A Parade of Locals: An Interview with Elizabeth Moen, Penny Peach Jr, and Dana T.
by Lauren Arzbaecher & Mitchell Griffin
Photos by Lauren Arzbaecher
Crowds are occupying the Englert on Saturday night, a night where a parade of local artists will take the stage. There will be songs dedicated to the person who was almost hit by Elly’s car earlier in the day, about wanting to die – but in a good way – and mouthguards.
LA: What do you enjoy most about collaborating or performing with other artists?
EM: I think when you are playing music with other people, it’s like the best way to connect. When you’re playing a song with someone else, and you hear the things they’re doing with the song, it’s like you’re hearing a part of them.
From the moment Penny Peach and Dana take the stage, it is clear why Elizabeth chose to perform with them. Elly’s soaring vocals that can go from sounding like Bikini Kill rockers to the soothing notes that fill Moen’s music in an instant. Dana’s mix of guitars, keyboards, an assortment of other instruments, and a voice that impresses more than his claim of wanting to finally not be the worst singer on stage might lead on to merge perfectly with the backdrop of a cowboy riding a dinosaur.
LA: Are you hoping to collaborate with more local artists on your next record?
EM: I definitely want to make the visual art for this next record really meaningful and purposeful, and I want to do a bunch of music videos. I want to do as much as we possibly can. In a dream world, we would do some sort of video for each song on the record.
LA: What is it like performing in your hometown?
EM: This performance showcases all these amazing instrumentalists in town, and everyone is friends, you know? All the people on stage have been in other projects together, and there are plenty of other Iowa City musicians in the audience.
Pride swells in the theatre each time the audience gets the opportunity to clap and cheer and rise to express their admiration for the local stars.
LA: Is there anything that stuck out to you with this show than previous times you have played at the Englert?
EM: With this show, we noticed there were a lot more student presale tickets than last year. I want students to see that there is a space for their local art community, and they are welcome to be a part of that. I want to see more bands coming out of Iowa City. There are so many great instrumentalists and so much potential in those dorm rooms, but they just never know—then they leave and never start a band.
LA: You’ve talked about wanting to start up some workshops for young local musicians. Is that something you are still looking towards developing?
EM: It’s still something I want to do, we’ve just been on the road non-stop, but I’m hoping to get those going maybe in December. If not in December, then during the next semester, because I’d like for students to be in town. My hope for these singer-songwriter and beginner musician workshops is just getting more people together to eventually start collaborations and start bands. The more bands there are, the more shows there are. And the more shows there are, the more of a scene it becomes.
LA: What goes through your mind when performing? What is that experience like for you?
EM: It’s when I feel like I’m most connecting with myself and with other people. Actually, it’s the time I feel the least nervous and the least alone. The nerves are still there, they’ll never not be there, but I think we’ve grown really close as a band, and it’s just fun to play at this point.
LA: What do you think is the most powerful thing about music?
EM: I’d say the support it brings people. It kind of helps you support yourself, it’s very cathartic and therapeutic. I think it’s important to create a space between artists where they feel like they can share their art. Once you create that art, people who are just supporters of the artistic community feel supported by it because they see something or hear something and feel inspired.
Moen’s set is cathartic to say the least. Her powerful vocals intoxicate every inch of the theater as soon as she appears. Everyone’s attention is glued to the stage from the time she opens with “Planetarium” and closes with an a capella duo and every moment in between filled with old favorites and new tracks that may soon be found on her anticipated next album.
ELLY H (now known as Penny Peach Jr.)
LA: Even though you have performed at the Englert with Elizabeth before, how does it feel to have a set of your own at this performance?
PP: It’s exciting, but honestly it has come pretty naturally. Just for how long I’ve been doing music, every step feels natural. This one is kind of a leap, but it’s not like I’m opening for someone I’ve never met before, so it’s a little bit more comfortable. But it is really exciting to be on a historic, big-ass stage.
LA: Since you met Elizabeth through writing for Fools, how has that relationship evolved?
PP: It progressed more as a friendship than a professional relationship. Which it kind of is, but more than anything, we enjoyed each other’s company and both genuinely enjoy each other’s style of music. We just got along right away, and it was not soon after that [Fools] article that she had me sing backup at the Englert, which was crazy.
LA: Has that collaboration influenced your own writing and music style?
PP: Recently, there was one song I wrote with this one part that was sort of speaky and choppy, and I was like, ‘ugh, this part is so good, it’s the best part of the song!’ Then like days later, I realized that is literally what Elizabeth does, syllable for syllable, spot for spot in this other song. I’m not surprised that happens because I do genuinely love and have an emotional connection with her music, even before singing with her.
