“I want people to feel seen.” This echoed through my mind in recollection of my conversation with Jess Penner, earlier last week. On the other end of the phone line, was an upbeat, down to earth gal, eager and ready for anything that I would ask. Within the first couple of minutes our call dropped, in a comical “first impression” nature, which ended quickly, as we were soon reunited. Not losing focus, Penner returned to the question as if nothing had happened, and we continued our conversation, similar when old friends meet and catch up. I wanted to stray away from formalities, while maintaining common courtesy in response to Penner’s openness that eased myself in conversation. By the end of our call, Penner effortlessly changed my ear to accepting “pop,” naturally defended her upbeat demeanor, and unintentionally showcased the beauty and strength in being yourself, through the embodiment of her own quirky beauty.
Penner spent the last 18 years of her life making and producing music, which has been played everywhere, from department stores, commercials, and television programming, not straying away from her positive sound. Once again, Penner returns with, “Good Times,” a track that truly can pick up anyone’s day, set to be released from her new EP on July 21st, which could be seen as the indie-pop anthem of one’s summer.
I needed to make it known to Penner that this isn’t my cup of tea, yet something about “Good Times” seemed so naturally uplifting, it melted my heart on a day I wasn’t feeling my best. Penner laughed, “Good, and I’m glad I could convert you.” Picking up from her past work, I binged, and told Penner that everything she produced have always been in this same light aspect. The answer was simple and surprising. Penner told me that she was in “emo bands” before, and the typical alternative sounds where everything was depressing- “I got tired of it.” The receptiveness of this downward emotion wasn’t fulfilling for Penner, versus the end result of simply making someone feel good.
Being surrounded by music growing up, Penner told me that her mom listened to oldies all the time and the forthcoming EP will contain a nostalgic, doo-wop vibe, which she adores. Despite always being associated to an upbeat demeanor, the new album will be stripped down compared to previous work. Penner also added that she spent less time on this album, and everything that came out was natural, and certain tracks might be considered “dark.” Mentioning one of her tracks entitled, “I Walk This Road,” referring to loneliness, which was minimally produced to capture this relatable feeling. Acting as a lost pioneer in the indie-pop realm, Penner’s approach to strip down herself paves the way to comfort and guide any human who has felt unsure of themselves at one point in their life.
Stripping everything down, might lead to embarrassment, and curiosity lead me to inquire if Penner had any embarrassing stories. Rather than stalling, Penner took to my next question seriously, trying her best to find one in her memory bank, telling me she had none. “Things kinda roll off my shoulder, I guess I’m good at forgiving myself,” a line that stood out and defined her character. Penner explained that we all do dumb things, and she for one does the stupidest things, and instead shouldn’t agonize over this insecurity. The example Penner used was a conversation: two people talking and at the end of the day each are in their bed, awake, going over the stupid things they said, unaware that the other person is doing the same exact thing in their own bed. The bottom line that Penner gave off was that everyone gets embarrassed, let it go.
“I want people to feel ok …young girls to be beautiful,” Penner started off her next explanation in regards to my question of her view on the current pop-music industry. Penner brought up a point: In order to be strong you need other people to be seen as weak. Why? Penner said, in the typical songs it’s all about how ‘I don’t need you,’ how come you can’t tell a boy he’s beautiful, or ‘I love you.’ This is strength.
Well then, how do you make people feel ok? By simply being yourself. By not having any barriers. Penner went on that this was a goal, of herself, of her music. Looking to Penner’s social media pages, one can find old pictures of herself on her banana farm, where she grew up in Kauai,HI, (and now residing in Los Angeles), with the self-descriptive caption, “tomboy.” I brought up this picture and chuckled at it, and Penner simply laughed. Not the laugh that was awkward, or embarrassed, but more of a proud acknowledgment. “You had to be tough where I grew up. It was a banana farm.” Penner went on of the activities that she participated in growing up, and of all the scrapes and bruises that go hand in hand with being active.
Despite Penner’s self-reference of being a tomboy, no one would believe it from her current beauty in photos. I noted that Penner is always modestly dressed in these photos, compared to other pop stars who are very revealing. Penner said, “There’s more to beauty than having your booty hang out and shaking it,” mentioning that this type of behavior is a “cop out,” and how she is disgusted at what this has become.
By the end of our conversation I admired Penner for the person she is, and the person she wants to be for people, and her fans. By allowing herself to be honest and producing raw emotion on her forthcoming EP, she will allow her listeners to relate and allow themselves to be honest. Before we said goodbye, and thanked each other for our time, I wanted to know what was the one thing she wanted people to get from listening to her music. She paused and repeated the question. “I want people to feel seen.” No barriers.
In addition Jess Penner will be having her EP release party Friday, July 24th at 7:30, at Azusa Pacific University.