At the lift off stages of her solo career and prior to the release of any solo recordings by PENNY IKINGER, Clare Moore (sister in the long distance journey of females in rock) and the multi dimensional rock legend Dave Graney interviewed PENNY. This interview appeared on The Dave Graney Show website in April 2000.
QUESTIONS FOR PENNY IKINGER
from Clare Moore and Dave Graney
D: Could you give us a biography of your adventures in the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene. The scenes you’ve made, the discs you’ve cut, the bastards you have known?
The first band I played in was “Wet Taxis” which I joined as guitarist in 1983. “Wet Taxis” were formed by Louis Tillett in the early ’80’s. They were playing “industrial noise” then – real room clearing stuff.
I grew up in Melbourne but moved to Sydney to study Archaeology at Sydney Uni and this is where I met Louis. He was this tormented anti-student type who would lurk around the shadows in a cloud of Camel non-filter smoke.
I was scared of him at first but then we became friends and he used to take me to the seedy punk hangouts in Sydney. Louis taught me how to play bass guitar even though he couldn’t play a note of guitar himself. It didn’t matter – he sure knew more about music than I did.
Louis had been playing Classical piano since he was four years old and had also studied Jazz saxophone (alto & soprano). He told me that his sax teacher could only play trumpet so therefore it was OK for me to learn bass off him. Who was I to argue?.
Louis would work out stuff for me to play and I’d practice and practice. After a year in Sydney I moved back to Melbourne and finished my degree there. I only played bass for a while and then I switched to guitar.
In 1983 I moved back to Sydney and joined “Wet Taxis”. They had changed from playing industrial noise to 60’s psychedelic Texan punk covers and some originals.
Eventually Louis left the band in about 1987 and went solo. I played guitar in his backing bands “The Egotrippers from Hell’ and “The Aspersion Caste”. We toured a lot around Australia and Europe.
I also played in some other Sydney bands around then including “Kings of the World” which was initiated by Janine Hall who used to play bass in seminal Brisbane band “The Saints” with Chris Bailey.
I relocated to Melbourne in 1991 to study again and then I joined “Red Dress” in 1992. Cathy Green (drums) and Mary Ellen Stringer (vocals) put this band together. Cathy had been playing in X with Ian Rilen and Steve Lucas and I had played with Mary Ellen in “Kings of the World” and ‘The Aspersion Caste” in Sydney.
After “Red Dress” I played in a couple of other bands including the “Sacred Cowboys” and ‘Blush” with the splendiferous Clare Moore. I also played in “Salon Baby” with Caroline Kennedy.
Throughout this period I was still playing on & off with Louis Tillett as well. I decided to start singing and writing lyrics only a couple of years ago. I must say that I had never really wanted to sing at all. I would have been happy just playing guitar but circumstances had it otherwise.
Nearly all the bands I had been playing in kept breaking up just as we were about to get off the ground. I got so disillusioned with it all that I decided that if I was to continue playing then I needed to have more control over my musical destiny.
Singing/song writing seemed the only way to stop being stuffed around by other singer/song writers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em as they say. Now I don’t know why it took me so long!
C: Who are the people that have influenced you or inspired you to play and write music?
That’s a difficult question actually. I never set out to copy any guitar players. I might have gained a lot more technique if I had, but I decided very early on that it was not the way I wanted to approach making music.
I just wasn’t interested in learning scales and licks and all that sort of stuff. Still not. What’s the point in playing like other people anyway? As for singing/song writing it comes from my heart.
Again, I do not have a technical background in these areas. I have learned most of my craft from jumping in the deep end and I have been fortunate to have played with some very fine musicians like Louis Tillett and Charlie Owen amongst others.
They have taught me a lot so I suppose you could call this an “influence”. When I first started playing guitar I used to listen to a lot of “all-girl” punk bands from the U.K. and Germany. Since those days I have gravitated towards different styles of music from many cultures and epochs.
D: Do you bother to follow a football team here in Melbourne? If not, how do you avoid it?
My grandfather used to play for Fitzroy so I suppose I follow whatever it is they’re called now.
