Dent May Talks to His Favorite Band, Pearl & the Oysters

The friends and collaborators catch up.

Dent May is an LA-based singer-songwriter; Juliette Davis and Joachim Polack are the LA-via-Paris indie pop duo Pearl & the Oysters. The latest Pearl record, Coast 2 Coast, is out this Friday on Stones Throw, and Dent (along with Sterolab’s Laetitia Sadier, UMO’s Riley Geare, and many more) is featured on it. So to celebrate, the three friends sat down to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Dent May: Hello, there. 

Juliette Davis: Hi!

Joachim Polack: We are in the same room, just for the record. 

Dent: I know, I said earlier, I feel like a 1970s journalist.

Joachim: That’s right. 

Dent: With a tape recorder talking to my favorite band, Pearl & the Oysters. OK, we can get this out of the way: You guys have a brand new album about to come out, and you seem very busy right now. 

Joachim: Yes. 

Dent: So, just say a little bit about what you’re up to right now, and how you’re getting ready for the new album to drop.

Joachim: Yes, it’s very busy right now because of things exactly like this — promotional stuff — and just getting our ducks in a row, making sure everything’s ready. We’re going to start rehearsing with the band and we’re trying to think of ideas to make the release show exciting.

Juliette: We realized in this promo session that we are so hands on, on everything. 

Joachim: Yeah, it’s kind of a curse. 

Juliette: Yeah. Right now I’m working on a Photoshop file for our release party. We edit a lot of promotional stuff, and it’s just at every corner of this whole enterprise, we have an eye on it. So it’s a lot of work, and so many emails, and not much music at the end of the day.

Joachim: Well, right now there isn’t a lot, which is kind of frustrating. But at the same time, I think that everybody goes through that when they release a record. For a minute, it’s not really about making music, it’s more about promoting the record. What’s your experience with that? 

Dent: I never make music.

Joachim: [Laughs.]

Dent: I just never make any music ever. And then I’ll be like, Oh, it’s been a while since an album came out, and I’ll make an album in, like, three weeks and then release it. Just kidding, that’s not really true. 

Juliette: But the releasing part!

Dent: You were mentioning being so hands on — I feel like I’m kind of the opposite, in the way that I’m kind of disorganized, bad at responding to emails, and do everything at the last minute. It’s funny, I was actually doing some research for this interview and I went back through my first Facebook messages with Joachim, and you guys were trying to get on the San Diego show, and there was, like, 30 [messages like,] “Any news? Any news?” I felt really bad. 

Joachim: Oh, yeah, I remember. It was awkward because I was really pushing, pushing, pushing, and I really needed a show. I didn’t really quite know how it worked back then — I remember messaging the booker, the talent buyer for that venue.

Dent: Well, I’m glad it worked out.

Juliette: Yeah, it’s kind of a miracle that you didn’t scare away.

Joachim: Because I would be like, “You know what? Leave me alone.”

Juliette: We were extremely pushy for that show.

Dent: Well, I had heard your music, and I did like it. The song “Vitamin C,” I think, is what I had heard.

Juliette: “Vitamin D.”

Dent: [Laughs.] Oh—

Juliette: [Laughs.] A true fan. But yeah, I guess this is the first time we’re working with a team that big, at Stone’s Throw, and so we work together on everything.

Joachim: Well, I don’t know if it’s very big, but it feels like there’s people working around the release, and it just feels like we also owe it to everybody to do our part. But it’s true — as Juliette said, I think we’re very involved with all of the things that are kind of satellites to the music, the art and all of that. Juliette’s really good at making artwork and cool, visualizers and stuff like that.

Juliette: But about that: you always have incredible artwork around your visual assets. How do you find the artists you work with?

Dent: It’s usually just a friend that happens organically. Like the last album, Late Checkout, my friend Harry Israelson [and I] were just having a beer, and he’s a visual artist guy and was asking me about it. And then we were just brainstorming ideas — and in fact, it kind of led to the album title, tied in with the visual idea. You know, I’m obsessed with hotels and things like that.

