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From An Industry Showcase To A National Tour
The Pennyroyals
We do what we feel. We don"t care if it doesn"t fit into someone"s shoe box they call a life. We are our music. What you see on stage is who we are as people. - The Pennyroyals
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] May 2005 Feature: The Pennyroyals
Tucker, bassist for The Pennyroyals, performing during their industry showcase at CBGB in New York City
Tucker, bassist for The Pennyroyals, performing during their industry showcase at CBGB in New York City (Credit: Ken Kotowski)

The main stage area of CBGB in lower Manhattan was starting to full up on a warm Wednesday evening in April. The crowd gathered outside the club made their way inside, past the merchandise table and the long bar covered with beer and emptied shots of jack and coke to get a better look at the show. When the Pennyroyals exploded onto the stage and shook up the sound system, even fans standing across the street would have heard that there was something amazing going down on that famous stage.

Fans around the country are going to start hearing a lot more of The Pennyroyals in the months ahead. The band recently signed on for 20 dates on the 2005 Vans Warped Tour, as well as a slot on the Level 27 Clothing tour. The buzz surrounding the band has been growing steadily for the past few years, and these touring opportunities, along with an eventual full-length album release, should finally put them as over the top as their performance that warm evening on the Lower East Side.

The New Jersey-based quartet, Mike Bender on vocals and guitar, Sprout on guitar and vocals, Tucker on bass and vocals and Lightsey on drums, are the latest incarnation of a group first created in 2001. They have perfected a combination of punk attitude, a hard rock sound and a cool, alternative style, that draws in fans on first contact. They have caught the eyes and ears of numerous sponsors who have featured the band in prominent national ad campaigns. Sum 41 dropped their name on “MTV’s Diary.” They have performed with numerous national acts and their music has been featured in films, on FUSE TV, and over 200 college and major radio stations across the United States. Now a tight, cohesive and explosive unit -- they are ready to take it the next level in a big way.

After what the band has called the biggest show of their career, Tucker and Sprout took the time to put together the following answers to our questions about the band, their past, present and future. Catch them on tour, pick up their CDs and get ready for a long, wild ride.

Congratulations on a successful industry showcase at CBGB recently. How did the band feel after the performance and have any interesting opportunities developed as a result of that evening?

Thank you. The Pennyroyals have worked very hard over the last few years to arrive at a place where we could perform in front of the presidents, VPs, and head A&Rs of every major label. The show undeniably, was the best we ever performed with a sold-out crowd of total Pennyroyal fan craze mania. In short, it was hot. Labels responded immediately to what they called an 'over-the-top' performance, which is a strong indication of where we are at, and there are some big things in the works as a result. We are very excited to see how our hard work made this kind of impact on the label world. We will keep you in the loop as things develop more.

Sprout at the CBGB Industry Showcase (Credit: Ken Kotowski), Fashion design by Danielle Ezzo (www.dezzoster.com)
Sprout at the CBGB Industry Showcase (Credit: Ken Kotowski), Fashion design by Danielle Ezzo (www.dezzoster.com)

Start out with some information about how the band came together. How does everyone know each other, and how did you start playing together to form the Pennyroyals?

Sprout, guitarist, founded the band in 2001 with a previous lineup. It was a foundation that would only lead to a second lineup and bigger things. He met current bassist, Tucker, before The Pennyroyals formed, but it was evident that the two of them had an instant chemistry and love for music. Tucker had his sights set on the long game and ultimately superseded TPR's former bass player in early 2002. Scott Lightsey, drummer, came all the way from southern Mississippi to join the project in the early months of 2003 with a 20-hour drive to his one-night slam-dunk audition. This man was destined to play drums for the band. Finally, Mike Bender, vocalist and newest addition to the rock quartet, was found tooling around the Internet in the Summer of 2004 while Tucker was searching online for potential vocal talent. Mike, who replaced Liam Holohan [former singer], didn't actually receive a 'fair' audition, but turned out to be what we call 'the missing link' to what is now The Pennyroyals' current and most successful lineup. Mike rehearsed with us a total of five times and was thrown out on a three-and-a-half-week tour that included five Warped Tour dates.

