Interview: Penny Century

The best bands feel and look like a gang.

Think about it: Dexy’s Midnight Runners in their Mean Streets clobber. The Clash in that shot outside the army barracks in Northern Ireland. The Ramones looking like they had just come from a night hustling on the corner of 53rd and 3rd (which if the rumours are true, some of them actually had).

Penny Century look and feel like a gang too, but in their own, sweet way. They formed in a town called Ostersund, in the north of Sweden. And now, before they go on to play a storming gig at the tiny Henry’s Cellar Bar in Edinburgh, I’m outside with my iPod and mike, chatting to them.

When I say a gang in their own sweet way, that’s exactly what I mean. They are very much together as a group of friends, but they’re warm and friendly with it, genuinely grateful for what I’ve written about them before, and enjoying the brief tour of the UK of which this will be the final gig.

So, yes, I wrote a four and a half star review of Penny Century’s debut album, Between A Hundred Lies, but that’s because to these ears, it’s an album that is up there with the best of the year; Malcolm Middleton, Emma Pollock, Arcade Fire, Wiley, M.I.A, LCD Soundsystem.

Yes. That good. This ain’t no hyperbole.

So let’s introduce the band: Julia Hanberg is the lead vocalist, Kim Fastesson and Erik Persson on guitars, vocals & lyrics, Pontus Sillren on bass & lyrics, Martin Soderin on drums, and Markus Eriksson on piano and organ.

Their MySpace site has this to say:

‘ Originally playing in different punk, rock or indie-groups the six soon-to-be creators of the most beautiful northern popmusic imaginable met each other in their mid-teens. Since there isn´t much to do in this corner of the world you could by that age either pick up heavy drinking or start writing songs. Penny Century chose booth. It was actually on strangers balconies, in snowstorms on their way to parties or just during friendly afternoon drinking they really learned to know one another.

The songs often revisit this time of coming of age, a time of getting to know yourself and the best of friends at the same time. Other reacurring subjects of the lyrics is family, guilt and love- lost or longed for.
The tunes is the yellowed pictures of a family photoalbum, loveletters that never were sent or just damn good popsongs with great vocals, jangly guitars, soaring melodies and catchy choruses.’

Now, the longer I write about music, the more I find press releases are just so FULL OF IT, rubbish that means absolutely nothing,(other than a press officer who has failed to write in anything but clichés to try and sell an artist, giving me a cynical little laugh in the process).

But this time, it just feels so spot on.

This has been a short tour of one and a half weeks, their first time in the UK. A few days previously they had played Dundee. It had not been a roaring success, ‘the news papers had said a couple of days ago that the venue was closed, ‘ Julia says. ‘Not just closed, shut down!’ the others add, understandably a little frustrated a few days later. But they just put it down to bad luck. They had played a gig in Gosforth in a beer garden, which they liken to playing in Midsommer Murders. ‘He’s a suspect, she’s a suspect!’ they chuckle.

Of course, Penny Century are familiar with small towns, growing up away from the big metropolises that are in the south of Sweden. Hell, anyone who’s lived in a smalltown anywhere in the world knows that a survival instinct of sorts has to kick in, somehow. And it’s not about dealing with a dog-eat-dog world of the big city, but more about the fight for the right to dare to be an individual, in an insular world where being different can be all the excuse some meatheads need. I ask them about where they grew up. Was it a case of Alcoholism or music, and you chose music, with a little bit of alcohol on the side? ‘You could say that!’ They all went to the same school, and had played in various bands together, apart from Julia who says this is her first band.

Sweden has of course, produced a lot of great music over the years. The mighty Abba (and if you think I’m being ironic about that, I’ll come round and get you), The Wannadies, The Cardigans being some of the more high profile acts (let’s forget about the purveyors of ‘It Must Have Been Love’ and er, ‘The Final Countdown.’ God knows I’m still trying to). Do they see themselves as being part of a Swedish scene?

