Feature: Traveling into the Imaginary Universe of Pearla with Her Debut Album, ‘Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming’

Pearla © Tonje Thilesen
Pearla © Tonje Thilesen
Coinciding with the release of her debut album, Brooklyn singer/songwriter Pearla chats with Atwood Magazine about the power of songwriting, mixing reality and fantasy, and the satisfaction of a good night’s sleep.
‘Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming’ – Pearla

It’s always been a process of dealing with life but also traveling somewhere with songs. Songs are like little portals into I don’t know where. Some mysterious place. 

Six years after her first single “Somewhere” was released, the debut album by Brooklyn-based artist Pearla feels long-awaited. During this time, there’s been sprinklings of new songs that have appeared like fairy dust and, due to the space between them, captured specific periods. Entitled Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, the album (released 10 February) takes emotions such as doubt and anxiety and transforms them into something small and harmless. It’s like these emotions are an insect that at first seems intimidating and evil but on closer observation and understanding is actually delicate and an example of the wonders of life. This comes across in the themes of the songs that allow the imagination to take lead and the sound which is gentle, dreamy and at times playful.

Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming - Pearla
Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming – Pearla

The atmosphere is introduced with the opening track “Strong” which functions as a portal into Pearla’s world. ‘Well I thought I was strong/ But I was wrong’ she concludes with a skip in her step, the happy-go-lucky instrumentation fading into the sunlight. The best way to deal with any negativity is to dive into a daydream where escapism is at its most safe. Therefore with Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming we go to places where the sky is ‘like a parachute/ Big, and blue, and beautiful’ (“Ming The Clam”), where there’s a ‘Blue swimming pool clear carrots in the garden’ and ‘A certain sweetness only found in memory’ (“Effort”).

In “Barm,” environments of innocence are contrasted with grim realities, for example ‘The waves leave their foam/ To line the shore like cotton balls/ Like comfort, like a balm/ Like a bed for all sharp beings’ and ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe/ That I made it through this morning! [… ] Maybe I will leave my room,’ – both of which are set to a backdrop of simple strums of guitar joined by atmospheric strings. This blend is very much at the essence of Pearla’s music where actions and memories are recounted in a simple, straight to the point manner and thoughts flow spontaneously. ‘And I don’t know why I’m still awake, looking for something to do/ What do I do?’ She asks in the slow and yearning “Effort” before listing ‘Watch dumb TV/ Go for a walk/ Write in a journal/ Stare at the clock/ Call a friend/ Whisper “fuck you” to the world.’ 

‘Cause I believe there’s a planet where
Nobody could see nor hear nor think
Nor do anything but love and float around
And we are bridled by the weight of the future and past
And I can’t control how my body reacts

To that god awful sound in my mind
Here comes the rising of the great heat
And I become everything that I’m not
Looking through your eyes as they scrutinize me
And I forget all the good that I’ve got
– “The Place With No Weather,” Pearla

And every night I sleep with your birthday card
And in your handwriting, it says I am a star
Well, I don’t feel like one, in fact, the opposite
What’s the opposite of a star, anyway?

Are there places in the sky that are softer than others?
Are there still things left to run away from?

Are there still things left to discover?
Sometimes I fall, and I can’t get back up
So is this the sidewalk, or a balance beam?
– “Funny In Dreams,” Pearla

Stream: “The Place With No Weather” – Pearla



The overall approach is like one of classic folk and country storytelling, mini tales shared with the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, which is felt in songs such as “Flicker” and “The Mysterious Bubble Of The Turkey Swamp.” It therefore makes the blending of reality and fantasy more profound and ambiguous, as exemplified with “Funny In Dreams” (with John Prine style lightheartedness) which recounts a dream as though it’s a real life memory. What’s the difference between the two anyway? We can ask ourselves. In addition to this there are the added subtle orchestral touches that add an extra layer of dreaminess. 

Pearla is the stage name of Nicole Rodriguez, and Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming follows her EP Quilting & Other Activities, released in 2019. The majority of the album was born in Pearla’s home and then further brought to life in studios in Brooklyn and Richmond, collaborating with musicians who opened up new worlds around the lyrics.

Music’s a weirdly powerful and therapeutic thing. Sometimes songs can speak directly to you or draw you in like an absorbing book but the sonic elements, the arrangements and the ambiance, can hit your senses altering your mood and making you feel things within an instant. This is especially true in moments when you’re in need of someone or something, when feeling lost or alone. Pearla’s previous releases had this effect and it’s thus reassuring to know that there’s now a full album we can turn to when in need of a sonic hug and when we need that reminder that things can feel so much easier when transforming them into music.

