"I'm not a Jane Austen freak or anything," Rachel Margaret says, laughing nervously. It's a recent Monday around noon and the 28-year-old is at Tre Amici coffeehouse in Ybor City talking about her indie pop band, Pemberley, which takes its moniker from a country estate in the chick lit touchstone Pride and Prejudice. "It's just a band name," Margaret says, a tad defensive.
Pemberley, which headlines at nearby New World Brewery on Sat., Aug. 16, has been a regular at the venue over the past couple years, playing packed shows as a supporting act for national-touring indie pop bands like The Postmarks and Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. "All of our most memorable shows have been at New World," Margaret says.
The singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who specializes in violin began Pemberley as a solo project about three years ago. Margaret and her husband, who she met while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, followed his career as a "wireless executive" to Baltimore. But all of Margaret's music connections were back in Polk County, where her pals in signed acts Copeland (with whom she has toured as a violinist), Anberlin and The Dark Romantics reside. In fact, it was with Copeland frontman Aaron Marsh, in Lakeland, that Margaret recorded the demos that would lead to Pemberley's formation. "It was just me," she explains, "and some guy came down to play guitar. I did the songs and then I went back to Baltimore."
In Maryland, Margaret met Pemberley's second Rachel, Rachel Lyn, age 23. The original plan was to have her be Margaret's guitarist. But the audition led elsewhere. "We started singing together and our voices just blended really well," Margaret says. Lyn signed on as a backup singer and also plays the glockenspiel, melodica and various percussion instruments. Oh, yeah, and she dances. "That's important, too," Margaret intones.
Margaret's hubby eventually found a job back in Lakeland. The couple jumped at the opportunity. So did Lyn, who was working as a hairstylist. She now lives in an apartment above Margaret's garage. The two women share an older-younger sister bond. "I think she'd never been away or been on an airplane before," Margaret says. "Her parents weren't too happy when she moved down with us."
Enter the boys in the band. For starters, they were all part of the close-knit Lakeland music scene. Adam Pruitt (age 23, guitar, vocals) and Alex Bennett (20, drums) not only joined Pemberely, but for a period shared a room at Margaret's house. "They're going to be so mad at me for saying this," she says, "but for a while they had twin beds in our spare bedroom. I would come in and be like, 'Good morning, boys.'"
Bassist Jarrett Smith, 29, was the fifth and final member to join. "He was the most reluctant to be added," she says.
Was there ever any dating (or courting) between the younger Rachel and her male bandmates?
"I think everyone that has met her has had a crush on her," Margaret says. "But she's soon to be off the market for good; she's engaged."
The current Pemberley lineup recently finished its first proper EP. The five songs are marked by the close harmonies of the two Rachels and Margaret's mature lyrics about love's vagaries. Sonically, it's a streamlined, delicately layered meld of reverb-drenched guitar, keyboards and slippery percussion that results in subtle hooks and lingering melodies. Margaret's spooky violin makes appearances, as well. There's a haunting, ethereal quality to her voice that's often arresting, particularly on the lynchpin number, "Wake Up, It's Raining."
The track runs nearly five minutes and includes cutting lines like, "The house where we once played is now an empty grave."
Margaret has yet to title the EP, which was only mastered recently. Pemberley has no plans to embark on a van tour — all have day jobs, except for Margaret, who is supported by her husband — but plan to make the CD and individual tracks available online. "No, I'm not sure going on tour is such a good idea," she says. "But this is definitely not a hobby. We just want to be smart about this, especially in this economy."
At New World on Saturday, attendees can expect to hear songs from newly recorded EP and perhaps a few surprises. Pemberley occasionally likes to work unlikely pop classics (The Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon") and ironic covers (Aerosmith's "Angel") into their sets. "Doing other people's songs makes you think about your instrument in a different way," Margaret says. "But we try not to do covers at shows with other indie bands."
So, y'know, don't bank on hearing "Rocky Raccoon." But a nice request might work. "Who knows," Margaret says.