Penelope Trappes plays The Roundy

Prior to her Cork gig, Penelope Trappes tells Don O’Mahony how songs written in grief became the core of her most recent album
Penelope Trappes plays The Roundy
Penelope Trappes

BEFORE we say our goodbyes Penelope Trappes wants to let me know about the imminent release an album of remixes of tracks from the London-based Australian’s second album Penelope Two.

Titled Redeux, it features remixes by the likes of Mogwai and Cosey Fanni Tutti, among others.

“There’s only one track that’s dancey. The rest are not really...” she pauses to search for the right word. “You know they’re not bangers,” she confirms.

It would have been some surprise if they were. Over the course of Penelope One and Penelope Two, Trappes has honed a pair of rigorously minimal and solemn collections of songs shrouded in a decidedly melancholic hue. It’s a change of pace from the project she shares with her husband Stephen, the leftfield electronic duo The Golden Filter.

That project originated in New York a decade ago, but when they moved to London in 2014, her own music began to emerge.

“I got residency over here because my grandmother was born in London. And we’d had enough of America. America was uh, as you can see, struggling,” she laughs awkwardly.

“Not that the UK isn’t struggling either,” she is quick to add, “but we needed a change.

“So when we moved to London everything was in a state of flux and I’d been wanting to do some more solo work that I could sort of embrace a far deeper creative side of myself that I hadn’t tapped into yet as part of a duo. And I just wanted it to be a more subdued, more emotional side that I was able to express because the other stuff is uptempo a lot of the time.”

Trappes rented a small piano studio in East London and spent one day a week recording with a simple microphone and laptop set-up.

“I just sort of immersed myself in my own little world,” she says of her return to the instrument she studied as a child.

“It’s very focused and personal, and introspective. And I guess all these things that I wanted to find, I wanted to explore.”

Released in 2017, Penelope One was quickly followed up in 2018 by Penelope Two.

While the piano remains a central presence, it also sees the introduction of guitars as well as fragments of field recordings to create a more enveloping experience.

“I think that it was a natural progression out of One that landed me into this sort of more womb-like experience,” she considers.

“There had been a few exterior things happening around me. Like one of the songs — it’s well documented in the press — but it was written about a friend who passed away, a lady from Donegal, actually.”

The song ‘Maeve’ was named in her honour.

“She was born and raised in Donegal and a real firecracker of a woman and just a creative and beautiful soul. She got diagnosed with bowel cancer literally within days of giving birth to her third child. It’s a very tragic story. And her husband is one of my best friends. She was as well, but I was always very close to him.

“That song was written within the first week of her passing away, and it was a one-take type thing. I sat down with a guitar and that’s what came out. You know the first take is often the most special and it stuck. There was no point doing it again.

“So that was, I feel like in many ways, the core of the album. A lot of songs stemmed from then. Another friend of mine has been dealing with serious grief so I had all this grief around me, which was sort of, I guess it’s part of life, that I hadn’t necessarily totally acknowledged. So it became this theme, I suppose — the empathy of the understanding of loss, and trying to find your way in the world when these things happen. And it happens to everyone, right?” she asks.

After just coming off a 17-date tour supporting Sharon Van Etten with the Golden Filter, Trappes is excited to return her focus on her solo work.

“To be honest, coming off of this tour I can’t wait to just go back into that safe space,” she says good-humouredly, “where it’s just very contemplative.

“I’ve done a bit of work on Penelope Three but not nearly as much as I hoped I would have done at this point but I’m back in the saddle again, as they say, and I’m looking forward to it.”

As an artist whose creative energies also encompasses performance art and visual expression, Trappes is keen to represent those sides during her tour.

“Stephen is going to be doing audiovisuals so that visually it has an aesthetic that I’d like to somehow convey what I do with my Instagram account. The whole thing has always been very like visually as much as it has been musically inspired,” she says.

Penelope Trappes plays Plugd at the Roundy on Saturday, April 27.

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