Atwood Magazine caught up with Pearla ahead of the album’s release to get more of an insight into its creation and explore the intriguing relation between our imagination and everyday life.

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:: stream/purchase Pearla here ::
Stream: “With” – Pearla


Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming - Pearla

Atwood Magazine: It’s been 5 years since I wrote about “Forgive Yourself” and “Pumpkin” so let’s begin with the cliché questions: What has changed in the last 5 years? How has your vision, approach to music altered? What have you learnt?

Pearla: A lot has changed, a lot of time has passed since then. I think that my relationship with music has always been the same which is that it’s the place I go to understand myself and my relationship with the world. I think that I’ve become a little bit more free with my words and a little more drawn to different details of life. It’s really hard to put a finger on but I think especially with this most recent album I felt like I was zooming into more specific parts of my life and valuing them as important things to write about whereas before I thought you could maybe only write about something if it felt earth-shattering.

The reason your music has so much charm is due to the blend of fantasy and reality. The emotions are so relatable when you touch on things like solitude and anxiety but these are mixed with poetic escapism. I find that that’s important in life, to allow the imagination to take you some place else when the everyday sucks. Was there a moment when you thought ‘ok I can make music for this reason,’ to be able to blend the two and play with that?

Pearla: I think music has always been like this other place that you can go to which didn’t exist within the bounds of reality. It could exist in this imaginary place and I think I always had a lot of fun playing with where else could I go with a song. I always felt like I was bringing the really hard stuff from life into this imaginary world I was creating with my songs, forming a new relationship with those difficult things that were happening in reality and then bringing them back. It’s always been a process of dealing with life but also traveling somewhere with songs. Songs are like little portals into I don’t know where. Some mysterious place.

I love that! Was that always the case? Like when you wrote your first songs in the past it was with that mindset?

Pearla: I think so. I always felt like songs were these secret hideaways where you could go to. It’s like when you find a song that nobody else knows and you’re like ‘I’m here now in this song.’ I always felt like it was this magical place to be inside of a song. I remember feeling like that when I was a kid, being like ‘i have to make songs. This is the coolest thing ever.’

I imagine there are songwriters that have an effect on you, where you’ve listened to their music and instantly thought ‘wow this speaks to me’ or ‘ok I have a real urge to write,’ Are there any moments in particular when this has happened and if so which songs?

Pearla: That’s a good question. Joanna Newsom is a huge influence of mine. I feel like you could spend hours decoding what’s happening in her songs, like “Emily” for example or “Monkey and Bear.” It’s another good example of a song that has endless layers, stories, characters and meanings and you could really get lost in it but it also feels very easy, for me, to find myself in that and relate to it. I also really love songs that are brutally honest about emotions and life. I appreciate both but there’s definitely something special about being able to go some place else and return to your life with a new sort of lens.

I think my favorite song on the album is the final one, “The Mysterious Bubble Of The Turkey Swamp”, and it really sums up this idea as well. For example, the lyrics ‘And it would never be the same again so I hold it in/ In my song’ and ‘One day I woke up and realized I was in a song.’ It’s all about capturing life or creating a world with songwriting. What is the importance of capturing these moments in a song for you?

Pearla: I feel like everything is so leading and it’s hard to know that everything is temporary because we get caught up in our lives and heads. I feel the need to just remind myself that these moments are meaningful before they’re gone and maybe it’s this attempt at making something feel eternal. I feel like songs exist in this place where you could lose a recording or the lyrics but once a song is made in space there’s really nothing that could take it out of space. It still exists and it feels very eternal. So maybe it’s this attempt to keep life alive in a song. 

That song specifically is about someone really close to me who passed away and the last time that we saw each other was celebrating someone really close to us having a baby. It made me think about how lives come and go and move in these different forms and everything’s always changing energetically. There’s something about a song to me that feels like it holds it altogether. Sometimes I go into a song and feel like I’m with her. I get this sense that when in the flow of a song you’re connected more than just the physical world. Maybe it’s that attempt to just hold on to the fleeting and constantly changing.

That’s so true. It’s why songs can become kind of timeless in the sense that you can listen to something from decades ago and immediately relate and feel connected because the lyrics speak of something real. I find that a special thing.

Pearla: Yeah it’s like this pocket of time you can go into and come out of. 

