Posted October 22, 2003

Melbourne enchantress Penny Ikinger is playing out lately, armed with her trusty guitar, seductive voice and brand spanking album "Electra" on Career Records. Her dance card is pretty full too, with an album launch at Melbourne's Cherry Bar on October 25 and three shows in her old home base Sydney in the first week of November. A string of melbourne shows then follows.

The former Wet Taxis and Sacred Cowboys guitarist and longtime Louis Tillett sidewoman is making her solo debut with "Electra", arguably one of the Australian underground buzz albums of 2003. JOHN McPHARLIN caught up with Penny on the eve of her album launches to pose some questions about its recording, her trusty guitar and future plans which incclude a project with Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek and US your with fellow Career stablemates in the Iceman and Donovan's Brain.


I-94 Bar: When we last spoke it was early in November 2001. You'd been working on the album, on and off, for eight or nine months and you thought then that you were more than halfway through. Were you surprised at how much longer it's taken to see the light of day?

PI: Yes John. Very surprised. I found the process extremely frustrating although I'm very happy with the results. From what I gather from discussions with other musicians these things do take a lot longer than expected. This was my first solo album so I didn't know what I was in for. In the greater scheme of things, however, everything has fitted in nicely with Career Records only having recently materialised.

I-94 Bar: Did you ever fear that it wouldn't get finished?

PI: I knew it would get finished I just didn't know when. I never had any intentions of not finishing it. This was not an option.

I-94 Bar: How did you stay focused on the album over that time?

PI: I got a lot of help from my friends at the local pub.

I-94 Bar: Most of the songs seem to be about loss, betrayal and/or the aftermath of love (or rather the breakdown of love), but are sung more with resignation, bemusement and a dash of defiance rather than with the customary bitterness and sorrow. Is there a personal aspect to your song writing, or are they all simply flights of imagination?

PI: Often the initial idea comes from a personal experience. But the experience itself mightn't warrant a song. So I might grab the idea and then build another story around it. So it's the feeling you are expressing not the event. But yes, other times I just make it all up - "Poison Berries" for instance, or it might come from something more concrete ("Maid of Orleans", "Sponge Diver"). No rules.

I-94 Bar: The intro to "Maid Of Orleans" seems to have taken on a life of its own compared to the version on the "Songs From The Deep" E.P. What led to that?

PI: My friend Gregory Donovan who used to play keyboards in the second Wet Taxis line-up is a classical composer and he composed an overture for The Maid of Orleans entitled "The Boy Who Loved Her". For various reasons I decided to use an excerpt rather than the whole overture and this became the prelude. I intend to use the remainder of the overture in another music/visual project which I will be working on with filmmaker Rachael Lucas at a later stage.

I-94 Bar: I couldn't help noticing that "Sponge Diver", the track you did with Louis Tillett for the E.P., isn't on the album. Was it a hard decision to leave it off?

PI: Sponge Diver did not seem to fit into the thematic nature of Electra. It has it's own special place on Songs from the Deep. Yes, I would have loved Louis to have played on Electra as well. I have dedicated my album to him and to Charlie (Owen) so he does have a presence on there.

I-94 Bar: There was a film clip made to go with one of the songs on the E.P. ["Kathleen"]. Are there any plans to make clips for any other songs from the album?

PI: Yes, I have made a film clip for the title track "Electra" and also for "Andalucian Man". I have been working with filmmaker Rachael Lucas (mentioned above) on these videos. We made them on a shoestring with only a few people assisting. The video for Kathleen got nominated for an award at the Melbourne Film Festival - we were selected out of about 400 videos to be in the final 20 which was a great result. Rachael and I also have some other plans for more visual projects one of which I alluded to before.

I-94 Bar: Would you give us a rundown of who played what on which songs?

PI: Shamus Goble, who plays drums with me in my band in Melbourne, did all the drumming on my album. In fact, he was the only musician apart from myself to play on every song.

I used three different bass players. Brian Hooper, who as you would know has played with Kim Salmon & the Surrealists and The Beasts of Bourbon, played bass on "Spinster", "Shipwrecked" and "Andalucian Man". I think he's a great musician so I was very happy to have him play on my album. Craig Harnath who engineered and produced (with me) "Electra" played bass on "Kathleen" and "Electra" and Rosie Westbrook plucked and bowed double bass on the remainder.

Charlie Owen played mandolin on "The Maid of Orleans" and lap steel on "Electra". Emily Martin (ex Luxedo) did a riveting violin track on "Poison Berries" which had me on the edge of my seat when we were recording it.

Chris and Wes Harrington from the Large Number 12's, a band Charlie Owen plays with in Melbourne, added some backing vocals and Cameron Goold percussion. Finn Keane, who was the assistant engineer, played some guitar on the outro of "Electra".

I was quite adamant that I should be the only guitar player on my album but during the recording I heard Finn playing along in another room and it sounded so good I asked him to play on the song. In addition there was a four-piece string section (viola, two violins, double bass) to perform the "Prelude".

I-94 Bar: Listening to the album, I was pleased to hear plenty of hot guitar work on it. Are you still a guitar player who sings (as Deniz Tek always says of himself) or do you now see yourself as more of a singer and songwriter first?

PI: I see myself as a musician - the holistic approach.

