Astin Rocks and Beatz by Fredro have joined forces to form Thee Blk Pearl, an eclectic R&B duo with a distinct alternative edge. Their debut release 2:22 is comprised of three genre-bending tracks with creative lyrics and a thematic presentation of emotions and experiences from a truly raw and unfiltered perspective.
Astin Sullivan, known onstage as Astin Rocks, serves as the lead vocalist and guitarist for the group. Her voice is a uniquely jazzy croon that displays a range of textures including rising high notes and deep controlled screams that draw similarities to groups like Slipknot and Evanescence with subject matter that draws from raw emotional experiences similar to Jhene Aiko, Summer Walker, and most notably Ari Lennox.
These similarities come across as influences for the direction of the tracks, rather than the tracks seeming derivative. The sound is fresh and unique and has strong potential to cultivate a dedicated fanbase.
Sullivan is no stranger to the stage or having a standout sound. Her earlier duo, Clouds & Crayons, saw success as she melded jazzy vocals, pop, lo-fi hip hop, punk, and more alongside her collaborator Loki Antiphony.
However, Clouds & Crayons ended with a sudden separation that led the songstress to put her full focus on filmmaking and acting.
She began to work on a new season of her web series Real Fakes and secured opportunities to work on sets for independent films as a production assistant. She also was a recipient of funding and distribution through the Comcast Rise program designed to provide resources to foster the growth of small businesses and creatives.
Astin was constantly busy and on the go, fully focused and dedicated to building her resume in filmmaking and film production. All of this exertion of energy led to her feeling burnt out creatively in all aspects. “I jokingly say that I accidentally brought about the pandemic because I asked for 2 weeks to get myself together and next thing I know the world shut down”, she recounts with laughter.
It was during this era that she gained the role of a bassist in a film about a punk rock band. The Georgia native began learning to play the instrument in preparation for the film and found her urge to create musically returning.
“I took up the bass before the pandemic started in preparation for a film role that didn’t work out. The pandemic prevented me from shooting for my web series Real Fakes that I had just received funding for. The film didn’t work out but the heavy amount of time I spent on set learning to play bass for the role helped me to fall back in love with the creative process of making music after the sudden separation of Clouds & Crayons”.
From there she began putting together the material that would become 2:22 but Astin was also growing in many aspects personally.
“Top Notch Goddess” was the first song I wrote for the bass and got a great listener reaction. The built-in solitude of the pandemic shutdown forced me to dive deep within myself and heal from past traumas”.
Astin also took advantage of this downtime to begin seeing a therapist for more assistance with her healing process.
“Advice from my therapist was imperative! One thing she said that really stood out was that success for me is going to be rooted in music. That was like confirmation for me and with that in my pocket I began to write from a more raw place and be more personal about the emotions behind the lyrics”.
With a renewed confidence, vision, and passion; Astin decided to create an aesthetic to visually represent the message of the music and the stage of growth she was in as she continued her healing.
“The imagery was inspired by Brie from Desperate Housewives, she was the most conservative but she also had the wildest things going on in her life behind closed doors, including helping to aid her criminal husband in his embezzlement scheme. It was symbolic of being sold a dream and always reshaping myself to acquiesce to what other people wanted to see me be and it never worked in my favor. That’s where the red hair comes in. The white dress is for the titular pearl. The pearl was a natural choice because I’m a Cancer and it represented stature and a strong foundation. I had trouble expressing my anger but Blk Pearl allowed me to release anger in a creative and constructive manner”
There is an eclectic array of sonic influences at work on 2:22. Astin found creative synergy from artists that have inspired her in the past and incorporated elements of their sounds in her own unique way. The end result is a smooth blend of genres that creates a potent musical cocktail that seems all it’s own.
“Ari Lennox was a major inspiration, her radical honesty helped me tap into that energy in myself”, recounts Sullivan.
“Gary Clark Jr., Alabama Shakes, Leon Bridges, Khruangbin, and Tame Impala helped me maintain my sanity during the early parts of the lockdown. The Yea Yea Yeahs songs like Cold Light, Black Tongue, and Man resonated with me on deeper levels. The grandness of Evanescence’s sound. The humor of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. The vibes and strings of Cake. Even Norah Jones, with her disarming tone on the track Thank You found a way to help me craft this new sound, especially in the songwriting”
Other artists and tracks helped to spark that creative energy and focus her vision for the project.
“Artists like Kate Nash, Adrian Younge, Love Honey, and The Stooges and Bbymutha; along with Junglepussy Pop For You were in heavy rotation during this time frame. Unholy Shrine from 2:22 was influenced by Abra”.
One thing that stood out was that one of her driving mindsets was to create music that sounded like “soulful lyrics over Pink Floyd music”. Drawing from the way the band was able to create a vibe amongst the crowd and the mythos associated with them.
When the alternative vocalist first began creating the content for this project, she was concerned it would not receive the same reception as her previous work. She was uncertain of how people would respond to her diving deeper into the alternative influence in production and vocal influence.
“I’m such an overthinker. I wasn’t worried about them not connecting with the music as much as I was concerned there was a negative narrative going around about my previous band. Or maybe they would think that I was trying too hard. Being able to dress up as a character to perform helps me to keep myself from letting music become my personality. It lets me create a healthy separation.It was a grueling process to find the balance between being a creative and being myself”.
Her renewed creative energy was fostered and supported by her creative partner Beatz By Fredro. They found natural chemistry with each other in the studio and he assisted with helping to flesh out the sound that Astin wanted to achieve with this new venture. “He’s a great partner in the studio, very proactive, and ready to work.
The duo held their album release concert at The Heck House located in Scottdale, GA. It was important that the release was held in this space because it was the site of Astin’s phoenix rebirth as a creative force in some aspects.
“The Heck House is a non-profit venue. I discovered it while working on the punk rock film that didn’t pan out. I had my album release party at The Heck House because it was the place where it all started. It was the decor that really helped to set the venue apart. It has become a beacon for Black punk and alternative bands in the area”.
The Black punk and alternative music scene has been experiencing significant growth recently. The media outlet Punk Black has been curating the bands, music, and culture of this movement on Instagram. Creating a natural sense of unity among the artists, venues, and media.
“There’s definitely a resurgence that’s taking place. Punk Black really helped to shine a spotlight on the bands that are getting active and keeps me finding exciting new artists. Venues like Smoke n Chill ATL at Our Bar and bands like The Rack are really helping to drive the scene forward. I like the sense of community that is taking place in the punk band scene” says Sullivan.
With a community cultivated and a body of work released, it’s exciting to consider the potential for growth that Thee Blk Pearl has in this ecosystem. They are planning to continue to create more music throughout the year to keep their expanding fanbase engaged.
“I’ve been scheming on a tour this Summer. I would love to perform in Jackson again. You can definitely expect some more singles in the rest of this year, and a new album potentially by 2023”