Today’s Feature – September 28-29: Don Pennington

October 5, 2008 at 9:21 pm (Today's Feature)

Don Pennington is the latest feature to form in PEV’s backyard of Baltimore, MD, and boy, are we proud to admit it. First and foremost, their sound is stellar – a combination that focuses on rock and roll while dabbling in blues and jazz and sampling bits of electronica, hip hop and even a few classical pieces. Second of all – these guys are friggin’ intelligent!
· Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Fogleman, earned his degree from Boston’s Berklee College of Music
· Bassist Brian Takacs is currently studying acoustics at Peabody
· Keyboard player Rich David has a complete understanding of the technical side of music, and
· Drummer Matt Venditto is a Berklee Alumni himself!

Needless to say, these guys have gone through the motions to earn their musical chops. So with the smarts on their side… would you expect anything less but a great story behind their moniker? Fogleman says “Don Pennington was a co-worker of mine who sold adhesive products (tape) to large electronic companies. He was very successful, but also chose to live a hard life… He just reminded me that it’s hard sometimes to realize that you’re doing something foolish or destructive, and sometimes the best mirror can be the actions of others.”

At this point, you’re probably expecting a lot of this new group. Luckily for all of us, their self-titled E.P. does not disappoint. They stretch across a broad map of subject matter, incorporating “spacey ambient sounds, with distorted guitar tones and old organ sounds.” While part of the band’s identity is improvisation, there isn’t too much of it on the EP. But, Fogleman says “I think we still capture the energy of it.” You can catch their new tunes and a bit of a jam session at a live show however, so look up some dates. There, you’ll also catch Fogleman’s analysis of how love and relationships are just like Slurpees. Wouldn’t want to miss that. Get into the XXQ’s for a whole lot more.

XXQs: Don Pennington (PEV): Tell how Don Pennington first came together. Was it an instant connection the first day you practiced together?
[Justin] It was pretty much an instant connection. The first time we all played together everything just kind of fell into place. We all had the same ideas about how the songs should be written, and when we were just jamming, if one of us started to take the song in a certain direction, everyone else seemed to be thinking the same thing.
PEV: Hailing from Baltimore, MD what kind of music were you listening to growing up?
[Justin] All kinds of music. All of us grew up listening to rock and roll but started branching out more as we got a little older. Brian’s always been really into a lot of progessive music; anything from Herbie Hancock, to King Crimson, to Dream Theatre, to the Mars Volta. Rich has a special place in his heart for 80’s metal. Matt grew up listening to hard rock and has gotten more into jazz lately. I grew up listening to everything from rock music like the smashing pumpkins, to modern classical compositions by Steve Reich. With all the different music that we listen to, it’s surprising that we can all find a common ground.

PEV: No one in the band is named Don Pennington. So, tell us, who is Don Pennington and why did you name the band this?
[Justin] Don Pennington was a co-worker of mine who sold adhesive products (tape) to large electronic companies. He was very successful, but also chose to live a hard life. I had a few conversations with him that really made me think about the potential of human beings, and how one can know they have immense potential, yet knowingly make decisions in their life that cause them to both work towards and against their goals. I’m not putting myself on a pedestal or anything; I make mistakes too. All the time actually. He just reminded me that it’s hard sometimes to realize that you’re doing something foolish or destructive, and sometimes the best mirror can be the actions of others.

PEV: In your opinion, what is it like for a young band to break into the music business? What are the “trials and tribulations” of pursuing a music career?

[Justin] It can be pretty tough to get shows when you’re first starting. No one wants you to play at their club if you can’t get people to your shows, but it’s hard to get people to your shows when no one knows who you are, and no one knows who you are because you don’t play shows! You just have to play every chance you get, and have fun when you’re playing. I think the internet is giving a lot of musicians an opportunity that wasn’t available a few years back too. It’s an amazing tool to get your music to so many people.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Don Pennington show?

[Justin] When we play live we try to mix conventional songs with improvisation. Sometimes we’ll turn the bridge of a song into a jam where we can all go nuts, and then bring it back to the original melody of the song, or sometimes we’ll end a song and start improvising on an idea that sounds similar and letting it slowly morph into another one of our songs. We really like the idea of having our shows be one big song made up of a bunch of 3 or 4 minutes songs that are woven together by improvised ideas and jams.

PEV: How have your shows evolved from when you first started out?

