Hanging out with Pearl and the Beard

Gracing the cover of Pearl and the Beard’s excellent second album, Killing The Darlings, is a sweater made for three people. While this seems like merely a cute, simple way of pointing out that the band has three members, it is actually a completely definitive representation of the trio. Pearl And The Beard is truly a three-headed monster, with no lead singer and no head songwriter, but instead three unique personalities and people who started as strangers, then collaborated to make incredible music, and to become, as singer and drummer Jocelyn Mackenzie put it, “family.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pearl and the Beard on Friday, just before their incredible show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C. Due to the band’s charming personalities, it felt less like an interview and more like hanging out with friends. Jocelyn, Emily Hope Price, and Jeremy Styles were all gracious, kind, and willing to talk about anything. In our conversation, we discussed the band’s origin story, their songwriting process, and their reflections on the level of success they’ve achieved.

Pearl and the Beard – “Sweetness” [MP3]

Coming Together

Jocelyn met Jeremy at an open mic night in NYC. ” I heard people playing songs,” she said, “and I thought to myself ‘oh no, it’s open mic night, this is gonna be terrible, get me out of here!’ But then I heard Jeremy playing and he was fantastic.” The two talked and traded numbers, and soon started playing and singing together. At another open mic night they heard Emily sing and play the cello, and were “blown away.” Says Jeremy, “I literally said to Jocelyn, ‘I have to steal her.’”

“Stealing her” was a great decision, too – the ferocious sound of Emily’s cello has proven to be one of Pearl and the Beard’s defining elements.

Making The Music

Pearl and the Beard doesn’t exactly have a uniform songwriting process. “Any way you can think of that a song has been written, it has probably been written,” Jocelyn said. Sometimes, she said, one member will have a full song written on their own, front to back. Others will have choruses, verses, and instrumentals added by three separate members.

Perhaps the most interesting technique the band used was the “song kebob” method. Jocelyn described it as this: one member says, “I have this old one that I don’t really like enough anymore by itself,” and another says, “oh I have a different one…” and finally they “chop them up and kebob back together.”

In terms of the band’s approach to using songs for an album, Jeremy says: “We always approach with the mentality – that without all the bells and whistles, if the song stands on its own melodically, then it’s probably a good song. If all the power goes out, and you can still play the song using acoustic instruments, is it still a good song.”

That approach is perhaps best exemplified on “Douglas, Douglass,” a song that is almost entirely a cappella; rooted in foot stomps, hand claps, and good old fashioned soul singing. In concert, this track was an explosive encore, with the band’s relentless energy matching the frenzied crowd.

“It always comes back to – we just pooed this morning.”

That quote – probably the best I’ve ever heard in an interview – stemmed from a question about how the band feels about its level of success – accomplished? Not yet satisfied?

Perhaps the best way to describe the predominant feeling the band had would be “weirded out,” particularly by the alternate, dueling realities of being a band that has “made it,” touring and gaining recognition, but also being a band that tours in a 2001 Honda Odyssey “that has an engine light on constantly and smells like fart,” as Jocelyn said.

Emily captured this contrast perfectly when telling her story of being asked to sign a fan’s boob:

“I’m sitting here signing this boob…I’m signing this girl’s chest and as I was doing it I was thinking – this is what you see pictures of super famous bands you never think you’ll ever meet…this is weird, this is so surreal. And as more and more of these things happen, it always comes back to – we just pooed this morning. We just ate breakfast and pooed it.”

“We’re always constantly carrying these two natures in us,” Jeremy said. “I’m constantly bombarded with hubris but also extremely low-self esteem and self doubt. It’s important for us to find a balance because you need to be grateful for the things you’ve accomplished and look back and remember where you came from so you don’t get a big head, but also not be satisfied necessarily with what you’ve got.”

Even though Pearl and the Beard really is just three normal people – all who poop every morning – making music, there was undeniably something special about their live show.  The harmonies were insanely tight, and the passion was obvious. Most notably, the band’s closeness radiated from the stage, especially when Jeremy and Emily sang backing vocals for one of Jocelyn’s solo songs with the approving, adoring looks of proud parents, or siblings. A “family,” indeed.

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