Music Features

Q&A: Pearl & The Oysters Discuss Landscapes and Inspirations Behind Coast 2 Coast

Pearl & The Oysters. Credit Laura Moreau

Nathan Sheets’ new tape label, Attaboy Tapes, is presenting the dreamiest 40 Watt Club bill in recent memory on May 23, featuring local band Night Palace and Los Angeles-based synth-pop duo Pearl & The Oysters. Composed of partners Joachim “Jojo” Polack and Juliette Pearl Davis, Pearl & The Oysters delivers lush, groovy synth arrangements and catchy pop tunes influenced by the many worlds they have traversed. After meeting and making music in their native Paris, France, Polack and Davis followed their twin muse to Gainesville, FL. There, they flourished in the DIY scene, releasing several critically acclaimed albums. 

Their most recent album, Coast 2 Coast, was released Apr. 21 under LA label Stones Throw, which has made Pearl & The Oysters labelmates with acts like Madlib, The Koreatown Oddity and Mild High Club. 

Below, the duo discusses where they came from, where they’re going and why in the world anyone would move from Paris to Florida. 

Flagpole: You all just had an album come out. Could you tell me a little about it?

Jojo Polack: Well, it was really written kind of between Gainesville and Los Angeles. So, we did about half of the record in Florida, and then we moved halfway through the writing and recording process. So, that was kind of like the basic idea behind the title. It was kind of like our journey. 

Our music is always very inspired by the landscapes that surround us. Since the beginning of this band, I think it’s kind of been an exercise in exoticism, in a way. At least for us, everything is just very alien. When we moved to the States, it felt like that because Florida is very swampy. It’s very different from urban Paris. So, it became part of the identity of the band, I think, to equate the nature around us almost to discovering a new planet. We let ourselves be permeated by the environment, in the way we use synthesizers to imitate organic life, like bugs and birds. We keep doing it because we think it’s aesthetically fruitful, I guess.

FP: I hear a lot of city pop and Yellow Magic Orchestra influence in your music. Am I wrong there? 

JP: Oh yeah, they’re all over this album. And the last one. I feel like YMO is the main influence. You know, they had that great year in ’78 where all the members made amazing solo records and were involved in maybe five or six incredible albums. And maybe if you had only done that in your whole life, it’s enough, you know? That was just a year for them. And that’s, to me, so mind-blowing. So, yeah, there’s such a big influence. Especially the early YMO. The first and second album. That’s also where the name of the song comes from. It’s very on the nose with that. It’s sort of an homage. 

FP: Do you want to talk a little about what Gainesville was like? I’ve been once for this big book sale they hold down there. 

JP:  Yes, yes! Thanks for reminding me of that. It was so great. That was a happy place. A friend of ours found an original pressing of the White Album with the poster, and got it for like $2 or something. Crazy. It’s insane. Yeah, Gainesville, I mean, Gainesville completely… I feel like there’s a very, very, very clear before and after for us. It completely altered the scope of our understanding of art. I always make it seem like it was such an impactful thing, but I think it was for the both of us. There was the culture shock and there was the sort of ecosystem shock, right. But there was also the way people were in this town. It was so inspiring.  

Juliette Davis: Yeah, because we came from Paris, you know, and I mean, looking back, everything felt so stiff in the arts.

JP: And also cutthroat. 

JD: Yeah, cutthroat.  

JP: There was not much uplifting each other and a sense of a scene, trying to be a scene, trying to be stoked about everybody, you know, lifting each other up and kind of making it nice for everyone. Like, you know, what Athens fostered with Elephant 6, that sort of a scene. I wasn’t there at that time, but that’s what it feels like it was.  

I think that’s something that’s maybe a little specific to the Southeast, where there’s a lot of pride in the history of indie pop music there. And people are really trying to help each other and create a circuit for bands to tour and do DIY shows and try to get everybody, you know, to try to make this culture possible, basically. 

That was something that was really inspiring to us, because we had never imagined it’d be so vibrant. When you’re from a big European cultural hub like Paris, sometimes your vision of the U.S. is just a lot of the other big cultural hubs, like New York, L.A. and Chicago. You’re basically totally unacquainted with the South and college towns. I think college towns are wonderful because they’re sort of islands of progressive thinking. That’s necessary. 

It was a big, big thing for me, and I’ll never forget it. I feel like we wouldn’t be who we are now.

FP: What brought y’all over here from Paris? 

JP: Well, we both have dual citizenship through our respective mothers. We’d both lived our entire lives in Paris, and Juliette had this urge to spend a few years in the States, test the waters and see if she could make music. Singing jazz has always been a big dream of hers. 

So, then I had to have a plan. I felt really reassured by the idea of going to school. I was really interested in Brazilian music, and still am. In Paris, I was studying classical composition and feeling more and more depressed about the culture and the institutions, the conservatory. It was very alienating. 

So, I got an assistantship at the University of Florida in Gainesville, thinking I could get my doctorate in musicology in like two, three years, which was ambitious and very naive.

FP: What were those early days of the band like?

JP: Well, we came here in 2015, but we started touring really in 2017, I think. So those first two years were just kind of building up everything. Finishing up that album, and then trying to convince everybody to do shows. 

We had done this album in our bedrooms, and I sent it to people, and people started being really encouraging. There was this local collective/record label that really wanted to help us out. They offered to release our first album on tape, but they wanted us to tour. 

And we were like, “What? Tour? But like, I’m working and I’m going to school and like, how are we going to do that?”

But, we just took some time off, booked a little Southeast run, and that’s really how it started. It started very humbly and of course, like every band, you know, nobody knew us.

FP: What was it like touring in those early days? 

JD: I have this memory of being exactly at the border between Florida and Georgia at a gas station and just saying a few words to the salesperson at the gas station. And they looked at me, and they said, “Oh, Pepé Le Pew?” That’s like the only French thing they know. Like, much as it was exotic to us, I think we were exotic to a lot of people.

But yeah, I mean, it was incredible. We grew up watching road movies and being fascinated by them, so it was like living a fantasy. It was like a big adventure. I mean, you know how weird this country is and how weird the Southeast is.  

FP: Oh, yeah! 

JD:  But there is so much poetry also in it. And just, you know, taking our songs on the road was, you know, a dream we didn’t know we had. And it came true. We caught the bug. 

FP: How did y’all meet Nathan? 

JP: Well, at the time when we started touring, there were these Facebook groups: “Indie Nashville” or “DIY Nashville,” “DIY Philly.” Everyone was friends of friends of friends, and they set up this network for musicians to connect. It seems simple now, but it was so strange to us then. We really felt welcomed. 

It was almost like the opposite of the political culture, individualism and capitalism and everything. We did so many tours that we just booked through posting something on Facebook and people commenting names to contact. So, that’s how we met Nathan. There are so many bands in Athens that we love, too: Surface to Air Missive, Floral Portrait, Locate S,1. 

WHO: Pearl & The Oysters, Night Palace
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Tuesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $15 (adv.)