Greetings From LA

29 August 2012 | 5:30 am | Nic Toupee

"It’s not like a pop album, and there are no obvious ‘radio songs’. It’s melodic, because that’s who I am."

"I got caught up in the busyness,” Penny Hewson admits, explaining why her early days as a Melbourne musician, in legendary proto-gazer band Sea Stories, were followed by a stint in America working as a booker and band manager type. The result of which, she explains, was that her band fell – accidentally – by the wayside, as her creative energy was absorbed by general La-La-Land craziness.

“I had a band, and every intention of creating another album, when I moved to LA,” she recalls. “It was at the beginning of the dot-com era, and our agent had said, 'When you're finished as a musician you need to work for me'. I'd always been very hands-on with my bands, out of necessity – there weren't a lot of opportunities for independent bands in those days. I ended up in manager-type roles a lot of the time.

“So [the agent] courted me, and I began working with him, setting bands up on the Internet with their own profile to sell their music. It put power back in hands of artists and listeners, and after so many years of frustrated efforts, for me it was like a brave new world. We worked to help artists help themselves, and were able to offer them assistance knowing that their music would be handled with integrity. That job ended up growing much bigger, with more opportunities – and that's why I ended up staying for so many years.”

Eventually, the desire to create her own music became overwhelming, and once more Penny packed her cases and headed across the Atlantic – but this time, to come home and make music again. “I met a Bulgarian classical pianist and bought a grand piano, and from that moment I began to play and play,” she describes fervently. “Over the sixth and seventh year I was in LA I had been writing songs, with no agenda or release plans. When it got to the point where the creative yearnings grew too much to ignore, when it was really tugging at me, I knew it was time to move back to Australia and make music.”

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This time, Hewson knew that she didn't want to be the manager, or the booker, or the organiser – it was time to just make the music. “I've been in my own path, and my own rhythm,  and very clear what I want to do,” she states matter-of-factly. “When I got back I didn't go out and see shows, I stopped listening to the piles of CDs I had, I needed sanctuary and quiet. I wanted to be 'real'; go back to the songwriting as something organic, an expression of the real – to say something and be vulnerable and true. In retrospect it was a reaction to being in LA, where who's the stylist and which clothes they're wearing is so important.”

The peace and solitude has seeped osmotically into her record It's An Endless Desire, one Hewson describes as, “an album where you can drift off into your own thoughts. There's a lot you can tune into and listen to, but you need space to really hear it, there are a lot of layers. I imagine it being something people listen to on their own. If it were me I would want to go for a long drive and take time for reflection. I'd like to think it gives people a chance to do that.”

Compared to her Sea Stories days, it's a massive change of direction. “It's not like a pop album, and there are no obvious 'radio songs'. It's melodic, because that's who I am. I wanted it to be just piano and voice originally, but when we started recording, the songs were asking for drums or other instruments. I would show up every day and be surprised by it; speaking through my creative self, rather from my head.”