Joachim: That’s that’s one of my questions! I wanted to know where that comes from. I remember when we played that show, it was the Across the Multiverse tour and the bio said, “hotel lounge singer.” There’s a sort of running theme for a while, about hotels and this transient thing.

Dent: I love old hotels. I think part of it comes from just, I love old things. I love old architecture, old neighborhoods, and places that have been around for a long time. It’s come from going on tour and traveling, and then doing a little research and saying, “What are the cool hotels that are affordable? What are the dive-y spots that are cheap but also been around a long time?” Because when I’m in a new place for only 24 hours, I want to catch a little glimpse of the history of the place, the communities around it and things like that. So I always try to stay in a local old school spot if possible — which never really happens, but it’s these random times when you do find the spot.

When we were on tour together and that first place, Grand Junction, Colorado, had the hotel bar with the guy playing country music covers — that’s like my dream come true. And I do feel like when I see the guy playing country music covers in the corner, I identify with that person, and I am that person in a way.

Joachim: So it’s a sort of projection of yourself also.That’s cool, I like it. 

Juliette: I know you studied cinema, and you had this goal at one point in your life of maybe pursuing cinema — I think the cinematographic aspect of those sceneries influence your whole world as Dent May, but do they inspire your music as well?

Dent: Yeah. I do have a strong visual preference for what I surround myself with in my entire life, and I do feel like making music, making art, is building a world, more than just making a song. Or a song is a world, an idea. I do feel like I’m building a world, that my music is just one part of it, and movies are a huge inspiration on that — the visual aspect and style of older movies.

Juliette: Could we expect a Dent May musical?

Dent: Yeah, I was actually just thinking about it last night!

Juliette: Ooh!

Dent: We watched a movie called Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Have you heard of this?

Joachim: No.

Dent: It’s a Finnish movie from 1989, but it’s about a Siberian band that comes to America. It’s very funny. I actually thought of you guys — there’s nothing else about it that reminds me of you, except for a band not from America coming to America, and they do a road trip from New York City through the South. It’s a very Jim Jarmusch kind of vibe — in fact, he’s in it. Allison [McSurely] goes, “This is reminding me of Jim Jarmusch,” and like 30 seconds later, he appears as a character. It’s such a good movie. 

But yeah, I really want to make a musical film in that way, where it’s about a fictional band and not where it’s like, “Hey, it’s a beautiful day outside! [Sings,] It’s a beautiful day outside!” Although that could be cool too.

But after last night, I really think a road movie is the vibe. Especially being able to go to the South, you know, where I’m from and where you guys have spent time. 

Joachim: Yeah. We have a question about the South. 

Dent: Me too! Because we both lived there. 

Joachim: Yeah, yeah.

Dent: You guys lived in Gainesville [Florida], I lived in Oxford [Mississippi], and we’ve both talked about our fondness for Athens, Georgia. And the question, which I’m sure you’ve gotten many times, is: we both make sort of sunshiny music. We both ended up in California, but I was wondering if the music you were making in Paris before you ever came to Florida had this sunshiny point of view, with beaches and all that stuff?

Joachim: I think yes and no. Definitely the imagery of the beach and stuff like that was not really what we wrote about. I feel like this sunshine pop kind of sensibility was there before, but as a backdrop for the songs and the stories, that was definitely the influence of Florida. But also, I think even before we moved, we started fantasizing about Florida, because I knew I was going to go there. And we started making songs in Paris that weren’t about Florida, but that were kind of tropical. I think it was much less defined back then — you know, the first album, you’re always trying to figure out what the sound is going to be, and the style and the aesthetics. So I think that we were trying to already think about a way to do tropical rock or whatever. [Laughs.] 

