Denver — Pearl Charles has a soul that’s neither young nor old, it’s current, it’s deep and thoughtful. Her music, her sound, covers decades. She may not know where she’s going, but she knows where she’s from — Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Red Bull Sound Select brought her to Denver and that’s where she shared some of the things she’s gained along the road from California to Colorado.
Her geographical roots are between Laurel Canyon and Joshua Tree. “I grew up a few blocks from Laurel Canyon which is where I live now. It was a huge influence on me. I didn’t make the connection till later in life, there was some sort for kindred connection there. Just since I was young,” she said. “My parents have a house in Joshua Tree. When I was in High School, I started going out there. This sounds a little, hippy dippy, I was feeling very drawn to listening to Classic Country music — Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and all these artists. I would later find out Gram’s influences and it was just a very spiritual connection to that music and that place for me. He (Gram Parsons) is a very important figure in merging Country and Rock. For me now, I’m trying to carry that torch forward.”
“There’s like so much crazy amazing art and music being made in the desert. It’s a hospitable place for that because L.A.’s expensive. People can actually afford to live out there and make the art they want to make and open the studios they want to open.”
Her musical roots are from Patsy Cline to Linda Ronstadt and The Stones. These roots grow from her heart through Southern California to the world. She’s Disco, Classic Country and Rock. It’s not confused, it’s genuine — she understands the importance of music styles. She lets musicians speak to her and the imprint inspires her voice. She’s awake in the moment and very aware of history, especially music history.
She knows her heroes from the places they share. The Eagles, Neil Young, and Emmylou Harris are among her favorites. She’s aware of the kindred relationship she has with other artists. She’s a dreamer, a traveller and a storyteller.
“I’ve been pretty quiet on stage for a while and then we played at Desert Daze. We were playing a kind of intimate, tent setting, we didn’t have drums because our drummer was on tour with another band. But it was like an acoustic show, he normally sings and does percussion. I felt like, people were sitting on the ground, very interactive — so I started talking about the songs and telling more stories.”
“You don’t get to necessarily pick, sometimes I’ll be laying in bed late at night and I’ll be really tired, the thing is I can never say ‘no’ to the muse coming in and giving me an idea. That’s what I live for. I’ll be lying in bed, really tired and all of a sudden the ideas will start flowing in. I have to get up, I have to turn on the lights, I have to go get my pen, I have to get out my phone and record this. Not that it’s at all a burden, but I’m just like ‘okay, let’s do this.’”
“I feel like the best ideas are the ones that come with the lyrics and the music at the same time,” she said. Waking up in the middle of the night, looking inward and bringing that introspection out of herself. These experiences become records.
She’s traveling city streets, down desert highways, across America and the world. Some trips are more psychedelic than others. A camping adventure in Death Valley is the subject of her storytelling written in the song “Only In America.” Each journey she takes the surroundings awaken her sense of self.
Red Bull flew her to Denver for the Sound Select. It’s a chance for Pearl to share fans from local band The Still Tide and New York singer / songwriter Margaret Glaspy. It was a stripped down, four piece that took the stage Friday night.
The big melodies in her music from synth, piano and pedal steel guitar are produced into her album on tracks like “Sleepless Dreamer.” It’s still large on stage at the Bluebird. Her singing carries the shows, her lead guitarist fills the room translating the recording. “He’s such a great guitar player that it’s really interesting to hear the sounds take on almost a whole new life. They stay true to the record in a way where you’re hearing all the melodies you want to hear, but then they are getting them just from the guitar. It’s really cool texturally.”
It’s simple, but showcases Pearl. She’s dressed in white from head to toe and carrying an acoustic guitar. She leads her band with her axe, style and gritty soulful croon. The set is tight, zero fat and leaves you wanting more. She closes the show with “Only In America” and tells the story of camping in Death Valley.
“The message is like not only in America, we are all connected all over the world. That message of love and appreciation not only in America, we’re all a part of this bigger thing,” she said. You have to wonder if travels to Denver will impact her writing down the road.
“We’re supposed to spread a positive message, we can’t live in fear of these horrible things that are happening. I feel like, I’m a song writer, I want to something good for the world and spread that love.”
As far as how her writing is affecting her now, “It feels like now more than ever the message needs to be sent and people want to hear it and people connect with that. That to me is the most important song that I’ve ever written. It’s not just about me, I love writing songs for myself and to know myself better, but to be able to write a song to help people of the world in any way. If I could do anything that’s what I would want to do and that’s what that song’s for.”
While she writes about her story, being a voice to help people is a part of her songwriting, and collaboration keeps her on track. Her album Sleepless Dreamer has cowriters.
The most important her friend Kenny Woods, think Beck and think art, he’s a composer, engineer, mixer and producer on her record.
“You would never know, that’s how a lot of studios are, you would never know what’s behind those windowless walls — once you go inside — it’s a pretty magical place.”
She reflects about the effect his unassuming West Adams studio and it’s (James) Turrell inspired lighting had on her process of making music.
“It kind of can take me so long to finish things. It’s nice to have someone like Kenny who’s such an amazing producer who knows how to speed the process along. Song writing, especially cowriting, is much like a therapy session because I’m very autobiographical in a lot of my writing. I have to feel comfortable enough to be like this is what’s going on in my life, this is what I want to say.” Pearl calls him her “George Martin.”
Concrete Blonde wanted out, but Pearl Charles is still in Hollywood. Hollywood is in her too, more than a home, it’s her identity. It’s an identity she’s evolved from her first piano lessons at five years old not far from Laurel Canyon, to voice lessons at nine, to musicals in high school, finding rock and roll, spending time in the Palm Desert and finally laying it all down in an unassuming studio in West Adams.