Pearla and Miss Grit Don’t Feel Like They Belong in the World

The two friends catch up about why they make music, their new records, and more.

Pearla is the recording project of the Brooklyn-based artist Nicole Rodriguez; Miss Grit is the recording project of fellow Brooklyn-based artist Margaret Sohn. Both of them are releasing their debut records this month — Pearla’s Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming came out February 10 on Spacebomb, and Miss Grit’s Follow the Cyborg will be out this Friday via Mute — so to celebrate, the two friends sat down to catch up about it all. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

Nicole Rodriguez: So how are you feeling about your album coming out?

Margaret Sohn: I’m feeling good. I haven’t even really thought about it that much, to be honest. 

Nicole: Really? 

Margaret: Like every single that comes out, I feel like I can’t understand the difference, I guess, in how I was feeling before, even though it is a big difference.

Nicole: Because life ultimately is exactly the same. It’s just something became public.

Margaret: Right.

Nicole: And you don’t feel that change?

Margaret: Well, I guess because I don’t feel it being public yet. Like I see it online, but… I guess it’s different when you haven’t played live yet, the full album. I think when I play live I’ll probably feel that.

Nicole: Yeah, because it can only go so far, the knowledge that other people can access your music. It’s like pretty scary to think about — and you actually don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to. [Laughs.] You can just carry on with your day.

Margaret: But until you’re in the room singing your music to them…

Nicole: The main reason I’m drawn to making music is because I have never felt capable of expressing myself in any other way.

Margaret:  That’s why we’re not writers — actually, no, you’re a really good writer.

Nicole: That’s the thing about writing: I love writing down and typing what I want to say, because when I’m speaking, it’s so much happening to me that it just ends up being not what I wanted to say.

Margaret: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.

Nicole: And when I’m writing, if I have a second to myself to spend the amount of time that I need to figure out what it is I want to say, that is how I express myself. But that’s why interviews scare me, because I feel like I’m not up with the pace that other people are up with sometimes, in terms of recalling thoughts and memories and ideas. 

Margaret: That’s why I feel like I kind of let myself off the hook recently, because I never know — I can literally just say whatever I’m feeling at that moment, and I will allow myself to change and be different for the next interview. I don’t have to say the same thing and I can change my mind if I want to, because I’m always reflecting on things in a different way.

Nicole: I love that. 

Margaret: It’s never going to make sense.

Nicole: Yeah, I love that, because I feel like we’ve both also struggled with feeling limited by other people’s expectations of us, or what we think are their expectations of us, and feeling like, I can’t change in front of this person, or like, I can’t try something in front of someone else, because then they’ll catch me in this vulnerable act of not being who I think they want me to be. But it’s not fair because we don’t even know what they’re actually experiencing of us. 

Margaret: Yeah. 

Nicole: And then it’s not fair to us, because then we can’t actually accept ourselves! I feel like the process of releasing an album is a little bit like exposure therapy for your self esteem, because it’s so embarrassing and vulnerable. For me, my release has been very long — it started in August, and every month a song has come out, so it’s been several months of releasing songs and, like, exposing myself.

Margaret: I guess you’re kind of shedding the layers of your old self when you release new music.

Nicole: Yeah! It feels like that. My relationship to sharing is changing too — at first I was really nervous, What are people going to think? And then I felt really like naked, like, Oh no, there’s stuff out there of me saying how I feel.

Margaret: And you don’t have any control over it.

Nicole: Yeah, no control. And then now that I’m a few months into it, I’m starting to feel what you’re saying, which is I can change. People are not fixed in any sense. And now I’m having a lot more fun with it, because I’m realizing, Yes, there are things out there of me that are embarrassing, but nobody died when that happened

Margaret: Yes, exactly.

Nicole: [Laughs.] Like actually, you could say nothing happened. It’s just like, Oh, yeah, that was that was a weird one. Not my best. And then literally nothing happened! So it’s OK.

Margaret: I feel like that is why releasing music can sometimes be such a volatile experience. Because it’s like you’re confronting yourself from so recent — at least in some cases. I mean, I wrote my record two years ago, but it still feels very recent, to where I can’t laugh at myself yet if I am embarrassed over something. I need that time and space away from that older version, I feel like, to laugh at myself and be like, whatever. But I guess I’m trying to get better at it.

Nicole: So what is the feeling that you have right now with it still being fresh for you, and now it’s coming out? 

Margaret: The feeling is a mixture of excitement but also embarrassment. It’s always embarrassing when you release music. I feel like there’s literally always something to be embarrassed about. [Laughs.] 

Nicole: But no one else, I think, sees that except for you — we all we only feel that about ourselves. Like, I don’t think what you’re doing is embarrassing. I think what you’re doing is really amazing and cool.

