Harmonica in hand, Ian Penn is taking a road less traveled with his new single Headback Home, now available from Lilystars Records. From the opening bars, one would expect to see “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his acoustic guitar for all that he channels American folk singer Woodie Guthrie. Fresh from the Pampanga countryside, Penn’s acoustic stylings are uncannily like Pete Seeger, John Denver, Johnny Cash, and especially Bob Dylan. But it was Canadian rock icon Neil Young’s album Out on the Weekend that kick-started young Ian to devote himself to writing music. “The lyricism, the harmonica, you could almost hear him exhale on that record,” says Penn.
Home is where Penn’s heart is: “I grew up surrounded by music lovers and musicians. When I was a kid, on Sunday mornings, I would wake up to the sound of Sam Cooke’s voice blasting on the stereo, while dad cooked breakfast. It’s just part of my life.”
As a youngster, Penn got a good education covering The Beatles (playing bass “just for kicks”). An old soul, however, he was never able to relate to the “pop/metal thing” his high-school friends were into. Instead he says, “I got back to my roots – the songs I would hear from the Sunday mornings of my life, and started writing my own material.” When he plays covers now, they tend to be from his roots: Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke.
True to his roots, Penn’s songwriting comes from everyday life: “Where I come from, it’s all trees and sky and mountain and rivers. It’s a peaceful environment, far from the polluted cities. You could really take your time here, so I sing about that too. There’s a song I wrote called Wild Abandon & Control: “Down by the ocean I left my heart/ Springing completely back to the start/ I’ve spent all my wandering in this place/ where should I go now/ Where should I stay?”
“The songs that I write, they are my reflections and observations. It’s all poetry in motion you see. If you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll know what I mean.”
Though he is a solo artist through and through, if Penn could collaborate with anyone, his dream choice would be Iron and Wine. “Sam Beam is an amorous character with a vivid imagination,” Penn explains, ”Every album is different from the other, it would be exciting to work with him.”
Headback Home’s memorable melody evokes a peaceful country scene of rain, summer, missing loved ones and home. Just lean back in the grass under a Dao tree near a babbling brook – and listen.