Penelope Isles on "Until the Tide Creeps In" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Penelope Isles on “Until the Tide Creeps In”

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Aug 07, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Brighton based four-piece Penelope Isles are one of the hottest acts to emerge from the UK scene this year. Formed by brother and sister duo Jack and Lily Wolter who originate from the Isle of Man, and completed by rhythm section Becky Redford (bass) and Jack Sowton (drums), Penelope Isles have already spent the first half of 2019 playing a staggering number of shows across the globe while amassing a legion of devotees in the process.

Acclaimed independent label Bella Union released the band's debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, in July. Comparisons with artists as disparate as Galaxie 500, Broadcast, The Magic Numbers, and Delays among others only tells part of the story. Their widescreen, folk-tinged, occasionally psychedelic, sometimes post punk mix and match of styles and sounds providing an eloquent breath of fresh air.

Under the Radar recently caught up with the band prior to their packed-to-the-rafters set at Wrexham's Focus Wales showcase event. 

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): It's been a great year for Penelope Isles culminating in signing to Bella Union who are releasing your debut LP. How did that come about?

Jack Wolter: Lily and I had moved to Brighton, and Lily used to work in this pub called The Dover Castle. One of the locals who drinks in the pub called Steve persuaded her to go to Bella Union as they'd just opened up a coffee/vinyl shop. I wasn't aware that [co-founder] Simon [Raymonde] and his wife lived in Brighton, so as soon as I found that out I made it my intention to visit the shop and give him a CD in the hope he might listen to it. But then I couldn't find the shop for ages. It's fully nestled away in the back streets of Brighton. Then Simon came to one of our shows and hung out with us afterwards. That's how we first met him.

You've played a lot of showcase events already this year, starting with Eurosonic in January through to The Great Escape last weekend and Focus Wales today. Do you think it's a necessary process for bands to go through when they're just starting out and trying to establish themselves?

Jack Wolter: For me it's an exciting thing. There's definitely a different vibe about them.

Lily Wolter: They look after us as well.

Jack Wolter: It's an exciting thing isn't it? Just for the fact we're here now doing a job interview essentially!

Lily Wolter: It's nice to be around all the other new bands as well.

Jack Wolter: Going to South By Southwest was surreal. Clocking all the other British bands who were there. It's a really positive thing.

I guess it's also quite interesting talking to other bands about their experiences and in some ways, using them as a benchmark for your own band's progress? 

Jack Wolter: I guess so. 

Lily Wolter: I think a lot of other bands have worked equally as hard as we have. It's not something that needs to be asked. Everyone who was at SXSW and The Great Escape knows they've worked really hard to get there. We're not ones to ask questions like "How many gigs have you played this year?" or "How many bookers have you spoken to this weekend?"

Jack Wolter: Some things have happened quite quickly in terms of getting onto a lot of showcases this year. We've been able to do a lot more travelling but it's not like we've only just started taking it seriously. We've been a band for three years now and we really have toured non-stop over that period, so it feels like we're ready for these more significant shows.

Did you feel it was necessary to move from the Isle of Man to Brighton to get any kind of recognition? 

Jack Wolter: Maybe not recognition but definitely more opportunities. Growing up on the Isle of Man and playing shows there was really rewarding and personally, it made me quite confident so I knew I was ready to move to England because there isn't much of a scene over there. We had to move off the Isle of Man then start the band and base it somewhere where we were near a scene. Jack [Sowton, drums] and Becky [Redford, bass] both grew up near Brighton so it was nice for me and Lily to have their friends and family around as well. So we built this really cool little base in Brighton.

Does having two siblings in the band affect the dynamic at all?

Lily Wolter: I think there's always going to be disagreements when you spend so much time together and share the same passions.

Jack Wolter: It is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things compared to some of the horror stories you hear about other bands.

Lily Wolter: Actually, it's probably more of an advantage that we are family so we can get things out in the open and move on.

Jack Wolter: When we first started out we went on tour to France with another band that had two brothers and they really didn't get on. It was quite awkward to be around.

Lily Wolter: Their dad was also their manager. He was the worst.

Jack Wolter: We all get on to the point where all four of us are like brothers and sisters now, not just me and Lily. Everyone's got their own role in keeping us going. We're all part of a team. Lily's my sister but we're all very much a unit.

Your last single "Chlorine" picked up a lot of radio play on BBC 6 Music. What inspired the song's lyrical themes? 

Jack Wolter: The song was written when we were on a family holiday. So basically the title was almost nostalgic about that smell of chlorine when you're jumping in and climbing out the swimming pool. The overall atmosphere of the song. The fun times, the sun, the drinking and sun bathing, but then something happened to someone in the familyit's quite a private thing so I kind of regret talking about the song now but it basically came from a situation that happened on a family holiday. It was a break up essentially and I think it hit everyone. Nothing had really happened like that before. People's families break up all the time but when it happens to someone you know and you experience it for yourself it becomes a really full on thing to try and process. It's quite a happy song but it wasn't a very happy time. It was very upsetting for a lot of people in the family.

