Los Angeles musician Pearl Charles is touring the west coast…and we’re tagging along.
I first saw Pearl Charles perform at the Mercury Lounge, the legendary New York venue, and fell smitten immediately. She’s an effortlessly cool girl with impeccable style and an insouciant attitude — a true bohemian. She wore a vintage dress. Her hair, dark and disheveled, swung carelessly from side to side as she grooved to her band jamming behind her. The tambourine she held in her clapping hands danced with every beat. Even in the darkness of the large room, Pearl radiated light. I confessed this to her when I met her again. “Aww, I’m blushing! I love performing because I can really lose myself in the moment. Though I thrive off the audience’s energy, when I am onstage singing and playing, everything else pretty much falls away and it is really a feeling of complete bliss.”
Now, two years later, we join Pearl for a leg of her tour as she travels the west coast with her new album. Though only in her early twenties, she has long been around the music scene. She’s toured with Father John Misty and Rooney and has played alongside the Blank Tapes and the Driftwood Singers. Now, she steps out entirely on her own with her new album. “Having been in other bands prior where I was not the songwriter, it was nerve-racking to go out on a limb on my own and learn how to trust myself, my voice and my writing to carry the entire album. Listening to my instincts while making the album taught me to have confidence in myself and have faith in my own vision for my songs.” And carry the entire album, she does. Spin Magazine reads, “…Charles’ smoky, psych-folk footprint treads somewhere between a gentler, silky Jefferson Airplane and more fiery sides of Joni Mitchell.”
We first connect with her in Joshua Tree for the Desert Stars Festival and then spend a day with her shooting in the dry desert. We wrap up at The Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles, but not before we can ask her a few questions about the new album, music inspirations and, of course, fashion.
Pearl is the embodiment of California cool, a walking breath of fresh air. A true gypsy soul. “I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I felt the pulse of creativity all around me my entire life. I think that growing up surrounded by artists in a city that is so deeply rooted in the arts definitely made me want to be a part of that.” As a kid, Pearl says she, “embodied the spirit of the stubborn Taurus!” She devoted herself to all different art forms from a young age until she found music…and the pull was undeniable. “When I was about 5 years old my older sister started piano lessons so I begged my parents to let me take lessons as well. Soon after that I got into musical theater which eventually led me more into singing and then into songwriting and rock ‘n’ roll in my teenage years.”
Oh man, do you remember your first gig?? How did it go?!
My first real gig was with my first band in a small room at the Knitting Factory in LA called the AlterKnit Lounge. It’s long gone now, but I remember seeing one of my sister’s boyfriends play there when I was in middle school and always hoped I would one day get to play a show there. When I finally did it felt like quite the accomplishment.
So cool! So what can fans expect from this record?
I like to think of this current album, and the project as a whole, as the best of both worlds of the bands I was in prior — a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll — with a distinctly modern flair. My music is basically my interpretation of all my favorite genres and eras of music rolled up into one!
You have a cool psychedelic/surf/americana/desert sound (I hope that’s ok to say!) — does living in California inspire you to write that way?
It’s more than ok to say! I’m stoked to hear it comes across that way — those are a few of my favorite things! Having lived in California my whole life, I definitely feel like I am a California girl through and through so, although I draw inspiration from many different places, that aspect of my personality and the influence of the world I grew up in can’t help but show itself in my songwriting.
Where do find inspiration for writing music?
Up until recently I mostly found inspiration in pain and heartbreak, themes that everyone can relate to and identify with. Lately though, I’ve begun to realize the power I have as a songwriter to evoke all sorts of different thoughts and emotions in the listener and I have begun to look to my dreams and other mystical/psychedelic thoughts and experiences to explore other subject matter in my songs.
This may be a tough question, but do you have a favorite song from your EP?
The songs are definitely like my babies so it’s hard to pick just one favorite but, if I had to choose, I think I would say the single “You Can Change”. I’m really proud of the message in the lyrics: it’s about the conflict of wanting to constantly think positively and be in control of our destinies in that way, while still struggling with certain things outside of ourselves that we feel cannot change. I also feel like it shows my growth musically as a songwriter.
Wow, I love that. Who are some of your musical idols? Do you also have fashion idols?
Often times my musical idols and my fashion idols are one in the same, both male and female, so it’s hard to limit my answers on this one because I feel like there are so many artists who have come before me that I owe my personal and musical styles to! Anyone from Emmylou Harris to Neil Young, Stevie Nicks to George Harrison, Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix, Cher to Bob Dylan, Francoise Hardy to Gram Parsons! I also look beyond the individual artists themselves to their significant others (The Beatles’ and The Rolling Stones’ wives and girlfriends were absolute style mavens!) and the scenes they were a part of, whether it be Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury or Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York City, for style inspiration.
You’re currently on the road playing shows and festivals — what do you love most about touring?
I love to travel and I have always felt that touring is the ultimate perk of being a musician. Playing music for people is already the most fun job I could imagine but getting to visit other places is a major added bonus!
And on the flip side, what’s the toughest part of touring? How do you unwind?
Touring is a constant grind and it can get exhausting driving hundreds of miles a day and not sleeping in your own bed for weeks. I seize every opportunity I have to turn the tour into a vacation for a couple of hours and get immersed in exploring a new area, be it in a city or in nature. Whether it’s a hot spring or a vintage store, sometimes you gotta get off the beaten path, take the back roads and give yourself a break and so you have a chance to actually take in and appreciate the beauty we are all constantly surrounded by.
Yes! What can we expect next from Pearl Charles?
I’m in the studio right now working on new songs for an upcoming full-length album that will be released sometime next year! For now you can catch me on tour in November around the Western US and Canada!
Ok, quick fire question round. Answer as quickly and candidly as possible!
Where are you right now?
Modern Electric Recorders Studio in Dallas, TX.
What are you wearing?
My favorite fringe jacket, ripped jeans and a Tom Petty shirt.
What’s currently playing on your record player?
The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark.
Three words to describe you?
Joker. Smoker. (Midnight) Toker.
What’s the first thing you did this morning?
Wrote down my dreams.
What’s the last thing you did last night?
If you could take the stage with any performer, who would it be?
This is another tough one — my list could go on forever! My first thought is Fleetwood Mac. I saw them play last year and they were as amazing as ever!
What does “being free” mean to you?
To me being free is the ability to make my art my life and not be beholden to anyone but myself. Playing music for a living allows me to make my own schedule so I can take the time to wander and search for inspiration to best nurture my creativity and that is something I am grateful for every day.
Pearl, you truly are one of the coolest cats around! Thanks for letting us tag along!
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