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Be INspired – Perlee

In the third of our Be INspired series where we ask artists, writers, performers, and makers to share with us what inspires them to create, we spoke to musical duo Saramai Leech and Cormac O’Keeffe of Perlee.

Saramai and Cormac are part of Solstice Arts Centre's Associated Artists Programme and use their voices, synthesisers and strangely tuned guitars to make music. It is said that their slow melodies and harmonious lyrics have ‘a visual cinematic form’ and in their interview below they explain how they are inspired by personal experiences, films, poetry, books and nature.  

You can also listen to their music, take part in some creative activities and tell us how you have been inspired by their musical harmony’s.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do:

We are a band called Perlee. We are from Navan, Co. Meath but we live in Berlin, Germany now.


What area of the arts do you work in?

We are musicians and songwriters. Our music is described as Dream Pop (a type of music where the listener is immersed or absorbed in the musical experience) or Slowcore (downbeat melodies, slow tempos)


How long have you been working in this area of the arts?

We have both been playing instruments and singing since we were in primary school. We started playing in bands and song writing when we were about 14. Saramai played classical piano up to grade 8 and took classical singing lessons. Cormac had some guitar classes but was mostly self-taught and developed his own style from learning songs he loved and playing gigs.


What materials or instruments do you use to create your music?

Cormac plays electric and acoustic guitar. He uses a lot of guitar pedals to affect the sound of his electric guitars. Saramai plays piano and other keyboard synthesisers that have many different types of sounds but are played like a piano. We both sing and love to use harmony when we sing together.


What or who inspires you?

Inspiration can come from anywhere really. It can be a book we are reading, a film we watched, a gig or concert we have attended or something somebody says in a conversation. Also, we take huge inspiration from the natural world. And of course, if something happens to us in our personal lives, or in the news, good or bad, this can form the inspiration for a song.


How do you start a new piece/body of work or how do you explore a new theme?

a) Picking a theme – carrying a notebook or using your phone to store ideas is really important for us. We collect little ideas or thoughts and usually a few of these small ideas are the beginning of a song. Sometimes we do not know what the theme is until we explore it more. It might be a few words that go together, a short melody, or an image that is the starting point for a song.

b) Research – because we are trying to make something new, we try not to write a song exactly like something else we have heard. That said, listening to lots of music, reading books, learning about musicians you like is all really important for informing your own art. Also, it helps you learn how to create a sound you like or to understand how a certain feeling was created.

c) Documentation – We work on an idea and make recordings on our phones. We write more lyric ideas in notebooks and flesh out the initial 'spark' or idea into something a bit longer. Most of what we write and play at the early stages does not make the final song. We just try different things, even silly ideas to explore the options. It is really important for us at this stage not to judge anything too harshly. Otherwise you would never get anywhere! As the song takes more shape and we have a chord structure, a verse melody, a chorus melody and lyrics then we start to make a 'demo' recording. This 'demo' is a 'work in progress'. It helps us better hear what we are doing. Then we might try different approaches and 'demo' a new version then.

d) Collaboration – Once we feel the song is capturing that idea or feeling we wanted then we record it. We go to a recording studio where there is an engineer or producer to help with the recording part and we can focus on playing our instruments and singing. Often, we layer up more parts in our own studio or ask other musicians to contribute a part and we add this in. We often collaborate with drummers and bass players. Collaboration is exciting as other people have different ways of seeing things. On a band level we collaborate in terms of our song writing and in developing our sound.


Do you have any advice for those reading this?

We have spent a long time experimenting with our sound and this time has been really important for us as a band. Always have a notebook or some way of writing down or recording an idea that you have. Usually just before you fall asleep you will have a great idea! Do not be critical of your work when you are at the beginning of the creative process. Wait until you have something finished before you think, 'How can I make this better?' Discover art and artists that you like and find out how they make their art. Trust your gut and your own taste.

Listen to Perlee's Music


Musical Mark Making

Music can create emotions for the listener. It can tell you a story, make you feel happy or sad, excited or scared. Have you ever listened to music with your eyes closed and imagined what it is telling you?

Taking inspiration from the melodies and sounds Saramai and Cormac create and to celebrate National Drawing DayGo big and stay home” on Saturday 16 May 2020, make marks and pictures to music, transforming the notes you hear into colourful lines, shapes and patterns.

You will need a device for listening to music such as a laptop or phone, paper (the bigger the better), your notebook and a range of colours to draw with such as colouring pencils, markers, crayons or chalk.


Create a space where you can move around. Have your range of colours, sheets of paper or notebook ready. Sit and listen to some of Perlee’ s music. Play it again and think about how it makes you feel.

