Reggie Pearl explores the power dynamics behind a not-so-straight-forward request to “Paint My Nails” on new single

Photo by Carson (Gigi) Milstead

Here at the Deli we’re admittedly big fans of Venn diagrams and one of our fave VD’s is the one where you have one concentric circle representing rough-hewn indie folk with string-band instrumentation complete with acoustic guitar and viola/violin and banjo, and another circle representing formal jazz-based, conservatory-trained musicianship that balances virtuosic proficiency with tasteful restraint…

…and another circle representing confessional singer-songwriter alt.pop featuring misty-eyed, world-weary romantic yearning á la Sharon Van Etten/Angel Olsen/Weyes Blood/Phoebe Bridgers, and another circle representing confrontational punk singer-shouters known for sharp-tongued, full-throating takedowns of the patriarchy shot through with "nasty woman" wit, including a fair helping of self-lacerating wit as well, á la Lydia Lunch/Lunachicks/Kathleen Hanna/Kat Bjelland…

…cuz any artist who can fit within the not-very-sizable sliver of intersectional space between the above-listed concentric circles is something akin to finding a pearl in a random restaurant oyster and so it’s appropriate that conservatory-trained, no-punches-pulled, singer-songwriter Reggie Pearl fits this bill…

…given her ability to put across lines like "are you going to tie me up / but you won’t even spit in my mouth / in my mouth / spit in my mouth / spit in my mouth / you won’t spit in my mouth" declaimed over homespun banjo ‘n’ viola ‘n’ violin (or "fiddle" if you prefer) in a manner that’s at once humorous and disturbing and wistful and yearning as R. Pearl does on “Paint My Nails,” a single they released earlier today…

…a song self-describedly described as being “about physical dominance in a relationship without any emotional depth…being intimate but only for a performance of gender roles…about how accepting your queerness can liberate you from the imposed roles within your relationships and how you relate to the world” or for another example check out their preceding single "Get Low" released just a month ago (almost to the day and both will subsequently be included on Twilight Zone (Ugly Cave Records), a 7-track EP set for a September release)…

…featuring some of The Deli’s fave lyrics of late which again address toxic masculinity but this time as manifested in an episode of erectile dysfunction (“was it the beer, or the Lord, or the lesbian porn?”) with a catchy-as-hell vocal melody/guitar progression enhanced by pinprick pizzicato strings culminating in eerie microtonal glissandi trills over a creeping bassline, mirroring an emotional tenor that’s unsparing one moment and empathetic the next (“was it guilt, was it shame / maybe you took blame / first be honest with yourself / then honest with me”) that in either case could save the addressee months (if not years!) worth of therapy bills…

…so naturally we wanted to know more–especially with Reggie Pearl set to perform live here in NYC a couple days hence (on 7/20/23) at The Windjammer in Ridgewood as presented by Footlight Presents–and fortunately she was willing to oblige in the form of sharing some insightful insights over the course of an in-depth phone convo spanning a range of topics, excerpts of which can be found below. (Jason Lee)


Recorded by Hot Take Recording Co
Mixed by Justin Termotto 
Mastered by 1m0rewinter 

Drums: Ryan Katz 
Bass: Gabriel Lazaro
Viola: Noah Leong 
Violin: Claudius Agrippa


On geography:

I moved to Boston a few years ago to attend the Berklee College of Music. Since then I’ve moved back to St. Louis, though I’m currently back in Boston for an East Coast tour. It’s been nice to be back in the Midwest to give some love to my family and friends. When I left for school my grandma said, ‘You’ll get famous and never come back” which was sweet for her to be worried about.

I didn’t graduate from Berklee. I knew I wouldn’t. It’s too expensive. My goal was to find the best musicians I could possibly play with, and collaborate with, and that’s what happened.

Later this year I’ll be going to the Philippines for a couple of months with a side trip to Japan. My partner is from there and their family is there. One of my goals has always been to be able to travel and play music. It’s nice to have some people willing to help me out. I’ve also got a show lined up in Japan…could call it a tour if I wanted to be all fancy. 

On early musical development:

My mom always said I started singing before I could talk. I’d be humming melodies and my older sister would say “tell this kid to shut up!” It never felt like I chose to sing. Now it’s a choice. But when I was a kid it’s just what I did. 

I started playing in a band at 10 years old at a music center. Early on I was into soul music, Motown…lmusic people around me weren’t listening to. Holy shit, there’s so much good music out there! I’ve dedicated myself to finding music that I “shouldn’t” have access to. Not to mention music from other countries, music from around the world.

