Inhale, exhale

How a singer-songwriter’s autoimmune disease taught her a lesson in pausing for creative breath.

Watch Creative Londoners’ short film with Flo Perlin.

Meet Flo Perlin, a singer-songwriter and musician from the Borough of Haringey in London.

Flo writes, sings, and plays the guitar and cello.

Her music places you in the rhythms of Latin America, the coolness of a chamber music hall, and the warmth of an estival folk festival—all, somehow, simultaneously.

Flo’s extra-vocal technique (a soothing vibrato that seems to oscillate texture as well as pitch) does more than layer over the top of her strong instrumental writing: it also beds timbral colour and depth to her music’s very structure.

Flo grew up in north London. Her father is Belarusian and her mother is Iraqi.

Aged five, Flo started playing cello. Her father would always be playing classical music and, every Friday, she and her father would watch Later with Jools Holland, a TV show that features music artists.

Flo became fascinated with different genres and cultures of music, among them jazz, bossa nova, and the music of West Africa.

Flo also began guitar lessons. Her teacher taught her jazz. Being more adept at playing music by heart (rather than by sightreading), Flo found she could understand jazz by being taught in terms of patterns, shapes and colours.

Flo studied music at a prestigious, practical-music-focused university. But she soon found her univeristy was “not a safe space for me to create and to learn.”

“Many of the teachers were very harsh on the students. And a couple I would say were like the teacher in Whiplash.”

Flo’s mental health deteriorated. And she soon decided to leave her degree.

Flo left the UK to go travelling. She travelled to Israel and Palestine. She hitchhiked across the west coast of America. She visited Canada, Hawaii and India. She also travelled to Myanmar, where she was ordained as a nun.

After returning to London, something that happened to Flo would teach her that pausing to breathe, creatively, is not just permissible, but a necessary part of the creative process.

“It’s okay to give yourself time. It’s okay to just allow yourself to slow down. You don’t have to be writing consistently. You don’t have to be pushing yourself so hard.”

At 23, Flo was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. She spent much of her early 20s in and out hospital.

“I felt I didn’t really have the tools inside me. I felt a lot of despair at the time,” says Flo.

Flo learnt an important lesson in overcoming creative block.

Encouraged by the nurses at the hospital, Flo picked up the guitar and began to focus more and more energy on her songwriting.

She realised that passion for creative output does not have to be consistent. But that it is about recognising when you are in a period of inhaling life experiences and when you are in a period of exhaling (and sharing) life experiences.

Flo wrote a song called “Hold Up Your Head Child” (featured in above video). For Flo, the song was like a mantra for her recovery.

Now 28, Flo is setting back out to a life of gigs—a life which was paused in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Over the last year, Flo focused on releasing a new album, which includes the song “Hold Up Your Head Child”.

She recorded this at MAP Studio Café, in Kentish Town, north London.

The album, entitled Characters, was released earlier this month (July 2021).

One of the most crucial lessons Flo has learnt being a singer-songwriter in London is that it’s important to use the city but not let it use you.

“I think the best thing about London is all the hidden gems around the city. There’s so many little quiet spots that you can find amongst all this chaos. There’s quite a few little cafés that I love to go to and just write and sit in,” says Flo.

“Just being immersed in so much diversity and different types of music—it’s just something I really, really value…hearing different people’s stories and being able to have so many different experiences, all in one city.”


Find out more about Flo Perlin.

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