Elvis Perkins’ third record was supposed to be simple. In 2012, the rootsy singer-songwriter planned to record an acoustic album by himself in just a couple of days.
“I don’t know why I thought I would be able to restrain myself,” Perkins says.
Three years later — and six since his previous album, the full-band “Elvis Perkins in Dearland” — Perkins finally put out his third record, “I Aubade,” in February.
He recorded much of the album — released through his own label, MIR — at his home in New York. The 39-year-old worked without a producer or a band — and with no one to tell him whether a particular song was finished or not.
“I tinkered for quite a while. Months would pass where I couldn’t really bring myself to open the computer files, to face the productions,” Perkins says.
Editing is where Perkins spent much of his time. With the ability to cut, paste and overdub freely, Perkins kept building on his intimate, demo-like recordings, adding weird sounds like the telephone, a farm animal toy and a gourd. (He also enlisted other musicians for occasional contributions.)
“I did a little painting while I was living in Santa Fe, N.M., about 15 years ago and it felt a bit like that process,” Perkins says of editing. “I did cake a lot of sounds onto these recordings and then I found myself — you can’t really de-cake on a painting, but you can cover over or black out. And so I did a lot of caking and then once it was all caked, I realized that some of it needed to be taken away. So the editing process was just as intensive as the recording process.”
This week, Perkins returns to the road for his first proper tour since 2010, one that will bring him to Sixth and I in Washington on Tuesday.
Touring means Perkins is now faced with the task of bringing the songs he spent years fussing over to life onstage — while revisiting cuts from “In Dearland” and 2007’s “Ash Wednesday” that he hasn’t played in years.
“The whole business of touring itself is a bit mind-boggling,” says Perkins, who will be joined by two of his multi-instrumentalist friends on the road. “To have to confront these old versions of yourself, which produced these things and then resurrect them nightly. Even some of the songs from the new record seem too preoccupied by some spirit or energy that at times can feel alien to me.”
In fact, Perkins still feels like he’s figuring out “I Aubade,” easily his oddest album yet. That process will likely continue as he plays these songs on the road.
“Sometimes I listen to [the album] now and it sounds like I still don’t know what it is,” he says. “Sometimes it just sounds like a random collection of sounds. For the most part, I think it’s interesting and I think it’s singular and I think it’s strange, in a cool way.”
Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW; Tue., 8 p.m., $18-$20.
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