New York-based avant-folk trio Pearl and the Beard returns to Asheville on Friday, Oct. 19 for a show at The Grey Eagle. (Orchestral folk band Troubel, from Boone, opens; so does “rocky soul” outfit Dark water Rising, from Pembroke. 9 p.m. $10 in advance or $12 day of show.)
Pearl and the Beard is Jocelyn Mackenzie, Emily Hope Price and Jeremy Styles. The group formed in ‘08, has released two full-length albums and two EPs, and has opened for Ani DiFranco and Ingrid Michaelson.
Jocelyn and Jeremy spoke to Xpress about knitting projects, fan gifts, the “lather, rinse, repeat” life of tour, and why they heart Perez Hilton.
Mountain Xpress: I want to know about the three person sweater
Jocelyn: Well, I have a degree in fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Basically, I went to art school as a back up plan in case the music thing didn’t work out. It actually came true because I was a production knitter for a really long time. I would often bring a personal knitting project in the van with me when we’d go on tour. At one point, Jeremy and Emily were teasing me saying, “I bet you’re knitting a sweater for the three of us to fit in.” We all laughed about it, haha. So, when it was time to make the album art for Killing the Darlings I thought, maybe I’m actually going to make that sweater. So there it is.
And it ended up in the video for “Prodigal daughter.”
Jocelyn: That’s right! That video was actually filmed in Australia so we had to ship [the sweater] there, which took maybe a month.
Jeremy: It had to go there and back.
Were you all in Australia when the video was being made?
Jeremy: No. This woman heard our music and liked our song, “Prodigal Daughter” and was like, “I’d love to film something using our song.” We were like, “Why don’t you film a music video for us?” She was like, “Okay,” and filmed that whole thing with her daughter. She did it for free, for us — she wanted to do a video with that song and with her daughter any way.
Jocelyn: As payment, because she’s a filmmaker, we let her use another one of our songs for another films she’s doing.
Would you like to tour in Australia?
Jeremy: We would love to. We’d love to tour all over the world. Even Antarctica, to the penguin and polar bear contingent. I had a weird idea one time to have a perpetual summer tour where we toured in the U.S. and Europe in the summer months, and then slipped down to South America and Australia during the winter months so we’d never have to wear jackets.
Jocelyn: I would personally not like that, because I hate the heat.
Photo from sheilagriffin.org
I read about how, when you were at SXSW a couple of years ago, you were all outfitted for glasses. Any other weird or awesome gifts that the band has received?
Jocelyn: The glasses company is called Tortoise & Blonde. They’re an awesome company. They’ve given us more glasses since then, and they gave me a free eye exam.
Jeremy: Free health care!
Jocelyn: And yesterday we got the gift of these really, really beautiful shoes by this designer named Mike Farrell . He’s based out of High Point, N.C. and Argentina. He’s a fabric designer, and just completed this new line of shoes called Lunch. And he just designed a fabric based on Pearl and the Beard’s songs. We really love him.
Jeremy: We’ve had people bring gifts to shows, like somebody who worked for a lotion/cosmetics departments.
Jocelyn: That’s Chagrin Valley Soaps. Sam Friedman. He’s a fantastic soap maker.
Jeremy: And we had this lady who makes soaps, kind of like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, I’d imagine. She made me a specific soap that had coal and some other stuff. It was called Backwoodsman or something. Somebody brought me Double Stuf Oreos because I mentioned them in an interview.
Tell me about the new extended single album. Is it one version of “Prodigal Daughter”?
Jeremy: What we did with the previous EP we did, we remixed our song, “Vessel” and called it “Black Vessel” and totally redid it, but with the same lyrics and basically the same melody. Aas an experiment, we did three songs by [each of] us, individually. This one is Prodicgal Daughter, another EP. We did the same exact thing as far as the individual songs by the three of us. But the “Prodigal Daughter” [track] is exactly the same.
Jocelyn: We did include the video on the download part. You can get the “Prodigal Daughter” single with the video and three songs written by each of us as solo artists.
Jeremy: We were also trying to do something a little different with that album. Since the music industry is moving forward, you’ve got to keep up or try to get a couple of steps ahead. We were thinking, do we want to release a CD? A physical CD? You can’t even put a CD into a MacBook Air. Pretty much everybody’s downloading stuff. What we did was put out these limited edition posters by Jonathan Schoeck from the band Larcenist. We got them screen printed and had the download code on the back. So you have art and music and no plastic.
Have you noticed with selling merch that people are buying more posters and that sort of thing?
Jeremy: People are buying posters, but they’re buying a lot more vinyl.
Jocelyn: A lot more vinyl. We used to go out on tour and bring maybe 30 vinyls for three weeks and sell 10 of them. Now we sell out of 30 vinyls in a couple of days. Which is shocking for us because it happened so quickly. It wasn’t a slow burn. We went from selling three to 30 in six months. We need to look at that information for our next album and decide how we want to release that music.
Jeremy: People are buying physical albums, which is awesome. They’re supporting us there. We don’t have our albums in stores anywhere. That’s a question we’ve been asking — what’s the benefit. If somebody sees is in their town, will they go to their local store? Are there even local stores in their town? I think most people are buying digitally. But for us, when we sell it out of the back of our van, we sell a ton.
