We chat with Penelope Isles about debut LP "Until the Tide Creeps In", live and studio gear, songwriting, and their love for Fender Guitars...

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Youth and Yearning Encapsulated Beautifully

Penelope Isles produce the kind of layered, lush soundscapes that many strive to conjure but fall short of managing. Add to that deftly woven vocal harmonies swirling with sweet, pop-laden hooks and you’ve got an album that keeps the sun shining all year round.

Until the Tide Creeps In…

Debut long player “Until the Tide Creeps In” is – in this writer’s opinion – practically perfect in every way, featuring mature compositions that segue between bombastic fuzz-riddled guitar solos a la “Chlorine” and restrained acoustic numbers like “Looking For Me/Eyes Closed”.

We wanted to know how Penelope Isles go about crafting their slice of brilliance and we’re very fortunate to have been able to get the lowdown from the band themselves in conversation with siblings Jack and Lily Wolter, Becky Redford, and Jack Sowton.

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Hi guys, we know that your schedule is packed so we really appreciate you taking time out to chat with us. Firstly, how are you all getting on?

Jack – Hey, thanks for having us. We’ve been making a new music video all day and just had a bath. So, feeling good!

If you don’t mind, we’d like to go back in time a bit to find out about your musical beginnings. How did each of you get into music initially – was it through education, a family member, friends or personal interest?

Jack – I had piano lessons at primary school, then started guitar when I was about 14. I think mainly because I liked the idea of playing and singing songs.

Is the instrument that you play now the first thing that you picked up or have you gone through several before settling on what you play? For example, did any of you go through the trials and tribulations of learning the recorder or violin before thinking, ‘nah I think I’ll move onto something else’?

Jack – I played the saxophone for a bit but gave up after grade 2 at school. Lily was like ‘Can I have a go’ and was already better than me within a few days. She smashed out all the grades and played in orchestras and what not. Guitar has always been my go-to but I love playing drums as well. J sow used to be the lead singer in a covers band called The Happy Jacks!

Lily – I had loads of music lessons growing up, I played a lot of classical music as I was learning the harp, saxophone and piano, and was in several orchestras/wind bands. It was most definitely a good introduction to the musical world, despite me now being in a very different part of it now. I regret not continuing with those instruments as much, but I had to start using my time to get good at the bass if I wanted to be in this darn band.

Who were the artists or bands that you listened to growing up that made you think, ‘yeah I want to do that’?

Jack – We’ve always had music playing throughout our childhood. Our Grandad would always sing us songs when we were small. He had a few classics he would always bust out and would harmonise to things on the stereo. He made music really fun! Mum and Dad had a pub in Devon where I spent the first eight years of my life and there was always music playing throughout the pub, in the kitchen and in the bar. Mum’s music definitely made a big impact on us growing up. The Thrills, Hal, and The Magic Numbers are big bands for us.

Lily – I’m 6 years younger than jack, so I feel like he did most of the hard work for me… working out what’s good, what’s crap etc. then passing down CD’s and mixed-tapes for me to listen to. I think he wanted to make sure his little sister had good taste. Maybe he knew we were destined to be in a band together one day. I feel like what spurred my creativity was when I discovered Radiohead.

Which current artists/bands are you digging?

Jack – Cate Le Bon, SASAMI, Richard Dawson

Lily – Aldous Harding, EERA, Lowly, Sam Evian, Hannah Cohen

The level of musicianship and instrumental cohesion you showcase as a band is exceptionally precise yet still maintains the natural air of effortlessness. How often do you guys get to practise together outside of touring?

Jack – Not at all at the moment, we are touring so much so any time off is to rest/get some shifts in! But if we have more than a few weeks off we’ll have a run through the set. We are always playing in new places at the moment, so I don’t feel as though we need to change the set up as its fresh for the crowd most nights at the moment!

When we started out, we would rehearse three times a weeks and would test different songs out all the time. I’m really looking forward to having some time in the rehearsal room soon though!

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Do you all have individual practise routines that you follow, or do you take a less regimented approach nowadays?

Jack – J Sow has a kit set up in his room at home and plays along to Steps and Mick Hucknall songs when we aren’t gigging. That’s about it.