Juliette: It’s crazy, because we’ve noticed that Paris is a big inspiration for many people throughout the world, but for us in our creative life, I think Paris, our hometown, really was never inspiring to us. 

Joachim: Because it’s too close.

Juliette: For many reasons. We would always try to find inspiration in movies we saw or art, but having this experience of the unknown with Florida and our upcoming travels there, and then the discovery of it, became kind of a creative obsession.

Joachim: We were already projecting things even before. Also that first year that I was there, Juliette was in New York, so she would come to Florida and so we were discovering this brand new environment, essentially. And it was very inspiring because it was very exotic to us — we were city people from Paris, and nothing was remotely close to what we had experienced, even in the US before, because we had only been to New York and stuff like that. 

Juliette: And Florida is not only, as you know very well, the beautiful beaches. There’s some elements of it that we were completely unaware about, like the swampy side of Florida. 

Joachim: I think that ended up being the more influential thing, the bugs and the birds…

Juliette: It’s definitely what sticks with us now, when we think of Florida and what made us feel like we were on a different planet.

Dent: Florida is a different planet.

Joachim: It really felt like it to us! I remember just everything being slower, you know. Like people would call me “honey.” I would go to the car shop and—

Dent: I can start calling you honey, if that would make you feel more comfortable. 

Joachim: Thank you, I would love that. But it does bring me back immediately, when someone is really sweet and has this thing of like, OK, it’s going to be a slow interaction. It’s going to take a while to get to it

Anyway, despite all the stuff that’s, for better or worse, baked into the culture of the South — especially with regard to [how] there’s this tendency to see the South as this culturally conservative or reactionary place in comparison to the coastal towns, amazing music always came out of the South. That was brand new to us, all the DIY pockets in college towns, where there was a real desire to make something happen and encourage creation, encourage creativity, and try to make the best shows possible. I was wondering if that was already there when you started making music. Because did you start making music, really recording, in Oxford or in Jackson? 

Dent: In Jackson. Well, first of all, musically I can kind of identify with where you’re coming from on Paris, because growing up as a teenager, I was not into Mississippi music necessarily — although they call it the birthplace of American music, right? Like, I wasn’t into blues or country, and it took me many years to get into it. I was on the internet looking elsewhere. Eventually, I did find things like Elephant 6 collective in Athens, Georgia, which I was a huge fan of, or even learning about Big Star in Memphis — things like that where you’re like, Oh, there’s a weird South that I can be a part of

In Jackson, there actually was a pretty strong indie pop scene of among four or five bands, maybe a few more, and a little bit of a pop punk and emo thing going on at the time, in the early 2000s. There was a CD store called Musiquarium where I learned so much about all of that. Then when I got to Oxford, I started making music, did my first tour, and then we played some DIY venues. And then I was like, I want to do this, and came home and I started booking bands to play in Mississippi. And that’s how I met many, many of my friends now — I ran a DIY house venue called Cat’s Purring Dude Ranch. 

Juliette: So you were already writing songs? 

Dent: Yeah, this kind of happened after I released my first album and had done a world tour. We had a bunch of crazy bands that play our house — most famously Grimes played our house, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A lot of cool artists came through. Before that, Animal Collective came to Oxford to record their album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. I met them there, we became friends, they signed me to Paw Tracks, which is basically the same thing as Carpark, which I’m still on. 

But yeah, as far as the culture in the South, it’s always a love hate relationship in many ways. But I think the good aspects of it — the hospitality, the friendliness — are very baked into who I am, and that I see myself as an entertainer, not just as a performer for music. Like, “Come to my home and we’re going to have drinks and food and whatever we can do to make this comfortable for everyone.” I feel like that’s part of my identity as an artist, too.

Juliette: Breakfast included. [Laughs.]

Dent: Yeah, exactly. I was thinking about this recently, where a lot of artists will say that they make music for themselves — it’s a very popular line for an artist to say, “Oh, I’m doing this for myself” — but I don’t feel that way at all. I very much feel like I make music for other people, and not me at all. Like, I don’t want to listen to this shit. It’s for you. [Laughs.] 