Do you remember the first paying gig the band had? Where were some of the early places where you performed, and were you always comfortable on stage or did you have to work at building your stage presence?

The Pennyroyals very first paying gig was also our first show together. That was during June 2001 at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ. Some of the earlier places we performed together were The Birch Hill Nite Club in Old Bridge, NJ, Krome in South Amboy, NJ, Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ, Skater's World in Wayne, NJ, The Nyack Center in West Nyack, NY. Good times and some really good memories there, those shows were fun to say the least.

As far as the stage is concerned, we feel completely comfortable up there. It is where we belong. It makes all the grunt work worth it. We definitely keep building our stage presence all the time; it can never be crazy enough!

Speaking of stage presence, your attire at the CBGB show, including the bullet-proof vest, was very striking and definitely added to the show. Where did the band get its clothes, and how conscious are you of developing your image and projecting a certain look?

The bullet-proof vest idea/look was developed by fashion designer Danielle Ezzo, www.dezzoster.com. The gear that Tucker and Mike Bender were rocking was created by Cristina Capasso of ElectraLux Inc., who runs her own company and met up with us to discuss designs based on our image/style. We do what we feel. We don't care if it doesn't fit into someone's shoe box they call a life. We are our music. What you see on stage is who we are as people.

Let's talk about the band's songwriting process. Who are the primary songwriters and how are new songs usually presented and developed by the group? How often do you like to try to come up with new material and how long will it usually take for an original idea to actually make it into a live set?

We all write music together. The primary songwriters are Mike, Sprout, and Tucker. The new songs are presented as a guitar riff, a bunch of lyrics/vocal melodies, or even a bass line, and develop into full- blown songs. We are constantly writing new material, and somewhere around 75 percent of what we present makes it to the finish line.

Mike Bender is the most recent addition the band's line-up (Credit: Ken Kotowski)
Mike Bender is the most recent addition the band's line-up (Credit: Ken Kotowski)

Your songs have a lot of cool rock hooks, which is especially apparent during your live set when fans are singing along. When you're writing a new song, does a great hook become apparent immediately or do you have to perform it in front of a crowd before you'll really know it's going to work?

It is always immediate. Those 'hooks' kinda just grab your ear and pull you in.

Can you remember the first time you realized that people in the crowd actually knew the songs and were signing along? Is it especially rewarding to know that something that you've written has made enough of an effect on someone for them to learn the words?

The Pennyroyals originally put acoustic MP3s online, then released a four-song EP several months later before ever taking the stage to perform a show. Kids knew all the lyrics from the beginning. It was pretty cool. And, yes, it is extremely rewarding to know that kids have embraced the lyrics to our songs, now and in the past. We have had fans tell us that our words brought them up out of some really tough times, and we even had a few of them say that our lyrics saved their life!

The band has been fortunate enough to earn a lot of endorsements from clothing companies and music equipment manufacturers, which isn't something that most bands can claim. What it is about the band that makes these companies want to be associated with you, and do you really use/wear the products that you're representing?

We have been extremely fortunate in that area of our career. Dean Guitars, Hartke/Samson Technologies, Clayton USA, Ernie Ball Music Man, Truth Custom Drums, Vater Percussion, Rotosound, Level 27 Clothing and others have been very good to us. They say they got behind the band because it is something that they passionately believe in. They say we are going to do very well out there. It is nice to know they feel so strongly about us.

Hartke, alone, has spent thousands of dollars advertising The Pennyroyals for Warped Tour and their bass and guitar products. They also had us advertised on the back cover of all the guitar and bass magazines worldwide. They have given us tons of awesome gear and support. Dean Guitars has been incredible with giving us free guitars and promotion as well. Level 27 Clothing has some hot swag that we love to wear. You will find us in their zip hoodies most of the time. We back and promote our endorsements as much as we can.

