Interview by: Natalia Buia
Humbled to be in Toronto, the folk duo known as the Driftwood Singers enjoy a nice, cold beer at the Central before their NXNE show. Pearl Charles (autoharp, vocals) and Kris Hutson (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals) sit on the patio, reflecting on their band's journey thus far.
The sound of the Driftwood Singers is a simplified, nostalgic one. While they come from the west coast of California, it's the good ol' Southern music that they've successfully emulated on their 5 song EP titled Look! They pen originals, but upon listening, one might think it's music that originated in Nashville in the '30s.
"We live in a time where any music can be anyone's. Nothing is native to a specific area anymore," Kris says of the folk genre.
In their beautiful harmonies lies a sense of unpretentiousness. The duo was once a 10-piece ensemble a la Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Pearl and Kris decided touring on their own offered them more mobility. They don't rely on any gimmicks when playing on stage.
While there's boy bands galore resting deep in the hills of Hollywood, the Driftwood Singers became part of a big folk movement in the area, proving to all that there is beauty within the gutters of fluff music.
Pearl explains that a friend of hers opened a venue called Echo Country Outpost a year and a half ago to showcase folk bands. It grew to be the place that gave folk musicians refuge.
"It's not about your draw or your following, they just want to have good music and now it's a big community," says Pearl of the venue. Recently, Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek and even Oscar nominated actor John C. Reilly have attended and played shows at the Outpost.
"That’s kind of the home base for most of L.A.'s independent, Americana kind of music now," says Kris.
Another friend of the band happens to be the creator of the newly inaugurated Los Angeles Folk Festival, which debuted last August. The Driftwood Singers are scheduled to play this year.
"The point is that more and more people are getting involved and it's becoming this big scene," says Pearl. "We all like to support each other. If more musicians were like that, playing music would be more fun."
Since they teamed up in 2009, Pearl and Kris have seen almost if not all of North America. A city's lack of music and culture isn't all that intimidating or surprising to them anymore.
"We randomly set up a show at a metal warehouse underground. It was the only venue that was in the city of Midland on our route. You can imagine what it could be like, but believe it or not, it was one of our best shows ever," says Pearl.
While touring different red and blue states and meeting other hard-working musicians, they say other bands have failed to touch upon American history within the content of their music. Pearl, at the risk of getting political, says it could have been due to the public's shame regarding former president Bush.
"I remember when I was in high school, a lot of bands were trying to do the Brit-pop kind of thing and trying to get away from a lot of the American music that we do now," says Kris.
"We appreciate that history. We want to make people aware of it. What I really want to emphasize is that we write our own songs, we inject our own feelings into it," says Pearl.
When the band writes a song that's extremely relevant in this day and time (i.e. war overseas), they write in a way that can be put into any context. They leave you with a message that listeners from all walks of life can appreciate.
"We're intentionally ambiguous in our songs so that it can sound like an old song yet everyone can get something out of it," says Pearl.
"We don't want to alienate people by being overly political," says Kris.
The band agrees that there is a time and a place to be political when making music. Artists like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie have walked that fine line.
The Driftwood Singers are passionate about retelling great moments throughout American history to their audience. They're en route to record more folk magic in Nashville after their summer tour wraps up. To them, all that matters is that their lyrics emit some kind of reaction whether you're a folk fan or not.