Lily – Every practice is different. As we have been playing these songs for a while now, our priorities (when we get the chance to practice) are normally working on something new. I would love to be able to practice once a week; it would be so good for the creativity of the band.

Your album “Until the Tide Creeps In” has been out for a little while now and is getting the love it rightfully deserves. Gushing album reviews highlight the vibrant textures and tonal palettes that you play with, delicately balanced vocal arrangements, and unashamed sonic wizardry – we’re keen to find out about the gear that made it so.

We know from previous correspondence with Jack that the first solo on opening track “Chlorine” was recorded through a broken HH analog desk, cranked hard to produce that enviable fuzz, whilst the other solo is a straight up Tele’ through WEM Dominator amp. With that in mind…

In the studio did you try to keep things sparse when it came to gear, or did you all indulge and experiment by incorporating any weird and wonderful gear/setups?

Jack – First of all, thank you very much. Some lovely compliments there. I would say that the gear setup and ways of recording the instruments were all pretty straight forward really. Basic, if anything. It’s a glorified bedroom studio really. At the time we just had a 16-Channel Scarlett interface and a couple of semi decent mics recording into Logic X. We stayed away from using fake sounds like we have on our previous demos. Like programmed drums and synth plugins. Recording our instruments for real and well was a personal rule on this record.

Coming from the laptop generation it’s always tempting to use programmed sounds. And that’s no bad thing. But I wanted this record to sound genuine. We have since bought a desk and a few bits of outboard gear which has felt like an upgrade.

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Were there any pieces of gear that you used on every track?

Jack – Probably microphones. The guitars were always done with a Shure SM58 or a Sennheiser 906 for close up recording. We used the same drum kit for the record but swapped the snare and kick drum out a few times. I think my Solid GoldFX Surf Rider reverb pedal is on most of the guitars throughout the record!

Were there any unique pieces of gear like vintage pedals or rack units that pop up here and there?

Jack – We used a few of Simon’s (Bella Union boss man!) old bits of gear. His Fender Tele’ bass is one of the best sounding bass guitars I’ve ever heard. It’s tone, plugged straight into the box sounds unreal. They don’t make them like that anymore! There is this old dusty ARP string synth we used on ‘Not Talking’ which sounded lovely and old, almost gritty. There was the old HH analog desk we used for a ‘vibey’ old sound. It’s pretty harsh but worked on gritty guitars really well.

Lily – That Tele’ bass is an absolute treat. And an honour to play on stage.

Was everything hardware-based or did you incorporate any software synths, compression, EQ, etc.?

Jack – I think the only compression I used throughout the process was the waves CLA-76 plugin. It’s amazing and very versatile. I only have five or 6 plugins and they are all waves EQs and reverbs. I have the Abbey Road Plate Reverb and Vocal Doubler too. But I’m saving up for some Soundtoy plugins!

Was there much scope for trying out new things to flesh out ideas or was it a very focused recording/production process? Therefore, did you know:

What you were going in with equipment-wise?
What you wanted to achieve with each track from a songwriting POV?
Exactly how much time you had in the studio to get everything done?

Jack – I think we were always experimenting with textures and how the instruments sounded throughout. There was a strong general idea to start with but when you get in the room and various components are coming together, you tend to wander off and create something of the moment. Which is magical. We had been playing these songs for a while at our shows, so we wanted to use the same amps and pedals that we’d been getting along with.

90% of these songs were already finished in terms of the writing part and just needed recording. Songs like “Through The Garden” and “Looking for Me” still needed a helping hand and I think the noises and textures we used to record those songs helped shape the structures. We spent about 4 months in the studio but were touring throughout as well.

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Were there any moments or instances where you thought about dropping a part or an entire track because something wasn’t coming together? If so, how did you overcome any teething problems?

Jack – Yeah, we re-recorded the drums in “Round” and “Gnarbone” actually. Something wasn’t right. I think we weren’t happy with the kick drum sound. It’s that horrible feeling when you know you’re gonna have to start again on something. Someone might have loved that first kick drum sound we didn’t like, but it had to be done! We had another song that was going to be on the record, but we couldn’t get it sounding as good, so we left it.

