Over the sounds of crying cicadas and under the blue light of a much needed bug zapper, I caught up with Los Angeles singer/songwriter Pearl Charles in the middle of her coast to coast US summer tour. Following the show at Cheer Up Charlies, and a series of impromptu photoshoots, we found ourselves in East Austin on a late Monday night, discussing our shared love for Texas music and her inspiration for her new album Sleepless Dreamer.
Nathan Edge: Where are your roots?
Pearl Charles: I grew up in LA but my parents have had a house in Joshua Tree for a long time. So I was going out there and learning about Gram Parsons and classic country, like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. Pasty Cline obviously has a great Texas country connection with crazy ol’ Willie.
NE: What attracted you to Texas music?
PC: I first heard about Sir Douglas Quintet, and how they had pretended to be British during the time of British Invasion. So they gave themselves a more British sounding name to fit into that scene, with songs like Mendocino and She’s About A Mover, and I was more attracted to the later stuff that I felt was a little more country oriented. Also, my Mom listened to Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Billy Joe Shaver in the car constantly when I was growing up, and I think that what you listen to with your parents is such a formative experience. One day I want to host a radio show with a new guest every week, and have them play what they listened to with their parents when they were kids. I would love to know that about people who I think are really great.
NE: Was there a moment that clicked for you when you decided to be a musician?
PC: My older sister started playing piano when I was four, and I wanted to play the piano too, but my parents told me I’d have to wait until I was five, and said that if I still want to do it, then I could. So I remember waiting and wanting to do it at a young age. My parents were really encouraging of me exploring the arts. I’ve always loved performing! That’s what I always wanted to do. Since I was very young, at five years old I was in my first play, I became addicted to performing. I never even thought about imitating anyone’s vocal style, I didn’t even realize people did that until I was much older. I just sung like I always have.
NE: Did you grow up listening to vinyl?
PC: No, just in the car, mostly on CDs and cassette tapes. I like tapes, my first record was only released on tape for the first year and a half, then eventually a label (Burger Records) picked it up.
NE: If you were stuck on tour with only cassette tapes to listen to, what tapes would you bring along?
PC: Well, we rented someone’s van, and we actually have been stuck with tapes that were left inside. They were not necessarily what we would have chosen, but we are happy with our options. We’ve been listening to Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits on repeat, and a lot of The Basement Tapes’ demos by Bob Dylan, along with some Buena Vista Social Club.
NE: I can only imagine what you’re experiencing on the road. Have you played any magical venues?
PC: We’ve played in Big Sur and we’ve played in Joshua Tree, so those are pretty magical places, you know, outside under the stars, in a forest, in the desert.
NE: Sleepless Dreamer seems to have a spiritual theme, referencing ghosts, angels and dreaming. I wonder, are you a religious/spiritual person?
PC: Well I’m definitely not religious. Am I spiritual?… I’ve been through very spiritual phases of my life. I’m very into consciousness and exploring that idea. I believe I don’t know the answers to any of the universe’s mysteries. So, I’m pretty open minded. That being said, I don’t know that I buy into any particular idea for that same reason. I don’t know, but how would anybody else know any better than me what is going on in this massive universe? So I’m open to the idea that there are mysteries that are unknown, and so there’s magic in that, whatever that may be.
NE: One of my favorites songs off Sleepless Dreamer is “Phases” (the album closer), because I’ve always been fascinated by the moon. I love moon songs! What was your song writing process for “Phases”?
PC: Have you ever seen the movie Ishtar? It’s actually a really bad movie, but the opening sequence is really funny. Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman are trying to write a song together, and they keep asking each other questions to help finish the song. And that’s what it was like. I remember writing the song, and I was like, “I’m changing” and my bandmate would ask “Into what?!…Why?!” That’s how my writing sessions go. If it doesn’t all come to you as a complete idea, then you have to sit down and tease it out, and you really have to ask yourself “What am I trying to say? What’s the best way to say it?” I like using nature as a metaphor because people are a part of nature, so I feel like that’s something I connect with.