Unless you’ve been privy to their touring in the past few years, primarily over the east coast, midwest, and at this year’s South By Southwest, chances are you haven’t heard of Pearl and the Beard. Comprised of percussionist Jocelyn Mackenzie, cellist Emily Hope Price and guitarist Jeremy Styles, the trio has made an impact with a string of great releases, including this year’s Killing The Darlings. It’s hard to truly define their sound, but their killer melodies and perfect three-part harmonies pack more of an emotional punch than bands twice their size. Jeremy took the time out of his schedule to chat with obviate before a string of New York City shows next week.
YouTube has some early videos like a version of ‘Twice Today’ from March 2008 as well as some from Pete’s Candy Store that show just you and Jocelyn performing. How and when did the band begin, and when did Emily join?
I met Jocelyn at Pete’s Candy Store as she was there for happy hour and I was there for the open mic. We began working together, quickly wrote songs, and recorded 4 of them. About 4 months later we were at Sidewalk Cafe promoting a show we had soon and saw Emily and fell in love. We asked her to join, and she said yes, and we solidified our lineup.
Are you all classically trained musicians? If not, how did you come to playing your particular instruments?
Only Emily is classically trained. I took guitar lessons, but then just did self teaching, and just watch what other guitarists do. We tricked Jocelyn into playing her instruments, and she’s a good sport for learning them and mastering them so quickly.
Pearl and the Beard don’t really sound like anyone else. What artists influence your sound? Did those influences factor in when recording the new album?
I think we’d all say different things have influenced us, and have changed over the years. I know for me personally I am influenced by the things that are literally around me. Weird noises, or songs I sort of think I hear coming from cars, the shower, or whatever band I am seeing live.
As more people catch wind of what you’re doing, there are more faces at each show. How are you handling that? Is there a particular audience you’d like to cultivate?
Literally everyone is welcome. I’ve often tried to figure out our demographic, and guess who is at a show to see us, and I can’t, and I definitely prefer it that way. We want everyone to feel welcome and loved at a show, because at the end of the day, everyone deserves to feel like they belong somewhere and are loved.
You guys recorded for Daytrotter last July. It’s been almost a year and no sign of a release. What’s going on with that?
What IS going on with that? I have no idea. I recently saw that they put up Best Coast’s session, and that had been recorded over a year and a half ago, so who knows? Those guys record like 4 or 5 bands a day, so they have some backlog I’m sure. I’d write to them and ask for the session before those songs are too old.
The Black Vessel EP is a very interesting piece of Pearl and the Beard history. In a way, it’s sort of a mini “White Album”. There’s the group track, and then a solo track by each of the three members. Was this deliberate? Above all, it seems like a really creative way to peel back the layers.
Thanks. We wanted to release something in between albums, and didn’t want to put album songs on it. Since we are always writing, some songs work for the group and others don’t. We decided just to release something from each of us, since we’re all fans of each other.
Franz Nicolay was a co-producer on your latest record. How familiar were you with his work before you recorded? What was it like having him in the studio?
Working with Franz was great as was working with Dan Brennan, our other producer. We’d been familiar with both folks’ work naturally over the years, as each person is a musician. Working with them in the studio was awesome. Both were focused, and really supportive and gently pushed us to get better performances as well as offer new ideas to songs.
“Hot Volcano” is definitely a standout on Killing The Darlings. It’s always ripped live, but there’s something different about the recording and what you played at the album release show, so it begs the question: Where’s the kazoo solo?
We like to do it different each time we play it live. Kazoo doesn’t seem to translate as well over recorded material, and I think half of its charm is seeing it be played. We like to make it a little special treat for folks who come out to the shows. Just a little something different. Even each kazoo solo is different.
There’s a certain stigma of what a band is supposed to sound with relatively spartan instrumentation, and then you guys get on stage and have such an enormous sound. Is this something you’re aware of? Does the size or location of each show influence how you build your setlist or do you usually go through a particular set from city to city?
I don’t think any of us know how enormous of a sound we have. We are aware of the space we are playing each night and try to be respectful of each venue, so we don’t turn up to 11 in a room the size of an acorn. Every show is different. We vary on which songs we play and how many quiet versus loud songs, we think are appropriate.
Do you have any pre- or post- show rituals?
Usually before a show we like to connect with each other and give ourselves a hug, just to let each other know we are here for the other no matter who is out that, and for that emotional support. After, we usually just talk to people, pack up, and sleep.
What are your day jobs outside of the band?
Jocelyn is a freelance knitter, I bartend and do production work, and Emily is a full time cellist.
Finally, what are your favorite places to go in New York?
To learn more about Pearl and the Beard, find out tour dates and to hear and purchase their records, visit their website.
Interview by Brendan Hilliard