I-94 Bar: Not being technically minded myself, I failed to ask you anything about your guitar in the previous interview. It has been brought to my attention that this was a serious oversight, as apparently it was custom made and is pretty special. Can you tell me a bit about it and its history?

PI: I designed my guitar and got it made for me in Sydney at Rock Repairs in Neutral Bay in about 1984 I think. The body is copied from a Fender Jaguar and the neck from a Les Paul SG, although the headstock is a Fender as well. The bridge is copied from a Strat. The body is made from Honduras Mahogany and the fingerboard is Rosewood. Two Bill Lawrence L 500 pickups (neck and bridge) and a P90 in the middle. It is my most precious possession although it might not be worth much to anyone else because it doesn't have a brand name. It's the Penny guitar.

I-94 Bar: I heard recently that there had been some talk about Ron Peno and Chris Welsh getting together on a new project and that you were also going to be involved as well. Can you shed a little light on that?

PI: Ron and I hope to collaborate at some point in the future. I have been very busy working on this album so have not had any free time as yet.

I-94 Bar: In the past you've worked with Louis Tillett, Kim Salmon, Tex Perkins, Joel Silbersher... Is there anyone else you've got plans to work with?

PI: Deniz Tek and myself have discussed a small project for early next year. Otherwise my plans are to start thinking about my next album.

I-94 Bar: Is there anyone you'd really like to collaborate with if the opportunity, no matter how unlikely, ever presented itself?

PI: In terms of my music I have been concentrating my energies on drawing the music out of myself over the last few years. Collaboration with other musicians has not been on my agenda. It's always a possibility though. A collaboration with a visual artist is something that interests me though. I have been doing this already in a sense with my videos and also with my special edition art CD's for my Songs from the Deep EP. These ideas could be extended into all sorts of areas.

I-94 Bar: Last year you had some members of Radio Birdman join you on stage at one of your shows. How did that come about?

PI: Is that a rumour that I was joined on stage? Oh sorry, Joel (Silbersher) played guitar with me on a couple of songs - it was fantastic.

I-94 Bar: I understand that some of your shows have been taped. I'm thinking in particular of the Sydney E.P. launch, where you were backed by Jim Dickson, Nick Fisher and Dave Morris from the Celibate Rifles, but I believe you've also done occasional shows in Melbourne with Kim Salmon. Is there any likelihood of any recordings of those performances ever surfacing in some form?

PI: No specific plans as yet but you never know...

I-94 Bar: Speaking of shows, I guess you'll be hitting the road soon to promote "Electra" in earnest. When can we expect to see you in Sydney?

PI: I'll be playing at The Camperdown Bowling Club, Mallett St, Camperdown on Saturday 8th November at 8.30pm. I'm doing a double launch with Steve Lucas (X) and his new band Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence. Jim Dickson who plays with Pubert (amongst others) will be playing bass with me also and Nick Fisher drums. Dave Morris is going to play some guitar too which will be great.

I'm also playing on Friday 7th November at The Annandale with The Royal Dave Graney Show - not sure if my band can do it yet or if I will do it solo. On Sunday 9th November I'm at The Excelsior, Surry Hills with "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner with Ian Rilen". I'll be solo.

I-94 Bar: Where else are you likely to go while you're promoting the album? I've heard that some U.S. shows might be in the offering for next year?

PI: Career Records are planning a "Career Caravan of Stars" Tour in April 2004. The idea is patterned after the legendary Mowtown Stax/Volt touring review of the 60's - similar to an "orchestra" with rotating featured artists. I believe Deniz will be participating and also Ron Sanchez's band Donovan's Brain. I'm very much looking forward to it.

I-94 Bar: Beyond touring, what else do you see the future holding for you?

PI: Money, Sex, Fast cars...

I-94 Bar: Sounds good to me! And finally, since we're in a Bar, is champagne still your tipple of choice?

PI: Oh yes.

Buy it from Career

Live dates:
MELBOURNE: Sat 25th Oct - Cherry (City) 10pm Electra CD Launch. Penny will perform with her Melbourne band featuring Shamus Goble (drums), Andrew McCubbin (guitar) and Peter Maveric (bass) Special guest Malcolm Hill opens the evening with an exclusive performance of "Electra - the Ten Minute Rock Opera"

SYDNEY: Fri 7th Nov - The Annandale Hotel, Annandale with The Dave Graney Show. Penny will perform solo. Sat 8th Nov - Electra CD Launch at The Camperdown Bowling Club, Mallett St, Camperdown with her band featuring members from the New Christs, Celibate Rifles etc. The wonderful Jim Dickson (bass), Nick Fisher (drums), Dave Morris (gtr). Double launch with The Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence (Steve Lucas - X, Jim Dickson etc). Sun 9th Nov - The Excelsior Hotel, Foveaux St, Surry Hills. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner with Ian Rilen. Penny plays solo.

MELBOURNE: Thurs 13th Nov - The Cornish Arms, Sydney Road, Nth Brunswick with The Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence for their Melbourne CD Launch. Penny plays with her Melbourne band. Sat 22nd Nov - The Town Hall Hotel, Nth Melbourne with The Tulips. Penny plays solo. Sat 27th Nov - The Duke of Windsor Hotel, Prahran with The Chris Chapple Ensemble (featuring Clare Moore). Penny + band.