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Stacking The Deck with Scruffy Pearls
Friday, February 01, 2019

Stacking The Deck is a feature exclusive to Adam’s World where I bring packs of 1991 Pro Set Superstars MusiCards to artists, and we discuss who they find in each pack.

Fronted by a powerhouse vocalist whose voice sounds like it’s from an era when vinyl was the only way to buy music, and jazz clubs filled the city, Scruffy Pearls – who expertly weave together soul, pop, and rock – have made a name for themselves as one of NYC’s premier live bands.

Scruffy Pearls’ lineup runs six people deep, consisting of Carly Brooke (vocals), RJ Gatsby (keys, guitar, ukulele), Billy Pearson (lead guitar), Renee Hikari (drums), Parker McAllister (bass), and Adam Abresch (trumpet). (Photographed L to R: Guys – RJ, Billy, Parker, Adam. Women – Renee, Carly)

On a seasonably chilly January evening two weeks ago they hit the stage at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 to a packed house of fans who couldn’t wait to move, groove, and celebrate the weekend with the band.

Scruffy Pearls were more than happy to oblige.

With a set of mostly original work that lasted nearly an hour, they closed their set with a raucous rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” that had everyone singing along. To borrow a phrase from Scruffy Pearls’ current single, the crowd was “Letting Loose,” and as the last note was hit everyone was feeling warm inside before exiting into the frigid Manhattan night.


I caught up with Scruffy Pearls earlier in the evening in the green room at Rockwood Music Hall to open up some packs of MusiCards, and the artists we found sparked conversations about inventing a precursor to the iPod, what used to make Carly feel like a badass, and odd jobs they had before becoming a band – including trailer park musical theatre, and a stint at a Papa John’s with a very relaxed hiring process.



Twisted Sister

RJ: I love Twisted Sister. I went to college with Dee Snider’s son, Shane. We used to do open mic nights, and play music, and every once in a while there’d be like a 7 foot tall female lookin’ guy, and it was Dee.

Dee would show up at shows, and was very supportive, and that was my first moment of being starstruck, and awestruck, seeing Dee Snider walk into a show that we were playing.

So later tonight if we see someone 7 feet tall, with long hair, it’s probably Dee Snider?

RJ: It could be. I doubt that he’s still thinking about me, but I’m thinking about him now.

Did you ever play “We’re Not Gonna Take It” when he walked in?

RJ: No, but it’s one of those songs that’s just so iconic that it comes up in popular culture all the time, and whenever there’s an article you just forward it over to Shane.

Dee Snider was also really important in the hearings that involved Tipper Gore, and the parental advisory labels.

RJ: Those hearings were crazy. Dee showed up there looking like a man.

But still with the long hair.

RJ: Yeah, tied back, though.

He’s not allowed to lose his hair.

RJ: It’s in the contract.



Jimmy Page

Billy: I can remember driving with my dad, before I got my first guitar – I was kind of interested in playing guitar – and my dad put on Zep's “Good Times, Bad Times.” When the guitar solo came in I was like oh fuck, that’s what I want to do.

How old were you at the time?

Billy: I was like 12 or 13, but I definitely remember that moment.

Like everybody who plays guitar, probably, (I started) diving super deep into learning as much about Led Zeppelin as I could. Learning all the weird shit, too, about Jimmy Page, all the occultist stuff, and just really getting into his world.

Was there something especially weird you read about.

Yeah, there’s a lot of weird shit. {laughs}

One thing, notably, is there’s this – it’s getting a little freaky – but there’s this occultist dude Aleister Crowley, who was like the most famous name for that kind of thing; Jimmy Page like lived in his house, and I don’t know what went on there.

RJ: Staying on Zeppelin, I have a weird Zep story, too.

I invented the iPod.

People don’t know this.

I used to record voicemails using my house phone, and they would be tracks off Led Zeppelin albums. I’d call my house phone, and record the entire song on different messages, and when I was in school, in high school, I would call my house in-between periods and listen to the voicemails.

