Dot to Dot Festival - Pearl and The Beard (Interview)
I've only recently started to appreciate that music, although a key part of any festival, is not enough to make a festival memorable and special. That may sound like an obvious statement to many, but it's one that's all too easy to forget. I've been to festivals where the lineup is incredible, but there is next to no atmosphere (or even worse, where the festival is full of drunken teens who appear to have taken the opportunity of a weekend away from their parents to be as obnoxious as humanly possible). I've also been to festivals where the atmosphere is electric, but the range of music on offer... leaves a little something to be desired, let's say. And whilst the latter usually makes for a fun weekend, as a music fan, I can't help but feel as though I should be supporting festivals that, themselves, are supporting talented and exciting musicians.
Hand-on-heart, Dot to Dot festival is the only festival I have been to where both the quality of music and the atmosphere are consistently good year-on-year. This time sround, the eclectic line-up included The Internet, Pond, Willis Earl Beal, Willy Mason, Beth Jeans Houghton and Bondax, to name but six. And none of those acts was even on the main stage (in Bristol, at least) - instead, they were playing in venues with a maximum capacity of no more than a few hundred people.
Aside from the music, this year's festival brought a series of memorable moments, including Lulu James stripping down during the course of her set to reveal a bin bag (which she subsequently removed), escorting Jake Bugg to a gig on the opposite site of Bristol (more on him later in the week) and a pigeon defecating on my friend. Another highlight was meeting the incredibly talented (and tactile) trio Jocelyn, Emily and Jeremy, otherwise known as Pearl and the Beard, who were kind enough to give me an interview after their set at Bristol Thekla. And a hug from each of them. The interview follows. The hugs you'll have to imagine.
Welcome to Britain!
Was this your first gig in the UK? What do you think of performing here?
We've played at The Barfly in London, we've played at St Pancras' church in London – that was awesome. We've played at The World's End. We've played at a whisky bar, all painted red. We've also played in Manchester.
OK, but is this your first festival in the UK, right?
What did you think? Did you enjoy yourselves?
Oh my God, we had a great time. It was surprisingly packed. And we weren't expecting to have people singing along to our songs; that was a little overwhelming! We didn't expect quite that many people. At festivals in the US, people just mill around, they won't stop and listen to one thing for a long time. So when we've done festivals in the US, we've played to maybe ten people for ten minutes, and then three more people will turn up and then seven will leave.
So did you enjoy yourselves?
Emily: Absolutely! I don't know if you noticed but Jeremy was enjoying himself so much that he grabbed hold of one of the rafters and started doing pull-ups. (The Thekla, where Pearl and the Beard performed, is a boat.)
Jeremy: I was really pumped. And I thought about doing more but, you know, I had to play the guitar.
Emily: *mocking* I could have gone longer, my friend.
Jeremy: I really like this festival, I like the way it's set up. It's very respectful in so far as, although there are two stages at Thekla, there aren't two bands playing at the same time. Maybe there's a slight overlap but, other than that, you don't have to think, “oh my God, who am I going to see?”, because that drives me nuts at some festivals.
You're playing Nottingham and Manchester, the other legs of Dot to Dot. Are you going to get chance over the weekend to see some of the other bands that are playing?
I know The Drums and Pulled Apart By Horses; they'd be good to see. And our friends, Vadoinmessico, are playing. We may be playing in one of their shows with them. Sometimes though, we have to take off running, like now.
For people who haven't heard your music before – and obviously, those people should be chastised – how would you describe your sound? Who do you get compared to?
Well, what's your favourite band?
Um...Pearl and the Beard? Is that the right answer?!
OK, so what's your second favourite band?
Probably Arcade Fire.
Well we sound just like them but a little bit more cool. *laughs* No, we're not cooler than Arcade Fire.
Which band would you say you are cooler than? Can we start a little rivalry going?
Jocelyn: No, that's mean!
Jeremy: Dogstar, Keanu Reeves' old band.
