We spoke with Penelope Isles’ Jack Wolter to discuss the band’s latest work and surviving lockdown in the U.K.
Penelope Isles have put in some serious work. The U.K.-based band is spearheaded by sibling duo Jack and Lily Wolter. Originally from the Isle of Man, Jack and Lily initially had separate solo projects, Cubzoa and Kookie Lou, that have released EPs respectively. Lily then moved to Brighton where she met Becky Redford and Jack Sowton, who would later become a four-piece band once Jack Wolter joined them in 2015.
Following their new formation, the band released a 7-track project, Comfortably Swell, in the fall of 2015. This release came to jumpstart their extensive history of touring. They hit the ground running; the band performed in pubs, stores, festivals and venues as they set out to make a name for themselves in the English music scene.
In January 2019, Penelope Isles signed to British record label Bella Union. Once partnered with the label, they released their full-length debut album to Spotify, Until The Tide Creeps In. It has garnered 1.95 million streams to date. The release covers a variety of bases both sonically and lyrically — there are many intimate lyrics as well as many aspects of psychedelic rock, fused with a lush sound and warm vocals.
Last year alone, the band performed well over 100 shows that also saw them opening 16 shows for the Wallows’ Nothing Happens tour, prior to COVID shutdowns. Although the band was not scheduled to open for Wallows on what would have been the European leg of the tour, Jack was still excited to have them, saying, “We had their London show in our diary.”
With the effects of shutdowns in the U.K., they took it upon themselves to write, record and produce their latest album. As Jack says, “It was perfect timing to make a record as we had no choice but to be in lockdown.”
Most recently, the group made some personnel changes, seeing members Becky Redford and Jack Sowton leaving the group earlier this year. With new members Hannah Feenstra and Henry Nikelson now on the team, they are looking to release their newest record shortly.
While the future still looks uncertain, a certainty is that Penelope Isles continue to be dedicated to their craft, and striving to be a great live band. With their next record already finished, Jack says that he and Lily are both working on new material for their solo ventures.
The Concordian spoke to Jack Wolter about making music in a pandemic, and the band’s upcoming album.
TC: As a band formed in Brighton, there’s definitely a lot of lore and a history of great music coming out of there. What kind of legacy do you want to etch as Penelope Isles continues to get bigger?
JW: I guess to leave an impact and for people to have enjoyed the experience of seeing us play live. I don’t think we are a particularly important band in the way of changing how people think. Most of our songs are abstract thoughts and feelings. But we do love playing live and that connection with the room. I would be stoked if anyone thinks of us as a great live band.
TC: COVID-19 drew your tour with Wallows to a premature close. Even though it was cut short, how was the tour and how did you and Wallows come together?
JW: We have the same booking agent so they hooked us up. The boys from Wallows dug our sound so invited us along. It was nuts! It was an amazing few weeks and ones we’ll never forget. Sold out show after another. Our music is a little different to Wallows so we were a bit nervous as to what the American/Canadian kids would think, but it went down so well. We loved playing for all you guys.
TC: What advice would you give yourself back when you first started with everything you’ve learned up to this point?
JW: Take time away from it all sometimes. As obsessed you might be. I still have to remind myself of this.
TC: Up-and-coming bands sometimes burn bright and die fast when they change their style to fit certain niches. Right now, you guys have a familiar sound and vibe with your music, where is the balance between experimentation and continuity for Penelope Isles?
JW: Good question. I think it’s important to feel comfortable in the environment in which you are making music. That applies to both writing and producing. On this next record we have pushed ourselves a little more in terms of how the songs sound sonically. It’s more experimental and dramatic in moments but doesn’t drift too far away from the songwriting on our first album. Our new songs feel more emotional. Maybe because we have lived, loved and lost a little more. I think if you are personally making art to please someone else then it is in danger of losing something special.
TC: In other interviews you have cited Radiohead as an inspiration, do the comparisons of your first album to Radiohead’s In Rainbows put any pressure on you for future releases?
JW: I mean that is such a compliment! It’s one of our favourite records. Not really as I know that it’s nothing as good as In Rainbows. Our new record is sounding cool and we’re ready to share it when we can! I’m excited to see what people think and can’t wait to play live.
TC: With production for all of your work done in-house by you, should we expect the same for the upcoming album?
JW: Yes! When we got back from America we rented a cottage in the southwest of the U.K. and moved all our gear down for a month. We made a lot of it there as well as back here in Brighton. It was perfect timing to make a record as we had no choice but to be in lockdown.
TC: You have no shortage of touring and performing experience in a variety of different places, how eager are you to get back on the road and start doing shows again?
JW: Very much so. And even more so after such a long period without touring. The process of travelling around, leaving town, returning home is something that I really have missed dearly. It’s something I need in my life like many others who travel a lot. It feels pretty claustrophobic staying in one spot. But everyone can relate to that right now. We are very excited about coming back to America and Canada one day soon!
Photo by Laura Caldwell