Sonic Dreams: Exclusive Interview With PELL

Photo by Ellie Pritts

There is a space where existential nuance and personal confession all exist in the rhythms of a dreamscape universe. This is the world of Pell, and with his recent album Floating While Dreaming, he transports us to a universe of varied influences manifested in ambient sounds and serious hip-hop grooves. The album includes production from Thomas Barford, Staccs, and Ludwig Göransson (Childish Gambino). It was after Hurricane Katrina that Pell (Jared Pellerin) moved to Jackson, Mississippi and although originally from New Orleans, Pell's creative direction is not controlled by the limitations of what Southern rap "should" sound like. His lyricism reveals tales of growing up in the South and this includes tracks like "Dollar Store" which tells of his days working at the local dollar store before quitting to leap straight into music. There is a transition in Pell's flow as he shifts from rapping to singing, from floating above a beat to ripping straight through, as he challenges what it means to be a rapper while simultaneously reshaping and rebuilding the future of Southern sound. He is establishing himself as an artist with confidence and a true belief in boundless creativity and the result is lasting, like the lingering effects of a dream.

We recently met up with Pell in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we talked about becoming a werewolf, the first song he ever wrote, and Sigmund Freud

SIRISUK: You've been playing lots of shows.

PELL: Yeah, a lot of show and the most memorable show that I've had as of late was a show I did with G-Eazy in New Orleans and it was at the Republic, which is like a 1,200 capacity room and it was sold out. It was crazy, it was wild, it was a movie, and I actually have footage from it and that will be coming out soon. But also, I've been shooting music videos. I shot a music video to probably 4 tracks from Floating While Dreaming that haven't been released yet. So I've been doing a lot.

SIRISUK: When do you think those will come out?

PELL: One probably at the end of the month and one every other month leading up to the end of the year.

SIRISUK: I still remember the first time I heard "Eleven:11." It was so different in terms of sound and the nuance encapsulates the rest of the album. Growing up, what influenced your sound?

PELL: I think my family life. My mom actually used to make some Kwanzaa songs when we were kids and she was an opera singer in college. Growing up, I played a lot sports because I kind of wanted to be like big brother and I have a bigger brother whose 3 years older than me. He plays for the Cowboys now, actually. My brother always influenced me to play sports and when he left for college in 2008, I started producing a lot heavier. Let me give you even more of a background. I moved to Jackson, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and that's when I was introduced to a lot of my friends through music. I made beats and that's how socially I got along with certain kids. I kind of thought that I wanted to do some rapping and some singing. I always wanted to sing, but I didn't know how I wanted to sing. I have a lot of different tones because I feel like it's on a song by song basis. When my brother came back, it was funny because I was producing a lot. He took me to Best Buy and bought me Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Tribe, Fugees, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Lupe. I was listening to Gym Class Heroes too at the time. and I feel as I progressed musically, I wanted to show other areas of influence outside of hip-hop. But that was my initial hip-hop influence - all those names I mentioned - but now I feel like I've gone into another side which is indie music. I like Vampire Weekend, MGMT, and Fleet Foxes and I want to use some of what I like about their music and incorporate it into how I can make it my own, because those people inspire me.

SIRISUK: Do you remember the first time you sat down and wrote an entire song?

PELL: Yeah, it was called "Monkeys in Space Suits."

Sirisuk [laughs]: How old were you when you wrote that?

PELL [laughs]: I was 17. That's funny. I think I did it because the name of my group, my posse and my friends, we called ourselves "Homesick Astronauts" because we moved from NOLA to Mississippi. We're like homesick and then like out of this world. It was cool and so our first song was "Monkeys in Space Suits." I thought it was banging

SIRISUK: Are you going to mix that and put it on the next album?

PELL [laughs]: I actually could. You'll probably hear it on an interlude or something. Honestly, I want to sneak it in. I still have all my old files and some other stuff I've done. I really think I'm conceptually driven and it's really ahead of it's time for me because I thought so "out of the box." I hadn't had a lot of experiences - like real life experiences - so I had an imagination that I would just follow, like a child basically.

SIRISUK: Imagination and dreams are all linked on this record - and it's been referred to as "dream rap." I was just wondering more about the dreaming. Is it lucid dreaming that you're able to do? Can you tell me about that?

