Attending SXSW in Austin is quite the experience, one that will test the boundaries of your lack-of-sleep threshold, challenge your patience for traffic issues, and stretch the imagination as far as music-making goes. At a venue at 11:30pm waiting for a show that was set to begin at midnight, my inner old person was fighting to power through. I’m so glad I did because I had the chance to meet and watch Los Angeles-based artist GOTHIC TROPIC, who has been a sidewoman for massive artists, and who makes her own infectious brand of guitar-fueled artful indie pop.
Born Cecilia Peruti to academic and classically-trained musicians, she initially began her path as a visual artist. “My parents encouraged me to pursue fine art, none of us knowing that I liked music better,” she recalls. “My mom’s an opera singer and a vocal coach. She’s at UCLA, sort of a big cheese there. My dad is a composer-jazz guy-arranger. So, I approached music pretty much the opposite way–I played in punk bands,” she laughs. “But, they loved it. My mom introduced me to Bjork and YES–one of the first CDs I ever listened to over and over, because when you’re a kid, that’s what you do, was YES Fragile. That album probably influenced me subconsciously a lot.”
“I was late to theory. I was late to the academic aspects of guitar. The notes that I heard in my head, I could find them on the guitar,” she continues. “I started doing improv piano pieces that I would record on my mom’s tape recorder that she would use for voice lessons when I was like 12 or 13. I did a jazz rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ not even knowing what anything was. I could play it at a party that was the extent of that. I feel like I was smarter when I was a kid,” she laughs. “I was an impressive child and then when puberty hit, I was a trash human. just ruined by high school–the classic case of the rebellious kid, denying lessons from my mom that were free for me and worth like $300. I was like ‘No Mom. I’m not gonna learn anything from you!’ Now I study with her because she is so good,” she admits. “She’s helped me a lot.”
Though she knew that music had taken up residence in her soul, Peruti headed to art school to pursue her visual art aspirations–though it didn’t take long before she realized that music was indeed her path. “I was looking around the class at everyone sketching obsessively while I was listening to music thinking of ideas, so I realized I didn’t have the passion for it,” she reveals. “I quit art, started a band, and let it take me wherever the tide would take me. I got asked to play guitar in a band and that was when I started playing as a hired gun, right out of high school.” In fact, she has been a “hired gun” for artists like Beck, Charlie XCX, and BØRNS, soaking up every experience and becoming a formidable player in the process. “When you go to someone else’s house, you want to clean and help out. You want to help clean their house, you don’t want to clean your house. That’s the sensation I have with bands,” she laughs. “When it depended on me doing well for someone else, it made me better really quickly. If I’d been left my own devices, I probably would not have had the self-discipline. It really helped me get good real fast. I feel like it’s helped me learn how to serve other artists’ visions,” she adds.”When I hire players for my band, I know what it’s like. I know what to expect and I know what’s possible, so it’s really cool to have both perspectives. With Beck, I’m just absorbing everything he says creatively, all his creative direction, all his ideas. He’s hilarious and he’s just very graceful and nice, so I’m just a sponge right now and have been watching what to do what not to do,” she says. “It’s really cool to compartmentalize everything and apply it to GOTHIC TROPIC because those artists, without knowing it, have taught me a lot.”
Though she still was tearing up the scene in other bands, Peruti was apprehensive about sharing her own music with the world. “I started secretly making my own music because I was so shy and not confident. I started playing out in L.A., acoustic folk songs. I went through every genre and I ended up here which is sort of like an amalgamation of pop and pre-punk post-rock,” she explains. “The album that I just put out last year was all indie pop songs; I’m writing and recording new songs now and I’m in between touring with Beck on guitar and vocals. When I’m home, I’m doing my thing, and when I’m out there, we have a lot of free time so I can work on my stuff on the side.”
It’s almost midnight and time for this multi-faceted gem of an artist to hop on stage and workshop some new material for the eager SXSW crowd. “It’s a little different than Fast or Feast but it’s still guitar-heavy pop songs set in a vintage sort of production world,” she remarks and compares her new work to the songs on her recently-released EP. “It’s naaaaaasty,” she snarls. “I’m stoked.”