell the roses and could enjoy nice weather. ‘Cause I would just be like, “What the fuck are you doing? You could be writing a song right now,” y’know? And I was jealous of that for sure. I’m really happy that I tried to learn how to do that.
Your timing could not have been better.
The serendipity of that is so cool.