DFW Music News

Bailey Chapman Talks Pearl Earl, Move to Los Angeles and Having it All

Bailey Chapman from Pearl Earl is leaving for Los Angeles, among all her good news.
Bailey Chapman from Pearl Earl is leaving for Los Angeles, among all her good news. Simone Carter
Bailey Chapman wears many hats. Like, we’re talking a graze-the-ceiling pile.

You probably know her as the drummer for beloved Denton psych rock group Pearl Earl, which is on the short list to open for pretty much any cool band that comes through town, and has played every major local festival from Homegrown to Fortress Fest. But even those credentials give short shrift to Chapman’s current interests and commitments.

An incomplete account would have to include, at minimum: drumming for Heavy Pulp, her new post-punk duo with her partner Alexander Gillen; subbing as a drummer in a handful of other touring acts, such as Thelma and the Sleaze and Sailor Poon; teaching two summer painting courses at Texas Woman’s University; and completing home renovations in preparation for renters and an end-of-the-month blowout that will serve both as her engagement party and going-away party.

Yeah, on the heels of their engagement, Chapman and Gillen are also moving to Los Angeles. This move will allow Gillen to pursue a PhD in ethnomusicology at one of the University of California schools, turn Pearl Earl into a dual-state juggling act and earn Chapman a much-needed vacation — for a few weeks, anyway. “I’m so looking forward to September,” she says.

Until then, Chapman is buckled down learning a slate of new material for her most recently announced venture: a three-week West Coast tour with up-and-comers Thelma and the Sleaze. The tour, which includes a date at Double Wide on Sept. 28, is in support of the Nashville rock band’s second full-length album Fuck, Marry, Kill. which comes out this Friday.

These gigs seem to materialize without effort on Chapman’s part. This one came about after Pearl Earl and Thelma and the Sleaze played several shows together this spring, one in Denton and six at SXSW. “I always say South By ends up getting you the coolest and most interesting opportunities,” she says.

During their spring fling, the two bands hit it off. So much so that Thelma frontwoman Lauren “LG” Gilbert joined Pearl Earl’s tour earlier this summer for a few dates, serving as a de facto merch girl.

It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. “She needed to get out to L.A. and she hates flying,” Chapman says of Gilbert. But when Gilbert came up short a drummer for Thelma and the Sleaze’s album release tour, Chapman was nevertheless top of mind. “I think LG just really liked our band and what we were about,” Chapman says.

Although the call came at a crazy time, there was nothing technically barring Chapman from saying yes. Pearl Earl is playing sporadically for the rest of the summer and she would be in between jobs. “At this point in my life, about to move, I’m just saying yes to everything,” Chapman says.

The gig with Thelma and the Sleaze is not a permanent one — the band operates as a consortium of musicians so it can more easily tour year-round — but Chapman has received the band's most important hallmark: a nickname.

Now, in addition to Bailey and professor, Chapman will also respond to Pigpen. “LG called me Pigpen ‘cause I always eat anyone’s leftovers and I’ll eat anything and I’m just generally kind of gross,” Chapman says.

She insists she wears the name proudly, partly because it was bestowed on her in the famed Rancho de La Luna recording studio in Joshua Tree, California, where a who’s-who of modern rock stars has recorded, including Kurt Vile, Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys.

Chapman’s cohorts in Pearl Earl, Ariel Hartley, Stefanie Lazcano and Chelsey Danielle, also received nicknames on the trip (Princess, Silky and Red, respectively) and Chapman is convinced it won’t be the last of Pearl Earl’s California adventures.

Although the move was initially motivated by Gillen’s academic pursuits, Chapman quickly saw it as an opportunity for Pearl Earl and got her bandmates on board. “I could see the band actually benefiting from this move. Not just myself or him,” she says. “I presented the possibility of moving out West to Ariel and she was like, ‘OK, let’s do it!’”

“At this point in my life, about to move, I’m just saying yes to everything.” — Bailey Chapman

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Lazcano and Danielle will continue to call Texas home for now, but Hartley plans to join Chapman in L.A. early next year. “If we can play a few shows each time we get together, it’s worth a plane ticket — which isn’t too bad from DFW to LAX,” Chapman says. “A lot of bands that we know are doing it and making it work, and we want to keep the band together.”

As proof of their intent to bridge the divide, Pearl Earl has dates booked until the end of the year, when they plan to record a new album, and plans to play shows in the new year are also already forming. “I’m set to come back every month until December and I’m sure it will continue from there,” she says. “It’s not really going to change all that much.”

But despite Chapman’s optimism you can still detect some wistfulness when she talks about settling outside her home state. She even admits that part of the reason her schedule is so full right now is because she keeps accepting opportunities out of “nostalgia,” like her upcoming dates with Austin punk band Sailor Poon.

“I’ve been playing with those girls for the last four years and they asked me to do a double drummer thing, and we kind of think we might be the first band that’s had two female drummers playing,” Chapman says. “So when they asked I was like, ‘I gotta do this.’ I’m about to leave Texas, I’m not going to get to do this sort of thing anymore.”

At least one major thing will definitely be changing in Chapman’s world: for most of her life, Chapman has identified as a painter first, and when she moves she will be leaving behind her role as an adjunct art professor at Texas Woman’s University.

Chapman got serious about art in middle school and started playing drums around the same time, both passions she inherited from her father, who had a drum kit in the house and “always had paints out.”

Both interests helped her satisfy the same desire to connect with people, but the creative processes and their results were completely different. Many of her paintings are inspired by the vistas of Terlingua, Texas, where she helped her family build a house as a teenager. She grew up in Kilgore but considers it a second home.

“In places like that I get the feeling that I’ve totally reset my brain,” she says. “That’s kind of what I try to do with my art, which is the totally opposite of music. Music is like, ‘Let’s stimulate the brain and freak it out.’”

In the contest for Chapman’s focus, painting initially won out. She had a band during high school in Kilgore, but in college and grad school she set her musical ambitions aside. “Someone told me early on you have to pick one or the other,” she says, “and I somehow listened to that for the frickin’ longest time.”

It wasn’t until 2014, when she saw Hartley play in Denton with her band at the time, the Mink Coats, that Chapman was inspired to return to music. “It was so good and I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that,’” she says. Soon after she and Hartley started playing music together and Pearl Earl was formed.

While Chapman has looked for teaching positions in California, she has no current plans to teach. It’s the end of a chapter, but she’s excited to let her other talents lead the way for a while.

“I’m going to kind of spread my blanket out, and if one thing is going to fill my cup, I’m going to follow that thing,” she says. Right now that thing is music, which has also recently brought her an offer to tour with a Suicide Squeeze-signed act, soon to be announced.

Having your fingers in so many music pies comes with its challenges, besides the expected late nights and long days on the road. Chapman is constantly learning new material, and sometimes has to perform it live without the benefit of practicing with the group first. In the case of Thelma and the Sleaze, Chapman won’t get to practice with the band until two days before they hit the road.

But while this would understandably make some people nervous, she’s unfazed. Instead she’s making it work by listening to the new album on repeat (“‘Down’ has a really nice riff,” she says) and asking Gilbert questions about how the material translates to a live setting.

It’s a routine she’s perfected after filling in on the fly for a number of local and touring acts, including Sailor Poon but also Tony Ferraro and Planet What.

“Both of those situations were just like, ‘Here’s my set list and here’s a link to my Bandcamp.’ This will be more intense because I’m hitting the road. It’s not just one show and then it’s done,” she says. “But I’m not afraid of it.”
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