Pop Duo Pearl & the Oysters Document the End of Their Stint in Florida with Flowerland

Photo Credit: Laura Moreau

On “Soft Science,” the opening cut to Pearl & the Oysters’ third album, Flowerland, Juliette Davis is the voice reminding you over a mellow disco groove to take some time out for yourself. “Hey, come to the beach,” she sings, “You studied all night long, you deserve a break.” But guest vocalist Kuo-Hung Tseng, from Taiwanese band Rollercoaster Sunset, responds, “I can’t talk right now/I really should work/It wasn’t enough/Soft science is hard.” 

“I didn’t really want to sing this,” says Joachim Polack, who, along with Davis, comprises Pearl & the Oysters. “I thought it was too close to me.” 

Flowerland is a reflection of the end of the duo’s stint living in Gainesville, Florida, where Polack was working on his PhD in musicology. He and Davis grew up in Paris— they’ve actually known each other since high school— and studied musicology in France. But, the postgraduate system in the U.S. was different, with more coursework and a shorter period of time to complete the program. In France, they could juggle school, a band, and side jobs. That proved to be harder in the U.S. “The album is also a little bit about disillusionment with going to school and the toll it took on my health,” says Polack. “Having a band and doing that at the same time was really more than I could handle sometimes, and I think that it was a difficult time to navigate, but I’m really grateful for all the people that we met.”

He adds, “It was a really beautiful time in our lives.”

It wasn’t just school that was different in Florida. “The seasons were different. Everything seemed so new,” says Davis. 

Over the course of Pearl & the Oysters’ three albums, all of which were at least partially made while they were living in the Sunshine State, Davis and Polack have drawn inspiration from an environment that was quite different from France. The terrain, plants and insects all played in a role in sparking the duo’s creativity on their 2017 self-titled debut, 2018’s Canned Music, and now Flowerland.

“I think one thing that is different in this record is that it’s still very sunny and, basically, it’s an upbeat record in many ways,” says Polack, “but I think, for the first time, it’s more melancholy, trying to address stuff that we were going through in those last couple years that we lived in Gainesville.”

Flowerland certainly has its moodier moments. “I think that we’re incapable of doing a full-on gloomy album, but it has a little bit more of that,” he notes.

“But,” Polack adds, “it’s more balanced in terms of the gamut of emotions than the first couple of albums, which were very much sunshine pop, like bubblegum almost. Everything was over-the-top cute and I think that, this one, we tried to keep that element because that’s the music we like, but also be a little more transparent with what we were going through mentally.”

The musicians that they met while living in Gainesville also helped shape the album. “In this way, the influence is clear,” says Davis. “We didn’t work with studio musicians that did exactly what we asked them to do. We really collaborated on the sound.” 

That includes the duo Edmondson, who Polack describes as having a Smile-era Beach Boys vibe. “Whenever we wanted percussion, we would go over to their house and they had this big box full of all kinds of percussive contraptions,” he recalls. 

They also incorporated collaborators from outside of the Gainesville area. Kuo-Hung Tseng from Sunset Rollercoaster is one. Davis and Polack are big fans of the band and were able to connect through a mutual friend. They also linked up with Jules Crommelin of Australian band Parcels through a mutual pal, and sitarist Ami Dang via their former bass player. As Polack notes, they had good luck with finding collaborators simply by asking. “I feel like the lesson that I learned from making this specifically is that people should not shy away from doing that, because people are down,” says Polack. “It’s something that, in indie pop or rock music, is happening more and more.”

Before mixing the album, Davis and Polack moved cross-country. “We loved living in Florida for many reasons, but it was definitely not a destination for us. We didn’t plan on staying there for long,” says Davis. “The question was where—do we go back to France? Should we try another city in the Southeast?”

They decided on Los Angeles after playing a show in the city and made the move in January of 2020. “We understood the potential that the city has for us as musicians, as pop music musicians and definitely thought that it would be a good move and we are so glad that we did,” says Davis. 

They had just enough time to play a couple shows and start meeting people before the COVID-19 lockdown began. “Now that things are reopening, we’re fully understanding the potential of this city as musicians,” says Davis. “We’ve already been part of a few incredible projects in the past few months. We’ve been invited to play a lot of different shows.”

Davis adds, “Even though we arrived at the worst moment, we managed to actually really settle ourselves in this time in a pretty good way.”

Follow Pearl & the Oysters on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Cannibal Kids “Voicemail”

Cannibal Kids

Labeling yourself as a band is always a tricky situation, fraught with the peril of being compared and contrasted to many great bands (and many more terrible ones). Though Cannibal Kids’ Spotify bio cites “Japanese City Pop” and references Kero Kero Bonito, Rex Orange County, and Hiroshi Sato, what is most evident in the trio’s music is the South Florida home – it evokes high-energy, fun-in-the-sun vibes, and is as eclectic as the “city pop” genre itself. “It’s true that the artists who are labeled as ‘city pop’ these days seem to have no common musical backbone,” Hiroshi Atagi, singer of Awesome City Club, told The Japan Times. “We’ve come to realize that listeners don’t really care about musical characteristics and don’t really discriminate, much more so than we thought.”

