Hometown: New York, New York
Members: Jocelyn Mackenzie (vocals, drum, melodica), Emily Hope Price (cello, vocals), Jeremy Styles (guitar,vocals)
Album: Killing the Darlings
For Fans Of: Dirty Projectors, Ani DiFranco, Holy Ghost Tent Revival
Before Pearl and the Beard, no one was clamoring for a trio build on three-part harmonies, cello and a gal just learning to play most of the instruments in her arsenal. No one requested a rendition of their song “Reverend” on the 57th Street subway platform, a performance that transformed from typical busking to a veritable New York moment as a crowd gathered and voices rose. And certainly no one asked for a six-armed, three-person sweater. But, like fried Oreos and the Segway, we no longer want to live in a world without Pearl and the Beard.
“I think you could ask, why even make these CDs? No one was begging us, please, Pearl and the Beard, please make music,” says guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Styles. But when Styles and his bandmates Emily Hope Price (cello, vocals) and Jocelyn Mackenzie (drum, melodica, vocals and more) met, it sparked something special between them.
“You see talent all the time and you’re not drawn to talk to it, but something was calling,” Styles says of Mackenzie and Price. “We’ve had other people in the band before, and we’ve played with other people on live shows. Things are great, and it’ll sound good and all fleshed out, but there’s something that clicks with the three of us. People always say, ‘Your voices blend so well!’ It’s sort of haunting how similar it can be, because I sometimes get my voice lost with the girls’ voices. It’s kind of similar to where you’re attracted to a smell of somebody more than somebody else.”
It may have started with a smell or a feeling or a tingling in the spine, but the promise Styles felt upon meeting his bandmates turned out to be more that just a passing attraction. They’re not only imminently compatible as singers, as evidenced in their masterful harmonizing. They also, as their website states, “[have] the same true love.” And while what, exactly, that true love is turns out to be a tough question for the musicians themselves to answer, it’s not difficult for the outside observer to see: they’re all notably happy people.
Artists can be rather tortured people. From Van Gogh to Cobain, we typically accept this miserable disposition as a symptom of their genius. For the Serious Listener, music made by happy people often doesn’t merit the same respect as music made by suffering souls.
Which is not to say that they’re not serious musicians. Price, for example, holds a master’s degree in cello performance from Carnegie Mellon University. Anyone who’s seen the trio nail the more challenging elements of their songs live will easily recognize Pearl and the Beard’s talent and discipline. But everything about them — from Styles and Mackenzie’s meet-cute at an open mic in a Brooklyn candy store to the smiles plastered on their faces when they perform — screams “fun” in a way that makes the likes of Cohen’s palms sweaty. And that’s before they even break out the sweater.
“Yes, the six-arm sweater is real. I was a fiber major, and I made it. I don’t really know why,” Mackenzie says of her three-person sartorial creation that doubles as the cover art on Pearl and the Beard’s debut, Killing the Darlings. “I have always related to sweaters. One time, I knitted a very small sweater that was under an inch square. I think it’s just about — everybody loves them. There’s something very Mister Rogers and Bill Cosby — they’re simple and familiar.”
The just-for-the-fun-of-it attitude that prompted Mackenzie to make a sweater for three is at the core of what makes Pearl and the Beard such a joy to listen to. Of course, each member of the band sounds polished and focused, but in foot-stomping numbers like “Reverend” or “Douglas Douglass,” Pearl and the Beard show that they believe making music is an inherently playful enterprise.
This acceptance of the playful side of making music may help explain why Pearl and the Beard are tough to fit into a neat genre description, or why Price finds herself playing a style of music she’d never dreamed of when she was learning her craft. “When I was growing up, this kind of music didn’t even really exist in the way that it does now, “she says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to perform.”
It may also help explain why Mackenzie feels comfortable performing on a number of instruments she’s only played for a short period of time. “When I first came into the band, I didn’t play any instruments at all, “she explains. “I think the choice to play lots of different kinds of instruments was because I was just learning. To say that I play those instruments would be untrue. I learned to play drums through this band. I wouldn’t say that I play the melodica. I just know that piece in that song. It’s more about trying to learn with what you have at your disposal.”
The pleasure Styles, Mackenzie and Price take in simply trying new things and exploring their boundaries as artists, combined with their unwavering support of each other, it’s no wonder they eventually created something lovely. That, it seems, is how the best things are made: take some talented folks and give them the space and resources to create. Sooner or later, they’ll make something you never thought to ask for, but find that you no longer want to live without. So it was with everything from the wheel to alternating-scent air fresheners, and so it is with Pearl and the Beard.