By Shane Scott —
Waking up in the middle of a flight from Paris to New York, international singer George Perris scribbled onto a napkin, “Picture faith as an everlasting force that brings fulfillment and never becomes a weapon of prejudice.”
At the time, they were merely part of a stream trickling from the artist’s conscious. Today, they comprise the lyrics of Picture This, a transcendental song that Perris has performed in over 50 different venues all over the world, that projects an idealism that has opened the eyes of many.
Religio Magazine had the opportunity to speak with the singer about this song, in the midst of his busy schedule writing and composing his next album, at his New York apartment. As a representative of a magazine that focuses so strongly on mutual understanding and tolerance, I asked him about his Utopian ballad. Below is an interview dissecting his intent behind “Picture This” and the details of where his own mindset finds origin.
Religio Magazine: What inspired you to write “Picture This”? What were your thoughts behind this very unique song, and what influenced you?
George Perris: I have a feeling that we’re going through some very rough times around the world right now–existential, financially and globally. It has nothing to do with countries and religions but us as human beings.
I was reading about issues in my homeland in Greece, then some bombing in Syria or Palestine and I thought, Where am I? What is this world that I live in and how could it be better? If we changed these words to have meanings that weren’t as restrictive, if we changed faith into a word that wasn’t so restrictive and law into a word that doesn’t restrict us, if love guided us, real love not just the love between a man and a woman but between neighbors, between strangers, then the world we live in would be a different place.
The lyrics were too many. All of these words were bursting out of me and I thought I can’t put all of that into a verse course song. I didn’t want to sing this. I was trying to convey the thoughts in my soul. Kind of like a five year old kid, a kid will just tell you what’s inside them–-that’s what I wanted to do, I just wanted to say it.
My friend, Marco Marinangeli, said, ‘Hey why don’t we put some music there?‘ And it worked. Then he had the Prague Symphony perform to it and we realized we were doing something great here.
RM: Can you elaborate on some lyrics that stood out in the song? Picture faith as an everlasting force that brings fulfillment and never becomes a weapon of prejudice. What were you thinking when you wrote these verses? Does it relate to your own personal views of faith?
GP: Just by looking at what’s happening around the world right now, it’s my understand that faith, which is religion, is supposed to be a beautiful thing. It has been turned into fanaticism. Peoples’ faith has been turned into a weapon against other people. I don’t agree with that. Faith is something personal, not something to use against someone else.
There‘s no point why Buddhism is better than Catholicism—-deep down, they’re all the same and about love. Of course people over history have taken advantage of religion and turn people against each other and I’m fighting against that.
I’m half French and half Greek. My father is Greek Orthodox and my mother is Catholic. My parents were very wise in that they didn’t raise me under any specific religion but with the specific phrase: “When you are 18 you will find what is best for you.” They trusted me to choose my own path.
I have my own relationship with what I choose to call God. It may not be a strict sense in a specific religion and I don’t want to restrict myself in that way. In specific moments in my life, I did find comfort that there’s someone up there, something that I can’t explain that will help me in difficult moments in my life and my career.
RM: Have you personally experienced any prejudice?
GP: Growing up in Greece in the 1980s and 1990s as a foreign kid, I did experience some sort of racism. I was a very odd kid. My friends would go out to play soccer and I would always be thinking about music and piano. They made fun of me. Now I understand it’s because they didn’t understand me—-but at the time, it hurt a lot. Even now sometimes when you’re in a foreign country, there is some prejudice you have to fight against. How you look, what you wear, how you smile, everything is put in prejudice and I think now people can succeed because they choose to go against that prejudice. You have no idea the things I’ve heard about myself from the business but it’s fine, we all go through it.
RM: And what were you thinking when you wrote: Picture a law made to protect our imperfections, perceived as a dancing end to intolerance and a lack of understanding?
GP: When I wrote this, another thing that I had in mind was marriage equality–-it didn’t exist at the time. Two very good friends of mine wanted to get married and they couldn’t. The law is made to protect us and not discriminate against us. What I meant by dancing is that the law should be a celebration. We’re all unique and different, but we all should be equal and the same as far as the law is concerned.
RM: Is there a hope you have for this in the world? What do you think could help to achieve something so great as world peace? As tolerance?
GP: We have a long way to go. Humanity has a long way to go. I would love to see children that will not be starving or ending up dead on seashores in my country as they have been. There are five year old kids ending up dead in the sea and I think that’s the most unfair thing in the world and we are all to blame. We are responsible for this; we did this. I would love to see that change. Whether it’s their political decisions, sexual behavior, anything–-no matter what, I would like to see people not judging each other. We’re all meant to live on this planet together. I know that sounds like a cliche answer but as long as we’re seeing children on this planet suffering, we are doing something wrong. In the last 10 or 20 years, very often we have turned love into something cliche or vulgar. We have turned love into something obsolete and it’s completely wrong. Love is the only source of brightness and it creates a bond among all human beings—it should never be considered less important.
RM: Is there anything else you are passionate about outside of music?
GP: I come from a very difficult childhood. My parents divorced when I was very young, five years old, and it was a very brutal divorce. It was very scarring for me and I drag that around. I want to help children.
Whenever I’m asked to sing for any association that has anything to do with children, I always say yes. A few years ago, I was introduced to Horatio Alger Association by a good friend.
What the association does is find students that come from a very difficult circumstance, such as poverty, and they offer them scholarships so that they can become what they want to be. They’ve offered millions of dollars to help many students.
I help them however I can. I do concerts for them and a percentage of the money from all my album sales and concerts go to them.
I’m also a passionate chef. I cook for my friends and we have huge dinners where we sit and eat and talk for four hours. I’m constantly away so whenever I’m back home getting together with my friends is my passion.
RM: Why write a song like “Picture This”?
GP: Music was the only thing that kept me alive. Music was the only thing that made me want to live and gave me strength to change everything. It gave me joy, it gave me hope and it gave me freedom. Looking back a few years ago, I’ve worked with people that I would have never imagined, I’ve sung at places that I would have never imagined. I‘m eternally grateful to my art because it really gave me freedom and hope.
One of the reasons why I sing and write these types of songs is because I want to influence people, I want to make a difference in their lives. I want people to remember my songs and be inspired to be the best of what they can be, to love more passionately, to love themselves more passionately. It’s a big ambition, but it’s something.
I only have one weapon and that is my art. I help through my music. Whether it’s my singing or performing for an event, that’s my means of doing what I can to help people around me.
Above any religion, we are human beings and that‘s what matters. I think we have to find the thread that ties us together. Before being Catholics or Buddhists, we are people, we are human and we are supposed to learn how to love each other independent of our beliefs. I believe in transparency beyond religion. If you look at my friends and all the people that I love, they come from all sorts of places and religions—I don’t care about one’s personal beliefs. I do care in the sense that I respect them, but I care more about that person’s intentions. And that’s why I wrote that song, because I want to know what’s beyond that.