On The Radar: Penelope Isles

Shimmering guitars and lush harmonies abound from Bella Union’s latest signings, Penelope Isles…

The tension between two warring siblings has been central to the success of many of the UK’s greatest bands, from The Kinks to Oasis – though in the case of these two examples, also their ultimate demise. But with Brighton’s Penelope Isles, centring around brother-and-sister combo Jack and Lily Wolter, there’s nothing but harmony – gorgeous fuzz-pop harmony that is.

“We got all our arguments out the way as kids!” Jack tells Long Live Vinyl. “I’m six years older than Lily, so we’ve always done our own thing, but it’s wonderful now playing together. There aren’t any fall-outs… but that’s probably all to come!” Their dad even made it onto the album cover. A vintage holiday snap sees him on a beach proudly showing off a rather impressive sandcastle. “Our mum took it soon after they met in Portugal – he loves it!”

It’s a fitting image. The draw of the coast is a big part of their identity. Jack and Lily grew up in a small village in Devon (where their parents ran the local pub), before the family moved to the Isle of Man. Jack then studied art at Falmouth in Cornwall, before joining Lily in Brighton with the rest of the band, completed by Jack Sowton and Becky Redford.

‘I’m not the only songwriter, so I can honestly say I think the songs are great!’

“The sea is like a magnet. Especially growing up on an island, you’re never far from the water. So, I guess subconsciously, it finds its way into the music. I feel landlocked if not by the coast, a lot of our songs speak of the ocean.”

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you can expect a collection of salty sea shanties. Instead, we’re graced with timeless, shimmering guitars and lush, sun-drenched harmonies, as highlighted by new track Underwater Record Store. Meanwhile, the colossal seven-minute Gnarbone evolves gradually from sweet beginnings into a swirling wall of noise, propelled along by Jack and Becky’s driving rhythm section.

Rooted firmly in the DIY ethic, the band scrapped sessions with an outside producer to record alone; perhaps another indicator of their tight-knit unit. “We’ve always done it ourselves, recording stuff at home and putting it out on Bandcamp,” says Jack. “So the studio was an integral part of the process to me.”

Decamping to Simon Raymonde’s Bella Studios, they were given the space to find their voice. Since discovering a box of his mum’s old rock and disco records as a child, Jack has immersed himself, not just in music, but also the space that it encompasses. Steely Dan (via The Pointer Sisters), Chilly Gonzales, Deerhunter, Andy Shauf, The Mantis Opera, Sam Evian, Pavo Pavo… the list goes on.

‘You can wish your life away planning what you’re gonna do next’

Speaking animatedly of his favourite records and how they achieved that particular sound, Jack’s passion for honing his craft is infectious. Why relinquish that responsibility to someone else? The result is their wonderfully woozy debut, Until The Tide Creeps In, an accomplished and self-assured collection of songs, due this summer on Bella Union.

Does Jack have a personal favourite? “Through the Garden, it’s a little more orchestral. It’s one of Lily’s and she plays sax on it. That’s the cool thing about Lily – I’m not the only songwriter, so I can honestly say I think the songs are great!”

With an opening slot for The Magic Numbers, as well as triumphant shows at SXSW and New York already under their belts, the future’s looking bright. They’re set to playa string of festivals this summer, before hitting the road to support the album. Jack has already started demoing for album number two. So what’s next for Penelope Isles?

“A year ago, I would have said sign to Bella Union, play some shows, go to the US – and that’s all happened! So, really just enjoy it. You can wish your life away planning what you’re gonna do next.”

For the moment then, until the tide creeps in, sit back and let the glimmering sounds of Penelope Isles wash over you.

Felix Rowe