Street Life

St. Augustine musician and artist Alexis Peramas wields a passionate voice and a mean six-string. His lyrics are meaningful, his performances masterful. Peramas’ latest EP, Magic Beach, recorded under the moniker Cheap Suits, breathes new life into tired genres, namely new wave, soul and psychedelia. To wit, this is much more than just an homage to David Bowie and Michael Jackson. Peramas spoke with Folio Weekly about his career arc.

He began his musical career as a busker on the beaches of Avondale, New Jersey–if you count the Passaic River ‘beaches.’ The first traffic light to go green: He earned enough money to eat. “I didn’t know how I was going to pursue it,” he recalls. “I just remembered I played and I was satisfied, like, ‘Oh, man, I made a couple bucks to enjoy this moment because of music!’”

Once he relocated to St. Augustine, the languid local lifestyle started seeping into his songwriting. “It’s more laid-back than if I was living in a crazy, busier city,” Peramas explains.

Peramas dabbled in bands before christening himself Cheap Suits and going it (kinda) alone. “I just had a certain sound that I wanted to play for the longest time,” he says. “The only way I felt I could get it out properly was to sit down and do it myself, then invite people in to see who wanted to bring it to life.”

He develops ideas and records in a home studio, giving him maximum flexibility. The beauty of it: “being able to re-record 100 times or … when the idea strikes.”

Magic Beach is his debut five-track recording. It’s actually a concept album, a fictionalized, fly-on-the-wall account of life at the Magic Beach Motel. Still open for business, the Vilano Beach landmark is a kitschy, neon-lit throwback to the mid-century tourist boom. The art-deco structure has weathered the decades and now smacks of vintage decadence.

“When I pictured the storyline in my head,” Peramas says, “I imagined it’s, like, this seedy hotel with a bunch of characters who all have different stories, and you get to hear clips of that.”

The result is a kaleidoscope of moods that careens from genre to genre, from R&B to alternative to rock. “You could put on some songs and you can definitely dance or jump around and scream,” Peramas says. “Some other songs you might want to put on when you’re sad. I’d say the music is more of a way to process [life/tragedy/lost loves].”

In “Closer,” Peramas sings, “I said I don’t mind it/In fact it brings you closer to me when you drive it deep in to my chest.” When asked to explain, he says, “You think you have a closeness with someone and then that can easily not be the case or the wrong kind of closeness. It’s one of the more honest things I’ve written. I hope it’s not too emo, but I really poured myself into that one.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. A heavy dose of pop keyboards and attention to groove add bright color to the slices of life as, song after song, Peramas’ seedy motel patrons reveal themselves.

The record’s closing track, “Neon,” was recently released as a music video, with scenes filmed along Vilano Bridge, at local music venue Planet Sarbez and in a mysterious white room infused with a glowing haze of purple and yellow neon. Prepare for heartbreak and unanswered questions. The choice to film locally was deliberate. Peramas and a team of local artists and filmmakers sought to capture the flavor of the place–and celebrate the local scene.

Magic Beach is released through St. Augustine label Mecca Records, owned by local patrons Richard Lepre and Cole Helman. “This album is about this motel in my hometown,” Peramas says, “and to be able to work with those guys, a DIY label in the same town, felt right.”