In your daily life what is the role of the imaginary for you? For example, sometimes I feel like the life in my head is more real and more representative of me than my everyday.

Pearla: I love that. It’s very much the same for me. In the past I’ve struggled with that as a writer because I want to depict realities and tell stories for what they are but at the same time my outside world is so overpowered by my inner world. There’s so much going on inside that it’s hard for me to actually ever explain what happened without explaining everything that I was feeling and all the sensations that were happening inside of me. Maybe that’s everyone but I also feel like I’m somewhere else. It’s hard for me to be grounded and im working on that. I feel like there’s just a lot of stuff going on in my head.

I get that and I feel like a balance can be good. It’s like life in general is just a mix of myths and the real.

Pearla: Yeah I like to be open to the mystery of things.

The song “Funny In Dreams” I feel represents this well. I’m assuming that was taken from dreams you had.

Pearla: Yeah that song is actually just one dream. It’s nothing added, nothing taken away. [laughs]

Amazing. In regard to the title of the album, you had said “I think it means, you don’t have to peel back every layer before you go to sleep.” Could you expand on this? Does sleeping hold any significance for you?

Pearla: I feel like it can mean a lot of things and it’s really open to interpretation. I came up with that phrase before I wrote the album. I just loved the feeling of it, the rhythm and the images. I knew I wanted to name the album that but I didn’t really know what it meant. I was playing with words at the time, that was when I really started writing with the stream of consciousness and that kind of invited in this new kind of approach. It’s come to me over writing the album that so many of these songs are about uncertainty and these questions that I have. I always felt like writing was a way to find the answer or tie a bow on my life and whatever I was struggling with. I think with this album I realized that the questions might be bottomless and I’m never going to figure it all out. I wanted to play with just letting questions exist and finding peace in that uncertainty. In retrospect maybe I was talking about finding this sense of peace and being able to rest your head without having solved everything. You don’t have to peel back every single layer of the onion before you can rest your head at night.

I also feel like I get this sensation sometimes at night when I haven’t done what I was meant to do during the day or I haven’t reached whatever sense of peace about the day yet so I stay up later. I’m actually just realizing this now that maybe my sleep has got better in the past few years. I think this album has helped me to be at peace with the idea that I’ve been having, that there’s no point that you need to reach to feel at peace and everything thereon will be ok.

Pearla © Tonje Thilesen
Pearla © Tonje Thilesen

I feel like that would make sense because, if you’re letting a lot of stuff out with the music, you can feel a lot lighter within yourself.

Pearla: Yeah and just letting the uncertainty exist and being like, ‘I don’t need to have a reason, it just is what it is,’ and being at peace with the questions; Letting questions be questions and then going to sleep and still being ok with that.

I get the impression that you’re somebody who dreams a lot. I love that because I’m somebody who dreams every night and I find it weird when people are like, ‘I never dream’ or ‘I never remember my dreams.’ Are you somebody who analyzes their dreams? I take mine seriously even they’re super mundane.

Pearla: Yeah I take my dreams very seriously – it’s like my other life, because also your dreams have such an impact on your day after that. Sometimes I analyze them if there’s a really strong feeling that I had in the dream, or if it feels somewhat related to my life and sometimes I just enjoy them as experiences. There’s a lyric in “With” that says, ‘In dreams in which I feel a new feeling and it tells me to start again.’ It’s kind of vague and I can’t really remember but in this dream my sister or a family member handed me a book and they were like ‘you know you could just start again right?’ and I felt a feeling in the dream that I never felt in my life before, like the first time I experienced the feeling was in my dream with this idea that I can start again. Whatever that meant, why I needed to hear that, that was a really valuable experience for me because now I have that idea to start again and that sense of possibility that it gave me at a time when I was maybe feeling hopeless about some things. I take each dream individually, and sometimes they are to be analyzed and sometimes they’re just their own experience. But I really love dreaming and I hope I never stop having them.

I love that you had a moment like that in a dream. It’s definitely happened to me before and it’s both bizarre and special.
I’m really interested to know your process of writing. Is it that you’re always making note of emotions and observations and then afterwards you compile them into a song? Or do you think of a concept for a song and then craft the lyrics from that?

