Tell us a brief history on Penny Ikinger, take us back the moment you decided you wanted to be a musician?
I received a 12 string Epiphone acoustic guitar from my friend Bruce Butler for my birthday when I was about 19 years old. It sat in my bedroom for a couple of months as I wasn’t sure what to do with it. As much as I loved music, I had not intended to learn how to play guitar or to be a musician. But the guitar kept staring at me and it made me feel guilty. Un played guitars are never happy! So, finally one day I started learning how to play it. I asked a couple of my male friends to show me some things and then I became hooked. I played bass guitar for a while. Then I found an electric guitar in the street. I had never seen a girl play an electric guitar before, so I wasn’t even sure it was possible.
I don’t think there ever was a time when I decided to be a musician per se. But once you get the calling there’s no turning back.
You’re releasing a CD and Cassette RSD called “Travels and Travails” as a part of record store day; tell us a little about the release?
Travels and Travails explores and documents my collaborations with musicians from France, Japan, North America and Australia over the span of my career as a solo artist. It includes both live and studio recordings which are previously unheard, whilst others are re-working of songs from my earlier works. Some of these tracks have remained hidden in the vaults for quite a few years. They might have stayed in the vaults if not for RSD rep Sarah Guppy contacting me just before Xmas to invite me to release something for RSD. I came up with the idea to combine this collection of material into the one album under the theme of travel and travails. I am so thrilled these songs are finally seeing the light of day!
What inspired the title “Travels and Travails”?
Travelling to tour, record and collaborate with musicians from all around the world, has formed a significant part of my musical trajectory. I am very interested in the universality of rock’n’roll and how it resonates worldwide. It speaks its own language and it’s a language understood by all those who bond in a meaningful way with the genre. It doesn’t matter what your cultural background is. What matters most is your taste and style – your aesthetic. I have actively sought to combine my love of music with my love of travel and my fascination with different cultures. Travels and Travails reflects this.
It is not an easy task though to be a musician and this is where the travails fit in – there is a lot of toil and effort involved in the process. Many people outside the industry only perceive the glamour of it, but in fact it is a lot of hard work and can at times can be exceptionally gruelling.
My experiences, as well as the obstacles and tribulations of being an artist, inspired this new body of work covering 20 years of my career. My friend and fellow musician Malcolm Hill came up with the title of “Travels and Travails” for this album. I thought it was a brilliant suggestion as it so perfectly encapsulates what this album is about.
A collection of old and new tracks, what was the recording process of “Travels and Travails”?
Travels and Travails is an explorative and raw documentation, and celebration, of my collaborations with artists from France, Australia, Japan, and the United States.
Some are new songs whilst others are reworkings of songs from my earlier works. For instance, my debut album Electra was recorded in Melbourne with my Australian band and released on Career Records (MT, USA) in 2003. There are live re-workings of songs from Electra and my second album Penelope that I recorded with Donovan’s Brain who were based in Bozeman, Montana, who were my backing band when I toured North America to promote the release in 2004. Donovan’s Brain featured Ron Sanchez on guitar and keys, Jeff Arntsen on bass, Colter Langan on guitar and Ron Craighead on drums. Ron Sanchez recorded and mixed these tracks that appear on Travels and Travails.
My latest album Tokyo was recorded in Japan with my Japanese band The Silver Bells and released on Kerosene Records (Japan) and Off The Hip Records (Australia) in 2018. There are re-workings of these songs recorded live at a performance with my Australian band recently. We recorded these songs in a church in St Kilda and at RMIT studio. This recording features me on guitar and vocals; Tim McCormack – bass, Jason McGann – drums, Sam Billinghurst-Walsh – guitar, Julian Held – guitar and Ryan Oliver – keyboards. A big band with a big sound!
I recorded some completely new material with musicians from France, Japan and Australia on the album as well. This process involved co-writing and recording together in a studio (here or overseas), and/or sending audio files back and forth via cyberspace. One song, “Voodoo Girl” was composed by my French bass guitarist Vinz and I on his rooftop balcony in Montmartre in Paris. It was demoed at The Mansion in Melbourne by me with input from Billy Pommer Jnr, Gary Hallenan and Marc Mckelvie. Eventually it was recorded by Penelope Inc in Sète, France in a studio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with Jim Diamond (ex The Dirtbombs) sitting in as producer. Jim Diamond was originally from Detroit, now residing in France. That song has already done a bit of travelling before its release!
Tell us a little bit about who the guest collaborations are this special Record Store Day release?