Margaret: But my last song that I released, I’m like, Oh, my god, if someone were to interpret this in this certain way… or like even just like, These words coming out of my mouth, that’s so cringe-y of myself to say, why did I decide to record that? 

Nicole: [Laughs.] But just like you said, people are always shifting. At one point you felt like it was worth it to do. And then because you went through that, now you’ve arrived at this new place of like, Why did I do that? But I, listening to that, am not at that place that you’re at. And when I hear that song, especially “Lain” — like even on the way here, I was listening to it.

Margaret: “Lain” is the one I’m most embarrassed about!

Nicole: I know, and I don’t know why! I don’t know why your lyric, “Hold up your hands if you want your memories back” — I literally almost just choked up. I don’t know why that makes me, like, actually cry when I hear it, even though it’s not a crying song.

Margaret: Interesting!

Nicole: Because I feel like that just hits a part of me. I especially have been struggling with remembering things. And I know this because there’s too much in my life right now — there’s too much, and that’s why when you’re like, “I don’t want to see everything anymore,” that song is what I feel like. It’s like the nature of our times and maybe just also life in New York as a musician, working, trying to make music and just being on Instagram and the endless scroll. There’s just too much. So when I hear that, it’s very emotional for me. And it is really powerful.

Margaret: I think honestly, our music is so, so different, but I feel like we as people are so, so similar. I feel like your music comes in it from one angle, and then mine the other, and then we meet in the middle. We’ve discussed this before, but we have a lot of overlapping lyrics where we’re writing the same thing, kind of, but in an opposite way.

Nicole: Yeah.

Margaret: Like, “I should be fine on my own/I was born bare,” which is your lyric.

Nicole: And you say, “I was born with clothes.” [Laughs.] 

Margaret: [Laughs.] And they’re both true and they’re both things that I feel like we both feel, right?

Nicole: Yeah. OK, and then we also have the lyric that I was just talking about, “I don’t want to see everything anymore,” and mine was, in “Unglow The,” “I want to see everything.”

Margaret: Yes. Your music feels very intimate to me, where I feel like you’re singing from your own experience. When I listen to your music, I don’t picture anyone else. I picture you in a room by yourself writing and singing the song.

Nicole: Well, I feel that from yours too. But why do you think that we say these opposite things?

Margaret: I don’t know! It is kind of strange. 

Nicole: Because when you’re saying our music is really different — and it is — but I almost have the suspicion that it comes from the same place in terms of why we make it. 

Margaret: Or what we gain inspiration from.

Nicole: I feel like we both don’t feel like we fit in the world. Does that feel true to you?

Margaret: No, definitely. When I first met you, I was like, we come from similar feelings.

Nicole: I’ve always seen music as the place that I can go to make a world that I can be in, that I feel like I belong in, and I feel like I hear that with your music too. Especially with this recent album, in terms of this cyborg who is like, “What is the way for me to exist that is the most true? How do I reject what is being pushed upon me in terms of identity and like what I should think and what I should believe, and create my own way forward?” And that’s, I feel like, what we’re both trying to do with music, is make a real space that we feel like we belong in.

Margaret: Yeah, actually, that’s exactly how I feel your music, your lyrics, makes me feel. You’re singing from a point of view of wanting to express yourself in the most authentic way to you, and finding yourself within the music, using it as a tool of self discovery, kind of.

Nicole: Yeah. And I think we both feel very limited having to fit in any kind of identity, and music feels like a very fluid place to be, that you could be anything. It’s like an orb, a floating orb of energy. So that’s like really appealing to me — I like the idea of being in this music realm of this orb. [Laughs.] 

Margaret: Iit also kind of relates to what we were talking about, feeling like we’re tied to our old selves and we don’t allow ourselves to change because we don’t want other people to see us changing in a way. We want to change on our own and then express it through our music and then allow people to see our new styles. 

Nicole: That’s so funny because I feel like music is always the place I have to consult to express the truth, and then I can come back with that. And I feel like, even with just making friends in New York and finding my place here, I really wasn’t able to connect with anyone until I first was sharing music or playing shows. And with this music coming out, I feel so much more comfortable with people, because I was able to express the truth of who I am first through that music. And then when we’re meeting in person, I was vulnerable already, so I don’t have to be now. I feel more comfortable. I just don’t feel comfortable with people. 

Margaret: No, I feel like we totally relate on that specific thing, because someone watching me try something new and failing seems the scariest thing to me. 

Nicole: Yeah, for sure. And honestly, I had a really transformative experience with the “With” video, because that song is about this feeling of — I mean the lyric, “I’m only beautiful when I’m alone” — that feeling of being in that safe place totally by yourself where you’re finally yourself again. Because the whole rest of your life, it feels like you’re not.