LA: Are there any other artists you would like to collaborate with or are already in the works of collaborating with?
PP: I’m actually, like super shy about collaborating with people. Most of the time I’m not reaching out to people, they’re reaching out to me. I’ve always been pretty private about practicing and writing, which I don’t really know why, I just always have been. But if I did want to collaborate with anyone, I’ve always loved Purple Frank, and Dog Dave is my new fav. I saw them the other week, and it equally made me want to quit music because I was like, this is the pinnacle of talent and performance, but it also made me want to practice every single day. I’m a big fan to say the least.
LA: How has that transition been since you’ve graduated?
PP: It’s really nice. I was super involved when I was in school, and I was pretty committed to doing well class-wise. Then I started singing with Elizabeth’s band last year, I started singing with another Iowa City band last year, I started my own band last year, so that was a lot. Graduating lifted some of the weight off my shoulders of the stress of school. I have two jobs now, and I love both of them. They allow me time to poke at music more and try to do more with it. The timing has just worked out super well, because I’ve been able to do these big things with Liz I wouldn’t have been able to do, and things with Anthony Worden’s I wouldn’t have been able to do, so it’s pretty sweet.
LA: Now that you have more time with your music, what is your favorite part of fully focusing on being a musician?
PP: Part of it is that I’m finally taking the time to mentally prepare for recording music, which has always seemed like a daunting task to me. And it is kind of a big task and a big deal, but I’ve been having the time to crack away at that. Also, having graduated as a marketing major—I just fucking love that shit. I love thinking ideas through with my brand, like what words I use and how I convey messages, and what media I use or what merch I’m gonna sell. Aside from the music, I really enjoy the sort of business and branding aspect of it.
LA: How did you first meet Elizabeth?
DT: I met Liz for the first time at Flat Black Studios, she was there about her first album. She was getting advice on manufacturing CDs and all the background stuff. From there, I played guitar with her live one time, did a couple things in the studio on some of her songs, and then just being friends outside of that.
LA: Is there anything that goes through your mind while you’re performing? What is that experience like for you?
DT: When I perform, I’m generally trying to come up with a joke to say when the song is over. The more that I’ve toured and played shows, I’ve truly caught myself playing the songs and singing the lyrics, but inside my head I’m coming up with the next thing I’m going to say.
LA: When you perform in Iowa City, is there a different experience for you than when you’re on the road?
DT: I’ve lived here for ten years now, and I started playing quickly after I got to school—like maybe after my sophomore year. It’s always changing because you know, when you’re in college, you have a group of friends that come to your shows, and then when you graduate, half of those people leave and you meet the other half that are new to town. And then, you’re all of a sudden in your late 20s, and you’re hanging out with people who are in their 30s and 40s. The thing that has been occurring more often than not is that I don’t know the people that are coming to the shows. It’s kind of funny sometimes, because I won’t know what to expect. I’ll play a show, and then I’m thinking ‘Oh god, everyone seen this a million times, or everyone’s heard this song already’ and then I get there and it’s like, I don’t know who any of these people are.
LA: In that you grew up and live in the Midwest, do you think that has influenced your writing at all?
DT: Well, I’ve lived here [Iowa] my whole life. I grew up like 30 minutes from Iowa City in a real small town. Oddly enough, I’d say that the music I create is a little bit weird, and has always been kind of weird. But on the other side of that, when I was growing up, I didn't really have access to anything musically that was very outside of the mainstream or outside of the box. There were 3,000 people in the town that I lived in, and I was one of the few people that played music outside of school band. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started to learn about independent music or underground music. I don’t know if that was me searching for something I hadn’t heard or if I would’ve just been geared to make music that way anyways, no matter where I grew up.
LA: Was there a specific vision behind the new single you released, “What I Like About Me”?
DT: That one was a pretty simple song, just picking the easiest things you can think of or even the silliest things you can think of that you like about yourself, and just saying it. Saying, ‘I like this thing about me.’ The middle section of the song is representing when you try to say things like that, but in the back of your head you still have all of these negative thoughts that are creeping in. At the end, you may not fully overcome those things, but even just trying to like yourself better than you do is something that you can like about yourself.
LA: Is there anything you are excited for in the near future of your music?
DT: I have an album coming out on the 18th of October, which extends on the two singles I’ve put out with eight songs. Some of them date back to like 2016 or so, and some of them are as new as last year. It’s a side of me that I’ve always had, but didn’t really make public until I started playing with Karen Meat. I think when people hear it, they’ll think it’s kind of influenced by my involvement with Karen Meat, but it’s all sort of part of the same timeline.