There was a cosmic moment during the writing of Magic Mirror when the stars aligned for Pearl Charles.
“I went to sleep one night and asked the universe ‘please bring me a song in my sleep tonight’” Pearl told Daily Star Online. “I woke up and didn’t have a song but I just knew the album was going to be called ‘Magic Mirror’.”
As the old saying goes, the universe works in mysterious ways, and it certainly did when she met up with friend Morgan Nagler to work on a song for the album.
“I didn’t even tell her I had the idea for Magic Mirror, I just wanted to work with her because I love her songs”, Pearl added.
“She said ‘for some reason the word mirror keeps popping into my head’, and I was like ‘I have to write this Magic Mirror song!’. It was all very cosmic and meant to be.”
This spectral moment adds to the mystical allure to Pearl’s latest album; a magical journey through 60s and 70s psychedelia, country and dreamy folk inspired by ABBA and Fleetwood Mac – a combination that perfectly captures Pearl’s stunning artistic evolution.
After picking up her first instruments aged five, the LA native formed The Driftwood Singers aged just 18 before picking up the drumsticks for garage rock band The Blank Tapes four years later.
Now she’s dazzling on her own thanks to her unique style of sonically sprawling nostalgia pop that’s seen her shared stages with the likes of Mac DeMarco, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Best Coast.
Daily Star Online’s Rory McKeown caught up with Pearl in December to talk about the making of Magic Mirror, her influences, and her evolution as an artist.
Hi Pearl. How’s the past year been for you? Has lockdown brought any challenges with it?
“There have definitely been pros and cons. Deciding to move out to the desert was brought on by quarantine. That’s been good. I always spent a lot of time out there because my family has a place out there. It’s also a rental, so people come and stay in it. We were constantly having to be in and out. We were like ‘what if we had our own place here?’. We’re going to set up a home studio. That’s going to be very productive.
“Being on the road, which is where I expected to be this year, it’s hard for me to write. So I’ve been able to write almost a whole new album. It’s been pretty productive. We’ll see about getting into a more legitimate studio.
"We just went into a second version of lockdown. We were starting to open up a little bit and play live music with our bandmates, but we decided to take a little break on that to see what happens in the next few months.”
Has it sparked any other inspiration with you and your songwriting?
“I live with my boyfriend, who is a musician. He and I have always wanted to start a Wings kind of thing. I think being at home and not being on the road has allowed us to focus on that.
"Content-wise, I don’t think I’ve necessarily written about the quarantine per se, but getting back to the roots. On this album, there are some really big productions. I think it might be cool to dial it back a little because that’s where we’re at as a society right now, being at home and a little more organic in our way of living.”
You’re releasing your new album Magic Mirror in January. What was its writing and recording process like? When did you start creating it?
“I went to a songwriting retreat in the summer of 2017, so before my last album came out. I’d finished my last album and went to this retreat. I wrote two of the songs there. A lot of them have been kicking around for a while. They get to grow on the road. I used my live band from touring to play on the record. Some of those songs we’ve recorded countless demos and they’ve really gone through an evolution. There are a couple I wrote leading up to the recording.
“The recording process started in May or maybe even earlier. I released Sweet Sunshine Wine in May of last year as a single. We recorded that one first. We would be in and out of the studio every few months in and out of touring, because we were still on a record cycle last year. It was finished in January.”
Sonically and stylistically, there are lots of things going on in the record. There’s 70s-esque psychedelia, blues, country, pop and ballads. What’s it like seeing the ideas blossom into its final form?
“I love to make these playlists on Spotify of album inspiration. I start adding songs I really like. It’s a very diverse album, and I’m a diverse music fan. It was cool to find the identity of each song and let it become what it wanted to be, instead of deciding ‘this is going to be a country record’ or a genre overarching it. Each song has its own style.
“It was cool, it wasn’t really planned. I love all these bands. I like Bonnie Rait and I like ABBA, and I like Fleetwood Mac. How can I put that all together into one thing? I think we did meld it together on the songs themselves but allowing each song to be different and putting it together on an album. It’s cohesive for me because I love those styles.”
They do have their identities but it is a cohesive listen from start to finish. What were you influenced by or inspired by when writing it? What would you say your main inspirations are?
“I do a lot of jotting down of short ideas, one-liners, constantly. Things that people say or conversations people are having. That’s oftentimes how it starts. On the flip side, some of the songs, like Imposter, which is one of my favourites, I wrote on a mushroom trip and it just fell out of me.
"The best songs are the ones when the music and the lyrics come at the same time. It feels like it’s being beamed in from a greater source. Those are always what I’m hoping for. You’ve got to do the real world of work of coming up with ideas so you can sit at the notebook or instrument and start somewhere.”
Magic Mirror is the name of it, but it’s also the name of a piano-driven ballad on the album. Was it always going to be the centrepiece?
“That’s a great question. As I was just talking about songs coming fully formed, I have had songs come to me in a dream before. I went to sleep one night and asked the universe ‘please bring me a song in my sleep tonight’. I woke up and didn’t have a song but I just knew the album was going to be called ‘Magic Mirror’. There wasn’t a title track at that time. I just loved the name and told the producer. He said ‘you’ve got to write the title track’. I didn’t even think about it.
"I went to my friend Morgan who was just nominated for a Grammy for co-writing a song with Phoebe Bridgers. I was like ‘let’s work on a song for my new album’. I didn’t even tell her I had the idea for Magic Mirror, I just wanted to work with her because I love her songs. She said she had an idea. She said ‘for some reason the word mirror keeps popping into my head’, and I was like ‘I have to write this Magic Mirror song!’. It was all very cosmic and meant to be.”
What did you learn from putting this album together compared to your previous releases?
