Printed in a brochure for a park near Nicole Rodriguez’s childhood home is a list of activities for kids and their parents. “For children, [they] were really fun: boating, kickball, nature hikes, really exciting arts and crafts,” Rodriguez describes to me over the phone on a recent Sunday morning. “For the adults, it was all different kinds of therapies.” The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter used the list as inspiration for a poem she was working on at the time — as well as her upcoming EP, Quilting & Other Activities (out September 6 via Egghunt Records).
“This record — and all the music that I make — was my therapy of getting through a certain time,” she says. And listening through the six-track project does kickstart a gentle sort of inner-healing that feels comparable to revisiting significant objects from your past, regarding them in a different light. Listening to the intricately-produced and whimsical folk songs on Rodriguez’s record — released under the name Pearla — can feel like re-encountering artifacts lost to time: beautiful and sweet, but with a nagging edge of something gone wrong.
“Quilting,” the lead single that The FADER is premiering today, opens with twinkling windchimes and Rodriguez’s lilting vocals that soon decays into a thorny mass of static, her voice hardly decipherable. “It’s reality coming in,” she says of those moments of disruption. “A lot of this record is about denial...breaking this little illusion that I was trying to live inside of.”
These reality-check moments — which appear on the EP as distorted glitches or gently discordant counter-melodies — are what give her songs a valuable layer of honesty and depth, an Alice in Wonderland-esque hole that one can’t help but jump in and explore. Rodriguez’s visceral, haunting worlds are definitely worth the trip.
How did you get into music?
It was always my way of understanding the world around me — processing different emotions from a young age. I'd always written these little songs and poems. I had that spark of a feeling when I was younger that felt like making up a song was a secret little room that I could go to feel completely at peace. Some of my favorite music as I got older — Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young — felt like that little secret room. When I found my way to folk music, I was like, “Oh, there's a way for me to do this.” One big moment for me was finding Joanna Newsom. I heard her on an AT&T commercial, and I looked for the song because it was so compelling. She's still one of my favorite artists.
Why do you think you identified with folk music so much?
It feels liberating to hear people being so honest and say things that aren't always necessarily clear or pretty. With folk music, it felt like people were saying things that I had been afraid to say in songs. Their honesty made me feel like I could be honest and say what I needed to say. I love Conor Oberst for that reason. There's a friend there OK-ing your feelings for you, being like, I also feel this, and I know it's not the prettiest thing, but it's real.
You said this record was like therapy. Do you hope it will function that way for other people?
I really hope that it can serve as something that's comforting for other people. That's the only reason I'm sharing it. I'm a little scared for all of [it] to be out there, but it's a promise that I made to myself that this would be what I intend to share with the world, because I know those are the things that always helped me the most. If I'm not fully honest in these songs, then I'm not being honest with myself and I don't get that feeling of release or understanding of myself.
In your songs there are a lot of allusions to birds and other animals. Does nature or animals, or birds specifically, symbolize something special to you?
I've always felt very connected to animals — birds specifically. They've always embodied this spirit of freedom and carelessness. I'm really into turtles now. There's actually a sample in "Pear-shaped World" — I have this plastic turtle with a hard green pea inside of it. One of the beats is made from me shaking it. I carry this turtle everywhere because the turtle makes me remember to take things slow and they move at such a different time scale than we do. It's something I'm attracted to in turtles.
Right now, I'm in my backyard at my parents’ house and there are these butterflies coming every two minutes and they're flying the exact same path and going to the exact same place. All of them are a different type of butterfly. I'm just watching them go and I think it makes me feel connected to the world when I see something like that.
Something I found really striking on “Quilting” is that it's centered around this one phrase, "I should be fine on my own, I was born bare." How did you come up with that line?
During that time, I had just come out of a relationship and I was still so attached to this person and I was completely alone in this moment, and it's the worst feeling I've ever had. I was frustrated with myself; I carried this belief around that every single person is full and complete on their own and that I can be — I should be fine right now and I'm not, so what's the problem? I think writing this allowed me to realize that that is just being human.
Are there allusions to other music that you like on Quilting & Other Activities?
In "Quilting," there's the yellow bird and I think, I realized this in retrospect, but there's a Bright Eyes lyric like, "[Did] you forget that yellow bird?" I thought it was a similar yellow bird in my song. Like, the yellow bird I was talking about may have been the same type of yellow bird! Moments like that, I don't know. They've created this way for me to understand certain things about myself, and put them into words.