Perl Wolfe is a force. She and her fellow bandmates in Bulletproof Stockings, Dalia G. Shusterman, Elisheva Maister, and Dana Pestun, created a community that was missing for many Jewish women: a music scene. They described themselves as a “Hasidic alt-rock girl band” straight out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. On their site, their women-only concerts were described as revolutionary for Jewish women:
“The tin ceiling tiles reverberated with the pre-show laughter of single women and young mothers who had managed to find sitters for the evening.”
Even the name “Bulletproof Stockings” is a reference for the somewhat derogatory term for an item of frum (devout) women’s fashion–the thick tights worn by some women in the Orthodox community.
While Bulletproof Stockings recently disbanded, announcing the news on Facebook in April, Wolfe talked to me about the new band she formed with former BPS members Dana and Elisheva–as well as her love of fashion to her favorite TV show. Their new band is playing a show at the JCC Manhattan on July 14th.
Here’s what she had to say:
When did you all start making music together? What’s your process like?
Elisheva and I met in 2009. We ran in the same social circles for a few years, but didn’t actually play together until later. I showed her some of the music I was working on before Bulletproof Stockings was formed. Once BPS was off the ground, I reached out again and tried to get her to play with us, but I didn’t crack her until about a year in, end of 2012.
Dana joined BPS about a year after that, so we’ve been playing together for nearly three years. We’ve only been working on the new project for about a month, but thank God, we already have a couple of gigs lined up.
I tend to start with music first, then lyrics, but it varies. Sometimes, a melody will buzz around in my head for a year or more before I get to writing it out fully, other times, I’ll get a flash of inspiration and finish the song in a day or two. Once I have a melody in my head, I work it out on piano or guitar, then I record myself playing and humming. I’ll listen back to that recording and add harmonies and additional parts to the song.
Often when the melody comes, I’ll have an instinctive feeling about what the message or theme of the song is, and that inspires the lyrics. Sometimes, the lyrics will spill right out with the music, other times, I will take all or part of the lyrics from things I’ve written down in my journal. Once I have the overall music and lyrics finished, I’ll bring it to the rest of the band and we work on the arrangement together. Recently, I’ve been recording and uploading the new songs for Dana and Elisheva to listen to so they have a clear picture before we work on it together for the first time.
Talk to me about your new music ventures. Why did you decide to disband Bulletproof Stockings? What’s your new project like?
We were very fortunate to accomplish so much with Bulletproof Stockings, recording both an EP and LP, and successfully completing a national tour last winter, and that is something we’re all super proud of. We’re growing and moving in new directions, and we’re psyched to see where this road takes us.
As far as this project, the music has a new focus. I was the primary songwriter for Bulletproof Stockings, so there are similarities, but I feel that this music has a different energy and vibe. The songs I performed with BPS were the very first songs I ever wrote. Everything was new to me. In some ways, it was a real blessing because I didn’t have any reference, so I was trying anything I could think of, and I believe what resulted was a very eclectic set of songs. I’m really happy about that.
With this new material, I’m finding more of my voice and I’m a lot more pulled back, and vulnerable. The songs have less drama, more honesty. It’s been really exciting working on new stuff. Since we’re starting with piano, violin, and cello, there’s a lot of room for layering and harmonizing. We’re also playing with loop pedals and drum machine, as well as working on incorporating other instruments like guitar, saxophone, and trumpet. We’re having a lot of fun with it.
If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, what would you be?
What was your favorite music growing up?
I grew up listening to and playing a lot of classical music, favorites include Mozart, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. My friends and I listened to the oldies station, listening to The Supremes, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys. As a preteen, I moved onto R&B and hip hop, listening to Blackstreet, Destiny’s Child, Jay Z. Then, in high school, I listened to a lot of alternative and punk/pop punk, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Audioslave, Green Day.
Post high school, I started listening almost exclusively to Classic Rock, like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, CCR, Jimi Hendrix. Now I listen to nearly everything, but I currently have Other Lives’ “Rituals” on repeat.
If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?
Sukkot. I was born around that time of year and I love the outdoors.
What’s the best thing about yourself? What’s the worst?
I wanted to be a fashion designer. I still do, actually. I work part-time as a personal stylist and I design for others when I can. I have plans to make high-end modest fashion on a larger scale, but that’s for another chapter.
What’s your weirdest family tradition?
Every Passover, without fail someone in my family says, “And remember, no corny jokes at the seder table because they’re kitniot (legumes)!”
What’s your favorite TV show?
What personal object could you not live without? (Besides your phone!)
My French Press.