Article by Julianne Chin-Drachman
The trees whirled by in a flurry of green as I stared out the window, chin on my palm and sun on my face. The air filled with sound as a woman’s voice sang, “Oh, your chariot is waiting right outside, it’s right outside.”
Bulletproof Stockings always made it on the playlist on road trips when I was growing up; I have fond memories of rediscovering them all over again, each time I got in the car for a family trip. When I was little, I had the faulty long-term memory of a child, so I would smile whenever their music started to play and turn to ask my Dad to remind me who they were again. He would laugh and tell me the story of the American Chasidic female rock band — now unfortunately no longer together, he would eventually say mournfully.
A mention of Bulletproof Stockings never fails to bring back nostalgic childhood memories, so I was thrilled to learn that Perl Wolfe — the band’s lead singer — had gone solo.
Perl was raised in Chicago as part of the Chasidic sect, Chabad. After a divorce, she turned to music and formed the band in 2011. The debut album of her solo career, Late Bloomer, came out in 2020, and she recently dropped a new single, “Can’t Believe,” with more on the way.
When I spoke to Perl over the phone, she was welcoming and easy to talk to. She wore a neon green beanie on her head, which brought us to one of the differences between her solo career and her time in Bulletproof Stockings.
When she first started writing music after her divorce, she was confused about her religion. Her band was ultimately for all-women audiences, though, in accordance with “kol isha,” a religious prohibition against a man hearing a woman sing. Bulletproof Stockings got a lot of media coverage after they performed for all-women audiences in several major music venues.
“The all-women audience,” Perl says now, “wasn’t to prevent men from coming to our shows or from hearing my voice — it was specifically to create spaces for women to be able to let loose and sing and dance amongst one another, to uplift and inspire each other.”
And it worked.
“The energy at our shows was palpable” she says, “and Jewish and non-Jewish women, gay and straight, religious and secular women alike all rocked out together and appreciated the all-women experience.”
Today, she doesn’t dress in accordance with Chasidic teachings, but religion is still important to her. And her concerts are now definitively open to everyone.
Her most recent album, Late Bloomer,, also has a slightly different take than some of her previous work. The music that she wrote for Bulletproof Stockings was lyrically dense, and while her latest album’s title track is similar in that way, many of the other songs are less lyrically dense.
To explain this shift, Perl says that her writing music came out of nowhere.
“I never dreamed of growing up and becoming a rock star,” she says. “I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing songs.”
But one day, she says, “there was music in my mind and it wouldn’t go away.”
Suddenly she had an album. Because this music writing process was so emotionally fueled, she says, “I didn’t put as much thought into the structure of the songs…. After playing and recording for many years, I started being more intentional about the song structure.”
Perl says that some fans said they loved her songs but didn’t understand the lyrics, so in Late Bloomer, “I tried to make the lyrics easier to hear and easier to sing. The lyrics are still very meaningful to me and are multi-layered, but I try to write in a way that anyone can hear it and interpret it for themselves.”
She describes the creation of lyrics with less density but the same level of depth as “a nice challenge.”
The actual content of the album is optimistic and reassuring in a world that is still recovering from the pandemic and which has left many with the uncertainty that accompanies plans put on hold for years, or in some cases indefinitely.
A “Perfectionist and a Procrastinator”
In Late Bloomer’s title track, Perl addresses the relatable feeling of running behind, on a daily basis and in life. She says that she is often running late — an experience that I have all the time — and, on a larger scale, talks about growing comfortable with the idea that we are where we’re meant to be and do things when we’re meant to do them.
“I always struggled with being a perfectionist and a procrastinator,” she says. “I think the two often go hand in hand…. Late Bloomer is about accepting these things about myself, reminding myself that it’s never too late to begin the things you want to begin, and that as long as you’re always moving forward and working on yourself, you will continue to grow and learn along the way.” This message is particularly relevant right now.
As for Perl, she has been having fun working with other musicians, and her new music has some changes from what she has written in the past.
“I’m focusing on creating more upbeat tracks that people can dance to,” she says. “I want every song to be something that you can’t help but move to. I’m also moving in a more electronic direction, while still incorporating real instruments.”
Rather than dropping an album, Perl is excited to drop singles as they’re ready so that we can enjoy them as soon as possible. So keep an eye out for upcoming releases!
Julianne Chin-Drachman is a college student at Columbia University.