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The Other California Dream
Pearl Harbor deliver wonderfully weird psychedelia
LA’s Pearl Harbor might not always record in their bedroom. But their music still sounds like it comes from someplace between sleep and dreaming. Haunted Graffiti’s Cole Marsden produced the four songs on the new Something About the Chaparrals EP (Mexican Summer)—with help from the spirit of Winsor McCay, whose comic-strip kids fell out of bed because there was too much going on in their heads. The three members of Pearl Harbor—sisters Piper (vocals) and Skyler (guitar), plus friend Cody (bass), all sans last names to discourage private detectives—tumble into bottomless pop where echo overwhelms its source.
Observers call this a “California sound.” Like Brian Wilson and Emitt Rhodes, Piper helms her band—and does not surf. The Chapparals EP dissolves somewhere around the outer edge of Smile, Further and the early Opal albums. It then drifts as mist toward Suicide, Felt, the Raincoats, the Cocteau Twins and Margo Guryan’s cult-famous demos. Past that, it’s stars in the sky and endless water. If such a description suggests a place where you could float in peace eternally, then you have arrived at Pearl Harbor.
That’s blissed-out, says Piper, who knows the exact components of her band’s sonics: “Really killer synth chords, harmonies that lend themselves to good feelings—kind of the same quality as the Beach Boys harmonies. There’s a lot of lushness and dimension to it. It’s instant endorphin flow! It really gets you into the zone.”
And where is the zone?
“My immediate zone?” asks Piper. “There’s a killer-ass picture my dad took in the ’70s at a spot in the Bahamas called Spanish House. I made it all psychedelic—pink and blue. Pearl Harbor colors. That’s where I go every day to work.”
Outside her window in Northeast LA? An alley view that takes three curse words to describe: “Fucking,” “shitty” and “shitty.” But Pearl Harbor’s zone extends upward, not outward, and in the attic where they practice and record, says Piper, they look south through the LA skyline to sunset and beach. That’s a view that prompts no curse words.
“It’s perplexing to me when people ask, ‘What about California inspires your music?’” says Piper. “What about California doesn’t inspire me? I’ve never lived anywhere else. I don’t know anything else.”
But that’s not true. Piper kind of knows everything else. If that Suicide-Felt-Raincoats-Guryan cluster made you uncomfortable, please move slowly away from Piper’s actual record collection, which is so heavy with never-discovered geniuses that it plummets through “obscure” and crashes into “extraterrestrial.” Is Merrell Fankhauser from Earth? Is Leland?
Funnily enough, they’re from California, but an alternate California—an ebullient McCay-scape overrun by geniuses spooling pop to tape in moonlit bedrooms. (In that California, Smile outsold Sgt. Pepper’s by millions.) She likes Steely Dan and Stevie Nicks, too, but it’s those-who-also-served—the people who never got famous or maybe never even got fed a hot meal, but who made purer, better music for it—who await her visits to the zone.
For instance: She shows up to DJ (as “Heather Gram”) wearing a bootleg Kino shirt. Who was Kino? Kino had Viktor Tsoi, who was just about the Joe Strummer of the Soviet Union and was reportedly eulogized in Pravda as follows: “Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him. . . . He lived the way he sang. . . . Tsoi is the last hero of rock.”
So that’s who guides and provides for Pearl Harbor. It takes a certain kind of hermit maniac, says Piper, and by now, she’s met a few and talked to more. Fankhauser sends her constructive notes on the band, and she watched cult legend R. Stevie Moore complain about a chilly turkey burger in his tiny New York apartment—just before he pulled out a song probably hardly anyone else has ever heard. If only one person hears it, is it genius? Well, not if you’re a corporate accountant. But she remembers nothing else in this interview with such clarity.
“That was one of the most inspiring things I ever witnessed,” she says. “Me and Stevie both had tears in our eyes. I feel he knew, too, that at the core, I really love what he’s doing. It made me feel really good—at least my fucking heroes are on my side!”
Pearl Harbor with Animal Style at the Crosby, 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 600-0129; www.thisisthecrosby.com. Tues., 8 p.m. Call for cover.