Q&A with The Penny Serfs

Iowa-based American indie-rock band, The Penny Serfs are no strangers to the music scene and the tour circuit. Having worked behind the scenes on the production side of the music industry, Michael Loy (lead vocals, guitar),Andrew Linley (bass, vocals), Stu Tenold (keyboards, vocals) and Kyle Lewis (drums) eventually decided that working on the sidelines wasn't fulfilling enough, and between working other gigs, The Penny Serfs were born. Their new EP, Like Eating Glass is the product of years in the music business and covers a wide array of subjects and conflicts in everyday American life, from art, to love to technology. Like Eating Glass drops on January 20th, and you can check out the bands first single from the album, "Dead Love," below! 

Interview by Shannon Shumaker

Can you tell us a little bit about The Penny Serfs for any of our readers who haven’t had the chance to listen to you yet? How would you describe your sound?

Kyle Lewis (drums): We are a group of guys who met touring together in the production side of the music business. Mike Loy is a guitar tech/keys tech, Andrew Linley is an audio engineer as well as Stu Tenold, and Kyle Lewis is a drum tech/keys tech. While touring together with various artists, we decided to form a band and write music/rehearse during our free time between tours.  

Most bands think that the "describe your sound" question is one of the hardest to answer, including this one, but I will try my best: Take The Beatles out for a drink or five, introduce them Kurt Cobain (preferably under the influence). Give them a few topics to discuss ie. politics, fear, past, present, and future. Convince Paul and John to let Kurt sit in for a few sessions, hit the record button. Now, there is a big gap between 1964 Beatles and 1994 Nirvana, but we like to try and fill all of the in between.


So you guys kind of have a different start in the music industry because you worked “behind the scenes” for a while before starting The Penny Serfs. Is there anything you took away from working on the production side of music that you’ve been able to apply to this band?

Kyle: Every day we are using our knowledge gained from working with major artists, management, and production. It's unbelievable how much work is involved in setting up one show, planning one tour, and marketing a brand new record.  Your average concert goer/music purchaser has no idea. For every ONE band, there are 20, 30, 50+ humans working for them ferociously to make it all happen, so that YOU as a consumer have been satisfied with your musical demands.

We are able to apply what we have learned daily in this band. Whether it be booking shows and planning a tour, helping local stage hands and sound engineers at clubs we play, to knowing the best way to get a cheap hotel at the last minute, or renting a piece of gear in the middle of Oklahoma 3 hours before set time. Every member of our band is very grateful for what we have learned, and for the people who have taught us. 
 

What is the most rewarding part about being involved in the music industry? On the flip-side, what’s the most difficult thing to overcome?

Kyle: In my personal opinion, the most rewarding part is the friendships made on the road. There are so many good people out there doing the same thing we do, most of whom don't even think twice when asked to lend a helpful hand, discuss a technical issue, or fill in last second for you while you leave tour for a family emergency. Touring personnel can certainly be the most humble, kind, and family-like coworkers you will ever come across. We spend months at a time sleeping 12 people deep 3 foot from each other on a tour bus, better get along ladies and gents!

The hardest part about touring (99% of touring crew members will agree) is being away from family and friends for such long periods of time. I know I just discussed how great and family-like my coworkers are, but spending 6 weeks away from your loved ones can really put your saneness and politeness to the test! It's something that never gets easier; your mind never numbs the longing for a hug from the wife, or a beer with the older brother. 

Can you talk about your upcoming album Like Eating Glass a little bit? What was the story that you wanted to tell with this album?

Mike Loy (vocals, guitar): We are super excited for this record to come out. We've just wanted this so bad, to just throw our "paint" to the wall and see what it shapes up to be. It became a chance, as friends and as coworkers, to create something that people may listen to, or even take a liking to.  We feel proud we came up with this pipe dream over a few beers, worked together, and accomplished a goal haha.

As far as the story of this album goes,  I have had a pretty confused view on art, love, and technology in the last few years.  I feel like this record is the sort of coping in my own head I needed to let out some of the darkness inside of my heart I guess.  I feel very up and down with how I feel about the world and I'm trying to work through it to end up a more positive person... I feel like music can be medicinal.        

Do you have a favorite track on the album? Is there one that you think will really hit home with listeners? 

Kyle: Our first single "Dead Love" is favored by most of us in the band. It is really the focal point of what The Penny Serfs are trying to say and the core sound of our natural vibe. We feel like it's a song that everyone can relate to, or at least understand what might be going on around them.
 

What was your writing & recording process like with Like Eating Glass?

Kyle: Mike Loy is the steam engine running the vessel. His mind works fast and his passion for music really drives the writing process. Over the past couple of years our songs have been formed during small gaps of free time while working. Either midway through tour between sound checks and dinner breaks, or 2 weeks at home via emails and voice notes. Forming songs with band members that all live in different states is not the easiest task, but it is one we have taken on with full force. Once we were happy with the right number of songs, we took an opportunity last summer and flew to Atlanta a few days before the Shaky Knees Festival we had all been hired to work. Met up with producer Rick Beato, and laid down the tracks. Working with Rick was an amazing experience. After 3 sessions of tracking, our songs started off as ideas and quickly turned into songs we are very proud of today.


Did you have any major goals in mind when you started working on this album? 

Kyle: We really just wanted to have fun with it. It has been quite a while since any of us have been in a band and playing consistently. The process of getting back up on the horse and actually doing this thing was our major goal. Luckily, everyone has stepped up to the plate with full force and commitment. Now that our album is set to release, we have a whole new set of goals moving forward, and we can't wait to get started. 


What would you like this album (or your music in general) to be able to accomplish?

Mike: We have all built pretty amazing friendships on the road together. I'd like us to keep making more records and playing as long as we can.  I see it like The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks, but our story is four smelly dudes traveling in a van hahaha.  


What would you like listeners to be able to take away from listening to your music or watching a live show?

Kyle: Music is a very powerful tool, it can trigger very strong emotions, and that is what we want our listeners to take away from our music. Happiness, sadness, anger, excitement. If our music can trigger something inside of you, allow you to feel something, anything, that is what music does best, and that is what we are striving for.
 

Do you have any big plans for 2015? Can we expect a possible tour to go along with the album release? 

Kyle: That is exactly what you can expect. We are currently booking shows and forming a tour. We have a couple of bands lined up that we plan on hitting the road with, and are very excited to be part of their shows. We will be starting off in the Midwest and east coast in January/February, and working our way out west.  You can keep track of our whereabouts on our website and all major social media sites.


Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Kyle: Thank you for wanting to talk with us! The Penny Serfs would like everyone to know how much we appreciate our fans for taking the time to listen, come to shows, and support the band. We are very grateful to be able to play music and excited that we now have some time to work on a passion of ours. If you find yourselves at one of our shows, come over and have a beer with us. The Penny Serfs love people, and beer. 
 

To keep up with The Penny Serfs, please visit:

Website: www.thepennyserfs.com
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/thepennyserfs
Twitter:  www.twitter.com/thepennyserfs