By Kate Wassell
Photography: Mike Pham
The glittering presence of LA singer-songwriter Pearl Charles is the perfect antidote to a dark Winter’s day. It’s lucky, then, that she’s released a new EP just as the gloominess of November starts to set in. Upbeat yet introspective, pulling influences from folk, country and soft-rock psychedelia, Pearl’s new releases are a teaser for her upcoming album, due January 2021.
The dreamy instrumentals, the vibrant voice, the weightless feel - everything seems as smooth as a pearl. Contrary to her name, however, there’s a rougher edge to the music than things may first appear. New single ‘What I Need’ takes on a timeless groove, with gorgeous steel pedal and distinct echoes of Fleetwood Mac. Amongst the buoyant melody, though, Pearl grapples with the apprehension of a breakup and the tension between two people bound together. ‘It’s easier to live this lie than to tell the truth’, she sings.
Entitled ‘Magic Mirror’, we can expect the upcoming album to be no less self-reflective. Bright and enigmatic, Pearl’s music can pull you back in time yet remain fresh and modern. I chatted to Pearl about the new tracks, the mood behind the music and the current state of country.
Tell us a little about the upcoming album... what was it you wanted to do with ‘Magic Mirror’ that you haven’t explored on previous releases?
One thing that really sticks out to me about this album compared to some of my past releases is the fact that I recorded it with my live band instead of exclusively using session musicians. On my last record I used members of Father John Misty’s band, who are all absolutely incredible players, but the process this time was much more personal. Not only had my band and I spent the last few years traveling the country and the world together playing the songs live on the road and working them out through various demos, but also because of the time we all spent together in the van where I got to share so many of the songs and artists that are so important to me and whose style and vibe I want to attempt infuse into my albums. Though we still used some session players to fill out the album, all of whom are amazing and bring their own voices to the mix, having the basis of the album be my go-to guys (and some of my absolute best friends) made it very special for me.
How do you view the current state of country music in America? How important is it to keep young people invested in country and folk?
I think there has been some rightful backlash to the idea of country and folk in recent days for having a history of not being as inclusive as it should be, in both the telling of its history and on the industry side of things in the past and the present, which is more than completely valid. That’s part of why I think it is really important to keep people of all ages engaged and interested in these genres! In truth, all roots music comes from a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds (black, white and beyond), and continues to be made by a diverse group of people, both historically and currently. We need to tell that story honestly and open up the industry to support and lift up the contributions of people who previously did not have their stories told or honoured in these genres.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration? Have they changed or stayed the same as your music has developed?
My inspirations have definitely changed a lot as I’ve developed as a writer and a musician. I used to be even more exclusively into country music than I am now so my tastes have certainly expanded genre-wise! In terms of lyrical content, I feel like I used to mainly focus on the external and write about what was happening to me. These days I feel like I have gotten a bit deeper and like to look within myself or to some sort of greater, universal creative source for what to write about. I also am really inspired by spiritual literature, whether it’s fiction like Herman Hesse or more “self-help” like Eckhart Tolle.
How are you staying motivated with the lack of live gigs/the usual face-to-face community of music? What's the current music scene like in LA?
I’ve been really lucky to be holed up with my boyfriend and collaborator Michael Rault, so that’s been a blessing. We spur each other on to continue to be productive and creative despite the limitations of this time and have actually decided to try and become more self-sufficient with regard to recording and making our own home studio. LA is pretty shut down in terms of shows, but we have our own rehearsal/studio space that we can go work at safely, so we have mostly just been writing and practicing songs more for fun rather than in preparation for a show, which has been kind of like going back to the basics of why we got into playing music in the first place!
Your upcoming album ‘Magic Mirror’ has been described as a “feel good album”. How important is it to you to make up-lifting music in these potentially dark times?
Well, as I’m talking to you we’re getting some pretty good news out here in the US, so the album almost takes on new meaning! Rather than fighting to maintain optimism as we once were, it is more cautiously celebratory perhaps. Though we still have a long way to go, we are at the dawn of a new, hopefully much brighter era. To answer your question beyond just the political implications, George Jones once said, “When you're happy you enjoy the music. When you're sad, you understand the lyrics.” I think something that is somewhat unique about my albums is that although they can come across as “feel good” on a casual listen (which don’t get me wrong, I love!), if you dig in more deeply to the lyrics sometimes there is something definitely deeper, and at times darker, lurking underneath the surface. That is the beauty of this album for me really, the fact that it can fit your mood no matter how you’re feeling. There’s a song and a vibe for every emotion and it’s kind of choose your own adventure in terms of how the listener feels like approaching and engaging with the record on any given day. Though I do love making songs you can just zoom out and bop your head along to, it’s also important to me to say something, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds!
Pearl Charles’ new album, ‘Magic Mirror’ comes out on the 15th of January 2021. Pre order here.