‘No, we are totally unique. We feel more Swedish than other bands when we are here.’

Do they feel compared to the Cardigans? ‘Yes, just because it’s a girl,’ says Julia, clearly a little weary of this. Perhaps understandably. By way of justification, the band point out that the Cardigans and Abba sound quite slick. This might come as a surprise to those people who have only heard their album – but it’s quite clear that Penny Century see themselves as being a punk band almost, and that’s the goal for their next record. Seeing them live, they do rock far more than the gentle pastoral indie pop of

Although they have put out four EPS in Sweden, they now find themselves in the ironic position that their album actually has to be imported into Sweden. The EPs they now tend to view as demos. I ask if they plan to release them in the UK, but it’s clear that it’s not high on their list of priorities right now.

This leads me to ask about one of the songs that is downloadable from their website ‘Summer Outside.’ It features the somewhat disturbing line ‘If I’m gonna suffocate, please let me see my strangler’s face.’ Is this dealing with domestic violence?

‘It’s more about your own ghosts, the ones you can’t see. The things that always scare you, that you can’t always control.’

We talk about the scene in Sweden. Whilst this may not get much coverage in the British media, there are certainly parallels, in that while bands may form in small, out of the way places where it can be quite hard to get a gig, they often end up gravitating to the big cities, like Malmo, Gothenburg, and of course, the capital Stockholm. Would they consider moving to Stockholm, to advance their career?

‘Been there, done that,’ chuckles Pontus. ‘We were in Stockholm for a year, then we lost the apartment and had to move back.’ But they indicate that they probably will move back there when they return to Sweden. But they hope to return to the UK, they’ve had a great response. And they deserve it!

‘You’re in for a real treat!’ they say before they go on stage, and indeed I am.

Both on album and live, Penny Century fulfil my expectations and more. Make a little room in your heart for them.

Penny Century -‘Nothing Burns Like Bridges.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘What I Never Learned To Say.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘Tangled Up In My Sheets.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘Summer Outside.’ mp3

Penny Century’s album Between A Hundred Lies is out now on Letterbox Records.

It can be ordered here

Penny Century’s MySpace is here

Gig review: Penny Century/Amateurs/Katie Sutherland

Gig review: Penny Century/Amateurs/Katie Sutherland

Henry’s Cellar Bar, Edinburgh, August 31 2007

It has been an absolutely amazing month of gig-going here at 17 Seconds, with a lot going on. September may be quieter in this respect (it usually this). But this was a great way to bid farewell to the end of a month with so many and seeing two bands I have raved about on here finally and seeing one of the most talented singer-songwriters I have heard in ages on here too. This gig was put on by Edinburgh-based promoters Trampoline, who deserve to be getting more coverage for the hard slog they are doing.

Katie Sutherland blew me away when I saw her supporting Emma Pollock three months ago, and she does so again tonight. Still in her teens, this Kirkintilloch-born and raised singer-songwriter has receiving a lot of interest from South of the border in the last few months. She starts with Mr. Lecturer, whihc was the standout song for me from the last gig (alas, still unrecorded), and also plays three new ones: Mango Tree, Cocktails and a new one that she has apparently just finsihed writing this very day. She tells us that the Roses is about the good things in life ‘like Chips and Cheese and Curry Sauce (girl after my own heart. Apart from the curry sauce). ‘Because I Do’ still lingers too.

Edinburgh’s The Amateurs have some absolutely gorgeous songs on their debut, self-titled album. ‘The Water Of Leith Song’ is perhaps the most gorgeous of the lot live, though ‘Things You Only Know If You Don’t Drive’ is pretty fab too. Singer and Guitarist Seth Chanas has written some amazing songs, but the absolute jewel in the crown is the voice of Sarah Weatherston. Their album is due to be released in the next few weeks, having been completed over a year ago. Friends, Readers, Bloggers, lend it your ears. Though there are one or two troubles due to the fact that they didn’t get a soundtrack (this can play havov for any band, so bear this in mind the next time you are slagging off a support band), this cannot take away from the beauty of the songs.

