When you were a kid, those hazy summer holidays at the beach seemed like they could last forever; full of dreams, escapades and potential adventures ripe for the taking. Penelope Isles, made and forged by the coast, have created a debut record that embodies that beauty and promise of living by the seaside – unsurprisingly, as the band’s main songwriters Jack and Lily Wolter have been stuck as tight as a limpet to the waters’ edge since birth. With snorkels and flip flops to hand and the sun beaming down.
“Ever since me and Lily were born, we’ve lived by the sea. I don’t think I could live anywhere else; it’s built into you. Like a magnet.”
Jack, older brother to Lily by six years, is discussing a subject that goes to the very soul of him. Raised on the Isle of Man, later spending time in Falmouth, it was when Lily moved to the London-by-the-sea hub of Brighton that Penelope Isles truly came to life. Jack picks up the story.
“Lily moved to Brighton first and started a band with Jack [Sowton] and Becky [Radford] called KookieLou. She came back home with a bunch of songs that she had written and asked me to produce it. We started working on it, then I added some songs into the mix, and it turned into Penelope Isles.”
Relocating to Brighton permanently, the fledgeling band found a whole new world of opportunity waiting for them. “The Isle of Man and Falmouth are wonderfully creative places to be, but there’s no real scene or anything to get stuck into. But here, there was so much. New bands, new promoters, everyone wanting to do something bigger in the future. We just jumped on that and got stuck in.”
That attitude eventually brought them to the attention of Bella Union, under whose protective wings they have now finally delivered on that early gigging promise. ‘Until The Tide Creeps In’ is a sheer delight. A record that is in no hurry to reveal its secrets, elements of psych, lo-fi, indie rock and dream pop wash out from its core. Tracks meander, seemingly freely at points before suddenly snapping back into place.
“A lot of records that we love, bands like Deerhunter and Radiohead, have that kind of ambient textural feeling that we love so much. So I guess that element was naturally in our minds when we were recording,” explains Jack.
Whereas Lily’s lyrics are at times more grounded (though no less fantastical), her brother’s words add a fascinating abstract, almost poetic, edge – increasing the dream-like state of mind. “I’ve written songs in the past and then been a bit like, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t give that much away’, because I don’t think people want to hear about whatever I’m whinging about, to be honest.
“I guess there’s an element of not wanting to be so open anymore. And I think with these songs, the feeling isn’t just from the lyrics, but maybe the instrumentation too? The more abstract the lyrics, they can take whatever they want from it and maybe feel something that I wasn’t personally feeling at the time. If it’s thought-provoking in another way, then that’s cool, I think?”
Citing Bradford Cox as an example, Jack has an open admiration for some of his more ‘out-there’ habits. “He said something really cool in an interview once, that he sometimes changes the words depending on how he feels at the time. I can relate to that.”
Having taken around a year to record, the songs themselves have also gone through a wild evolution with the recording sessions interspersed alongside long periods of touring. “That helped in the process though, as we’d be playing a guitar part on stage that we could then go back to the studio with. We’d spent time with the songs, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them, so it felt natural.”
That decision to keep revisiting older work, continually tweaking and tampering, has resulted in a smooth mixture of older fan favourites resting easily alongside newer tracks. “We played the songs so many times live, we’ve experimented with different structures and sounds, almost swapping instruments out to make different noises at times. And I’m not sure it’s final because I’m sure they’ll change again.”
Album centre point ‘Gnarbone’ is a case in point, a track that was originally written in a cupboard now lengthened and developed over dozens of gig performances into the beating seven-minute heart at the record’s centre.
Also at the heart of Penelope Isles is of course family. Not for the Wolters any Gallagher-esque fisticuffs, instead it is an idyllic-sounding existence of shared hopes and experiences. “It’s amazing”, Jack admits, “It’s a wonderful feeling, especially now we’ve started to travel. Neither of us have really done it before because when all your mates are doing it, we were skint because we used all our money to go on tour or something.”
There’s something infectious about his excitement for these upcoming travels, as well as the sheer pleasure and pride in finally having that debut under his belt. “We’ve fallen in love with it, we’ve fallen out of love with it and back again, and now I’m just really excited for people to hear it!”
With their largest ever headline tour in the bag later this year, and the first baby steps to album number two already begun, there is a sense that the tides are starting to swell for Penelope Isles. Bringing the seaside to a town near you, it’s time to dive in.
Taken from the August issue of Dork. Penelope Isles’ debut album ‘Until The Tide Creeps In’ is out now.
Words: Jamie MacMillan