Pearl Charles: Reflecting Upon the Magic Mirror

Heartbreak is never a walk in the park, but having the right album to empower and guide you through the tears can make things a little more bearable. Released in January of this year, Pearl Charles’ sophomore album Magic Mirror is an introspective exploration of a relationship’s breakdown, and the healing period that follows. It is an empowering and hopeful look at love, and the euphoria to be found in understanding oneself.

The album is the perfect handbook for anyone looking to swap romantic relationships for self-love. Tracks such as ‘Slipping Away’ and ‘What I Needserve as reminders that we all evolve over time, sometimes outgrowing others. Pearl’s confident contemplation demonstrates the power of a woman’s instincts – you are in safe hands as she leads you through country rhythms and bright melodies. As the album unfolds, Pearl’s partners become a third wheel to her relationship with herself (“Baby I don’t wanna lose you, maybe that’s what I need”).

The record arrives during a period of collective reflection for many women. In recent weeks, there has been an overwhelming number of news stories highlighting the continued prevalence of misogyny in society. During a time filled with pain and anger, there is comfort in an album centring female experience and championing self-discovery. The album opening track is the ever so catchy, 70’s disco explosion ‘Only For Tonight’¸ where Charles contends with a flurry of negative emotions following a one night stand. She asks “why did I play this like a man?” – she wants to define her womanhood on her own terms – a powerful and important message, with a glittery backdrop.

In Magic Mirror, Pearl enters new sonic spaces; still a blues-rock sleepless dreamer, now weaving in moments of soft and psychedelic rock, and disco. There is a discernable nostalgia to the record by an artist raised on Carole King, ABBA and Fleetwood Mac, however the final product is equally progressive and representative of a modern woman. Bleaker moments are illuminated by her sunny Californian optimism. She presents her thesis on how a successful romantic relationship should look, advocating for her listeners to go after what they want, to invest in self-exploration and learn from life’s hurdles.

The record is Pearl Charles’ looking glass; she shows the light and shade, the beautiful and the unsightly. Wax Music had the pleasure of sitting down with her to discuss the release and the sparkling dream world she has crafted in the record.

Congratulations on the album – it seemed very poignant and thematically timely despite the fact you wrote it before lockdown. Has your relationship with the album and the tracks changed since its recording?

Some songs flow out very quickly and some songs take literally years to develop. Some of these songs I was writing even before my last record, Sleepless Dreamer, but they were unfinished. Some of them we wrote right up until we started recording. It was all finished January of 2020 – pre Covid. It definitely feels very relevant. For example, when I wrote the song ‘As Long As You’re Mine’, obviously that was somewhat of a joke, but it feels like things have been very crazy for a long time.  Everything was really put into perspective last year.

The record almost came out in May, that was the original release date. We decided just to hold off because there was a lot of other issues going on that needed more attention. It felt right to me to hold off and wait for a more appropriate time. But now, with vaccines and a new president it feels like a hopeful time, and I think the album is a hopeful album at its core. So I think in that way it’s very timely.

Yes, I think the optimism is prevalent. Songs such as ‘Magic Mirror’ and ‘Imposter’ are deeply introspective and self aware. Do you think for your second album you reached inwards perhaps more so than on Sleepless Dreamer?

Definitely. I think Sleepless Dreamer was very much about my romantic relationships – which also is a part of this record too – but it was more about what was happening to me, whereas Magic Mirror was spending more time going inward and seeing how I was feeling about those things. It’s still autobiographical and is still about my life, but it’s much more about how I’m reacting to it. There’s a questioning of who I want to be in that world.

So what does Magic Mirror mean to you as an album and track title?

Sometimes when I go to sleep I have had songs come to me in dreams. I don’t do this every night, but it just so happened on this night I thought ‘I’d love to get a song in my dream tonight’. I put that intention out to the universe. Then I woke up in the morning and I didn’t have a song but I knew the album had to be called Magic Mirror, it was so clear to me. I  hadn’t even written the title track ‘Magic Mirror’. I went to my producer and said to him, “I know what the album is going to be called”, and he replied “great, do you have a title track?” I hadn’t even thought about it, I was thinking I could just call my album whatever I wanted because it was representative. My producer was like “just try to write it, it’ll be cool”.

Then I went to my friend Morgan [Nagler] who was nominated for a Grammy this year for co-writing a song with Phoebe Bridgers. She was like “I have an idea of a song I want to work on with you, but for some reason the word mirror keeps echoing in my head”. It was a crazy cosmic coincidence right there; I love that kind of stuff! I think it describes the concept of the album really well: it’s about introspection. It’s about looking at yourself and taking a long hard deep look at yourself where you may not always like what you see, but we have to confront who we really are. I think the concept of the magic mirror is really beautiful and representative – while it may not always show things you don’t want to see, it will simultaneously also show you all your potential, and who you want to be. It allows for the most real look at yourself.