“One of the things I’m really excited about this album is that I used my live band. Getting to really spend so much time with those guys in a van, playing the songs live, showing them the music that inspires me.
"I’m a really deep thinker of music. Not wanting to toot my own trumpet but I happen to know a lot about of obscure stuff. I spend hours a day digging online to find it. I was able to turn them onto a bunch of stuff they didn’t know about. They’re just my really good friends, they know me and what I’m about, and the aesthetic and the intention behind the music.
"On my last album I used Father John Misty’s band and they’re amazing, such good players, and they’re also friends of mine.
"Using those guys really brought something special to the record-making process. I didn’t have to explain what I wanted, they already knew from the years of experience, and they’ve also been around. We recorded tonnes of demos and work-shopped the songs live. They got to work through the process of what the songs were about. We all found the final place together.”
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Are you already thinking how you’re going to attempt your next material?
“The record was finished in January. For me I’m still really excited about it. As I think is true for creative people, we’re always thinking ahead to the next thing. We decided to push the release to 2021 because we thought maybe we’ll have a better idea of where we are in the world by then. It was a good call because with the election and all of this stuff.
"Things are still in flux with the virus but I feel we’re coming out of a dark time. The record has music for dark times and light times, and maybe we need a positive message more so when things are dark. I felt a little weird putting out this record in this context. Now I feel like January 2021 is a perfect time to kick off a new start, a new year, a new record.
“I am thinking ahead to the new record for sure but I’m not sure how I’m going to do it yet. I know that I have some songs already and that’s the beginning!"
You’re signed to the indie label Kanine Records – home to the likes of Grizzly Bear, Surfer Blood and Chairlift. What’s the partnership between you both and how supportive are they of your output?
“It’s really cool because they’re in New York and I’m in LA. Music is so regional and it’s really nice to have that home base on the other coast. I think it gets us one step closer to you guys, which I love. The UK has been very kind to me on this record cycle.
“I love Kanine Records, they’re really good people. I love that it’s a mom and pop. It’s a married couple and they have a kid. It’s run by a male and a female but being able to interface with a woman in the music industry is awesome because a lot of my team is male. That’s something different.
“They’re really about the artistic vision. I’ve never been on a major label but I hear stories. Having them be involved in the creative aspect would be really difficult. As an artist, you have a very clear vision about what you want. There are enough cooks in the kitchen as it is. Having a label that’s supportive of the artist is really cool. Not only with the music but with the visuals aesthetically, they let me be in control of it. I’m grateful to have that control.”
You got into music at a young age, didn’t you?
“I started playing music when I was five. I wanted to start before but my parents were like ‘if you want to do it, it requires practice and lessons, and you have to pay attention’. I really took to it. I never loved the practicing part to be honest but I love playing with my band. Just sitting alone doing the repeated exercises was never my favourite part. Everyone is so different. For me it’s about the collaboration. I love working with other people. But there are tonnes of musicians who love sitting away in a room. There are definite merits to that.
“I got really into doing musical theatre. I really loved singing but I loved the performing aspect of it. I loved being part of an assemble. That translated really well into playing in bands. I’m used to working with so many different people.”
How do you think you’ve evolved into the musician you are now?
“I was in two bands and they were led by my boyfriends. I was a little bit insecure. I went to music school straight out of high school and got into a band with a guy. I’d played a few shows. Growing up in LA can be a weird experience because there are a lot of people around who want to influence your career as a young artist because they think they can see an opportunity to make money. Before I felt like I had an identity, there were people that were like ‘you should play a show here’ or ‘do this and do that’, so I did that a little bit when I was a teenager. But then I wasn’t quite sure of who I wanted to be as an artist. I knew I wanted to do country music at that time. I was excited by the idea of country duets. It was also safe for me because I didn’t have to be the band leader.
“As time went on, I realised I did have something I wanted to say myself. I like being a band leader and being the main songwriter and being involved in the whole project. I love collaboration so I’m totally open to hearing other people’s ideas but I felt like I was being tamped down a bit when I was not the leader.
“As I worked up my courage, I thought it was time for me to step out on my own and do my own thing. I’m super grateful for those experiences because I learned everything I know about not just the music aspect but how to run a band. There’s a lot to be learned about that but there’s really anyone there to teach you.
“I went to music school but no one teaches you how to be in a rock and roll band, you’ve just got to learn on the road!”
Is there a dream collaborator you’d love to work with?
“The list is so long! If I could meet and work with anyone in ABBA, Fleetwood Mac…it’s the classic ones. If I had the chance to collaborate with one of those, that would be so cool.
“Abba was supposed to put out new music but I don’t know if that’s still happening. I don’t really know what they’re up to these days. McCartney is putting out a new album. I would just be grateful to be in the same room as any of those people! They’re all icons and legends, who wouldn’t?”
What are your hopes ahead? You must be really itching to getting out there and playing the album.
“I would love that. I love playing music with my bandmates. They’re great people. That’s something that’s been really lacking this year. I’m able to see there’s a benefit to it, that I’ve been able to spend more time on creative work. It’s not really a trade off, you need both things. It’s very symbiotic.
"I would love to get on the road next year (2021). The songs take on a new energy when they’re played live. Every night you play it it becomes a new song, it has new meaning and it has new meaning for every new person you play it to. That would be great, to share it that way. I’d love to be able to go to the UK. I don’t know if shows will be back in the US or not, it doesn’t really seem that close.
“I want as many people to hear it as possible who need to hear it. I’ve found music in my life that I’ve needed. Every album has its place where it belongs for the people that need to hear it. I hope I can get it out to the people who need it.”
Pearl Charles’ Magic Mirror is out now via Kanine Records
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