If there is such a thing as Rock Goddess Penny Ikinger is possibly the close to the title. Everything in her style is rock n roll. From the music, the fashion, the attitude and work ethic. Pennys latest LP Tokyo, released on Off the Hip records, is eleven ripping rock/powerpop tracks, featuring Oz music royalty Deniz Tek and Japanese musicians Masami Kawaguchi, Keiichi Sakai and Louise Inage. Recorded in Japan and Australia it is possibly Munsters favourite LP for 2018. Me and Penny met at the Dogs on a shit Saturday arvo to natter Wet Taxis, Japan and museums.
Munster: You were born and raised Melbourne but had two periods living in Sydney, did you play in a band in Melbourne before heading to Sydney?
Penny: the first band I played in was in Sydney, that was Wet Taxis, I played rhythm guitar in that band. I actually rehearsed with a band in Melbourne but we never did a gig. Mick Harveys brother Sebastian Harvey was the singer. I can/t even remember what the band was called but we never played.
Munster: how did you meet Louis Tillett?
Penny: Sydney Uni. I went up to study archaeology and Louis was studying ancient history, and archaeology as well. I think he came third in the state in ancient history. And he was this weird looking guy that used to hang round the corridors in the shadows, so we would ave met via something to do with ancient history.
Munster: Lets talk Wet Taxis, you weren/t an original member?
Penny: No. Wet Taxis went through a few stages. When they first started they played what was called industrial noise, and thats what we would call experimental musical today. Other bands like Severed Heads, and Tom Ellard had a label Terse Tapes and they released some early Wet Taxis stuff. They originally played this industrial noise which was very out there, loud aggressive stuff. Simon our guitarist would use Lego motors and things to play the guitar, or record someone vomiting and then sample it into the music, again this predated what we know as sampling now. They also recorded someone crying and sampled that, they probably would ave recorded someone shitting of they could. So they pretty much would ave cleared the rooms with that style of music. Louis/s Sister Nina was trying to help them and said that her brother played in a band and they were looking for a gig, and they said what kind of music, she said Light cocktail jazz (laughs). But round this time Wet Taxies started making a change from that style, to playing 60s psychedelic rock covers, 13th Floor Elevators and the stuff from the Nuggets LPs that kind of music. So Wet Taxis started playing that style at the Britana Hotel and they used to pack it out and they had a residency there for years. Even though they didn/t play cocktail jazz (laughs). Peter Watts left the band and then I joined.
Munster: Where you behind the change in direction music wise of Wet Taxis?
Penny: No they had changed before I joined. Peter had been playing that 60s psychedelic punk before i came in, I don/t think i was a big influence on that sound. Louis and Simon Knuckey the lead guitarist were the biggest influences. Then Simon and Tim who are brothers left, they were from Dunedin, and then they left and Jason Cain and Rodney Howard joined, and thats when Louis started writing original songs. So the band went through three phases. The industrial, the 60s psychedelic, and we still did some 60s covers but Louis started writing. Then the band split round 1987 and Louis went solo and I played guitar in his solo band.
Munster: When did you return to Melbourne?
Penny: around 1991
Munster: is that when you went solo?
Penny: no I still didn/t sing I just played guitar I came back to study again, and I was with Charlie Owen then so he came down too. I played in a band called Red Dress with Cathy Green. She was the drummer and songwriter in that band. I also played with Sacred Cowboys for a while. I didn/t start singing till round the year 2000. So I joined Wet Taxis in 1983, so ive been playing for a long time before I started singing.
Munster: when you started singing was it solo or with a band?
Penny: Thats when I went solo.
Munster: You/d been playing for a long time before you went up front, where you comfortable singing at first?
Penny: it was really difficult I never really wanted to sing or write my own songs. But what happened was these bands I just mentioned, as a musician you/re always relying on other people to get the ball rolling. I realized that it was a reality that if I was going to continue playing music I needed to take the reins in my own hand because the band I was in would go ok for a while and then they would break up, so I knew I was just gonna ave to sing thats the only way I can ave control. And I didn/t think I could sing, im still not sure. But I figured singing is the hardest thing if I can do that the rest will be easy. My first gig was in Sydney supporting Louis and Charlie Owen.
Munster: do you identity more with Melbourne or Sydney?