I wanted the video to capture what I felt like when I was alone — and you really encouraged me to make that video. I really wanted to visually capture the feeling for me of what it is to feel like your true self alone without the people. But I made that video and then I shared it on YouTube and Instagram, and I know that people I know have seen it. And actually I feel like so different since that happened, since I released it.

Margaret: In what way?

Nicole: Like, I feel so much closer to being able to be that person with other people, because I showed it to them. Just getting past the hurdle of capturing what this feeling is for me in a bottle, of that peaceful solitude where no one’s watching and you’re your full self, and then sharing it with whoever wants to go and look at it — it was just such a liberating move for me. And I feel like this album release process, especially since it’s been so many months and so many different peaks and valleys, is helping me actually get closer to sharing myself with people in a way that works for me.

Margaret: That is the core of, I think, our friendship and why we relate to each other. We’re both in the similar situation. We’re both releasing our first albums, we’re both on parallel journeys.

Nicole: By the way, we kind of always have been on the same release schedule, which is super weird and not intentional.

Margaret: We really have. And I think the thing that relates us is that we have trouble being our full self in front of other people. And our music is what we view as our full self. We use our music to show people that. And now that we’re releasing these big projects into the world, we’re getting validation from people that we’re not weird, and [not] the monsters that we think that we are in our heads. And so we’re getting closer to revealing ourselves more truly to people in real life.

Nicole: Yeah, that’s a really beautiful thing. And even just the act of doing it, whether or not we get a response, “you’re not a monster” — even if people still think we’re a monster, actually nothing is still going to happen.

Margaret: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly.

Nicole: So I feel like the practice of doing that, it’s what we both need…

Margaret: Definitely. I can only speak for myself, but it definitely helps me accept the fact that I’m not going to be liked by some people, because growing up that was my number one thing. I was such a people-pleaser and I’ve been that way [until] recently.

Nicole: I think we both have a lot of that.

Margaret: Yeah, I’m finally figuring out that I don’t need to be liked by everyone and I would actually prefer to only be liked by the people who like me for the things that I want to be liked for, you know?

Nicole: Yeah, for sure. 

Margaret: I think with music, it kind of pushes you to do that.

Nicole: Yeah. And it comes with time and also action to see that it’s true, not everyone is going to like you or what you do, and that is normal and that’s how it should be. 

Margaret: Yeah. I was thinking, too, about how we have those overlapping lyrics as well — I feel like that maybe is reflected in our creative process. Let me know if I’m making wrong assumptions, but I feel like your writing process is a lot more free and expressive, and then you work on all the technical details of it. And I feel like for me, I’m the opposite, where I start really technical and I’m very controlling about the song that’s starting to be written. And that kind of reflects our lyrics, where mine are more calculated, at least to me, and yours feel more expressive. 

Nicole: That’s really interesting. So when you’re starting a song, what is your intention going into it? Is it something you hear, or a melody that you want to explore, or a rhythm? Or is it the larger concept that you’re working with?

Margaret: Mine is the feeling of the music. I go back to my favorite songs, or the ones that had the biggest impact on me, and I know that there’s an unspoken feeling that they emit. And so I want to try to fit those feelings into a song that I’ve written, or recreate that. So I’m not thinking about any writing topic.

Nicole: So when you go to write the lyrics, are you taking lyric ideas that you had and fitting it into that? Or is the sound itself evoking feelings to you that aren’t related to lyrics?

Margaret: Yeah, I think the song’s feeling will let me know what to write the lyrics on. Because when I’m writing melodies, I’m wordlessly singing syllables or sound shapes. That’s my only thing in the whole process where it’s more free, I feel like, because I’m allowing myself to make the melody and I’m allowing myself to unconsciously put words to what’s coming out of my mouth in that moment. Whereas all other times, I’m thinking in my head what I want to write, and then I’m executing it, I guess. 

Nicole: I feel like for you, music is the hook that pulls out the feeling, and for me, feelings are the hook that pulls out the music. I always feel sort of novice or like I don’t actually know how to play music or write a song, but I know what I’m feeling and what I need to do to get it out. And that drives the song. Usually like the melody and the chords and everything will come as I’m sorting out the feeling. But it’s always the lyrical idea or the feeling first.

Margaret: Wow. So you always write lyrics first?

Nicole: Honestly, lyrics and melody usually will usually come at the same time. I’ll be playing my guitar and singing the lyrics that I’m thinking. But the first little spark will be a feeling or a word. I have started a lot of songs with titles — even Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, I wrote that album title before I wrote any song on the album, and I said, “My next album is going to be called Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming.” And I didn’t even know what it meant. I still don’t really know what it means. [Laughs.]

Margaret: Well, you do know it. 