I hooked up with two French musicians, bass guitarist Vinz Guilluy from The Holy Curse (Paris), and drummer Dimi Dero (vocalist/guitarist of Dimi Dero Inc, Paris) to form a three piece – Penelope Inc in 2009. We toured Europe to promote the release of my Electra album on vinyl by Bang! Records (Basque Country). So successful was our collaboration, and our mutual affection for each other, that we continue to tour together in Europe and Australia, over the years. Dimi and Vinz also played on a couple of songs released on my second solo album Penelope. Two tracks on Travels and Travails are co-writes with each of them. As I mentioned previously, the song “Voodoo Girl” was composed by Vinz and me in Paris. The other track “Siberia”, is a song writing collaboration between Dimi Dero and myself, written and recorded during and in between the lockdowns of 2020-2021. This track also featured Billy Miller from Melbourne on guitar and Jim Dickson (Radio Birdman, The New Christs) from Sydney on bass guitar.
I also recorded a couple of new tracks with my Japanese band The Silver Bells. The Silver Bells, featuring Masami Kawaguchi (guitar), Louis Inage (bass) and Yuichi Takahashi (drums). We launched this album both in Tokyo and in Melbourne at Melbourne Museum’s Nocturnal event in 2018. During this tour, we dropped into my favourite studio in Melbourne, Hothouse, to put down two tracks – “We Had Love” – a cover of Perth based The Scientists’ classic, ground-breaking song; and “59th Floor” which I co-wrote with Mark Snarski, also from Perth, now residing in Spain. Mark used to play in Chad’s Tree and The Jackson Code.
I also collaborated with Melbourne based instrumental artist Burning Sand. I wrote a spoken word piece to accompany his music. We invited Marita Dyson from The Orbweavers to contribute some heavenly harmonies.
Most memorable Record instores you have played in Australia or around the world?
I played at Music Millenium, Portland, Oregon with Donovan’s Brain (USA) as my backing band in 2004. It is a fabulous record shop opened on exactly today’s date on the 15th March in 1959. It’s the oldest record store in the Pacific Northwest.
Where will we find you on Record Store Day 2023? Instore? Record store? Listening to records in peace?
At an instore near you!
On top of your solo releases, you have been a part of and appeared on many other albums. Do you have any favourite bodies of work you have been a part of and why?
Prior to becoming a solo artist, I played for many years with Sydney based musician Louis Tillett. I played guitar in his band Wet Taxis and in his solo band. Louis is an extremely accomplished musician, and I learned a lot from him about music and how to navigate the music industry.
What are your top 5 moments from her expansive career?
I think my Top 5 moments include meeting some artists who I have a lot of admiration for. The first band I played guitar in, Wet Taxis, toured as support act to Nico in 1986. Australian audiences were expecting the Velvet Underground. Instead, they got her unique Euro noir sound. I don’t think audiences here were quite ready for it! She was incredible!
When I played guitar in a band called Red Dress, we supported the Divinyls and Joan Jett on their tour of Victoria. Chrissy Amphlett was a phenomenal performer, singer and songwriter. She and I became close friends over the years. Joan Jett also carried a huge legacy. They were both real trailblazers for women. It was a fabulous bill to be included on.
An artist who has had a major influence on my musical trajectory is Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman. His support of my music has made a huge difference to my life. Louis Tillett, who I mentioned before, is another one who influenced my musical and life journey. I could not distinguish one particular moment with either of them as one of my Top 5 (there have been so many), but without them I would not be where I am now.
One of my top gigs for my solo material was my appearance at the festival Andoaingo Rock Jaialdia in Spain in 2017)alongside some of my international favourites including: The Bevis Frond (U.K.), Limiñanas (France) and Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children (Sweden). I played this show with my French band Penelope Inc with special guest Johnny Casino on guitar. It was a truly magical event!
Another favourite experience of mine was recording my album “Tokyo” in Tokyo with my Japanese band featuring Masami Kawaguchi on guitar, Louis Inage on bass and Keiichi Sakai on drums plus other guest artists. This project was facilitated by Japanese music journalist/producer/promoter Gaku Torii and generously supported by The Australia-Japan Foundation (DFAT).
While rarely seen without your guitar, tell us about your work as a producer?
I have been producing my own material for the last 20 years.
Your music has captivated audiences around the world, do you have any favourite cities you’ve played in? Is there a favourite show that comes to mind?
I really love playing in France and in Spain. The Europeans in general appear to have a more sophisticated appreciation of music and of the importance of the musician. We are treated in a much better way than in Australia where you are often seen as a vehicle to sell beer for venues or to service other parts of the industry. Musicians are in fact professional people who are the progenitors and mainstays of the entire industry and should be valued as such. Like every other musician, I prefer to play in the places that value me and my music.
Any other upcoming shows you want to tell our readers about?
I am playing support to Mudhoney at The Corner Hotel in Richmond on Thursday 27th April. This show is sold out.
I’ll be playing a warm-up show for that gig at The Rainbow Hotel, Fitzroy on Saturday 15th April. Free entry!
I will be launching my album at George Lane, St Kilda on Friday 5th May with Sydney band The On and Ons. Grab your tickets here before they sell out!
I’ll be playing with my Australian band – The Penny Ikinger Band, for all three shows. We hope to see you there!