There has been a buzz around the band for a good six to nine months. How do you cope from being a band that not many people are aware of outside of your native city or circle of friends to one of the most hotly tipped and talked about acts in the UK?

Jack Wolter: I don't massively feel the buzz as of yet.

Jack Sowton: We just take it one show at a time. We never really dwell on stuff like that. We know we play well together and that's enough for us. 

Jack Wolter: We're aware stuff's happening. We get texts from our management and the label on a more regular basis and we know our music is being playlisted on 6 Music, so of course it's really exciting.

Lily Wolter: It's not like we walk down the high street and people are queuing up for autographs are anything!

Jack Wolter: Little things are happening and it's a lovely feeling but it doesn't really change how we approach things. We've always been ready to play as many shows as possible and keep doing what we do, and if more people hear about us and like it then obviously that's great.

Is there any pressure or expectation from the label about sales targets [for Until the Tide Creeps In] or anything along those lines?

Jack Wolter: I don't think so.

Lily Wolter: That's the great thing about Bella Union. They don't give you any pressure at all. Obviously they want all their artists to do well and sell loads of records. They are a record label after all, but there's no pressure or force on any of their artists at all and I think that's probably the best way to succeed to be honest.

Jack Sowton: The music always comes first for Bella Union.

Jack Wolter: Simon made that clear to us from the start. Even when we first spoke about putting a record out on his label. He told us to be realistic about it because he'd seen a lot of different deals over the years. So we worked out something that was quite sensible for both parties. We didn't take too much from them, and they've given us nothing but support. They've given us this massive platform to jump upon, so we don't feel there's any pressure at all. I find it quite nerve wracking that this collection of songs is about to go out and people are going to hear them, but I'm also fully ready for it at the same time.

When did you start writing for the album? Did it gradually take shape over a long period of time?

Jack Wolter: With this record being our first proper release, we wanted it to feel right. Lily and I have lots of new songs that we've tested with the band. There's one new song we're playing in the set tonight, which isn't on the album. This collection of songs dates back to when we first started writing music. So there's a song on there like "Three" that I wrote a good five or six years ago, but then there's also really fresh songs like "Through the Garden" which was actually only written while we were recording the album. It feels like a debut. Like a document from when we first started out as a band to where we are now. It sums up both Lily and my journeys of becoming musicians. I find myself in a comfortable position saying I'm a musician now. I never used to. I felt a bit silly saying that before.

Has the adverse political and social climate we're currently experiencing in the UK had an influence on the way you write? 

Jack Wolter: For me, no. I'm very aware of what's happening, but it's not something I'd write about.

Lily Wolter: I feel like there's lots of bands already doing that. People like IDLES, Shame, and BC Camplight are covering that stuff very well, so we don't need to go near it. We'll write about silly love songs and swimming pools.

What advice would you give to a new band that's just starting out? 

Jack Sowton: Just gig as much as you can. The good thing about being based in Brighton is there are so many opportunities to play gigs. 

Jack Wolter: First of all, get a solid six or seven songs set that you just know and are confident of doing. That's what we did. We put a really short and sweet set together then booked loads and loads of shows in Brighton. So maybe conquer a town first.

Jack Sowton: We were doing three or four gigs every two weeks until it got to a point where everybody knew who Penelope Isles were.

Jack Wolter: There are so many approachable DIY promoters now. You don't need an agent. You don't need a label. Just send the emails out yourself and when someone books you, promote the hell out of it.

Lily Wolter: One thing that really bugs me is when a band has just started and they take ages to put anything out because their manager says it's not ready yet. So get your music out there! Record it in your bedroom if you have to then get it out. Get everyone listening to it. Go around touring, don't be afraid to sleep on your mate's kitchen floor. Even if you only end up playing to a few people just do it. Make friends with people in other bands so that in a year's time you can stay at their house again and the following year as well.

Jack Wolter: It is a long process but it's worth it in the end. Ultimately, enjoy what you're doing. Don't be afraid of getting out of England either. It's £100 return to get a van through the Eurotunnel so get over there and play some gigs. Bands get paid and looked after far better than they do in the UK. England's always been a significant place for music and still is now but I think going to Europe is just as important. Also, it looks good if you're a new band. It shows you're trying to get yourselves out there without relying on other people. Even if you've only played to 30 people it's still a success.

Are there any other new bands you'd recommend for Under the Radar and its readers to check out?

Jack Wolter: We've all been hammering Sam Evian recently. We don't know him but his girlfriend Hannah Cohen is on our label. We've been obsessing over him recently.

Lily Wolter: Equally Hannah as well. Her record's just come out. Also, another great band are Lowly from Denmark. Their new record is insane. 

Jack Wolter: The thing that always gets me about Lowly is if they're that good now, how good will they be in another 10 years? Also, check out Jambinai from Korea. They're on Bella Union. We played a show with them the other night and they were incredible.

Lily Wolter: They're a bit like Mogwai in places but then they also sound a bit death metal, a bit folk and play all these traditional Korean instruments. 

Becky Redford: They closed the Olympics in Korea.

Jack Wolter: It's quite intense but also really beautiful.

www.penelopeisles.com

www.penelopeisles.bandcamp.com

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