You seem to have an especially good relationship with Hartke/Samson, appearing on ads and billboards for the brand, as well a full-color catalog spreads. How did you start working with the company and has being involved with them allowed you to get any insight into how the equipment is made and what type of gear works best for you?

We started working with Hartke/Samson almost three years ago. They saw us live at The Downtown in Long Island, NY, close to where Samson is located. They signed the band to an endorsement deal and we seemed to develop an instant relationship with them. Things sorta just fell into place; it was a cool kind of chemistry. Since then, it has grown tremendously and they have been 150 percent supportive of what we do. They have worked with The Pennyroyals to get us the best equipment, and it is always customized to our needs. We have have learned a lot from them and have gained insight to how equipment is created and marketed. It has been an interesting ride.

You've been very successful in both the New Jersey and New York City music scenes, which don't tend to share a lot of bands in common. How would you describe the musical differences between the two areas, and do you think that your popularity in both increases your chances for success on a national basis?

You are correct, these states seem to be two totally different markets. The difference seems apparent in genre and image. NY bands seem to portray a rock/hard rock or edgy indie/alternative vibe whereas NJ produces more of emo/screamo or pop rock type bands.

Essentially, NY may be more cutting edge, creative, and diverse when it comes to music and image. Don't get us wrong, a lot of great bands come out of NJ, like our friends Midtown, My Chemical Romance, Senses Fail, Catch 22, The Youth Ahead, The New Atlantic and others. The bottom line is this: we embrace the NJ music scene, it has always been good to us and it is where we began. We feel that our loyal fan base from the NY & NJ areas will definitely stay by our side. They have been with us for years.

Lightsey beats down a solid groove during the band's industry showcase in Lower Manhattan
Lightsey beats down a solid groove during the band's industry showcase in Lower Manhattan (Credit: Ken Kotowski)

Your latest EP is a three-song disc, "There Is No Revolution". When and where were the tracks on the EP recorded and how would you say your sound has evolved from the previous release?

Well, actually, we are releasing a five-song version of that EP on Criterion Records [Story of The Year's first record label] for The Vans Warped Tour this Summer. The CD should be out by mid-July 2005.

The tracks were recorded by Jive recording artists, Ryan and JD of the band Wakefield, and produced collectively by the six of us. We feel that our music-style was reinvented on this release. We evolved a lot from the days of the 'Ovipositor' EP. With the addition of vocalist, Mike Bender [July 2004] on this new release, the CD displays a stronger, edgier side of The Pennyroyals with a heavier rock feel to it. It is much more aggressive/serious than previous work we have done. It is a direction that we have wanted to go for a while.

What are your aspirations with regards to releasing additional material? Do you plan to self-release your next record, or is your goal now to find an indie label or a major that will release it? Is there a timeframe that you're shooting for to make it happen?

For the short run, we are looking to sell a nice number of these CDs on the Warped Tour 2005. The Pennyroyals will be performing on the Criterion Records Stage from July 21st until August 15th this Summer on Warped. It should be a great time and a great way to get a lot of the new CDs and merchandise to our fans.

What are some of the upcoming happenings for the band that fans should be on the lookout for? What do you foresee in the months ahead and where would you like to be a year from now?

Look for us advertised in AMP Magazine for the Level 27 Clothing tour and all the guitar and bass magazines for the Vans Warped Tour this summer. We also appear in Teen People magazine in June. It is a special music issue that features our publicist, Joelle Caputa from Planet Verge magazine [www.planetverge.com], and a piece on her bands. We did a photo shoot for it at The Trash Bar in Brooklyn, NY. Other than that, we look to put a full length album out and tour the world!

Check out www.pennyroyals.com for tour dates and news and www.myspace.com/pennyroyals and be our friend. We love those.

[ Website: www.pennyroyals.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [publisher@chorusandverse.com], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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