Blending Americana, Country and Pop, Stephanie Penrose is an exciting up-and-coming singer songwriter making waves in Australia and definitely someone who you need to hear. The Tamworth vocal knockout, who once dreamed of becoming an Olympic equestrian before an accident set her on a different path, caught my attention recently with her latest single Oh My. It’s no surprise that some of her earlier releases also caught my ear, especially Body Talk, which cleverly crosses genre lines with moments that will define the new decade for country music in Australia. In short, look out for her to be an important voice in Tamworth and hopefully Nashville in the next few years. That said, in an attempt to discover more about her, I recently reached out to Penrose. Here is some of what we talked about.
Stephanie, I was first hoping you might enlighten a wider audience here by telling us about your life changing moment from being a very talented equestrian to a musician? What one decision drew you to the music industry?
So in 2016 I lost my horse “Under the thumb” after a competition in Tamworth. We had become State Champions for OTTT and Show Jumping that year. I was struck with the reality of the sport after also losing my other horse “Star” 9 months earlier to a shattered shoulder from a cross country fall. I wasn’t sure how I was going to heal and continue after these incredible losses that I had pretty much dedicated my life to at the time. While I always knew how to sing after this moment I found my voice again. I started to play guitar and picked it up quite quickly and from there multiple doors continued to open. An Australian writer by the name of Clive James once said in one of his last interviews after being diagnosed with a terminal illness; “I recommend imminent death for any writer, death focuses the mind immensely”. Although I can’t relate to a terminal illness I can relate to the reality that it could have been me on the other end of the accident. It focused my mind to see clearly and composing music was my way of healing and is now an extension of who I am.
Growing up in Tamworth, I guess it would be fair to say you were always surrounded by music? Who are your major influences?
That’s correct. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever missed a festival. My entire family are major Country music fans and including my late grandfather who was a musician in a band. He was probably my first real introduction to understanding music. I however like to explore and think i’ve also grown a love for many other genres and have found everything I like contains one element – Depth. Wether it’s the writing or the instrumentation. I always gravitate to music that has more below the surface. My favourite writers/composers would have to be Foy Vance, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Tedder, Elton John, Miley Cyrus & Caitlyn Smith
Most people associate Tamworth with country. What has been your experience of the local music scene in Australia’s country capital?
I find that Country isn’t what it use to be, it’s a lot bigger now. There is still traditional country floating around but find more and more are branching in to other genres.
I’m not fussed about whether it’s changing or it isn’t. The Country music community is very welcoming to new people who share a love for it but can also be very brutal if you branch away. I however think as artists we are always changing and especially as a female artist we constantly have to bring something new to the table. I want to be able to create music that I feel I can truly express myself no matter what genre it fits in to. I have the country dirt deep under my nails and in my skin but I just happen to like more than country music so why should I or others be defiled because of that?
It would be silly to pigeon hole you strictly speaking as a country artist. Stephanie, you definitely seem to be playing your part in changing the way we think about country music in Australia? Is that a fair comment?
Yes. I feel a lot of influence from old school rock n roll playing a major part in the sound. Some have described to me that music has a pop melody, a rock sound with a country voice. I’m fine with however people view my sound as IO know everyone will have a different impression and at the end of that day I want to be creating art that I love cause it’s my money/time I’m investing and if people like it, it’s a win win!
Sonically I love how you play guitar. Do you have a preference of one sound over another? How does what you prefer to play help you achieve your goals as a musician?
Well having some heavy guitarist influences I’ve liked to watch how they do and also find out who they look up to which gives me a deeper insight to how they did it.
It helps me to see past all that’s current to renew some great older influences in a current market.
How would you describe your latest single Oh My to someone who hasn’t heard it?
Oh My is quite an odd song I wrote. For some reason the chorus makes me want to smile even though what I’m saying is coming from quite a dark place. “Oh my sun is out but there is so much shade” refers to how I can seem happy but really theres a lot of darkness clouding over my mind. A lot of people with depression would understand. But in saying that I don’t think i’ve ever had depression but sometimes I get that feeling from the worlds progression. All in all the song is giving of the sound of happiness but the lyrics are quite sad. A literal representation of what people go through when struggling with mental illness or hurt.
Body Talk is a polished pop country track that shows your daring as a songwriter. How did this track come together?
Body Talk was an interesting one. I was getting mentored from my friend Dean Ray and went to watch a new movie release at the end of 2018 and had one of my kidneys collapse near the end of the film. I was carried out of the cinema and later that night laying on the bed recovering I asked him to get me my guitar cause I had the idea come to my head. Later that night I came into the studio with my guitar and notebook and showed him and thought it was a hit and started tracking it the next day.
With the release of some amazing tracks last year, will you continue to release new singles or even a debut album later this year?
Next week I go in to start tracking my debut Album with long time producer and friend Tim McArtney at Hercules Street Studios in Surry Hills. I don’t want to rush the release date as my goal is to make it great not just get it out by a certain date due to industry pressures. I’d rathe have no content than average content. It has to be GREAT!
Finally, is there a Nashville pilgrimage in your future? And if so, what can we learn from our country music cousins?
I am meant to be going over in May/June for a while. The details aren’t quite confirmed yet but hoping to make the most of it when it happens!