For me making music is in a way of trying to honor this legacy of musical creativity, and those who have come before me. And to add to it. It’s a never ending thing. You can study music your whole life and never come anywhere close to being an expert.

On evolving musically: 

I went to regular high school, and then performing arts high school to study jazz. It felt like a sport in a way…the only sport I’ll ever play. There’s complexity, vocal gymnastics, always something new to try and master. Singing jazz is how I practice and get better. I have a lot of appreciation for it now.

I’ve always written songs, but somewhere along the way realized I can say whatever I want to say in them. On the Twilight Zone EP I’m addressing things I never thought I’d want to put in my music. It feels like singing about some of these things frees me from their reins–using music as a means to release pain and stress, negative emotions but positive emotions too. 

I’ve given myself the freedom to try new things…don’t think I could do this before. Before I was “I’m an indie singer, My songs have to sound a certain way.” It used to worry me, sounding ugly and not pretty, sounding “bad.” When I released [2020 EP] Regicide I realized “oh, I can sing however and whatever I want.” 

It’s been so much fun to release myself from that. But uncomfortable at times too…letting my voice free to exist in these new spaces. I’ve realized I can make screams beautiful, heart-wrenching, an outlet for the stress and some of the BS we all deal with.

The only concern is to do it in a healthy way. I can drink some tea, take a throat lozenge when I need to. Being formally trained there’s this attitude you need to sound like"this." Use your head voice, etc. But I’m going to do what feels good and make each performance different, its own unique in-the-moment thing. It feels good to put all that stuff somewhere.

Collaborating is a big part of it too. Like I said, I found my musical soulmates at Berklee. I can go to them and say, "here’s the bones of the songs. You know how to play your instruments. It’s up to you what to do." They’ve really brought the songs to life. String instruments can express more feelings, more emotion, than a voice and words can. Or at least in a different way. 

On the creative process:

I have to write what I want to write. "Here’s this thing I need to understand things better." It’s a little strange being asked to explain my songs, because I write a song about something so I don’t have to talk about it. My favorite thing about music is where a song explains just how I’m feeling on its own terms. And I love that it may be able to help someone who needs help, helps them to know they’re not alone. 

When I wrote “Get Low” it came from getting into a perfect flow state. I didn’t really *write* that song. It just came to me. Some spiritual being came to me and said, "here’s this song, just write it down." I think it was reacting to things that have just been thrown in my face so much. It just came out. 

On music as a therapeutic form of expression:

I grew up a closeted queer person in Missouri, around a lot of "Republican" guys for lack of a better term, many of whom were homophobic and sexist. The song deals with feeling "Catholic guilt" in that setting. It all circles back on myself. 

The opening lines ("said the preacher, to the priest, to the firearms / One hell of a man, but you can’t get hard") confront this. The fear and insecurity. There’s a tendency for preachers and other male authority figures to pass this shit around. And then someone will take up arms based on what they’ve said about some group of people.

On “Paint My Nails”:

I’ve always been obsessed with hands. There’s so many things you can do with hands. You can cause so much harm. You can literally punch a baby. Or you can do so much good. 

The opening line “Sleep is recommended” is like when you’re thinking about a difficult situation so much… just go to bed, go to sleep. Think about it later. 

The song is about a relationship that was super dominating, but not in a way I was into, not in the fun way. And thinking I need to get out of this, but I’m stuck. Paralyzed by pain and fear and asking “are you going to tie me up.”

It’s also about queerbaiting. About men who will paint their nails but they’re not queer. About people wanting to be a part of queerness. I can’t speak for them, but some people want to come across in a certain way when they’re not really that way behind closed doors. 

We all know a person who had their nails painted but they’re a piece of shit. Using these surface signs to be involved in a certain space where you can actually cause a lot of harm. The one consolation is that maybe, because the straight dudes are wearing nail polish, it makes it safer to be queer in Missouri. 

Final thoughts:

I’m excited for people to hear this music. I’ve been holding on to some of it for 4 years. “Floor Dweller” was written about a year ago. The entire record’s been done for about a year, just waiting to get everything in order. I’m ready for it to be out so I can move on to the next thing. 

Me and my friend, Frances Baker, we were like "we don’t wanna deal with a label." So we started one ourselves. It might turn into a full on production company doing photos, set design, videos and other concepts. It’s great having ADHD, and being creative, and having time on your hands.