"I'll tell you anything you want to know, just ask. I have nothing to hide."
Sometimes, life just does not go the way you plan. Some people get depressed about that and throw in the towel. Then there are people like PERNELL DISNEY, who learn to turn lemons into lemonade, with creativity, honesty, and aplomb. On his debut CD, SEVERN WAY, DISNEY unveils ten original songs that are the result of personal introspection after surviving some of fate’s more mischievous pranks thrown his way.
In late 2003 DISNEY experienced a rapid loss of vision. After many neurological exams and MRIs he was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. To add insult to injury, his insurance company rejected his claims saying that the disease was a preexisting condition. Now, despite being faced with thousands of dollars in uncovered medical bills, he still looks forward to 2006 as his break-out year. “Good things always tend to follow the really bad things that happen in my life. Let’s just hope it comes sooner rather than later.”
DISNEY knows a thing or two about bad things happening to good people. A native of Washington D.C., his earliest ambition was to play hockey in the NHL. At school, he participated in every hockey event and considered only colleges with strong teams that served as gateways to a professional career. Then one day in gym class, he inexplicably broke two fingers while doing simple chin ups on a bar. Shortly thereafter, the teen broke a major bone in his foot after stubbing his toe. Sent from doctor to doctor to find the cause of these surprising breakages, it was discovered that at the time, DISNEY was one of only 50 cases in history worldwide of males under the age of 15 with osteoporosis. He was ordered to give up hockey forever or risk death from a potential bone break that could cause irreparable internal damage.
His mother – an amateur painter and artist – and his father – a retired police officer who “taught himself to play guitar pretty well” – had always encouraged their son in his other passion… music. DISNEY started on the violin in fifth grade; that was replaced two years later when the music teacher needed someone to fill in on stand-up bass for the school orchestra. In high school, he picked up bass guitar in his freshman year until he got a six-string guitar as a present while a sophomore, and performed often with the George Mason University Symphony Orchestra while still only 16. “I was a huge U2 fan and learned every one of their songs right away but soon discovered I was so bad at playing covers that I had to start writing my own songs,” he recalls. By his junior year in high school, DISNEY had become the singer in his own band, rehearsing in his basement under the watchful ear of his mom. “Today she loves my music and has always been incredibly supportive but back then, she would smile and nod when we played while wincing at how awful we were early on,” he confesses. Still, those early bands were going nowhere fast and DISNEY would get discouraged. He credits his high school music teacher, still a good friend to this day, with recognizing his raw talents and relentlessly encouraging him to become a musician.
Following a brief stint at a local college where he majored in music and had, among his theory classes, some opera vocal training, DISNEY left the classroom behind in favor of playing in bars and clubs with a variety of bands. Chance meetings led him to go out on tour as a guitar tech for nationally signed acts such as Emmet Swimming and Dog’s Eye View who toured the US as opener for Matthew Sweet. “In 1996 I picked up the first Fountains Of Wayne CD, it encouraged me to trade in my acoustic guitar for the indie pop/rock sound,” DISNEY recalls, “and I set out to record some of my own songs.” Although that recording never saw the light of day, the young musician had struck up a friendship with former Dog’s Eye View member Tim Bradshaw, who later became the keyboard player for David Gray.
Just when you think things are finally going smoothly again, along comes another wild pitch to throw you off guard and railroad your plans. When the breakup of a three-year romance left him devastated, DISNEY was so depressed he was ready to give up music forever. Along came Bradshaw to the rescue with an invitation to try out his just-built new home studio in Rhode Island. Off went DISNEY with guitar in hand and a head filled with thoughts waiting to be born as tunes. “I write about things that happen to me, things I experience.” he says. The result of that first recording session turned into SEVERN WAY, DISNEY’s debut album in which Bradshaw had a hand producing and performing. With music described as “Dream Pop,” DISNEY has often been favorably compared to the likes of Duncan Shiek, Nick Drake, Dream Academy, Jeff Buckley and Neil Finn.
The songs on this freshman effort express the thoughts of an artist finding his way back from dark roads where doors have been slammed in his face, emerging back into the light and looking towards the future. "This is the first time I have ever been this honest with my writing, singing very detailed stories about my life.” DISNEY confesses. “I've really hung my heart on my sleeve with this one. Writing was my therapy, and I didn't have to spend $200 every week for an office visit!"
Take first single “Drive,” the video for which DISNEY himself did the camerawork and direction. “It’s saying ‘yeah, the relationship is over, I’m moving on’,” he reveals. “Next” expresses his feelings when his former girlfriend kept kicking him when he was already down, and “Snow” tells of cleaning the slate to start over and try to work it out. “Hours Awake” explores ambivalent feelings about dating a new girl and realizing he just wants to be friends while “Alone” stumbles upon the acceptance of being without a significant other. But not every song can be traced to lost love. “Midnight Detroit” harkens back to DISNEY’s ongoing passion for hockey, written after watching his favorite Washington Capitals lose to rival Detroit Red Wings. “The whole song just came to me after being awake for 28 hours straight and lying sleepless in a hotel bed.” He laughs. “Madeline” is an ode to his newborn niece; “I’m From Hollywood” was inspired by the late comedian Andy Kaufman who was “running away from his life, just like I was;” and “Time For Tea” uncovers how “I am always coming back to DC, that will always be my home.” The one song on the CD having nothing to do with a real situation is “Another Angel Song.” DISNEY explains: “I read the script for the movie ‘Dogma’ two years before the film was shot, and was deeply affected by it. This song was written about one of the characters whose views on religion are very similar to my own.”
All in all SEVERN WAY – named for a street in his own neighborhood - is an auspicious beginning for a singer/songwriter who is bound to go far.