On this record, you explore new territories, not just country but rock, pop and disco too – I’m sure the ABBA comparison has been made. How have your influences seeped into this album?

Well, it’s funny because the ABBA comparison is very obvious, but it’s kind of an outlier on the album, I thought it was a really fun way to start it off. I mean the thing is ABBA is really diverse as a band, I don’t need to spend too much time talking about this although I could spend hours.

Oh me too, no worries!

People mainly know ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and the big sparkly disco hits, but they have tons of range. I love ABBA, but I also love Fleetwood Mac and Bonnie Raitt. The album is an amalgamation of all my favourite music, I wanted to try and find a way to bring stuff together. I’m not trying to say that I’m groundbreaking, but I thought it was quite cool to mix country, disco and soft rock, and these things that I like, but they aren’t always put together.

Do you think your relationship with country music has changed in recent years?

It’s really funny because in America I don’t think I am perceived to be country or Americana at all, that seems to be an exclusively UK thing. Country music is an interesting one as I’m not really involved in that world in the States. This isn’t “woe is me”, but I haven’t really been welcomed into that world as an Americana artist, even though I feel it’s my main influence. I really embrace it when I hear that they perceive me as country music in the UK or Europe. I love to wear my cowboy hat and boots, I love the whole aesthetic and the sound.

Country music has a history of not being very inclusive and that is a fault. The truth is when you really look at the history there are so many different backgrounds in America that lay the foundations; there were tons of black people making country music, many of whom are only now starting to receive long deserved attention. I’m thinking of this one singer Linda Martell; she’s amazing! I think she was the first black woman to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, but I had never heard of her until the last year. It’s great to be a voice in Americana and country music, trying to bring attention to those stories that aren’t getting enough, as well as letting everyone of all races and genders know that the music is for them. It’s not just for your straight white men driving trucks. I’m not trying to offend anyone but there is room for everyone in there.

There’s been a lot of stuff in the media about misogyny in music and beyond in recent weeks. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to the narrative of what it means to be a woman through your music?

Yeah, totally. I look at my idols Christine McVie and Carole King and all these amazing singer songwriters in the 70s. I feel so lucky that they lay down a path for me and I want to be able to bring that into 2021 and beyond. It’s not as hard for me as it was for them, luckily now things are starting to change – although nothing is solved and we still struggle. Having those women as icons for me to look to and to identify with is why I make music. They helped me feel less alone in the world and I want to be able to do it for other people. I am a woman and these are my experiences; I know that sharing my own experience can help other people.

I love that you are on an indie label and appear to have embedded yourself into the musical landscape from a position of authenticity. Is this something you have proactively sought to do as an artist or would you consider signing to a major label?

That’s a great question. This is my last record with this label so I don’t know what the future holds. The most important thing to me is to remain creatively in control of the project so we will see what is laid out to me. It’s been so beautiful about working with an indie label. They’re very supportive of me, my art, my vision – they don’t question it. I know wherever I go in the future I need that again.

You have been a name in the LA music scene for 10 years or so. Excuse the cheese, but imagining you had a magic mirror and you could offer some advice to a young Pearl at the start of her career, what would you say to her?

It’s interesting because I was asked recently what I would do differently and to that my answer would probably have to be nothing. I am where I am because of all the mistakes I made in the past. That’s why it’s a really tough question cos my first instinct would be to say I should have gone solo from the jump, but I learned so much from being in bands and I cant really regret that time at all. But at the same time I almost wish I had just jumped into doing my own thing sooner because I was in bands with guys that I was dating. Those were great experiences and they taught me a lot but I think that perhaps if I was a young woman I would say “just focus on yourself! Don’t worry about him.”

Yeah you don’t need his band – be your own band!

Yeah exactly, and some people did say that to me but it took a few years for me to build up my confidence. You know, that’s life! I was just a kid.

Do you have plans to tour with the album when things get back to any sense of normality?

The plan is to come to the UK early next year but we will have to see what happens. Things are so unpredictable. It seems like it could be possible. Im hoping so. It’s possible that some smaller shows around southern California will open up, but I don’t know if there will be any big tours as the state is still pretty locked down.  

I saw on your Instagram this morning “more exciting news coming this month” – please can you let us know any future plans for Pearl?

We just released an official video for ‘Imposter’ last week with an interview with Jack Saunders on BBC Radio 1, as well as a BBC Radio 6 spotlight and a listening party last week with Tim Burgess. It’s all good stuff over in the UK so I’m looking forward to getting over there!

Words: Rachel Mercer // Photos: Dana Trippe/Shawna Schiro

‘Magic Mirror’ is out now via Kanine Records. You can stream and purchase the album via Pearl’s Bandcamp page.

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