It’s 11 p.m. on a stormy Friday in Denton when band practice finally gets going. Intermittent claps of thunder and the unmistakable shriek of feedback pierce the tranquility of a quiet neighborhood. Guitarist Ariel Hartley sets up the closet-sized rehearsal space in the back of her cozy rental house. She deftly untangles serpentine cords, plugging them in to their corresponding amplifier input jacks. She’s done this before.
Bandmates Stefanie Lazcano, Bailey Chapman and Chelsey Danielle laugh loudly in the kitchen, downing their last swigs of beer before filing in to join Hartley in the cramped practice room. It’s time to rehearse.
Hartley founded neo-psych band Pearl Earl in mid-2014 with Chapman and Lazcano. Danielle joined two years later. Their unique sound and colorful aesthetic quickly earned them a sterling reputation in DFW.
“I’ve always gravitated towards psychedelia and prog rock and glam rock and then synth pop,” Hartley says in an airy voice and lilting cadence. “I like guitars that sound like synths and synths that sound like guitars.”
Pearl Earl’s work ethic and business sense are unparalleled. The band gigs constantly, going on tour as frequently as their day jobs permit. When they’re not writing new material, they’re working on promoting their brand.
Earlier that day, the group worked diligently on sending out new band T-shirts to fans across the country. Last week, they premiered a music video for “Captain Howdy,” the latest single off their eponymous debut album. Later this month, they’re opening for Austin-based psych titans The Black Angels at Trees in Deep Ellum.
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While they may take their band seriously, that doesn’t mean they take themselves seriously. The group shares a bulletproof bond and an infectious joie de vivre.
“We’ve done a lot of really fun, crazy and dumb things together,” drummer Chapman says candidly. “We’ve had wrestling matches with people we literally just met.”
Hartley nods vigorously.
“I’ve run into manatees with these people. I’ve been cuddled at night by these people,” she says.
Bassist Lazcano laughs before launching into a story about how they celebrated her birthday a few years ago.
“They surprised me with cake and a piñata that was full of all sorts of adult goodies,” Lazcano says. “And then afterwards — late at night — we decided to go to the pool and everybody was skinny-dipping. There were like 30 people there.”
Chapman chimes in: “Lots of naked times together, lots of fun times together.”
While the band might be happy-go-lucky in their free time, they sometimes struggle to get people to treat them like professional musicians when they’re on the clock. Pearl Earl often battles a trite stereotype: Girls can’t play rock 'n' roll.
“I forget half the time that I’m a chick until I’m pleasantly reminded by a dude,” keyboardist Danielle says, a tinge of frustration coloring her voice. “One comment I’ll get is, ‘Man, you guys are good for a girl band.’”
Pearl Earl have become pros at diverting unwanted attention and interrupting the male gaze. They’re used to guys inserting themselves where they’re not wanted.
Men frequently ask if they need help carrying heavy gear. The answer is always no.
Master tightrope walkers, the band carefully treads the line between familiarity and professionalism. If they’re too standoffish they’ll be dubbed as “bitches,” and they can’t afford to be too nice. One slight misstep — a half-smile or polite laugh — and a person could get the wrong idea.
“It’s hard to be cordial with some guys.They’ll think, ‘Oh, she likes me,’” Danielle says. “And then it gets out of hand, and all of a sudden you get a weird random message and you’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t play music anymore.’”
Sometimes the unwanted attention is relatively harmless, like being held captive in a one-sided conversation or a too-long hug. But sometimes it can be scary.
Hartley says that a year ago, a middle-aged fan started stalking her. For several months he sent her threatening messages via social media and her personal email with increasing frequency.
The likelihood of an incident seemed imminent as the accused stalker, who has a license to carry a gun, began bringing his gun to Pearl Earl gigs. This prompted Hartley to file a complaint with the Denton Police Department, but she says they weren’t much help.
“I was really afraid because no one was listening to me at the police station,” Hartley says. “No one was taking me seriously.”
Chapman nods somberly, adding, “They said nothing could be done until something bad happens.”
Though they still fear for their safety, Pearl Earl continues to play regular gigs both in Denton and across the country. One “delusional” fan won’t keep them from their passion: playing catchy psychedelic cuts to an appreciative, rapidly expanding fan base.
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Pearl Earl plan to embark on a three-week West Coast tour in 2019. They also look forward to recording new material.
Hartley says she ultimately hopes to inspire a new generation of fearless female musicians. Because women musicians, she says, aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
“Females have always been making music,” Hartley says frankly. She takes a sip of her homemade old-fashioned cocktail and cracks a wry smile. “This isn’t a new trend. We’ve always been there.”
Pearl Earl is opening for The Black Angels / Holy Wave on Dec. 29 at Trees in Deep Ellum. Tickets start at $22.