Next time you listen, choose a colour you feel that suits the music. For example, yellow maybe a happy colour, purple may be sad, there is no right or wrong colour to choose, it is up to you. Use big sheets of paper, stand up, move around your page, move your whole body while listening to the music. Change colour and do it again. You can do this as often as you like, drawing over and over your marks or using new sheets or pages of your notebook each time.

Using different coloured paper will also change your mood and what colours you choose.

Turn on the radio and listen to other music. Is this music faster, slower, louder or softer than Perlee? Do the drawing exercise again, creating more and more music inspired marks on your page.


Saramai and Cormac’s songs are inspired by their personal lives, things happening in their environment ‘or what’s in the news, good or bad’.

Why not try:
  • On your musical mark making drawings, reimagine the shapes as something magical, add eyes, ears, a nose or tail, creating musical creatures inspired by the sounds you hear.
  • Using words to describe your colours, begin a story inspired by the song lyrics, see on your paper or hear in conversations around you.
  • In your notebook describe how you are feeling or what is going on in your life today? Use colours to describe how you feel about being at home or how you will feel when you see and meet your friends again soon.


Patterns in Song, Patterns in Nature –

Saramai and Cormac mention how they are inspired by nature. Living in the Kells countryside before moving to Berlin, the beauty and sounds of the natural world there inspired their music making. In music patterns are found in the notes sung or produced by different instruments, like a drum beat or cords on a guitar. Nature produces visual, living patterns in incredible colours and forms. The Fibonacci sequence, the biggest mathematical mystery in nature, highlights regular patterns in the arrangement of leaves, branches, flowers or seeds in plants. If you look you can find these patterns everywhere.


Using notebooks or their phones to store ideas, Saramai and Cormac ‘collect little ideas or thoughts and usually a few of these small ideas are the beginning of a song’.

For this activity you will need your notebook, pen, pencil, crayons or colouring pencils, greaseproof paper, a mobile phone (ask permission if you need to borrow one) 


Found patterns –

Collect or take photographs of as many patterns you can find such as cracks in the ground, tiles on a wall, hidden in fruit or vegetables or even on your clothes. You may decide to only look for patterns in man-made things, nature or both. If you can, make pencil or crayon rubbings of them in your notebook. If your paper is to thick use greaseproof paper (for baking), cut out your pattern and stick it into your notebook.


Visual patterns –

Look for the Fibonacci sequence in house plants, seashells or in the garden. Look closely at the repeated patterns, take photographs or draw them in your notebook. It is amazing what nature can do!

Musical patterns –

If you or a member of your family plays an instrument or can read music, follow the patterns made by different types of music, trace the lines, rhythms, dots and dashes on music scores of your favourite tunes or songs together.


Thought Experiments – small ideas, big discoveries

‘We write lyric ideas in notebooks …we just try different things, even silly ideas to explore the options’ – Saramai


Albert Einstein used ‘thought experiments’, questions that can only be answered by the imagination, in an attempt to solve problems. It is said he asked himself what it would be like to travel on a beam of light and thus began his exploration of the theory of relativity.  His ‘silly idea’ became an important discovery. Inventors, explorers, scientists, artists and musicians all use imaginative thoughts to explore and develop their ideas and creation of their work or artform.


You will need your notebook and a pen or pencil

Ask yourself questions about things that interest you, things that can only be answered through your imagination.

For example:

  • What if I lived in a painting?
  • What if I had the power to fly?
  • What if I could touch the moon?


Add magical powers and stories to things you found or collected with patterns.

For example:

  • The veins in a leaf – what if they were really tiny roads built and inhabited by tiny beings
  • A magic pinecone that releases its flying seeds that can carry you places
  • Petals on a flower that play music like piano keys

Write these thoughts in your notebook, add to them, draw pictures and think about how they could develop into poems or rhymes. Put some together, discover more and these could be the beginning of your own songs.

‘Discover art and artists that you like and find out how they make their art’ – Saramai


Ideas come and go so take note, they may pop up at unusual times. It may be just as you are drifting off to sleep, in your dreams or while you are watching TV so always carry your notebook with you, keep it by your bed or in your pocket so you can write down your ideas as they happen.

Remember to keep exploring

Keep asking questions.

Keep collecting

Be silly.

Be imaginative

Be INspired


Let us know how you have been inspired by Perlee and their music. Send us a photo of what you have added to your notebook or created and if you created a BIG picture for National Drawing Day. You can email a photo to or send it to us on Facebook Messenger with your first name and we can inspire each other on our creative journey.

Next week we will share some creative inspiration from local Meath artist Annabel Potterton, who has exhibited her artworks on numerous occasions at Solstice and was won the 2019 Solstice Visual Arts Award at the opening of the eight annual SURVEYOR exhibition in November last year.


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