Emily: How do you even know that Keanu Reeves had a band?
Jeremy: I don't remember.
So how would you describe your sound?
Well, how would you describe it?
It's difficult! It's got a certain folk twinge to it, do you think that's fair? It's extremely energetic.
Well, we didn't play you our slow songs. We didn't play any of our more intense songs. Partly for time pressure but also, each venue calls for something different. And for some gigs, we might pick out a set that's a little more folky. And if we have a huge space to fill, we can play something different. We opened for Ani DiFranco and Ingrid Michaelson and that was to maybe a 1,700 hall. So we have songs that can fill up the stage a little more and ones in which we can take our time, and it depends on if the gig is seated or standing. This particular gig was more like, “Go!”, but I often say that we're “mixtape-folk”, if you want to go with the folk twinge.
So what music do you like? What are you going to be listening to on your journey back to London?
On the way here, we were listening to the radio. We wanted to see what was on the radio over here. We stayed on one station, which was a mistake, but it was all pretty much the same stuff as you get in the US.
Well, of course, the US is experiencing something of a British invasion with a lot of UK stars making it big commercially – One Direction, Jessie J, The Wanted etc.
I'm not sure if it's the British voice or the British history, the fact that the country is so old, I don't know. But something reflects in the music that punches us Americans in the face. How many British acts are there that are immortalised in the US? The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who. It's name after name after name. And Sting! But we won't listen to any of those guys in the car.
You're driving round the US, from gig to gig. Who would you be listening to?
Bon Iver, definitely. We listen to Radiohead, Katy Perry, Twin Shadow, Toro Y Moi. And we like to mix it up on the iPod; hit “shuffle”. And I really like They Might Be Giants. They're the quintessential Brooklyn band. They're professionals. I love their music but I also really admire their career. They're really prolific and their melodies are incredible.
Your album – it's out in the US but not out in the UK? What's going on there?
We have it in the car! You can buy it online digitally, anywhere in the world. But we don't have a formal distribution in the US either. We just take copies with us wherever we go!
And how has the reaction been to the album since it's been released?
It's been incredible. Incredible. Overwhelmingly so. When we've been at gigs playing as the opening act, we've been selling out of stuff. Which is... unfortunate, because we could have been selling more copies! But it's great that people are so into it. At one point, we actually needed to place a rush order, so Jeremy had to get a box of CDs shipped to us on overnight international. And we arrived in town maybe ten minutes after the FedEx office closed. And then Jeremy called some Customer Appreciation Advocacy Hotline, or something to that effect, and made the manager get out of his house and go to the FedEx office again. But we sold every CD, so it was worth it. I was crying.
Being in a band shouldn't be so stressful!
Well, I don't know what job isn't stressful. Except maybe professional sleeper. Or professional hammock tester. Or mermaid.
But it's why we tour so much. And I know that some people go to record stores. But we've been having discussions as a band to try and decide what we want to do about distribution. I mean what are people really doing now? There's the whole thing about the decline in CD sales, but we're still selling CDs physically at shows. A lot of times we give people stickers. These people may not have money on them right now, but they download it, or rip it. But it all helps you get people into the shows. To be honest, the only record stores still around in the US are independently owned. And that's if they've pushed through the recession.
Do you guys do anything to help your independent record stores? Did you do anything for Record Store Day or, if not, would you like to do that in the future?
We would love to do that. We've never been able to get involved in that. The timing hasn't been right, or there have been circumstances which have been outside of our control. So now, being independent, we've got a lot more flexibility and we can do the things that we really want to do. And I think it's really important to support the people that are helping to keep the traditional forms of music alive.
You can find out more about Pearl and the Beard and purchase music and merchandise from their website, http://www.pearlandthebeard.com
Details of the Dot to Dot Festival are given on the festival website, http://www.dottodotfestival.co.uk13 June, 2012 - 18:03 — Craig Stevens