C: Do you find that most female musicians take a less mainstream path with their careers? (if so, why do you think that is?, I guess I’m talking mainly about players as opposed to singers.)
I believe that most female musicians take a less “mainstream” path because not too many paths are actually open to them. If you’re a singer songwriter you can put a band together and you choose the musicians but if you’re an instrumentalist you mostly have to wait to be chosen.
People tend to choose their mates – why not? – it’s a good idea, but if you’re female and you’re waiting to be chosen and it’s the men who are predominantly doing the choosing then you might be waiting a bloody long time.
You have to go about things in a different way because a lot of doors aren’t open to you.
D: What was your vibe on the republic vote last year?
What’s the Queen done for us anyway? Has she raised the door charge at gigs so that musicians can earn a decent living? Has she ever lugged a big black heavy box or changed a set of guitar strings? Can she roll a lead?
C: After years of being an “Indian” in bands both here and in Sydney, what is it like being a “Chief”?. Does it make you see the role of “Band Leader” in a different light?
Most certainly. I think I made a rotten Indian. I was too opinionated and I hated the feeling of being at the mercy of someone else’s career strategies or lack of career strategies. As far as chiefdom goes, I’m still in training so I don’t know if I’m qualified to fully espouse on the virtues. I do hope my years of being on the other side help me in my new role.
D: Would Penny Ikinger ever make a dance record? What do you think of that scene?
I’ve actually been approached by someone to make a dance record. When I asked them what sort of dance music they were playing they reeled off a combination of genres which meant absolutely nothing to me whatsoever so of course I said: “sure, I’m into that”.
They’re not getting me on a stage though. It took me years to get the co-ordination together to tap my foot and play guitar at the same time and since then I’ve progressed to switching guitar pedals on and off but enough is enough.
C: What are the main differences between the Melbourne and Sydney band scenes?
At present I think the main difference is that there is still a semblance of humanity left in the Melbourne music scene as far as the promoters go. In Sydney it is very difficult for a musician to get a gig let alone get paid for it. At present there is a monopoly on at least eight venues in Sydney by one promoter. He demands that you pay a standard fee to the resident mixers whether you use them or not. You also have to use their door person. Surely the choice of mixer and door person should come under the musician’s domain. One of my friends recently played at one of these venues for no guarantee. He had to pay the resident mixer, his own mixer, the door person and the support band. The resident mixer had an easy night eating steak’n’ chips in the beer garden, the pub made money on the bar, everyone else got paid and my friend ended up with bugger all. His parting comments to the promoter were: “Do you want me to pay the bar staff and the cleaning lady as well?”. Situations like this could possibly be avoided if there were more venues (and no monopolies!). I also believe that poker machines have had an effect on the live music scene in Sydney. I’ve been told that there are only four pubs in NSW that don’t have poker machines. The repercussions are dire for the life of the community in both a social and cultural sense.
D: Would you prefer a grilling from “guitar player” magazine about all your equipment, speaking to two film critics from “Liberation” about your lyrics, or fielding replies from the Herald Sun about the altar boys that have been found dead in your hotel room?
The latter, definitely.
C: It can be very challenging playing in pubs with a small band for a lot of reasons. Do you prefer to present your music in this way or would you like to form a kickarse rock band and blast them.
I don’t know how “kickarse” I want to be with my songs although I’ve certainly kicked arse in the past. At the moment my music is of a more reflective & melancholy nature rather than the “get a load of this guys” variety. I think I’m best playing somewhere where people can sit down and listen. I do like playing REALLY loud though…
D: What is the brand of that strange guitar that you play?
I designed my guitar and got it made for me in Sydney at Rock Repairs in Neutral Bay. The body is copied from a Fender Jaguar and the neck from a Les Paul SG, although the head stock is a Fender as well. The bridge is copied from a Strat. The body is made from Honduras Mahogany and the finger board is Rosewood. Two Bill Lawrence L 500 pickups (neck and bridge) and a P90 in the middle.
C: Is your song, “The Maid Of Orleans” , about Joan of Arc? If so, didn’t the man that loved her think that she was a boy?
