Singer Jocelyn McKenzie took solace at an open mike on what was to be her last night in Brooklyn. She was low on money and about to move back to her parents' house in New Jersey. "It was my last night of freedom before having to ask to borrow the car," says McKenzie.
Something happened at the open mike that changed her plans. She met guitarist Jeremy Styles. "Within two weeks we had a joint bank account," she says. When they met cellist Emily Hope Price two months later, Pearl and the Beard was formed.
The Brooklyn-based indie-folk band has an instrumental repertoire that includes glockenspiel, melodica, ukulele, guitar, cello and drums.
Their stage presence is outgoing and affectionate. "We smile a lot," says McKenzie. "We're really comfortable with people. We give out a lot of hugs at our shows."
The band perform at the Project Lodge on Friday, Feb. 25. It's their third appearance in Madison, thanks to their connections with local singer-songwriter Anna Vogelzang, who attended college with Price. Vogelzang will also perform.
On their 2009 debut, God Rest Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson, Pearl and the Beard took on all the big lyrical themes - death, love, regret and hope. The solemn and urgent acoustic guitar riff that opens "Oh, Death" warns that "the light is growing slowly dimmer." Then the trio abruptly reassures with this chant: "I love you the way you are, the way you've always been."
"We all learned music in different ways, and our songwriting styles reflect that," says McKenzie. "Emily is extremely thoughtful in her approach. I'm more 'word salad,' and will say, 'Let's put this part here.' Jeremy is big on chord structure."
Pearl and the Beard's second full-length release, Killing the Darlings, is due in April. "On the old album, you'd hear more than one voice almost all the time," says Price. "This time, we highlight our individual styles."
McKenzie explained why the trio is perpetually happy. "You can't do this if you don't really love it," she says. "It's hard work, and there's not much in it financially."