Cannibal Kids is comprised of Damian Gutierrez (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dustin Diaz (lead guitar), and Luke Faulkingham (drums), who have been playing together since middle school. In 2017, they released their debut LP Bloom, amassing a fervent local fanbase; they wasted no time in following it up with this year’s deadheads. Though it is a bit more whimsical than their prior release, it’s still a long way off from sounding anything like the jam bands of the ’60s and ’70s. Today, they’re premiering a video for the album’s feel-good opening track “Voicemail.”

Like the song itself, the video is a light romp – it depicts the band hitting the road while a mysterious blue girl leaves forlorn voicemails, the grainy messages popping up between choruses throughout the song, gently asking for a call back. Essentially about keeping a cool head while under water in a relationship, the tune is light and airy given the melancholy subject matter. Those hints of desperation are mirrored in the video when the band is held up by would-be theives – who even go so far as to break the fourth wall in their demand for the cameras filming the video itself. The tape keeps rolling, with the band’s fate (as well as the lovers’) hanging on the line.

Follow Cannibal Kids on Facebook for ongoing updates.

F.E.M. Collective Brings Gender Parity to 2019 Island Hopper Songwriters Festival

Island Hopper Songwriter Festival

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival, a Florida-based fest that celebrates the songwriters behind country’s biggest songs, hit the scenic beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel last week for its 6th annual 10-day stretch. Over 80 artists performed, including Kristian Bush, Ashley Ray, Jerrod Niemann, Carly Tefft, Ryan Hurd, Gone West, Stephanie Quayle, and headliner Rodney Atkins.

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Rodney Atkins headlines Island Hopper Songwriters Festival.

Island Hopper included many things good festivals should have. Veteran songwriters were paired with bright-eyed new performers, local talent was on full display, an easy-to-use app helped you plan your days, and the multiple venues – many of which were free to attend – made the event accessible and non-intrusive for residents.

However, what made Island Hopper extra special was the fest’s apparent dedication to female country songwriters, many of whom are currently under represented in the industry and have responded by banding together in Nashville, and elsewhere, to make their voices heard.

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
A crowd gathers for the final performance at the Pink Shell Beach Resort in Fort Myers, Florida.

Sheena Brook, an annual Island Hopper performer, hosted an all-female event in partnership with The F.E.M. Collective. Brook launched F.E.M. (Female Empowering Musicians) at last year’s Island Hopper and has since taken the female-fronted show to venues throughout Florida and Nashville.

“[Island Hopper] has more females than any other festival,” she tells AudioFemme. “[F.E.M.] started with a bunch of my friends from Nashville that I write with and it came from us discussing that there aren’t all the places in the world for us to play because we’re not necessarily being offered spots. It’s a male-driven situation right now, and I wanted to make a space for us.”

Island Hopper Songwriter Festival
Sheena Brook (left) and Megan Linville (right) at Island Hopper’s F.E.M. Collective show.

While some festival performances can stir competitiveness or stress, Brook’s F.E.M. shows – at Island Hopper and elsewhere – make female songwriters of all different styles and skill levels feel welcome.

“All you have to do is show up and be yourself,” she says.

Brook’s F.E.M. shows and Island Hopper’s inclusiveness are just a part of a wave of response from country’s female songwriters. A major catalyst of the sentiment, the infamous ‘tomato-gate,’ is still inspiring country’s women today.

“A couple of years back, Lucy Collins was here and she was telling the story of the radio guy who told her [that] women in radio – women songwriters – are tomatoes in a salad, you only need a few,” Brook recalled of the 2015 incident. “I think slowly, and I say slowly because we’re nowhere near where we need to be in terms of equality, but I think we’re working on it.”

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Sheena Brook performing at Cabanas Beach Bar & Grille.

Launching in Nashville, artists have started podcasts, female-run record labels, and showcases like the Song Suffragettes, to carve out a space where they were once told they didn’t belong. There is no end-all solution. The goal for these organizations, like Island Hopper and Brook’s F.E.M., is a snowball effect, rather than a one-size-fits-all.

“There’s so many of us. No one can have one group and everyone feel like they matter,” says Brook. “I really love what they’re doing [in Nashville] and I’m gonna do something, too. There’s room for everyone.”

Island Hopper Songwriters Festival
Ayla Lynn (left) performing with Hunter Smith (right) at Matanzas on the Bay.

Brook says she’s already looking forward to returning to next year’s Island Hopper and, of course, hosting her F.E.M. show. The 7th annual festival’s dates have already been announced, landing from September 18-27, 2020.

“[Island Hopper] does a lot of great things for our culture,” says Brook. “That support that they’ve given us, is what it takes to change things.”