Penny Century may very well have made one of the best albums of the year in their debut Between A Hundred Lies. I utterly fell for them when I heard their album, and now I fall for them all over again. They look so cool and sound so confident. ‘Too Bitter To Be Charming’ opens the album and it’s ironic, given just how goddamn charming they are, both onstage and off. Live they rock much harder than they do on record (they told me in an interview that they plan their next album to sound more rocky). ‘Between A Hundred Lies’ has a soulful edge that doesn’t come across so much on record. And of course ‘When the City Is waking up’ just melts you. Damn you guys!

An excellent night out from three bands who deserve to be playing bigger venues and taking up residence on your CD player. Penny Century and The Amateurs albums can be ordered from Letterbox Records. There will be interviews with all three acts on here very soon.

mp3s of the bands concerned:

Penny Century -‘Nothing Burns Like Bridges.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘What I never Learned To Say.’ mp3

The Amateurs -‘Cool By Me.’ mp3

The Amateurs -‘Things You Only Know If You Don’t Drive.’ mp3

Katie Sutherland -‘Because I Do.’ mp3

Katie Sutherland -‘The Roses.’ mp3

Album Review: Penny Century

Penny Century: ‘Between A Hundred Lies’ (Letterbox)

Are they trying to break our hearts? If this record were a season it would be autumn (Fall for North American readers), the most beautiful time of year, and yet serving as a reminder that every changes, and nothing stays the same. ‘When The City Is Waking Up’ moves you at a hundred paces- and that’s before the vocals kick in. Hailing from Ostertsund, Sweden, Penny Century deserve to appear on year end best of lists. This ten track album doesn’t put a foot wrong. ‘Nothing Burns Like Bridges’ is the first, download only single, but tracks like ‘Too Bitter To Be Charming’ the aforementioned ‘When the City…’ and closer ‘Streetlights, Snowflakes and You’ which takes you completely by surprise a minute or so in, should be heard by anyone who loves Camera Obscura, Belle and Sebastian, and Aberfeldy. Bloggers of the world, unite and lets tell the world about Penny Century.


Bettween One Hundred Lies will be released on Letterbox Records on August 20th.

Penny Century -‘Nothing Burns Like Bridges.’ mp3

The album can be ordered from here

Click here to see the video.

Penny Century are on MySpace here and they also have their own blog here

More from Letterbox Records…Presenting Penny Century

Not long after I started 17 Seconds just over as year ago, I received an email from a friendly sounding chap called gav, who runs a label called Letterbox records. I have done several features on Letterbox records since I started this blog, including the Amateurs and Morning Bride, this time I would like to focus on Sweden’s Penny Century.

Penny Century hail from the North of Sweden, and have released four eps before signing to Letterbox. Whilst comparisons to a well-known ‘seminal’ cassette released 21 years ago through the NME or certain Swedish bands of the last fifteen years ago are too obvious to make, it’s also unfair because these songs deserve to be heard on their own terms. Their debut ‘Between A Hundred Lies’ will be out in two weeks’ time, from where ‘What You never Learned To Say’ comes from. In addition to this, I’d like to direct your attention to two earlier tracks that give a taste of what Penny Century are like. To me, they sound like summer.

Penny Century -‘What You Never Learned To Say.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘Summer Outside.’ mp3

Penny Century -‘Tangled Up In My Sheets.’ mp3

and a reminder of edinburgh’s The Amateurs’ double A-side from earlier this year;

Amateurs -‘Things You Only Know If You Don’t Drive.’ mp3

Amateurs -‘Cool By Me.’ mp3

Letterbox records can be found here, including the shop, and the requisite myspaces for the bands are here for Penny Century and here for The Amateurs.

If you like what you hear, please go and investigate. Best of all, this is 100% with the record companies blessing! See you soon…