[Justin] We’ve gotten more comfortable and started doing more with improvisation. Instead of playing a 3 or 4 minute song, then stopping and saying something to the crowd before we start the next 3 or 4 minute song, we’ll play one of our songs then morph into one of our other songs by jamming on a similar musical idea. It’s a little bit more dangerous and can sometimes turn out not the way you hoped, but when it works it’s worth the risk.

PEV: Any embarrassing or crazy live show stories? There has to be tons, I’m sure…

[Justin] I started a song in the wrong key one time, and we all played the first 30 seconds of the song completely wrong before Matt stopped us. The whole time I was thinking, “Man, what’s wrong with them, why aren’t they playing the song right?”, but it was definitely me playing the song wrong. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

There was another time that I went on an unprompted soliloquy about how love and relationships are just like Slurpees. I did it because Matt had told me the day before that I need to talk to the crowd more, so before one of the songs I made up a story about how I reached an epiphany in the parking lot of 7-11 while I was picking up chicks with Rich. Though I made up most of the story in the shower before the show, Rich had actually originally made the analogy between relationships between love and Slurpees. The analogy has become a regular story at our shows. You’ll have to come see us play to hear how profound a metaphor it truly is.

PEV: If you could collaborate with one artist out today, who would it be and why?

Justin: I would love to collaborate with producer Mark Ronson. He did an awesome job on Amy Winhouse’s album ‘Back to Black’, and also on his own most recent album ‘Versions’. He does a great job at using the horn and drum sounds from the 50’s and 60’s and presenting them in a way that sounds modern. It would also be amazing to work with Rick Rubin. He’d produced so many great records, I’d just love to sit and pick his brain.
PEV: As well, is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking out for?

Justin” There’s a group out of Philadelphia called Man Man that’s pretty great. They’re a really fun band that puts on a pretty captivating live show. Their music is like if the circus and rock and roll had a baby. There’s also a band called Mutemath that I’m really impressed by. Their music is really clever and catchy, and their live shows are awesome.

PEV: Tell us, what can fans expect from your soon to be released, Fall 08 EP? (PLEASE GIVE THE NAME).

[Justin] On our self titled EP we tried to incorporate a lot of spacey ambient sounds, with distorted guitar tones and old organ sounds. We didn’t include a whole of the improvising that we use when we play live, but I think we still capture the energy of it.

PEV: When you sit down to write what kind of environment do you surround yourselves in? Is it an entirely collaborative effort?

[Justin] I usually write the songs on an acoustic guitar, let the idea evolve and then start arranging the song for the other instruments. I’ll record a rough idea of the song and show it to the group then they’ll take it and put their own spin on it. Most of the songs I write start on an acoustic guitar, but sometimes I’ll stumble across a bass line, or piano part that’s perfect and I’ll build a song around that.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Don Pennington?

[Justin] Rich loves Iron Maiden, and has a fantastic 80’s metal falsetto. Brian’s classically trained on the Double Bass, and is getting his Master’s Degree in Acoustics. Matt studied drums at the Berklee College of Music, and I have a degree in mechanical engineering, and received a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to all your success?

[Justin] It’s not as though were exploding across the music scene right now, so I don’t think anyone we know has been star struck by our presence. When I showed my parents some of the recordings for our upcoming EP, my Mom told me that the person singing sounded really good, but refused to believe it was me because she said that I don’t sing that well. I tried to take it as a compliment.

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio right now, what’s one thing we’d most likely find?

[Justin] In our studio you’d find a lot of empty bottles of Vitamin Water, and half eaten bags of chips. Our studio is across the street from a gas station that we regularly patronize. All the drinks and snacks we get there inevitably turn into piles of trash on the floor of the studio.

PEV: As well, where’s one place you haven’t played, you would like to? Why?

[Justin] We’ve never played the 930 club, but I’d love to play there. I saw a lot of shows there when I was growing up and it’d be awesome to be on the other side of the stage.

PEV: Where will Don Pennington be ten years from now?

[Justin] In ten years I’d expect us to be washed up and working on our comeback Christmas album. Seriously though, I have no idea. I hope that we’ll be making music and having a good time doing it. Music is pretty important to all of us, so in ten years I would hope that we would still be creating music in one form or another.

PEV: So, what’s next for Don Pennington?

[Justin] We’re going to finish mixing the EP we recorded and start playing some more shows. We’ve put a lot of time into recording and I think all of us are ready to get out and play again.


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