INTERVIEW WITH PEARL CRUSH
By Paula Horstman @pmhorstman
After touring for her latest EP, Coax Me Out, Pearl Crush is now winding down in Houston and answering a few of my questions. Pearl Crush is the brainchild of Mandy Kim Clinton, and her EP’s synth dream-pop heaven propels you back to 2010 Grimes- bursting with creativity and femininity.
Clinton’s smooth, velvety vocals are a roving presence throughout the EP, sneaking underneath the melody or receding off into the distance and gently returning at the height of the track. They are deliberately enmeshed by the sound— as if the lyrics’ message is carefully ensconced for you to discover. Set this against the backdrop of pop music and add a clear and direct artistic direction, and you can understand the EP’s effortless appeal.
Coax Me Out is just 6 tracks long, but there’s so much intention and creativity infused across the EP that you may find yourself listening over and over. You catch little things you hadn’t the first time. And with grace, the EP executes a broad personal statement while providing a voice for those who’ve undergone similar questions in identity, particularly minorities: What defines me? What is my story? Coax Me Out comes as an addition to the ever-changing narrative of race and identity in modern America.
What does Mandy hope her music achieves, ultimately?
She hopes others will be able to relate and perhaps find healing along their own journey.
Find Pearl Crush’s pop-heaven EP here:
PH: I’m intrigued by the album art, can you talk a little more about it?
PEARL CRUSH: Well, the bird is native to South Korea, which is where I was born. The art was commissioned by Brooklyn artist Shawna X. I described to her what I was going through during the making of this record. I had begun to embrace my identity as an Asian American for the first time in my life, but I was also coming to terms with a lot of painful truths about my identity and my “origin story.” I’m a Korean American transnational adoptee.
I wanted the cover art to center a woman emerging from water. I wanted it to be beautiful and feel surreal. I wanted it to represent “home,” in the abstract sense of the word — a deep sense of place I didn’t realize I was missing until I began acknowledging my Korean roots and Asian-American identity.
PH: I’m curious about the role identity plays across the entire EP and how you applied that to the actual production. Sometimes, like in Milk+Moon, the singing fades off into the distance and comes back. To me, it’s reminiscent of what a memory sounds like. How did you incorporate your themes into the production?
While making Coax Me Out I realized that a large part of my identity has actually been shaped by the fact that my Korean cultural identity was stripped from me as a baby. It’s the loss of culture and context, and the alienation from other Korean people that has really informed my work the most. Like many women of color, I’ve struggled with feeling beautiful or worthy in our white-dominated society. I’ve always been interested in creating music with broad appeal (a.k.a. pop). It’s an extension of wanting to be read by society at large as beautiful and valuable. My songs are melody driven (as opposed to the emphasis being the groove or a particular “sound”/genre), and that’s what ultimately informs all of my production decisions. Also, lot of my arrangements and production on the EP are very maximalist with lots of different parts going simultaneously. This, in part, comes from a place of anxiety. I write melody on top of melody on top of melody to prove to myself that I’m good enough. It’s like a compulsion.
While making this EP, I was asking myself things like, “what does it look like for me as a Korean-born, American-raised person to discover and embrace my heritage? Can I translate this experience to a pop song? How do I communicate my Korean identity through my music to a Western audience?” I wrote a few melodies on Coax Me Out that I thought the Western listener would read as “Asian.” — it’s in quotation marks because it’s this homogeneous East Asian cultural amalgamation that only exists outside of Asia. A few years ago, I would have never considered doing something that might further racialize me, but I realize now that if someone is going to view me a certain way because of some stereotype they hold, then the onerous is on them to learn how to humanize me/not “other” me, not on me to sterilize my music from anything that could be read as “other”.
PH: How has your upbringing— growing up in White suburbia for the most part— influenced the message or theme behind this EP? This quote got me thinking: “how rigid, cold structures and institutions reach into in our most interior, intimate spaces, shaping who we become; how absence and yearning inform identity”
Well, I was raised in a very supportive and loving family, but as an adoptee, my circumstances are rooted in family separation, and misogyny. Also, the infrastructure of transnational adoption in Korea is a product of the Korean War. As a baby born out of wedlock in South Korea, society deemed me not valuable, so I was cast out. It was because of society’s hetero-patriarchal practices that I would not have been able to live in Korea as an equal citizen. Single mothers in Korea were deemed unfit to care for their children. They were given no government assistance and were ostracized in society, so they handed their kids over the state, and the state sold us, essentially, as exports. This is what I mean by “rigid, cold structures” shaping my most intimate spaces. My adoption is the most defining circumstance of my life.
It is because of these oppressive societal and governmental practices that I came to the US and became a part of my family who loves me and gave me every opportunity to succeed that they knew how; but I am the daughter of two great people who will never understand the pain being displaced from their culture or alienated from their people. They will never know the experience of growing up as a person of color in America because they are both white. They will never know what it’s like to feel loved and cared for but to still feel lost. I realized recently that the emptiness I’ve always felt is a yearning for home and a desire to know my origins, but as a transnational adoptee, there’s so much unknown. There are so many unanswered questions, if you even know or allow yourself to ask them. And if you don’t know to ask them, you still feel the weight of them like a phantom limb. Sonically, I was attempting to fill some of these spaces by creating a place for myself that doesn’t exist in the physical world.
PH: What is it like to be a (woman) musician, right now, in Houston?
I can’t say things have changed for women that much since I started playing music about 5 years, but I think they’re starting to change. There are definitely more women making music in the scene. The immediate safety of women, trans, queer and non-binary people is still at risk in many creative spaces, so it would be hard to make the case that things are good. That being said, I do feel connected to a lot of women in the music and artistic community right now, particularly those who are trying to build community and make things better for others. I don’t mean people who are passively leading by doing their thing; I mean the people who are actively organizing, speaking out, standing up and fighting for the oppressed. I feel very lucky to feel a sense of community for the first time in my life, and that community is directly tied to activism efforts led by WOC in Houston, a handful of whom are musicians and creatives that I’m grateful to know. For some, there’s a deep link between creative outlets and community activism. I personally couldn’t do one without the other.
PH: What is your hope or aspiration with this latest EP? Is there something you’d want listeners to realize as they listen to your songs?
I want people to understand that POC are human beings. I’m not sure if music has the power to change people’s minds about things like this, but at the very least it’s been nice to connect to other diasporic AAPIs. I recently met someone at one of my shows on tour who understood my most abstract lyrics. It’s the lyrics that means most meaning to me on the whole EP. On the recording, the lyric is super low in the mix, so it’s hard to understand. I deliberately mixed it this way so that it would be my own little secret; but to my delight, during a live show, someone understood it and messaged me to tell me that they really related to it. I recently met someone at one of my shows on tour who understood my most abstract lyrics. It’s the lyrics that means the most to me on the whole EP.
PH: You also have another project, DAMN GXRL, can you talk to me about this new platform?
DAMN GXRL is a booking collective that works to center women (cis and trans), queer and non-binary artists of color in Houston, of which I’m a co-founder. Time and time again we see that these folks don’t get the same attention or have the same platform as their cis-male or white counterparts. Our membership is comprised of a small group of organizers, activists and artists. We put on our own shows, but also DJ other people’s events and do our best to connect event organizers with talent. We have a zine coming out later this year which will feature local musicians and artists we want to uplift. You can follow us at @damngxrl.htx (IG) or find us on Facebook @DAMNGXRL!
This article and interview was provide to IndiePulse Music Magazine by Writer / Columnist Paula Horstman, more great articles and content can be found on her own Online pages – www.paula-horstman.com
Photo Credits : Daniela Galindo and Elli Shafe
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