Penny: Both, when we were in Sydney we thought Sydney rock was better than anything in Melbourne, Melbourne was a bit arty for us. Mind you Wet Taxis doing industrial was pretty arty. And in those days, now musicians play in lots of different bands, back then there was more a football team mentality about what you did. If you played in one band that was it you didn/t moonlight with another band. Now you do all the time otherwise you/re going to survive. Back then you stuck with your band. Back to whether I identity with Melbourne or Sydney I think the Melbourne aesthetic has influenced me, because something about what you grow up listening too, and I would see bands in Melbourne before I moved up to Sydney, bands like Boys Next Door. I don/t know which one I identify with. When I came back to Melbourne I came back to study, I really didn/t want to come back. But round the same time the Sydney scene dried up so a lot of Sydney musicians moved to Melbourne. When I was in Sydney I was a Sydney musician and coming back to Melbourne I thought of myself as a Melbourne musician
(photo by Gaku Torii)
Munster: You mentioned when you were in Sydney you thought Sydney rock was better than Melbourne, was there some snobbery from Melbourne musos in regard to Sydney too?
Penny: Yup, but we thought they were arty poofs so why would we care what they think? (laughs) Melbourne audiences where more hoity toity and used to a particular sounds, influenced by the Birthday Party, wheres Sydney wasn/t as interested in that. We were more into happy rock.
Munster: Your new LP Tokyo, how was that recorded, did you do your parts and the Japanese musicians do their parts in Japan and then add it together?
Penny: No I went to Tokyo to record the LP with there with the Japanese musicians. It was a big project for me to do. The first time I went to Japan was in 2008. The promotor put together a band called the white shadows and they were a great band. We played one gig and the drummer and bass player where the ones that came down recently. Then I went the second time 2010 and played with Louis the bass player and different drummer Keiichi and Masami on guitar played guitar. The second time Deniz Tek also came. I got a grant from the Australia Japan foundation to record the LP. Deniz cound/t come so he recorded his parts in Australia but everything else was recorded in Tokyo, I did my vocals and mixed here at Hot House in Acland Street. I wrote the songs with Deniz and I wanted that to be part of the project for me I wanted to write with Deniz. We wrote the songs at his place in Kiama which is near Wollongong.
Munster: The first time you went were you invited or did you just decided to go?
Penny: No I decided I wanted to go so I went on my own. I didn/t know anyone in Japan id never been there before. It took me a while to find the right people to help, and I found them through a lady called Sue Rynski. Shes a photographer. She lives in Paris, she lived in Detroit round the era of MC5 and the Stooges, so shes Deniz Teks era. She had an expo in Tokyo so she had a lot of good connections. She hooked me up with a promotor, Gaku Torii who agreed to book me shows. If it wasn/t for him the whole album wouldn/t ave come about so was very lucky. He was the first music journalist to bring punk to Japan through his writing, through his reviews and articles in the late 70s/early 80s. Hed be flown round the world to interview Bowie and Iggy Pop, so hes a very well known journalist in Japan. He published a book bout punk rock from American and England, he did very well from his writing. He was an important figure in Japan, because they love punk rock, they play it really well they get it and they understand it.
Munster: A lot of Australian bands when they tour overseas they usually head to Europe, what was it bout Japan that made you wanna go there?
Penny: I was interested in the culture and also I love travel and a challenge. I like doing difficult things I don/t like doing easy things I get bored. To me that was a bloody hard thing to do. I knew no one didn/t speck the language had no idea where I was what I was doing, I found that attractive. And I had no idea how incredible the music was. I know some Japanese bands tour Australia but compared to how many bands there are over there its all just phenomenal. I went to see what was going on, was like a mission. I went the first time on my own, the second time I got a grant from the Australian Japan Foundation, I got two grants in the end to go there. The first grant, I was at work and a friend of one of the curators at work, Julia Murray, she put an ad on my desk for the Australian Japanese Foundation. I got the grant went back took Deniz, then I applied for another one and also got it. It was very competitive as both times 300 people applied and only ten got grants. So its great they support rock n roll. Masami has played here a few times so its opened doors both sides they didn/t exists before.
Munster: in the booklet you mention one of the reasons you love Japan was the mixture of the old and new culture and how day and night are so different. It seems over there they really value there past and would never knock down old buildings like they would here, is that a fair call?
Penny: they seem to be but I don/t know all the ins and outs. I went to this great exhibition when I was there last time at the Mori art museum, that was on architecture in Japan and they talked about the building techniques of the old architecture and the shrines then they talked about how that aesthetic design, seems the Japanese ave has influences there modern architecture as well. They do ave modern buildings but the places I was staying was not the glitzy areas, I was staying the arty areas. Thats what I saw there, tiny alley ways with lanterns and old houses with bars. That area in Flinders Lane with laneways within laneway its kind of like that. Then you go into areas like the big business district, there you see the big buildings and neon lights. Its like two different places within the one place.
Munster: would you call this lp a love letter to Tokyo?
Penny: not a love letter but it seemed the best title. When I wrote the songs I had Japan in mind. The song Tsunami thats Japanese for Silver Bell, that’ a meeting place, thats where I met the Japanese musicians. Thats the rondevu point because I had to meet them at that particular spot. And it was recorded there so Tokyo seemed the most appropriate title.