Juliette: [Laughs.] Feeling the vibrance of a small scene that you were a part of must have been really special, and I can understand how it’s something that you want to cling on to.

Joachim: When we started touring, the kind of energy that these scenes had — like when we’d go to Athens, we could feel that there was still the remnants of the Elephant 6 ethos. It was definitely a pop town, and people really enjoyed the kind of music that we were trying to make. 

I remember being so inspired by the work that was being done — that is kind of selfless, and not very rewarding in a lot of ways, to just basically make sure that there is a couple places in a small town where touring indie artists can come and play a show and like sell records. I was so inspired by seeing people really go to great lengths to make sure that it’s still there and that there’s still someone always trying to book stuff, trying to make it a living thing.

I remember [after] maybe a year, two years as a live band, we were like, We gotta do a festival in Paris, we gotta do something that is about showcasing the what we think is cool here. So it’s a similar thing to when you had done that world tour, and came back to Oxford and were like, “I gotta make something happen with this,” and basically extend the same kind of hospitality that you had maybe received on the road.

Dent: Or didn’t receive! [Laughs.] 

Joachim: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. When we were on the receiving end of great hospitality, it was always incredible. And it’s true that in the States, the touring culture is a little rougher maybe than Europe. Venues are not taking care of housing you for the night, whereas maybe in Europe, it’s a little different. But what there is, is this network of friends — of friends, of friends of friends. We ended up sleeping on couches of people that we had nothing in common with, it was just like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a friend of this guy, who’s a friend of yours, and they’re vouching for you.” That’s just something that felt very new and alien to me as a French person.

Juliette: But it’s funny how, I think for you and us, this whole dimension of being an artist in this country inspired us in our creation. It’s not only gathering regular life experiences, and I feel that our experience as musicians in this country just fuels more inspiration. It’s just very alive, when you talk of a scene in 2023.

Joachim: Scenes are like organic things. It changes with the demographic evolution of a particular place, right? Especially college towns. College towns are really dependent on, what’s the culture right now for this generation of students? We left Gainesville, and then we came back last year on tour, and I was asking people, “So what are the cool bands in Gainesville?” And everybody was like, “Well, there’s a couple bands, but kids are not doing bands.

Dent: They’re DJs.

Joachim: I guess! Or they’re making music on their computer. So it’s funny things change like that. I think the people make the scene what it is for a few years, and then they move on.

Dent: Well, what are your thoughts on the Los Angeles, quote-unquote, “scene”?

Joachim: I don’t know. It’s funny, I think that there’s no Los Angeles scene. I think that there’s so many scenes. 

Dent: Yeah, well, of course. 

Joachim: When we moved, we were so excited — there were shows all the time.

Dent: And then immediately after, you met all the terrible people that live here. [Laughs.]

Joachim: Well, first the first shock was—

Juliette: All the barking dogs in Highland Park. 

Joachim: COVID was the first thing that put a big damper on, what is it like here. Because for a couple months, it was amazing. 

Juliette: But now that COVID is back to some type of normalcy, it’s like the most special musical town. It’s hard not to feel that. It’s like a dreamland for indie bands, in a way — so many studios, so many artists, so many people that are ready to just do that all day. What we noticed is that, for better or worse — but mostly better — everybody is here for a reason and they have an agenda. They want to get somewhere with their band and they want to make music, which is wonderful. But sometimes we feel like just making music for no reason, for no specific agenda — like this dynamic that we found in in Gainesville, and people just jamming and maybe a song comes out of it. —

Joachim: We don’t jam as much as we used to. It used to be very jam-fueled, how we made music. That was a new thing to us in Florida. And then because it was very spontaneous and definitely had this casual thing of like, we’re just making music for the sake of making it and having fun with it… But I think that’s less about LA and just where we’re at in our careers, and where people that move to LA are at in their careers, you know?