Lily – I think that’s where Jack has moved forward professionally with his producing skills. Personally, when recording my own demos, I just want the part I’m recording done, dusted and bounced. However, his eye for detail and truly doing it ‘right’ this time was extremely persistent, and it’s paid of super well. I think he has done a bloody fabulous job!

Although it is early days, is there anything from your recording/production experience that will influence you in writing/recording/producing in the future?

Jack – Definitely in the recording side of things. I learned so much making this album. I feel my demos and new recording since are sounding a lot better already. I think when you make the whole thing yourself, you realise doing something a certain way is gonna help you later down the line. Mic placement, bleed, what not to do, or to do first. Working on mixing the record with Iggy B at Bella Union Studios in London was a real insight into the details of a song and how to shape stuff.

Are there any tips that you have for anyone going into the studio?

Jack – I’m still learning a lot myself and find it hard to do this but sometimes you may be overthinking it all. Leave it alone if time allows you and come back and listen again tomorrow! I think it’s healthy to try and make decisions early on too. Playlisting first and comping later on is really handy sometimes, but there is something about making a choice and a decision and working upon that idea.

Sometimes you hear of stories where bands weave rich tapestries in the studio but then struggle with the transition to a live setting. Every time we listen to “Until the Tide Creeps In” there’s something new to pick out aurally.

Was there a focus on how the songs would translate from the studio to a live gig?

Jack – We really wanted to capture our live sound on this record. We put an EP out a while back and although people liked it, they were always said how much more epic our live sound was. It was important to have a real sounding album. But mixed in with the more lo-fi weird-sounding ideas. We wanted both those worlds.

Following the recording of the album has your live rig changed? If so, what additions or omissions have you made?

Jack – Yea, since making the record Becky uses a lot more pedals to help with her dynamics on guitars. The same with Lily and her keys. She now uses reverb and distortion pedals.

Lily – I am actually looking to get some new textures and sounds out of my keyboard set up. At the moment I am using a very lovely but very unreliable Casio keyboard. Think I’ll be upgrading as soon as I find something that fits in with the rest of the family.

When it comes to effects during live performances, is there a less is more approach in terms of gear or are there elaborate signal paths with multi-amp setups on the go?

Jack – Less is more works better for sure sometimes. You have to in order to make the songs work in a live situation. There are a few bits on the record we couldn’t do with just four of us. It’s always fun translating these parts. I use a lot of loops and delays to help with textures and I use my WEM for a harsher gainey sound and a Vox V15 for a warmer but still kind of growly sound.

Lily – I use a CP Yamaha keyboard which is the perfect little keyboard to tour with. 3-Octaves including delays, tremolo and chorus, on top of a lush Rhodes preset. The delays are a big part of our sound, and when accompanied by Jack’s guitar delays, they can form a pretty full on wall of sound for the band to play with. So, I have most definitely learned to keep it simple.

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

We read in a previous interview experimented with different structures and sounds, almost swapping instruments out to make different noises at times and that this is still an evolving process. Will that also ring true for the tracks on the album and are you just as likely to play around with them?

Jack – Yeah, I think so. They are our songs to play around with and to experiment with.

From the looks of things you’ve been on the road pretty much non-stop for several months now with more dates to follow including festival slots around Europe and a recent announcement for a date over in the States. During those times are you able to get down any fresh ideas? If so, what kind of recording gear do you use to capture ideas?

Lily – It’s amazing how you can put everything down on your phone so quickly now. Despite it sounded a lot less poetic and romantic, I rarely write down lyrics in a book anymore, they just go straight onto my phone notes. I think it’s because of how short my attention span is. I need instant. As for my voice notes, there’s all sort of embarrassment on there. But that’s how most of my songs started.

Jack – iPhone notes are a saviour. We are always muttering tunes into our phones! Garage band for iPhone is amazing too. I use a little Akai midi keyboard to play keys and drums on to on logic on my laptop. It’s great for little sketches. I’m hoping that we’ll have a driver when we go to the States so I can sit in the back and make tunes and smoke cigs out the window!

We saw recently that you guys got the chance to visit Fender and check out the new Vintera models, which we’re also loving too. Have you been using any particular Vintera models on the tour following the visit to Fender?