Munster: when did you first meet Deniz Tek?
Penny: I knew Rob Younger, he produced the first Wet Taxis song Sailor Dream the first original song Louis wrote, my partner at the time Charlie Owen was playing in New Christs, so I knew Rob well. Before I released Electra i did a four track demo at Yikesville which was run by Shane O’Mara. Chrissy Amphlett came in to the studio, I played them to Chrissy and she said I think you can improve your singing, and I agree it wasn/t that good. So she was like the vocal producer. I did the the demos gave a copy to Deniz and he really liked it. He had his record company in America, Career, put the LP out. Deniz today is a close friend but wasn/t at the time, he just really liked the music.
Munster: He doesn/t seem like a person would say yes to everything he is offered so must be a big thrill getting him to work with you.
Penny: and write the songs with me. Im lucky he likes my music. Hopefully we/ll do some more writing together.
Munster: Salmon was an instrumental project put together by Kim Salmon which featured a whose who of legendary Oz indie acts, what was it like working on that project?
Penny: that was fun that was done quickly. That was a whole different musical experience. It was like playing in an orchestra so he worked out everything in his head and he teached us the parts. Although you/d think something with six guitarists and one drummer would be wild and crazy but really its was quite tight because you couldn/t do what you wanted you had a part, so was like an orchestra.
Munster: That must ave been a thrill him picking you for your guitar playing style.
Penny: I hope so but we played what we were told. And Kim wasn/t playing guitar. He was conductor and playing samples on a keyboard, hed sample his voice saying something like a wooo, then hed press the keyboard and mime so he wasn/t even singing. So was kind of performance art. When that LP, I think was at Sound Park and then a live record, I think in Sydney when we played with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, came out on Bang. Was a pretty brave thing to do, I don/t know if Salmon will play again I doubt it. I don/t know if the audience got it but Kims good at re-inventing himself and doing things people don/t expect, we did Mudhoney and Jon Spencer supports because they all worship Kim.
Munster: do you prefer playing solo or band?
Penny: I like both. And I play with different bands. I ave a band in Melbourne, a band in Sydney with Deniz and Jim Thompson and John Fenton. I ave the Tokyo band and a band in Paris and in America I played with another band Donavans Brain. And all the bands are completely different to each other. Donavans Brain has two guitarists as well as myself, in Japan theres Masami and Deniz and me. Sometimes I play with one guitarists sometimes two sometimes I play as a three piece. The French band has Dimi Dero and Vince from the Wholly Curse. They all play the same songs yet they all sound completely different and sound nothing like the record. Why sound like a record when you already got it.
Munster: on a personal note, you work at the Melbourne Museum as a curator?
Penny: collection manager. I work with all the indigenous objects that aren/t aboriginal. So thats objects from the pacific, Asia, Americas and Africa. Its a really interesting job and i meet a lot of interesting people. I think im interested in different cultures and different ways of thinking bout the world, thats why I work there and most of my music has been outside of Australia. So this thing bout travel im interested in different places different cultures and im interested in this sort of universality of rock n roll, how you can travel to different places and find people playing that ave a love of a similar style of music. Like a secret club round the world, with people like us that like certain music. Because we aren/t sitting in the mainstream. But its universal. Say Masami has a huge knowledge of music and listens to all kinds of music but he loves that garage punk think that I come from that influence of playing in Wet Taxis, it influence my aesthetic in music, it influenced my guitar playing and songwriting.
Munster: Whats next?
Penny: im doing an improvised performance at the state library with Ollie Olsen just the two of us no idea what we/re going to play. i/ll be doing more gigs promoting the LP but that won/t be till early next year. And im thinking next year going to Europe, playing France and Spain, im in the process of trying to work that out. Because I do all the business but I ave people round the world helping me out. Id love to write some more with Deniz. All this stuff Matt is so much work, I don/t think people realize how much work it is. And when you make these LPs you don/t walk out rich from it. And then you gotta find the money do the next one and get back on the horse. I put so much work into this Japan project and bringing the Japanese musicians to Australia im just thinking whats the best thing for me to do next. I recorded two songs with the Japanese musicians while they were here i/ll be releasing that as a seven inch single but I don/t know when. And I like things not to cut in stone right now, im going to see whats going to happen with the album and that will help direct me what I do next. If I get interest in a certain area then its a good idea to tour there so that will determine what I do.
Munster: do you ave a favorite Fall lp?
Penny: no but I did see them when they toured years ago. I thought they were great but I don/t think I ave any of their LPs but I know there music from listening to their albums at other peoples houses.
Tokyo out now via Off the Hip Records.