Pearla: I think I’m always sort of writing throughout the day and making notes of things that I’m feeling and phrases that come to my head or something I notice. The songs are always coming from something inside of me that I need to address. It’s not until there’s something really bubbling up that I need to write it up and sort through my feelings about it. A lot of times I don’t realize until way later what the song is about, just like with this album. Usually it’s the feeling first of, ‘Ok something is off here’ and I need to touch base with myself. Then I’ll let it flow out and play and sing and see what happens. Way later is usually when I’m like, ‘Ok, this is what I was talking about’ and this is how I was actually feeling about this situation, which I didn’t realize until I blurted out those lyrics.

Pearla © Tonje Thilesen
Pearla © Tonje Thilesen

In regard to authors and books, are there any that are particularly significant for you and that you can really get lost in in the same way as getting lost in a song?

Pearla: I love Virginia Woolf and also Leonora Carrington who’s also an artist and writes these surrealist short stories. I’ve recently been reading a lot of Sheila Heti which is a lot less fiction escapism; it’s more just talking about her emotions. It’s very honest writing, which I really love. Also I love Mary Oliver.

How did Oh Glistening Onion… come together? Who did you work with and what role did they play in bringing these songs to life?

Pearla: My main collaborator is Tyler (Postiglione) who produced the album and also Quilting & Other Activities, we work probably the most deeply together on this music. Usually I write the song and he’s the first person I show it to. I bring it into the studio and we play and explore it and see what happens. He’s a really talented experimental composer too so he has a little bit of a different perspective that he brings to these songs. Typically I like to set the song free once I’ve written it. I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s see what happens. Where does this song want to go?’ So we have a really open and trusting relationship with each other and the song. 

There’s also a lot of musicians I was playing with at the time. I was playing a lot of shows and I was playing with a band that really helped me to make a lot of the arrangements for the songs and they recorded on the album. There’s Charlie Culbert who played drums on this album, Jack McLoughlin who plays the pedal steel and Julian Smith Who plays bass. Then also a good friend of mine Jack Sasner sings a lot of the harmonies on this record and he’s just a huge musical friend who I feel has shared a lot with me a lot of my now favorite music. Also just seeing my friends play music and write songs and sending them to each other. Even if they weren’t on the record, they were a huge part of me going ahead and making music. 

That’s sweet! Some was recorded in the studio, obviously, but did you also record some of the record in your home?

Pearla: Yeah so most of it was in my apartment or Tyler’s apartment and then we recorded a lot of the band stuff at a studio in Brooklyn. Then once the bulk of that was done and we connected with Spacebomb where we were able to actually go to Richmond and record with a live string and horn section which was incredible and such a dream. Trey Pollard wrote the arrangements and conducted those sessions. The record has several locations and a lot of different people who contributed to it but there’s a lot of really incredible musicians who helped bring it to life and I’m really grateful for all of them because everyone brought their own heart to it. It wouldn’t be the same if it was just me.

Pearla © Tonje Thilesen
Pearla © Tonje Thilesen

I read in the press bio that you enjoy writing songs with children. That’s super cool! Is it something you do a lot?

Pearla: I also teach at a pre-school so that’s the context. It’s really inspiring to sing songs with kids everyday and we sing a lot of classics together but they have a lot of ideas for songs and they’re always kind of saying silly stuff and wanting to sing it. It’s such a special experience to get to hear their ideas and follow them and add some chords and make it a song that they feel like they’ve created. It’s actually become a huge part of my life because I do it every day. There’s definitely a lot of inspiration there, talking about letting your words flow and going into imaginary worlds.

Exactly! To close things off, are there any songs on this album that are particularly significant for you or maybe sum up a period of your life the most?

Pearla: Hmm, it’s hard because they all do in their different ways. I will say, we did talk about “The Mysterious Bubble Of The Turkey Swamp,” but that was one of the first songs that I wrote for the album so it definitely brings me back to a very specific time and feeling. The Turkey Swamp is a park near my childhood house and that song I feel connects me to my childhood self and the people that I’ve lost since I was a child. It’s a really important song for me in terms of something that I feel holds my life in this way.

Finally, how do you plan on transferring the songs to a live environment? I feel like your music is really effective listened to alone. Obviously it will be sweet live too but I wonder if you have a different approach for opening up your universe when on stage?

Pearla: I definitely have an amazing band that I’ll be playing with for the next few shows and they bring a lot of their own magic. For me my job is I guess being present and sharing these feelings and stories as openly as I can and hoping that’ll take you somewhere.

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:: stream/purchase Pearla here ::
Stream: “Unglow The” – Pearla

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Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming - Pearla

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? © Tonje Thilesen

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