Penelope Isles – Interview – 2015

Introducing Penelope Isles. Having only been in Brighton for little over three months, the four piece have quickly made Brighton their new home, releasing a gem of a debut album, Comfortably Swell. Jack and Lily Wolter, Jack Sowton and Beck Redford bring together a complete lo-fi sound which holds the right amount of nostalgia and innovation in a lovely beach pop package. I had a pint and a chat with the band to find out more about them.
Where did you all grow up?
[JACK] Lily and I are brother and sister, and we grew up on the Isle Of Man.
[JACK S] I am from Redhill in Surrey.
[LILY] Becky, is from Shoreham.
Was there much of a music scene on the Isle Of Man?
[JACK] To be fair, loads of people who are living on the Isle Of Man would say there isn’t a music scene but there definitely is.!
[LILY] If you are involved in music, you know about it all.
[JACK] It fluctuates. I have been playing in bands for years, sometimes there are load’s of band and sometimes there aren’t so many. Because the place is so small, if there are no bands there are going to be no gigs happening.
What made you come to Brighton?
[LILY] I came to Brighton to attended BIMM. Jack S and I are in our second year doing a songwriting course. Fate brought us together and we got randomly placed in digs. We started jamming and made a band. Then Jack moved down about three months ago, because he missed me so much.
[JACK] I moved to Brighton to be in a more vibrant scene, to put on some gigs and also start a band with Lily.
How did the band start?
[LILY] I had a band with Jack and Becky already called Kookielou. The set up was, Baritone Ukelele, a full drum kit, bass, keys and we would all swap instruments. It was a nice starter but we always had the intention that when Jack moved down he would join the band, which would take it up a few notches.
[JACK] I was going to be the fourth member, bringing in a guitar. We did Kookielou for a bit and then decided to start afresh. Which is when Penelope Isles became Penelope Isles.
Is there a story behind the name?
[JACK] It is after mine and Lily’s mum, who is called Penelope. Then Isles is after where we grew up. Fairly straight forward really.
What are the bands main influences?
[LILY] Jack S is a massive Beatles fan – we all are really. The Magic Numbers is a big influence, as well as The Thrills, Steely Dan – the list could go on and on.
[JACK] We grew up listening to a lot of The Magic Numbers. Radiohead was a massive influence. In terms of production Deerhunter, the way they put sounds together is also really interesting.
How would you describe your music?
[JACK] Melodic, dynamic, spacy, dreamy.
[LILY] Feel-good, honest, colourful.
[JACK] Harmonies, lo-fi, catchy, quirky.
How did you attack the writing process for Comfortably Swell?
[JACK] This album started off as the Kookielou EP. Lily came back to the Isle Of Man last summer holidays which is when we started it, this then lead into when we moved to Brighton and it became Penelope Isles. The bulk of the album is Lily songs plus a few of mine.
[LILY] I’m loving how Jack and Beckey are getting involved. We are all writing now have lots new songs.
What inspires the lyrics?
[JACK] Lily slaves over lyrics more than I do. My lyrics are very immediate. I will write a song and not really care for the lyrics – just exactly what I am thinking at that moment. I don’t write a song for the lyrics, it’s usually for the melody and the music.
[LILY] I tend to write things that can be a bit strange and obscure. One thing we have been taught at BIMM is to write stuff that people can relate to, so I have been keeping that in mind. I’m into hidden meanings a lot too.
[JACK] I know it’s a massive cliché, but love is a massive inspiration.
Tell us a bit about Wavey Head?
[JACK] Wavey Head came about when I was putting some nights in the Isle Of Man a couple of years ago, and I needed something to call it other than Jack Wolter presents. I was also in a band with Lily before she went to Uni called Your Gold Teeth and made an album. We wanted to self-release it and we both have loads of friends who have their own projects too. So we thought to put it out through Wavey Head as it had turned into a bit of a hub. It has its own vibe, so anything released needs to be homemade and DIY to fit to the Wavey Head ethos. It’s a promotions company which is also a production company – we make all our own records and merchandise as well.
[LILY] It would be great to get involved with other bands in Brighton as well, as I have seen so many cool acts. We have mates at Uni who I would love to put a Waveyteevee video together for.
What has been a musical eye-opener?
[JACK] At this stage in my musical life – when I went to ATP Festival curated by Deerhunter. They played three nights and played three albums. I hadn’t heard of them much before that but all my friends were saying I had to go. That made me realise how I wanted to play and make music. Also hearing Eric Clapton playing the guitar when I was a kid – I was like, “what is that noise!”
[JACK S] Me and a mate from back home started to gradually discover more songs and share them with each other. We would learn all the harmonies together and really listen to the songs in depth, discovering new things about them. It was like the songs were coming out of hiding for me.
[LILY] Going to End Of The Road Festival this year. I had always gone to Leeds and Reading Festival before that, and had never really been into any of the bands there and would only really go because the whole of the Isle Of Man went. For me, End Of The Road was kind of my first festival where I knew every band there. Fuzz, Tame Impala, Pond, Mac DeMarco and many other amazing bands. I just couldn’t believe that nearly all my favourite bands were in this small perimeter of fields over three days. Also listening to In Rainbows or Hail To The Thief by Radiohead.
If you could make a supergroup, who would be in it and what would they be called?
[JACK] John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on guitar and vocals. Ty Segall (Fuzz) on drums. They would be called the CGs.
[LILY] Ty Segall (Fuzz) on drums. Kim Deal (The Pixies) on bass. Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) singing and playing keyboards. Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) on guitar. Damon Albarn (Blur) on backing vocals. My band would be called Glitterous. .
[JACK S] Jeff Buckley on vocal. Jack White (The White Stripes) on guitar. Andy Burrows (Razorlight) on drums. Paul McCartney would be on bass. They would be called Checks.
If you could work with any artist, who would it be?
[JACK] I would definitely say, production wise, Bradford Cox (Deerhunter). I would love to make a record, an EP, a song with him just to see how it would be.
[LILY] Thom Yorke (Radiohead) or Kevin Parker (Tame Impala). There is a lot to be said for those two.
What song would Penelope Isles cover?
[JACK] We were talking about doing a Magic Numbers cover.
[LILY] Maybe ‘Long Legs’ or ‘The Mule’.
[JACK] ‘Mornings Eleven’, ‘Love Me Like You’.
[LILY] Any of their first album I will happily cover.
What is the one album you think everyone should listen to?
[JACK S] Rubber Soul by The Beatles.
[JACK] Amen.
[LILY] Or Can’t Buy A Thrill by Steely Dan.
What gigs have been a highlight this year?
[JACK] Ryley Walker opened the End Of The Road Festival this year, he was incredible.
[LILY] We saw Darwin Deez a couple last week who put on a great show. Snarky Puppy played in London a few weeks back – that was special.
What have you been listening to at the moment?
[JACK] I’ve been really getting into The Growlers new album, Chinese Fountain. I’ve been listen to Fading Frontier, Deerhunters new album.
[JACK S] I’ve been listening to Temples a lot.
[LILY] After seeing him at the End Of The Road Festival, I’ve been checking out Juan Walters stuff. A friend of ours The Mantis Opera’s album, CURTSIE, has been a massive influence on all my songs recently.
What are your future plans?
[JACK] We have our first gig on Friday the 10th November at the Prince Albert. Then on the 19th November we are playing at Bleach with Atlas Wynd and Temple Gardens. We are playing with a friend of ours band in London on the 27th November which is exciting. We are also trying to get a tour together nexrt February. We really want to be gigging two/three times a week – we have a van so we can go anywhere.