Juliette: That’s true. 

Joachim: I think it was similar for you when you moved here, right? Because you already had a few records under your belt.

Dent: Yeah, it was a little different, where I really wasn’t pursuing — I guess I did think, Oh, I can do more collaborations. But it was more of just a personal decision to move out of a town of 30,000 people to a big city, and have more access to both musical and non-musical aspects of culture. For better or worse. I mean, I do think it’s a blessing and a curse that musicians in Los Angeles are pursuing success. For the most part, it’s cool to be around people who are really good at music and have some ambition.

Juliette: Yes.

Dent: but the proximity to the, quote-unquote, “industry” is really terrible. And I do think that pursuing success can be very poisonous creatively, especially once you already find a little bit, and then you try to find more of it, and your goals for making music become less about the good stuff. But that said, everyone has to make a living. So it is what it is. 

But I do feel like there’s something about music, more so than any other art forms, where famously [an artist’s] first few records are great, and then they’re not anymore. I mean, that’s just generally the cliche about it. That’s not going to happen either one of us, obviously. [Laughs.]  But it’s something I think about constantly. One of the reasons I don’t have a strict work ethic is because it’s really important to me to keep that purity of why I’m doing this. Like, if I don’t really have a good reason to to write a song, I don’t feel compelled to force it.

Joachim: You don’t have a music-making regimen.

Dent: I go through phases where I do, and I don’t, to be honest. But I want to keep it loose. I don’t want to be chasing something that doesn’t feel good.

Joachim: Yeah, I think that’s the way to do it. We had this record that’s about to come out basically all written and recorded way before we even started talking to Stones Throw about putting it out, so it felt just like this clog of material that can’t be released. I [told you], “We gotta force ourselves not to write, because it’s going to lead to me being frustrated that I can’t release it while it’s hot.” And you were like, “No, if you feel like making music that day, make music that day. Definitely don’t do the opposite, don’t force it either.” Because that’s when it becomes labor and not expression. 

That’s the thing about owing records to label — you know, you sign for multiple records, and then all of a sudden these songs are not just something that you’re making on the side when you have time. No, that is your job now and you have to make songs. That can be paralyzing in a way. It’s good to remember that it’s art and you can’t really treat it as this assembly line job. 

Juliette: It’s been hard to talk about Coast 2 Coast, because we finished this album such a long time ago — like three years ago.

Dent: But you guys have been working on music.

Joachim: We’ve been working on music. At one point, we allowed ourselves to just make music when we felt like it, and we had that EP that came out last year — that was actually done after we recorded the album that’s coming out now. So it’s interesting that we managed to release something that felt like it was current at the moment, which was nice for a change because even the first album I think was mixed about a year before it came out.

Juliette: Well, alright — thank you, Dent May.

Dent: Thank you, Pearl & the Oysters — my favorite band.

Juliette: Should we talk about our little collab.

Dent: Oh, yeah. I don’t know what we’re allowed to say, but we are working on a song together that’s really good. It’s going to be a huge hit.. And it was really fun. I mean, it came from your idea, Juliette — that’s how it started. But weirdly, the chorus we sing on it is very similar, it’s like the same melody, as a different song I was working on.

Juliette: Really?

Dent: I mean, it was just a voice memo I had from a long time ago. This happens to me sometimes, where I’m jamming on a beat or something, and then an old idea from a year ago starts coming into my head. And that’s exactly what happened there. And it fit together really well.

Juliette: It fits so well. I can’t wait for the world to hear. 

Dent: Heck yeah.

(Photo Credit: left, Sandy Honig)

Pearl & the Oysters is the LA-via-Paris indie pop duo of Juliette Davis and Joachim Polack. Their latest record, Coast 2 Coast, is out now on Stones Throw.

(Photo Credit: Laura Moreau)