Words and interview by Garrett Bethmann…
Here’s someone to keep an eye and ear out for in 2019: singer-songwriter Pearl Charles.
Charles is an Los Angeles-native whose future seems as bright the stars at night. Her earlier musical soirees included dabbling with folk melodies and harmonies in The Driftwood Singers and fuzzing out on coastal garage-pop playing drums with The Blank Tapes. Now in her late 20’s and solo, Charles is streaking her own path through the cosmos on a flourishing folk-rock sound.
The musician’s latest album Sleepless Dreamer has the potential to catapult her to the next level of success and acclaim.
It is a polished, AOR-styled record that shines with the warm glow of a desert highway during the golden hour before sunset. Charles’ existential ruminations are personal and relatable and the easy hum of her melodies pleasantly cruise through the canyons of your soul.
The music feels honest to who Charles is, as if she somehow figured out a magical way to collect all the sound and color of her waking dreams and record them straight to tape. It’s easy to trace some of her sound and aesthetic to luminaries such as Natalie Prass (voice), Kacey Musgraves (songwriting) and Jenny Lewis (vibe), which highlights the fact she’s got the ability to eventually be on their level. She also recently performed with Jackson Browne in concert, so she must be going down the right path.
The next time you look up at the California night sky you might notice a shooting star blasting through the night glowing like a smile. There’s a good chance it’s just Pearl Charles on the way to her next gig, racing towards her bright future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You were in both The Driftwood Singers and The Blank Tapes before being just yourself. What musical elements from those two bands do you think are still present in your work?
I learned so much from my collaborators in The Driftwood Singers and The Blank Tapes, their influences are inextricably ingrained in what I do now. I learned how to sing harmonies and write songs while in those bands, as well as the work ethic it takes to really get out there and stay out there, as thankless as it can be sometimes. I was in those bands from ages 18 to 24, so every musical discovery that I made during those years were linked to those bands as well and as you can imagine that's a crucial time in the development of one's taste.
The Sleepless Dreamer album photo is probably my favorite photo of everything I’ve seen from you. Can you speak to who was the photographer, how the session came about and what about that photo said “album cover” to you?
Thank you! Glad we made the right choice on that one. The photographer was taken by my friend Melodi Meadows. We were out at her place in Joshua Tree and I'm not sure if I've ever revealed this publicly before, but we had taken 2CB and just ventured out into the desert with a mirror. We didn't have a particular concept in mind beyond that, nor were we intending to shoot the cover, we just kind of let the magic happen and it made itself apparent to us.
In your song “Only in America,” I love the truth of the lyric:
We all exist on the same plane, we're all connected in the same way
Not only in America, not only in America
It reminded me of this pseudo-word “sonder,” which means to recognize that stranger’s lives are as complex and vivid as your own. Could you speak a little bit about the origin of the song and what it was like bringing that idea to fruition?
I wrote this song in early 2016 while I was tripping on mushrooms in Death Valley. Some friends and I went out there to camp, but the regular campground was full so we ended up in the overflow camping. The winds were so strong that we weren't able to sleep in our tents because they were blowing around so badly and the fire we had built began to scatter, right as the mushrooms were kicking in, which really unsettled me.
My grandmother had just been in an accident that she would ultimately succumb to the injuries from and the reality that Donald Trump was actually going to be the Republican candidate was setting in. I remember sobbing in my car, as we were forced to sleep in there that night, wondering if I should just quit the narcissistic music industry altogether and do something meaningful for the world like join the Peace Corps (my first thought of meaningful work while on mushrooms).
The chorus of the song, the lyrics you pointed out and the accompanying melody, all came to me fully formed and I took it as a sign that maybe I could do something meaningful for the world through music, and perhaps that was in fact my purpose here.
You played with Jackson Browne relatively recently. What was something you learned about him by being around in him person/performing with him that you couldn’t have known from his recorded musical output?
I suppose I could have found this out from doing a little research, but he was playing all the songs he wrote for Nico and he mentioned he didn't write the lyrics to “The Fairest of the Seasons”, so that was news to me. I always assumed Jackson wrote all his own lyrics.
What music, books, or ideas have you been indulging in lately? What recent revelations have you had about life?
I'm currently reading a book about Nick Drake as well as The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda, which I feel sum up the types of content I am into: music and psychedelia. As for revelations, you mentioned “sonder” earlier, which was sort of a mind explosion for me when I first heard of it and has really changed the way I interact with everyone, remembering that their lives and stories are complex in ways I could never even begin to imagine.
To riff further on that idea, someone recently pointed out to me that many parents when thinking about bringing a child into the world only see as far as childhood, but these children will all grow up into adults and that really blew my mind too. I love a seemingly simple concept that becomes so eye-opening and can really turn your world upside down.
Based on what you know about the festival, what’s one thing you are looking forward to doing up at DIO Fest?
Listening to some badass bands while getting psychedelic!