Angela Penhaligon (Piney Gir)
We’ve been enthralled by Angela Penhaligon, a.k.a. Piney Gir, since 2003 when we first saw her play at the Spitz (that’s how long ago it was). She’d left Vic Twenty and was playing solo with her synth and keytar, with material that would end up on her debut record Peekahokahoo. She then created the Country Roadshow and issued album number two, Hold Yer Horses (and ‘Great Divide’ from that album is still available on a beautifully tactile Sounds Experience 7” in a stunning cover). Now playing with the Age of Reason, she has released her third and best album The Yearling (September 2009). You can also hear her (briefly) sing snatches of ‘White Wedding’ on the dusty Peugeot 207 “Drive Sexy” advert that’s currently on our TV screens. In September she compiled a mixtape for the Independent (read the interview for more details) which can be heard on Spotify. She’s just completed a UK tour and we hear there might be a chance she might be playing a few dates in the US next year. Clearly things are going her way but she’s working for her success, filling her time with recording, touring and producing an audiobook. We talked to Angela in November 2009.
Piney Gir and the Age of Reason
SXP: Before we talk about your album can we talk about the Peugeot advert?
Piney: Oh God! I’m a self-funded self-releasing artist and I need money. An ad agency approached me to do a version of ‘White Wedding’ so that’s helped pay the PR bills of this release. It’s funny that they only used about three lines of the song and we recorded it about 3 times, the whole thing. Anyway, ad work keeps me going I guess.
SXP: Are you going to release it?
Piney: Well Grayday in America have released it and you can buy it on iTunes I think – I don’t know if you can buy it in the UK but I’ll find out. It’s nice that it’s been received so well. I had fun making the track and it was nice to do a “desert rock” version of it, with female vocals, changing the meaning of it - which I think a cover should do.
SXP: It doesn’t necessarily signal “rock Piney”?
Piney: *long pause* Hmmmm. I don’t know. I was in the Schla La Las and I miss having a rock outlet. I don’t know if I’ll ever go full-on Courtney Love rock but it’s in me – we’ll see! I’m writing for the next record so we’ll see how it incarnates.
SXP: It’s interesting that the first album is more electro-Piney, then it was the Roadshow album with country Piney but this isn’t any one variety of Piney.
Piney: It’s hard to pigeonhole yourself and I guess I love all kinds of music and I’m influenced by all kinds of music so it doesn’t make sense that I would just create one type of music. I thought: sod it, I’m just going to be one thing and here it is and I feel that The Yearling is a pretty good representation of what goes on in my head! *little nervous laugh*
SXP: I know you’re quite interested in musicals. ‘Love Is A Lonely Thing’ feels like it’s fallen out of a musical, third act, heroine in heartache…
Piney: *big smile* Yeah, just before the happy ending! I love musicals! I’d love to write a musical. I’m glad you got that from it.
SXP: The album also has a strong sense of melancholy. Generally, when it’s happy it’s really happy and when it’s sad it’s the saddest I’ve ever known a Piney song. The emotions feel really strong. ‘Not Your Anything’ is…
Piney: It’s mean isn’t it? *laughs* All my lyrics come from the heart and they’re all based on something real. I was a bit worried I’d alienate people who like my music, ‘cause it’s not happy-happy-happy. But then, it’s honest and most people connect with honest emotion and most people have felt that way before. Maybe it’s a melancholy mirror into your own persona. It’s not a bad thing to see in someone or relate to. It’s not contrived.
SXP: ‘Blixa Bargeld’s Bicycle’ has the most amazing melody but it’s also you being playful with language.
Piney: I’ve always written little poems and played with words ever since I was a little kid. So it felt like quite a childlike song to do. It’s actually true! I worked at Mute and Blixa had his bike at the bottom of the stairs there. He moved to Shanghai to be with a girl, I think and he said to his PA “sell my bike please”. She said to me “can you help me - do you know anyone who wants to buy the bike?” So [the song is] ways you could use to sell it basically. And then it goes into the shipping forecast because he’s gone to lands far away. It’s kind of a little cheeky story, I guess.
SXP: Did you sell the bicycle?