Nicole: I have my own meaning for it. But when I thought of it, I was definitely like, “I like the way this sounds and feels, and this is going to be the title of my next album.”

Margaret: Honestly, though, we need to allow ourselves to think like that more. Us being overthinkers, we’re always trying to shove meaning into this finite thing.

Nicole: I feel like we are both meaning seekers.

Margaret: Like, obsessively seeking approval of our meanings.

Nicole: Yes. Validation of our meanings, whatever. No, honestly, though, I do feel like with Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, I really have been having fun with words. There are some lines that I really don’t know what they mean, and I think that’s fun. Like, whatever. It’s just music. Like in our normal lives, in our conversations, we find that words are never really doing the job. And then we turn to music and it’s a different way in. It doesn’t have to make perfect sense. It just has to feel good. And there’s so much inside of that and so much possibility that that should be really freeing.

Margaret: I was listening to your record today, and I feel like something you do so beautifully is you talk about these really specific, unique experiences in your life, and you pick out one line from those experiences, and for some reason, even though they’re so specific, they still feel so universal in their feeling.

Nicole: Oh, my brain is like — I’m so confused all the time, I’m always forgetting things, I’m always remembering stories incorrectly. Like, everything is this Etch-A-Sketch, I Spy collage in my brain. That’s how I feel like I’m perceiving the world. And I feel like I wanted to express that with the music, so you’re not probably going to find a super clear narrative, or maybe some things will seem elusive or like I am hiding behind metaphor. But honestly, sometimes the metaphor actually is the thing that is the only way I know how to describe a feeling, because it’s how I’m experiencing it. So I’m just trying to reflect what I’m experiencing in the music. And I think for every artist that’s different. That’s why I feel like no one can teach you how to make music or write a song, because everyone is experiencing the world in this totally unique way, and you never know what they’re going to give you.

Margaret: I guess that’s the thing that I’m always fighting against, trying to filter out the influence of the outside world.

Nicole: Yeah, and let go of the limits.

Margaret: We have so many cycles in sync.

Nicole: Yeah, we do.

Margaret: Our period cycles are often in sync. 

Nicole: When did you have it? 

Margaret: I just had it. 

Nicole: Yeah, me too.

Margaret: Yeah. Our record releases, and I feel like maybe our songwriting cycles are similar. We’re not always pumping it out, like you said. It comes in waves of being so scared to actually try to sit down and write a song, and then some days of obsessively doing it. How do you find that cycle?

Nicole: You know, the pattern of it when I can’t write, it’s honestly just that I’m in a rut emotionally. If I can’t write, it’s a bad sign for my mental health. It means that I’m not dealing with something, I’m avoiding something heavy.

Margaret: Yeah, that’s me, too.

Nicole: Yeah, it’s usually just that I’m avoiding something and I cannot bring myself to say it. And if I’m not writing, I’m probably feeling a really low self-esteem, because usually when I can’t write, it’s because I’m like, Why would anything that I ever have to say matter? And that’s usually what creates a block. And once I can get in a healthier mindset with that, then it just flows. And honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty healthy in terms of that. So it’s usually a reflection of my mental health if I’m writing or not. What about you?

Margaret: I think I’m the same. I haven’t written a song in so, so long as of right now, and I think it’s just because this past year has really, really sucked, honestly. I think I am feeling it coming back to me right now — I feel excitement about writing again. But, yeah, it’s almost like your body tells you in different ways that it needs like a break or something.

Nicole: Yeah. Sometimes [a break is] kind of what you need, because when there’s so much that needs to be dealt with, it’s actually not always the best thing to dive right into it, deal with all of it at once.

Margaret: No, that’s totally true.

Nicole: So I’ve started to regard my writing dry spells as a part of the process. I no longer am afraid of not writing a song ever again. I know that I am always going to write.

Margaret: You’re trusting yourself. 

Nicole: Yeah. And when I feel like I can’t, I’m like, OK, then I won’t. Why do I have to? Just let it not be a writing time.

Margaret: I think you are right in what you’re saying. It’s just your body’s way of—

Nicole: Of processing it.

Margaret: And protecting you. And letting yourself enjoy life and then dealing with it once you have enough space for it.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. Because sometimes dwelling on it actually doesn’t do anything. Sometimes you do need to just go out into your life and do something, or go through a normal day and then return to it with fresh eyes. But you do have to trust your mind and your body’s processes of dealing with stuff. Because sometimes if you’re in this loop, it’s just because things are getting sorted out. And when the time is right and when you’re ready, you can move forward with more clarity.

(Photo Credit: left, Tonje Thilesen; right, Hoseon Sohn)

Pearla is the recording project of the Brooklyn-based artist Nicole Rodriguez. Her debut record, Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, is out now on Spacebomb.

(Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen)