On their highly original debut album, Soft Opening, Brooklyn duo Pearl Necklace (aka Bryce Hackford and Frank Lyon) have systematically taken apart various genres of electronic music, reprogrammed the circuitry and re-constructed it to their own unique vision. We caught up with the duo to discuss the record, the approach and avoiding steam up the ass.
Bowlegs: Nice double-entendre on the band name – how has the feedback been going with that moniker?
Bryce Hackford: It’s funny. People really respond in so many ways, more positive by a long shot. We’re interested in an ambiguity, though, in an opportunity to think about something else.
Frank Lyon: I’m hot for context, and, this name capably sheds all sorts of light on different situations. So, the feedback is good because it’s interesting. I’ve found that older people like it best. I’d like to drive at a space lateral to innocence and vulgarity, somewhere less territorialized.
Bowlegs: Your music is constructed with such a wide range of sounds, samples and varying timbres. How did this journey begin for Pearl Necklace – what artists have inspired, influenced and helped shape your sound?
BH: The way that sampling has affected my relationship to recorded sound is a very big part of what we continue to experiment with in PN. I play records out a lot as a DJ, and Frank joined me for some sets early on in our dialog… I think the freedom of relating to objectified “music” cued a lot of our openness to hearing and interest in the performative qualities of listening, the third space beyond the recording/live dichotomy.
FL: I draw a lot of inspiration from rap music production. I like to mix disparate ingredients together and weave a crooked path through the codes of palatability. I’m interested in creating a feeling of corporeality through a sampler, too. I don’t think this comes from an artist, it’s an instinctual response to living with technology and seeking stimulation.
Bowlegs: So you want to write a song called Leak – what happens next – you sample various watery sounds and see what works? All sounds quite literal? How do these songs start life is basically what I am asking? The record certainly has moments of the abstract about it?
BH: These pieces are all entirely improvised. Titles, start and end points, fades, etc – they are all after the fact, but form comes more from engagement. We do talk a lot, and wind up with a lot of key language ideas that get repeated in various ways, titling tracks and inspiring all the ideas. Language is always a catalyst, but there is no “plan”.
FL: Until now we’ve always avoided having a particular goal with any of our pieces, instead opting to use certain simple rules of operation and just giving it a whirl. In our conversations, there is a particular feeling when we strike upon a phrase or idea that feels like it will be useful. In my head I call it “scoring.” I actually listen for it everywhere… The rest is pairing and matching, exploring juxtapositions and harmonic intensities.
Bowlegs: Talking of song titles and their creation – Pearlfriend features ARP – as do many of the other tracks. Is this a song for him – I understand he has helped and assisted Pearl Necklace?
BH: I thrive on collaboration. It only made sense to use our recordings as vehicles for these sorts of collaborations, extended dialogs, new variables.
FL: Bryce and I both share a rich musical dialogue with Alexis; he was a natural choice for us because we sensed he would have a nuanced and literate approach to the types of musical cues we produce. We thought he might see rare pockets.
Bowlegs: I love the track Don’t – do these songs run into emotional territory from your point of view? Is Don’t a love song, a sad song, an aggressive song?
BH: If we can use the procreation metaphor for our creation here: you make something where the goal is sustainability, something that operates on its own–you don’t really have any idea what it will want to do or say to others.
FL: It’s always emotional, and the songs change as I hear them. It can actually be alarming from time to time how differently you can feel them each time, but, then again, I’m sort of new to this. I only recently started paying this much attention to my feelings and sensations etc.
Bowlegs: You’ve got MGMT’s Andrew Vanwyngarden on album closer Wist –how was he to work with on a musical level? What is he doing on this track – I can’t hear his voice?
BH: Andrew has this beautiful old electric keyboard that used to be mounted on some sort of bandstand–I forget the exact make.
FL: I can’t hear his voice either. Our good friend Dave Macnutt engineered those overdubs, and, I’d like to say I feel him on that track, because he commands an unmistakable frequency profile, but I don’t. I do know that Andrew did a bit of the tinkering on a laptop in an airport.
Bowlegs: How long did this record take to put down? Was it a positive experience – has it turned out as you’d hoped? Do you listen to it much now it’s in the can and ready to go?
BH: As it wasn’t a straightforward process, I think the recordings date between 2009-11. Being so focused on the process has kept the results interesting. I listen now and again but I’m much more focused on the recordings that still require work.
FL: We were really patient with the recording, and I think it’s one of the strong suits of the record. We didn’t really measure it against anything external, opting instead to just trust that it would feel done someday. I don’t listen to it that often because I’m a bit obsessed with listening to new music, but, I enjoy dipping back in with it, and, I think I’ll do so again soon.
Bowlegs: I see the first track you have put out there, the wonderful Did You Feel It? appeared on Pitchfork? That’s a good way to start the promotion right? Will you become a little twitchy when the album reviews start appearing?
FL: Probably not. I have no idea how I will feel, but in general I’ve learned to take anything anyone says with some salt. If anything you really have to keep the good reviews in perspective; steam up the ass can kill a man. You can get confused about why you do what you do. So, again, lots of salt in the diet, and I just try to let my body do the talking when it comes to how I feel about my work.
Bowlegs: What’s Pearl Necklace’s most invaluable piece of musical equipment? I can imagine being an electronic artist can be expensive game if things start to breakdown?
BH: I think for this project in particular our relationship to technology is very free. There is no keystone in our setup; the decentralization of power is important. Obviously, something like a line-mixer is very important, but there’s always a little mixer around. Things come and go…
FL: Mmmm, little mixer. I’m not passionate about gear, and tend to use most of my stuff to the least of its capabilities. I’ve been lucky to not have the MPC breakdown but it is gaining a bit of “character,” and I do begin to think about the future sometimes and what other platforms I might explore in this project.
Bowlegs: Finally – what records/artists have you been listening to of late?
BH: I just saw Hype Williams in London and was digging on that Inga Copeland 12″ earlier in the year. They are my new favorite band. Omar S and Lil B also put out a bunch of cool stuff…
FL: Yeah, Lil B is one of our angels. Besides that I’d say the “Ying Yang’s” blog has been a great source of musical pleasure this past year, and I guess I’d just say that a number of different things people call “Footwork,” have given me feelings too.
BH: And we read books.
-Interview by Zac Cohen-
-Photos by Martha Fleming-Ives-