EXCLUSIVE: PENANCE Talks Debut EP “Helldance” and More

PENANCE is a Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist and music producer from Chicago, Illinois. He grew up inspired by new waves of grunge, punk, and alternative rock that were being reimagined in the early 2000’s. Further enamored by the electronic sounds of today, PENANCE intricately and fearlessly blends styles from indie-folk to grunge to trap and everything in between creating an organized chaos analogous with everyday life that takes listeners on a powerful and authentic journey. Pulling inspiration from a spectrum of artists; softer influences like Bon Iver and Ben Howard to heavier bands like Brand New and Linkin Park. Other influences include EDEN, Nirvana, The 1975, Turnover, nothing, nowhere. Mayday Parade, and The Maine. His unique production style paired with deeply metaphorical and carefully curated songwriting separates PENANCE from the crowd in today’s world of independent artists. ECHO chatted with PENANCE about his music and much more!

Photo Credit: Will Heffernan

How are you??

I’m really good. I’ve been really busy between creating this project, as well as a lot of other things going on in my life. I feel like the future is wide open now and I’m excited to start imagining bigger and better things. 

How did you come up with your artist name PENANCE?

It’s primarily a play on a religious term meaning to admit your sins publicly and punish yourself for them. The modern definition or use is more to just “admit having done wrong” but for me it’s a metaphor for one of the all-encompassing themes of life – balance. In my music and the general creative culture I try to immerse myself in, you quickly realize that you can’t run from your shadow. What I mean by that is you can’t pretend you don’t have faults or problems going on in life and still say you’re being fully authentic. We all have a balance of light and dark that makes us who we are. And part of dealing with that for me in the form of depression, anxiety, family stuff, etc. has been to just accept it. So penance means to embrace the the losses as well as the wins. 

There was also a marvel superhero that my brother and I thought was really cool as kids. His name was Penance and his thing was that he would wear a suit of armor that had spikes inside of it, kind of like an iron maiden, and they would rake his flesh as he fought. He did this because he could generate power from his pain which kind of goes back to the “embracing the power of your shadow” concept. 

Your debut EP, helldance is out. What was creating your debut EP like?

It’s been an exhausting and beautiful spiritual journey. I’ve spent my whole life trying to get my technical skills to a point where I can just imagine a sound or a style and create it. This EP is something I can truly say I didn’t hold back on. I experimented a lot with my production and blending styles and trying to write as honestly as I could. And it took a lot of introspection and dedication to get to a place where i can confidently say that. The writing process was sporadic, as I always try to let it be. I wrote some of the songs alone in a rainy warehouse in Venice, I wrote some of them during my travels to Europe. I’m really always writing and working on or thinking about songs. I also recorded a few of the songs with one of my best friends, Will Mendez, and it’s nice to have a few of our collaborative efforts out there in the world after many, many unfinished demos. 

What about “helldance” made you want to title the EP after it?

The way the word helldance came up is kind of random. Helldance is just the first word, or conjunctive word, that came to mind when i wrote that song. It’s something I just kind of made up because I needed to save the project to my computer. Over time the song and the name started to grow on me and I realized it kind of describes my musical style pretty well. It’s like “dance” music in the sense that it’s produced using the most modern techniques and features punchy drums, but also has this underlying hellish chaos which is inspired by the punk and grunge music I grew up on. 

Do you have a song that connects with you the most?

“do you still have bad days in heaven?” is definitely my favorite. It’s about accepting love or struggling to accept love which is something I’ve dealt with a lot in my life. Not just from others but also from ourselves. I think we’ve all had experiences where we kind of take things for granted or won’t allow ourselves to step into our true power for one reason or another. I wrote this song as a message to myself and everyone that they’re not alone and there is always someone or something “standing out in the rain” waiting to be there for you when you’re ready to accept it. And when it seems like you can’t find anything else, listen to the song. 

Who are some musical inspirations you’d love to collaborate with in the future on upcoming music projects? 

I’m so genuinely inspired by every genre and artist who’s trying to do something different that it’s kind of hard to compress it into a few people. But I really like what guys like EDEN, brakence and Verzache are doing with their production. I think we would definitely build off each other sonically. Same with bands like The Plot In You and Bring Me The Horizon. I’d love to work with some folk artists as well. Guys like Ben Howard and Bon Iver really inspire me with how intentional and ahead of their time their records are. I’d love to be a part of a process like that. It would really all depend on the vibe of the song and the relationship. I’m kind of selective about who I work with because I want it to be as genuine of a process as possible. 

I know your brother Dylan is very poetic, did he write anything with you or did you bring up the idea?

Dylan inspires me to be a better writer in general and we definitely have conversations about art theory constantly. But no, he didn’t work on this project directly. We’ve been talking about writing music together soon and I’m sure he’ll be involved in things in the future. We’ve been really pushing each other lately. 

If you could set up a fan in a setting for them to listen to your music, what setting would that be?

I think the music is meant to be listened to alone or while in the process of creating. I’m kind of an introvert and I listen to so much music while I work on paintings and other art projects. The music is meant to empower the listener so I’d want them doing whatever they love to do and I hope it emphasizes that. 

If we’re talking live shows I’d say definitely, inside of the pyramids or some other big chamber type of space. 

What’s one quote you’ve heard in life that you’d want to ECHO out to the world?

“Don’t change who you are just because it’s harder to be who you are”

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