Free Association is a recurring feature that reveals the breakthroughs and roadblocks behind our favorite new records. Kinda like a DVD commentary beamed from a confessional booth.
We’re capping the week with the final chapter in Penelope Trappes’ moving trilogy of restorative solo records. (She also works alongside her longtime partner Stephen Hindman in The Golden Filter.) Now available through perennial s/t favorite Houndstooth, Penelope Three just might be our favorite record from the singer/multi-instrumentalist yet — a curtain closer worthy of a standing ovation by the time “Awkward Matriarch” fades to black….
“Veil” was written in response to meeting my friend’s newborn baby; thinking about the knowledge that they were bringing into this world, as well as all of the chaos that they were about to have to engage with. Looking into her peaceful face and realizing her”‘veil of forgetfulness” — the border between mortality and eternity — had yet to be fully lifted, and that she was only pure love, pure consciousness. Perhaps with all the wisdom of the universe at her tiny fingertips, her gaze somewhat haunted me… but inspired me.
Musically, I started with a drone recorded with the windows open capturing the sounds on the British coast, and improvised in a more classical style vocally, using a bit of what I learned in opera training so long ago. The original mono demo from one mic is actually running in the background of this, which felt vivid and real — an amazing way to start off an album.
“Nervous” is about all the emotional baggage that we carry in our hearts and minds. All the past experiences, and our ancestors’ experiences, that can taint our current moods and confuse our reality and cause us to live in constant anxiety, holding us back. I wrote this when I knew that despite all of the negatives that I carried with me from an abusive past — negative patterns instilled in me from growing up in a very patriarchal family — that I was going to only be honest in life, no matter what.
Truth is the only path… facing the fear, and telling my story, despite it all.
Ever since I was a little girl, I was always climbing and playing in trees. Our family would go on walks through pockets of untouched rainforest around my town where there were magical moments and some of my strongest childhood memories. I can remember thinking I would spot the fairy folk amidst the plants and trees….
My father would encourage me to be super quiet and listen to the different birds. Their music is imprinted in my DNA. “Forest” was written in response to reading about the mycelium network under every forest floor and how it communicates and connects all of the trees like a kind of internet. A pathway for the trees to transfer messages of fear, danger, and other necessary information to each other. They all know when another tree is unwell and nearby trees can send additional ‘food’ to it to help.
The mycelium began to feel like a metaphor for humanity, and within the song I address the troubles, the hopes and mysteries of life that lie below the surface of our everyday. I am yearning for us all to listen and communicate to each other like the trees and learn from everything around us.
“FUR & FEATHER”
This is essentially a love song to myself as I was preparing for my sole daughter to leave home. All the anxiety of change, and the sadness of the end of an era, was met with a deeper understanding within me. From the first days of motherhood, I knew that this would happen, and that it was essential for me to hold onto my own sense of self, prepared for the inevitable.
This awareness also gave me strength to ensure I continued to strive from the perspective of love, creating work that I knew would be the inspiration for my daughter to carry it on. I felt that piano and vocal was all that was needed for this song, and left it pretty intact from its demo stage outside of a tiny bit of guitar.
“RED / YELLOW”
From a chakra perspective, red and yellow represent the primal energy that stirs in our lower bodies — the force that drives us all to aim to the light. These are also the colors of fire, the colors of purification. This song is about letting go of the past and allowing the primal powers to drive our new perspectives in life.
In order to do this you have to destroy the past — burn it away, clear the ground — so that new, fresh and strong regrowth will live. It is a song about rebirth.
Musically It’s kind of bluesy, a vibe I hadn’t really touched on with my solo project yet, but having trained in jazz when I was younger, I have deep respect for this style of music.
I wrote “Halfway Point” in my bedroom with a guitar. It’s about coming to a place of peace and understanding within myself as a mature woman. When you realize the scales of life could be tipped either way — the hope versus the loss. And then at that tipping point, you realize it is love that steadies every rocky point in life.
I wrote this song thinking about the power of love within my own matriarchal lineage, from my daughter to my two sisters, to my mother, my maternal grandmother and beyond. And within this understanding of all that I have inherited and of the centuries of women who have struggled, I found my own peace within the balance of fragility and strength.
This song is about listening to all the messages that your heart and body tells you. Facing all your fears and never giving up.
As was alluded to in the above film, I wanted to address the societal expectations that are placed heavily on women to conform to the patriarchal views and how this struggle is something that we all have to fight against in order to find our own peace with the world. These expectations are longstanding and heavy and can weigh us down, keeping us from our potential. The old system doesn’t want you to be in touch with your intuition, your feelings, nor do they want to acknowledge that there was ever, or currently is, a problem.
Esoterically the moon represents our emotional selves. A “Blood Moon” is all about endings and beginnings. This moon is here to help us find our way within and to trust our intuition, our feelings and allow ourselves to be inspired by them, no matter what. I was thinking a lot about “Pearly Dewdrops Drops” by Cocteau Twins when making this song too, but I’m not sure how obvious that is.
This song was written, lyrically, from a place of peace and love, when my daughter turned 11. It represented the calm and confidence within me to find balance and a deeper understanding of true love. I am addressing the long journey it took for me to reach this dream-like state of confidence. I wanted the song to feel blissful, to represent that feeling of accomplishment and hope. A time to open the heart and to allow the light in to heal and release the past. I wrote it knowing one day it would be part of my solo music project, and I am thrilled that it is on Penelope Three.
“Northern Light” is a meditation and moment of reflection, and at the same time, a regression. When I was practicing for my FACT “Against the Clock” feature, I chanted a bunch of vocal loops that came out all trancelike, as if I were speaking in tongues. There was a sense of mystery and mysticism in where my voice went. I felt as though I was looking back over my shoulder at where I had been and trying to understand what it all means.
Within this querying feeling there was a lightness, but yet still a feeling of the cold dark within the shadows. The song became about understanding that at any time, everything could fall in on itself.
I come from a line of women who are extremely strong and inspiring. The difficulties that my mother faced — and her mother — live in every cell of my body, which I carry inside of me. I feel that they have affected me profoundly over the years. I have felt the suffering and I have scars to prove it. I have been analyzing their journeys in my body via acupuncture and other methods of healing in an attempt to correct the lineage, to put a stop to the perpetuation of reactionary behaviors. I found my need to heal especially important given that I was working to raise a daughter in this world. I wanted to set a good example.
As I have gotten older, I now know that I simply cannot hide from truth. It is always bitterly in my face reminding me of the struggle that women have had to face for centuries and still have to face. But within this song there is strength and triumph and hope. No matter what odds any human is faced with, no matter what their gender is, the only way to progress in life is to fight for our beliefs, our hopes, our love.
It ends with echoes and ghosts, as if all the women before me are echoing my sentiments…..