When they came out with the iPod I was like, “This is so much easier,” but I kind of invented it. {laughs}

Every time I think of Zep now I think of just trying to steal moments to listen to music.

Were you using the pay phones at school?

RJ: Yes. A cousin, or friend, gave me this thing, it played a tone that the cops would use, and it would make the pay phone free. I’m sure you could still find it, but nobody uses pay phones. I would play the little tone, and I would call my house. Sometimes my mom would pick up, and I’d be like, “Mom, hang up the phone! Don’t answer!” and I’d listen to Zep.



Heart

Renee: Whenever I think of Heart I think of my dad, because he introduced me to (the music of) Heart, and he loves them so much.

I remember when I first picked up the acoustic guitar my dad showed me Nancy Wilson’s guitar tutorial video, and she is so small, and has small hands like mine, but the things she does on an acoustic guitar, on steel strings, are insane. So I admire her, and obviously Ann has a killer voice.

I feel like every time I go to a Heart concert it’s like the closest thing I can get to the ‘70s, but just considering the fact that two girls, in the late ‘60s/‘70s, were rockin’ out, and competing with the boys, not competing, but being on the same level as them, is super inspiring.



Paula Abdul

Carly: She wasn’t actually on the season that I did, but I was on American Idol. I had Jennifer Lopez, Randy (Jackson), and Steven Tyler.

I got cut during Hollywood week, but it was a really fun experience.

Before Paula Abdul was a singer she was a Laker Girl. Did any of you have a pre-Scruffy Pearls gig that was interesting, weird, or different?

Carly: I did musical theatre.

I went to school in Philadelphia, so I did a bunch of shows there before I came to New York City, and now I do film and TV.

Was there a weird role in Philly, like independent theatre?

Carly: Oh yeah. I was in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and I played Pippi, the stripper with a heart of gold.

Don’t they always have a heart of gold?

Carly: They always make the strippers really sweet inside.

Any other weird jobs in the group, or does trailer park musical theatre take the cake?

Renee: I don’t know if I can beat that, but I’ve had multiple random jobs. My first one was making pizza at Papa John’s.

RJ: Shut up. {turns to Billy} You knew this the whole time?

Renee: I was also a US Open ball girl. I was somehow security at a supermarket.

RJ: You are the least intimidating bouncer I’ve ever seen.

Renee: I shucked oysters.

Carly: We both shucked oysters.

Renee: The list goes on and on.

We’re going back to Papa John’s for a minute. How old were you, and how’d you end up with that job?

Renee: I think I was 15, or 16. I’m from Bayside, Queens, and the Papa John’s had just opened up. My friend who was in the same grade was somehow manager of the Papa John’s.

It sounds like there was a real tough hiring process at the Papa John’s of Bayside.

Renee: He got me the job and I was literally making pizza.

Carly: Wow. I never knew this.

RJ: I’m so impressed right now.

Renee: But I think I only did that for a week.



En Vogue

Most guys wanted at least one member of En Vogue back in the day. Who were some of your crushes, or the people on the posters on your wall, growing up?

RJ: Tiffany, I thought, was really cool.

So for you it was the mall queens, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson …

RJ: Debbie Gibson is one of my favorite human beings. I just think what she did, when she did it, and how she did it, was just badass.

Billy: Someone I always thought that way about growing up was Gwen Stefani. Super badass, and beautiful.

RJ: {Turning to trumpet player Adam Abresch, who just entered the room} Who was your female musical crush growing up?

Adam: Oh all day Britney Spears.

How about you, Carly?

Carly: Honestly, I never had that kind of thing. My wall, I had like Bert and Ernie on it until I was really way too old, but if I was gonna dance in the bathroom before I got ready to go out it was always Akon. I knew every word to Konvicted.

The explicit version, or the radio edit, because there are some versions of his songs that end up very different.

Carly: I knew the real versions, and I thought it was so badass that I could say those words.

What about you, Renee?

Renee: I was basically like a traditional Japanese kid, and had Pokemon posters all over my room, but I was crushing on John Mayer. I had his Heavier Things album cover signed.


For more Scruffy Pearls, check out scruffypearls.com, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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