PELL: Yeah, for sure. Originally I watched Waking Life. It's kind of a cartoony graphic that takes a boy's life and he starts off and he enters in a lucid dream. He kind of grows up within the dream and is exposed to a lot of different theologies and philosophies, and it's really dope. It's all about existentialism at points, too. That inspired me to want to try to lucid dream, so I started practicing and when I had vivid dreams, I would write them down immediately and would try to see if I could find patterns, how life experiences influence my dreams. I started doing a little bit of research on Sigmund Freud's dream psychology. It's a little book, but I was really interested in it and I think it partly was because my mom was a psychology major, and I always felt like I had this strange connection with her in that regard. I want to know how people work and how I work. I'm still trying to find myself.

SIRISUK: Any of these dreams make their way onto the record?

PELL: You know it's funny, a little bit of "Eleven:11" in terms of the imagery. I had 3 or 2 other tracks that are not on the album that we're sitting on but they definitely have been influenced by a dream.

SIRISUK: "Dollar Store" is a great song and that's a very personal track.

PELL: I wrote that in the dollar store. I used to work at Dollar General. When we were stocking, I would hide my phone because they had cameras and stuff. So I'd hide my phone and write stuff, because otherwise I'd just die of boredom. It taught me responsibility, I guess.

SIRISUK: There's a line where you say "floating while dreaming, I think I'm on shrooms." I want to know about one of your most vivid dreams.

PELL: I had a really weird dream the other week, actually. I dreamed that I was in a pack of werewolves on some Twilight shit. It was crazy and I didn't even know that I was a werewolf, but I was going to school with these certain kids and I remember we were part of a sports team. I don't remember what we did but we were running or doing training. We were running through the woods and then all of a sudden my friend turns into a werewolf and is trying to attack me, but I realized while I was running from him that I actually turned into one as well so we're all just beasts, and running freely in the woods. It was kind of tight.

SIRISUK: Any producers you'd like to hook up with in the future?

PELL: I would like to partner up with Dot da Genius, I'd definitely want to get in with Hit-Boy, The-Dream, and I'd have to say André 3000. I don't know how much he produces, but I'd just want to be in the studio with him.

SIRISUK: You said "Dollar Store" was written at work. What about the other songs. How long was the process? Were these just songs you'd been writing for years?

PELL: Yeah, I started out with an initial skeleton of songs I had been working on last November in L.A. It built the foundation upon what I wanted conceptually, and sonically where I wanted the project to go. Then I kind of filled in the cracks with songs I had already made that were really great and that I didn't want to leave behind. I'm someone who works at such a fast pace that my thoughts and my ideas about certain things can change in like three months. I'll have a good track that can be overlooked if I don't get it out at the right time, it might never come out. So that's kind of how we did Floating While Dreaming, but I'd say it took about 9 months.

SIRISUK: It's your baby.

PELL: Yeah, it was my baby. Held it for 9 months and then let it out. Now you see, I'm gonna do all my projects for 9 months because they're my babies. That's real. We just birthed that in an interview. Thank you.

SIRISUK: How do you feel on stage?

PELL: I feel alive! It's like electric, actually. Because you have everybody's attention and even if you don't, you can corral it, but nine out of ten you're gonna have everybody's attention and you can actually impact people's lives and I know when I went to a Kanye show, how inspired I was and I can only hope to do the same thing to people. That's why it's such a big deal whenever I do get on stage. It's a great feeling.

SIRISUK: And the concept of the album?

PELL: The concept behind Floating While Dreaming was definitely inspired by Waking Life like I said earlier, but I also wanted to make it relate to people a little bit more so I thought about my generation and how everybody wants to chase goals and essentially dreams. You have a beginning and an end point to a dream. You have point A and point Z and the time that it takes you to get from point A to point Z can feel like you're just going through the motions, essentially like floating so you're floating into your dreams, floating while dreaming. And that's how that connection came. I just wanted to make it for the dreamers.

For more information on the artist, visit Pell will be performing at Baby's All Right on September 25th.

Future Dates:

October 7 - Birmingham, AL - Iron City

October 8 - New Orleans, LA - House of Blues