D: That was Gilles De Rais, didn’ t he travel the French countryside buying children, then spending the night sodomizing them whilst a choir of young boys sang outside his tent? Couldn’t you fit that into the middle eight?
I think he also used to throw little children into cauldrons of boiling oil. I didn’t find out about Gilles until after I wrote the song. Gilles had a bit of a good guy/bad guy complex going.
He was the model for Bluebeard. He was also one of the richest and most powerful men in 15th century Europe; a Marshal of France; and Lieutenant to Joan of Arc. After Joan of Arc was burned at the stake he went a bit crazy because he couldn’t believe that God had allowed her to die.
He did all these despicable things to test the faith of his God: if God existed God would intervene. He wanted to be stopped and punished (good guy bit). Gilles was arrested in 1440 AD on charges of heresy, witchcraft, sodomy and the murder of over 140 innocent little children.
He was hanged and burned. He died a paedophile, a murderer and a devout Christian. If I’d known about Gilles before I wrote “The Maid of Orleans” I might have been able to squeeze this into the middle eight. However, something tells me that the whole song would have taken on a different slant, being as it is, a song about a boy who loved her.
I’d just made him up. I figured if you were a young girl leading an army of 20,000 troops at least one of them’s gonna be in love with you.
C: How will you record your album? What instrumentation will it have?
I haven’t quite worked this out yet but I suspect that it will be on a very low budget!. In terms of instrumentation Rosie Westbrook will be playing double bass and Shamus Goble drums. In addition I’ll be using a string section (double bass, viola & violin) and I might use keyboards on a few songs.
A friend of mine who is a classical composer, Dr Bronstantine Karlarka aka Greg Donovon, is composing an overture and reprise for the album as well as arranging the string parts for some songs.
Bronstantine used to play keyboards in Wet Taxis in our second line-up. I’ll be playing the guitar & singing but I intend to have someone else in for backing vocals.
D: Is there any kind of producer from the rock golden age that you’d like to work with?
Aren’t we in the golden age now? Or am I meant to say Phil Spector or something? This is a tough one Dave – I really dunno.
C: You’ ve played guitar for many years with Louis Tillett. Who was in the band around the time of the “Old GreekTheatre” gig with the White Buffaloes ?
There was this really talented and handsome guy singing. I only had eyes for him.
C: What was it like playing in Greece with him more recently?
I played in Greece with Louis quite a while ago. I loved it – the food, the people, all those beautiful ruins!. There is quite a large “alternative rock” scene there. I think it’s Louis’ second biggest market (Germany being the first).
D: You did a solo tour of Europe in 1999 as well. What did you get out of that?
A large credit card debt amongst other things. I wasn’t playing shows there I was just travelling around. I loved Spain the most – it’s wild. I was visiting Mark Snarski (ex The Jackson Code) who has temporarily retired from music and is teaching English in Madrid.
He and his girlfriend Suzie took me to some great flamenco hang outs. We’d go to bars where the guitar would get handed around and every guy could play and play a million times better than nearly everyone I know.
You could order a gin and tonic for 4 bucks and it would get served to you in a vessel about the size of a goldfish bowl with a splash of tonic and the rest gin.
You could sit on that drink for quite a few hours – if you drank it any faster you’d be dead.
C: You have a keen interest in the ancient and arcane , do you think that musicians and their instruments will one day end up in museums?
I believe I already have!
D: We played a show with you and Astrid and Rosie Westbrook in 1995. After the gig you said to the (male) mixer ,”got a light, dickhead?” He almost started crying. Are you aware of your ability to intimidate people?
Hmmmm. Boy, have you got a memory. I do believe that it was meant as a term of endearment at the time. And to think, I was just an Indian then, what on earth am I going to come out with now I’m a chief?
D: Whats your vibe on “the Melbourne mafia?” Are you cut up that women aren’t allowed in? Also, who, in your opinion, are the “made guys”?
The “made guys” are the ones that don’t wear jeans on stage any more, correct? Maybe that’s why women aren’t allowed in – we just don’t look right in a suit.