PENNYWILD is a tenacious soul who knows exactly what story she wants to write, using her voice to inspire others to relentlessly pursue their quest of liberation in self-expression. With more than enough optimism to go around, PENNYWILD has created an overwhelmingly vibrant community that centers around a free-spirited state of mind. Utilizing her joyous yet empowering perspective, the multi-talented artist is constantly pushing boundaries with her projects. Having recently released her latest project, NIGHT PEOPLE, she brings listeners back to a cherished period in her life that sparked her entire career.
She sat down with SPIN to talk about the inspiration behind this EP, the things she’s learned along the way, what it’s like directing for some of the biggest names in music, and much more. Stream NIGHT PEOPLE here and dance the night away with her SET below.
Who is PENNYWILD and what do you stand for?
PENNYWILD is a Music Producer/ DJ & Director/ Choreographer living in Los Angeles by way of New York City – and she is very much still figuring it all out. I stand for inclusivity, boundary pushing, authoring your own success and always staying curious.
Tell us about your sound – where does your style originate from and what have been your biggest visual, social, and sonic influences?
Some of my biggest sonic influences include Paul Johnson, MikeQ, Nile Rogers, Masters at Work, Robyn, NVOY, Disclosure, Gorgon City, and Azealia Banks, amongst many others. I’ve also been influenced in one way or another by the following creatives of various disciplines — Stephen Sondheim, Hiro Murai, ATRAK, Parris Goebel, Tennyson, Grimes, Kendrick Lamar, Keone & Mari Madrid, etc.
Was there a definitive turning point to your success? When did you realize the magnitude of your impact within the industry/community?
Because I discovered electronic music at an older age than I would have preferred to, I didn’t have years of experiencing bringing the sounds I heard in my head to the DAW. Having exclusively pursued Musical Theatre up until about age 23, I didn’t really have any sort of music production skill-set. That forced me to approach things differently – in whatever way was most accessible to me at the time within the parameters of what I knew how to do. I approached music making from a dancer’s perspective, and conceptualizing from a theatrical one. What came out of that was some “atypical” electronic projects, and although it was pretty discouraging at the time, I am now so grateful for my niche lens. The logistical boundaries brought creative abundance.
You just released the infectious NIGHT PEOPLE, which is described as “a love letter to the underground.”- take us into this project’s universe and how you became inspired to pursue this concept.
During quarantine, I found myself eerily nostalgic for my “glory days” (aka 2016-2019, when I was exploring the queer/ electronic music scenes in NYC and LA). I would catch myself staring at a half-fleshed out project in Ableton, and all I wanted to do was add crowd noise, random adlibs, and field recordings of soundbites from friends I had collected over the years. This made one thing clear – like most other people I knew, I missed dancing; I missed going out. Frustrated at the lack of cohesion of the sounds I was playing with, I decided to start from scratch and capture some new chatter based on very specific prompts/ concepts. I would “interview” friends over Zoom, and ask them to role-play different stages of our shared nights out. What resulted was 3 GBs of dynamic, interesting, and hilarious one liners from friends. I spent a lot of time re-arranging them to make any sort of narrative sense, and the sonic texture of NIGHT PEOPLE was born.
What song off of this EP do you feel most personally connected to?
I really do love each track like they are my firstborn, but I think I may favor “SIDE STREETS.” I’ve always wanted to find a way to honor the sacred ritual that is commuting from the pre-game to the main event, because I love the organic camaraderie and excitement that anticipation brings. Whether it be heading from Manhattan to Brooklyn or from Orange County to Los Angeles, that time inside the car/Uber always gets me giddy. I think “SIDE STREETS” does a good job of encapsulating that experience.
Talk to us about a pivotal learning moment while creating this EP.
Contrast = interest. If you don’t color your creation with a dichotomy of dynamics, there is nothing to be surprised or titillated by. Opposition and change can be very effective.
You’re a well rounded creative, being a dancer/choreographer who has choreographed for some big stages and also a director who has partnered up with Zedd & RL Grime on music videos – How have these perspectives bled into your work as a producer?
I think Directing and Producing have a lot in common. At the end of the day in both roles, you’re a decision maker. Both of these titles allow you to create amongst a group of experts in their respective fields and get everyone on the same page to portray a singular vision. While the Director’s “experts” are various creative specialists (Choreographers, Costume Designers, HMU), the Music Producer’s “experts” are instrumentalists (Vocalists, Pianists, the synthetic instruments in your DAW).The vision has to be clear, and morale needs to be grounded and positive. I love these roles because they are utmost collaborative.
In what ways have you pushed yourself beyond existing self-imposed limitations?
In 2015, I dropped out of college where I was feverishly studying Musical Theatre, and moved to Los Angeles with the aspiration to become a musician. I had no formal training in music, but a helluva lot of training as an actor, singer, and dancer. “Throwing away” all of the skills I had worked so hard to acquire for the first 20-something years of my life was a hard pill to swallow, but I knew if I didn’t follow my newfound passion of music production, I’d never forgive myself. Electronic music had enticed me in a way that Broadway had all those years ago — so I knew it was the real deal. I remember receiving quite a bit of judgement from my peers at the time — “What is she doing in LA?” “She wants to be a DJ?” etc. Despite the questionable decision to some, I’m grateful I followed my heart and made the plunge.
What’s next for PENNYWILD?
I have spent the last few years working on conceptual/cohesive bodies of work (MIDI In Motion, NIGHT PEOPLE, etc) so I’m really excited to release a number of stand-alone singles that are not attached to larger narrative pieces of work. 2022 is all about singles, and I’m really stoked to have some fun with their accompanied visuals/ general rollout. I’ve never given myself permission to release music purely for music’s sake, and now is the time! Additionally, I’ll be Directing/Choreographing some music videos/ visuals for other artists that I admire tremendously, which should garner some incredible collaboration. Stay tuned!
What do you wish for the future of electronic music? In what ways would you like to see it evolve?
Generally speaking, I’d love to see more elements of art on stage. I think that set/ light designers, dancers, actors, visual artists etc are incredibly under-utilized at these main stage festival DJ sets. It would be really exciting to see some more immersive performances – sets that you’ll walk away from having had a real three dimensional experience. I’d love to see artists take more risks!
Any last words for the SPIN-verse?
Thank you, SPIN, for amplifying artist voices – especially the marginalized! Black Lives Matter; Trans Lives Matter.
Check out PENNYWILD’s electrifying SET below! Want more SETS? Head over to SPIN TV to keep up with all the latest and greatest DJ/producers breaking through the electronic sphere.