Lily – Becky and I are using the new Mustang bass for all our shows at the moment. We managed to get it set up backstage at OYA festival in Norway, and it plays like a dream. Despite missing the unbelievable bass sound that Simon’s Tele’ gives so naturally, I must admit it is nice to play something with a shorter/thinner neck.

Jack – My new Tele’ is my spare at the moment but am about to get it set up for E flat tuning for tour as a couple of our songs are played a step down. So, I’ll use that for those songs! Yea we love Fender!!

Do you all tend to be brand loyal or do you like to keep your options open from a creative standpoint? Therefore, do you have any pedals, drums, keys, strings, picks, etc. that you absolutely have to have in your gig bag.

Jack – Fender guitars all the way for me. A Tele’ too, I always come back to it! It’s a very versatile guitar. I have a Burns too, but it doesn’t play too well. I own two Tele’ customs and a Tele Thinline and love them all very much. But I don’t have names for them….That’s weird. Becky and I always use Ernie Ball 11’s stings and the yellow Jim Dunlop Tortex picks. Jimmy boy hook us up!

Who is the biggest gear nerd in the band?

Jack – Probably our sound engineer, Max. He is the Google of gear.

If money was absolutely no object, what would your dream live rigs look like?

Jack – I would keep my WEM but get some speaker outputs in the back and double or triple up! I’d have a load more pedals too. Mostly delays and reverbs. I’m really into experimenting with different sounds of delays and reverbs and using them in our songs. I’m about to start using some of the new fender pedals in my rig. I’d like one of those cases that holds three guitars too!

Lily – Probably a Hammond, with a distortion pedal… gnarly. And a baby Grand next to it, for those tender moments.

Penelope Isles Band Interview

Photo Credit – Abbey Raymonde

Now here’s some random questions for you. If you could put on your dream festival where would it be and who would you put on the line-up?

Lily – Dead or alive? Because that makes a huge difference!… It would probably be something close to End of the Road, but with a big ol’ beach next to it. Probably in Cornwall. With little beach huts for guests instead of tents. And the headliners this year would be Radiohead, Steely Dan, The Pixies & Pavement. There would be a whole stage dedicated to mid-2000’s alternative rock scene, where these bands must only play their first record…featuring The Coral, Bloc Party, Kings of Leon, The Thrills, The Magic Numbers, Coldplay, Travis, The Zutons, Doves etc. For nostalgia’s sake. Like that’s ever gonna happen.

Jack – There would be a rock stage in the forest just above the beach where Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Tool would be playing. The acoustic stage would be a floating raft that you have to swim out too and you float and watch on your Lilo and blow up crocodile. John Martyn, Aldous Harding, Andy Shauf, Adrian Linker, George Harrison would be doing solo sets. The festival would be called ‘Until The Tide Creeps In’.

This might go flat if you’re not into football, but we thought we’d go for it anyway – who’s your team and do you fancy your chances this year?

J Sow – I LOVE LIVERPOOL!

What is your top secret for surviving life on the road? This could be anything from getting your head down to what to eat to ensure that you don’t throttle each other.

Jack – The occasional good night sleep is everything on the road!

Lily – It’s near impossible to eat healthily whilst touring. Unless you prepare, and let’s face it, nobody got time for that. I’m praying for a new service station establishment that is cheap, fresh and healthy. ‘Till then, I’ll have a double quarter-pounder and chips please.

Is there any advice that you’d go back and give to your younger selves?

Lily – You don’t need those cheesy bites.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, best of luck with the rest of the tour and another thank you for releasing what is arguably one of the best albums this writer has heard for a long time!

Penelope Isles: Releases

As well as checking out Penelope Isles’ latest video above, head directly to their website where you’ll find information on Music, Tour Dates, Merch and more…

As noted at the top of the article, you can purchase the excellent “Until the Tide Creeps In” released through stellar label Bella Union from Record Store so check it out now!

Grab some gear

If you want to get your own home recording session up and running, then head to the Dawsons website now and get kitted out. Alternatively, head to your local Dawsons Music Store where our in-store specialists will be more than happy to help you out.

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