Piney: No! I don’t know if you know Simon Breed. He’s a very tall man, and so is Blixa Bargeld. He came and test rode it and said it’s not a very nice bike! I think it was still inside Mute when the building got knocked down!
SXP: Why did you use so many instruments on the album?
Piney: It was just fun. You’re in the studio and you think: I want to achieve this sound, how can I do it without MIDI, how can I organically create the sound I want? Well, if you hit this pepper shaker with a teaspoon, it sounds a bit like what I have in mind. And it’s really fun to play around with sound like that. It’s the way a lot of people hear music in everyday things. I remember being on the train once and going: wow – what’s that song? Where’s it coming from? And then the train stopped and I’m like: oh! It was the train! So there’s music in everyday things and I have fun just playing around with that.
SXP: You also have a variety of people playing on it, including a gospel choir from Kansas City.
Piney: ‘For the Love of Others’ was written for a very special lady who passed away and she was an amazing gospel singer. When I wrote this song for her I approached her friends and said would you sing on this track, because it’s for her, and they were really keen to do it. It was hard to orchestrate from abroad but they did a great job and it sounds brilliant. It’s something special because they know who it’s about. It’s an optimistic song, I think you have to end on a high note!
SXP: And there are lots of other players you’ve played with, like Eamon from Brakes.
Piney: He’s excellent, I love him. He came into the studio to do the duet on ‘Of All The Wonderful Things’ and boy does he drink like a fish! But he was so much fun it was really great working with him.
SXP: You’re still doing Roadshow stuff as well?
Piney: Yeah, we have another album finished. I made it at the same time I made this album. I can’t wait for people to hear it - I guess next year realistically.
SXP: You’ve got multiple musical endeavours and you work too – how do you fit it all in?
Piney: I don’t stop. I get up. I work. I do music until the early hours of the morning. And then I do it all again, every day. *laughs* My job pays the bills and music is something I have to do to be happy. Making music and performing music is creative and uplifting and it’s what makes me tick as a creative individual. Booking tour vans and doing spreadsheets is wheat you have to do to make the rest of it possible. It’s a balance and sometimes it’s not fun but you know…
SXP: Do you even have to organise Travelodges?
Piney: Uh-huh *giggles* It’s usually the girls in one room and the boys in two rooms. So that’s fun. It’s a little like that slumber party in Grease. Quite literally – we sit around talking about boys, doing our hair and stuff. It’s fun. It’s good to have girls in the band!
SXP: You’ve also written an audiobook.
Piney: I didn’t write it actually, my friend Jenny Newman wrote it and Katrin Geilhausen illustrated it. And me, and A Scholar and a Physician did an electronic soundtrack for it. Then we got Mark Radcliffe, me, Louis Phillippe, Ali Shaw from the Cranes and Simon Bookish and a Scholar and A Physician to do a Radio 4 style reading of the story. And I need to get that out but I don’t know how. I just need to figure that out because it’s really cool. It’s really childlike.
SXP: It’s aimed at young people?
Piney: Well, you know how the Simpsons or the Wizard of Oz can be for children or grown ups? There’s a double story to it. It was inspired by [having] the Jungle Book audiobook when I was a kid. It had a tape and a book and every time you had to turn the page there was a bird that went “koo-ah-ah-ah” *does impressive impression of a parakeet* and I loved how the pictures and the words went with the narrator and the music. It was an experience and I wanted to recreate that in my own way.
SXP: In September The Independent published a playlist that you compiled. (Find it here: Playlist). It was an interesting mix of songs, given you’ve previously said that you were denied secular music until about 1989.
Piney: I had little bits and bobs [of pop music] at the roller rink and my grandparents listened to pretty wholesome stuff but it was not Christian all the time.
SXP: So you had everything to discover then.
Piney: That's why it’s great. It’s the silver lining to not having that growing up. I think a lot of people take that for granted maybe and for me there’s this sense of wonder.
SXP: So what have you discovered lately?
Piney: I’m still discovering David Bowie and Morrissey. The Four Lads, who are on my playlist, I just found them on Spotify recently. I love them – they’re so cheesy! And I never got into Bob Dylan or The Band until Garth Hudson came over and I had the pleasure of singing with him and I said: wow, they’re great songs!