Image from teaandbrie.com
Because your band has a hard-to-classify sound, do you think audiences need to see you live in order to really connect with what you do? Or are people coming to shows already familiar with your music?
Jocelyn: I think it’s a mix. Our fans are some of the most incredible, passionate people we’ve met. We’ve been touring for so long. We’ll have our five-year band anniversary in January and we’ve been touring for four of those years. Coming back to the same places and trying to build communities of people in these towns. The first couple of rounds, it’s our friends. And then they bring their friends, and they bring their friends. At a certain point, there are people coming to every show who haven’t heard us before. We feel really grateful that those people always come back, and they generally bring another set of people the next time. People are really excited about our live show, for sure, because it’s really different from the album. There will be some people who gravitate to the album and some people who gravitate to the live show. Because they’re not the same thing, you have to do both. Which, for us, makes a more fulfilling experience and gives us more outlets to share our music. And you can stream all of our music from our website.
I’m a fan of a live show that’s not identical to the album.
Jocelyn: We feel the same way. Because on an album you can put a string section, you can put a horn section, you can do all this fancy stuff. But we can’t travel with a string quartet — that would be completely unsustainable. You have to work with the resources you have on hand and still make the song sound really good. Which is a challenge when you only have three people in the band. We try to pump it up.
I watched some of the videos you did on the Sleepover Shows series. It seems like you doing a bit of improv.
Jocelyn: Absolutely. We loved that series. Aviv [Rubinstien, no longer with the production company] is a great creative dude. What he does at those sleepover shows — we actually sleep at his house. And then we wake up in the morning and he records and we’re half-asleep. But that’s kind of part of the idea, that you’re going to be using a different part of your brain at eight in the morning instead of eight in the evening. It ends up being a little different than we’d normally do it.
I wanted to ask you about where the band name came from.
Jeremy: Basically it’s a series of words that we thought sounded good and sounded like a story that needed to be told.
Jocelyn: Just to make it clear, there is no beard and there is no pearl. It’s just a name. Jeremy just happens to have a beard.
It does sound like a story. Like it could be a fable.
Jocelyn: Exactly. A nautical tale.
Jeremy: I’m imagining a little girl and her traveling companion who’s an enormous axe-wielding Viking. Or it could be something else. A love story. Or, I know there’s been some gay themes brought in. Some people turn it sexual. I welcome it all.
Jocelyn: Whatever it has to be. One of the first things, too, was that we wanted something easy to Google. If your band name is House —
Jeremy: Vestibule —
Jocelyn: Vestibule! It’s hard to pinpoint that on the web. It was important to us to have something people could find easily. But there have been a ton of interpretations people have given us that range from very obvious to very funny. Sometimes sexual, like Jeremy says. We love that, that’s the idea.
Photo from shervinfoto.com
When I got the press release about your upcoming show, it had that quote from Perez Hilton [“Sweet, indie, folk pop! We love it!”]. I wondered how you felt about getting props from Perez Hilton.
Jocelyn: Oh, that was awesome. We were in Brighton, in the U.K. when we learned about that. Of course we were checking the Facebook and Twitter follow count. We were like, “Oh my god! It just went up by 100 likes!” Unless somebody is really, really cruel or whatever — but even if they are, if they’re listening to your music and spreading the word — they say any press is good press. This also happened to be good press, in addition to being Perez Hilton. And also, he’s kind of kooky. I like him. I think he’s actually really smart.
Jeremy: We tour a lot. We’re just in this van and getting out, loading, waiting around, playing, talking to the fans who are there, going home and staying at the house of somebody you know well or not so well, you’re sleeping on a couch or a weird yoga mat. You’re kind of in this weird bubble of a world and you don’t know what’s going on back at home. You don’t know what’s going on in the news. You don’t even know what your own career trajectory is, which can be really hard and frustrating. One of the things that lets us know how we’re doing is fan turnout, or the things people say like, “I love you guys.” People writing from Brazil or Japan or Portugal or whatever. That’s also another marker — some random dude in Hollywood who comments on things. If he’s noticing it, then it might be a little bit more elevated in the public sphere. So people might be noticing what we’re doing, even if it seems like we’re on a treadmill.
I’ve often thought that the life a touring band must get pretty surreal.
Jocelyn: It’s always a new thing every day, a new city every day. But it’s a lot of the same thing every day, too. If you do it for a long time like we have and a lot of our friends have. you get into this rhythm, like Jeremy said. You wake up on a yoga mat, drive for five hours, load in your stuff, do your sound check, eat a food, play your show, do the merch table, wrap up everything, put it back in the van, go to a friend’s house, sleep on a yoga mat, blah blah blah. It’s like lather, rinse repeat. You have no way of knowing how people are reacting to it. You’re in your own little world. So when something like that happens, it’s like, “Oh! We’re not just doing the same thing everything.” We are growing, and it feels really good that people acknowledge that. And that they’re enjoying the music. Because if people don’t enjoy the music, it’s not like an office job. That’s a similar lather, rinse, repeat situation but you still get your salary, no matter what. But our job is contingent on people liking what we do, and it’s not always easy to tell if people like what we do. That was one of times it was like, “Okay guys! We can still do this! Get back in the van!”