On “Dollars, Dolls, Drugs,” DJ/producer Pennywild takes listeners into a drag night with some advice that comes via one of her pals: “If you know that you’re going to a drag show, you should absolutely stuff your pockets with dollars.”
The second single from forthcoming EP Night People, “Dollars, Dolls, Drugs” is part of a larger narrative about nightlife that Pennywild developed at a time when the club kids were stuck at home (there’s also a print zine that accompanies the release). The vocal samples were sourced from conversations that she had with friends during the pandemic. “I chopped and screwed them, cut them up and tried to put the all together to create the narrative,” says Pennywild on a recent Zoom call from Rome, where she has been traveling.
The EP’s previous single, “Side Streets,” released in late July, similarly pieces together morsels of conversation in its depiction of the drive to a club in Los Angeles. “There’s no narrative that was scripted,” says Pennywild. “This is a project that I wanted to start from the ground up and create as the conversations ensued. If one conversation felt like it was inspiring some sort of motif or song idea, that’s the direction that we went in. Everything is found sounds from my real life.”
In her music, Pennywild works with concepts for projects and, while brainstorming ideas for what would become Night People, she kept thinking about going out. “I think that we were just robbed of that experience for a year and a half,” she says.
Pennywild, who has been based in Los Angeles for several years and is now bicoastal, spent the years before COVID-19 entrenched in nightlife on opposite U.S. coasts. In New York, she connected primarily with drag and LGBTQ scenes, venturing to venues like 3 Dollar Bill and House of Yes. In Los Angeles, she fell into the electronic and beat party scenes, hitting up events thrown by crews like Space Yacht, Brownies & Lemonade and Ham on Everything. As a DJ, she played regularly at venues like The Friend in Silver Lake and Winston House in Venice.
A choreographer who has worked on shows at the Hollywood Bowl and Lollapalooza, Pennywild came to music via dance. She began studying dance at age six before moving toward musical theater as a teenager. She says that her dance background helps with her production. “As far as making music, I really have just been creating what I always loved to hear and respond to,” she says.
“If I’m stuck writing something, I’ll just start to move my body and get some choreography out there—like abstract choreography—and see what accents my body is naturally wanting to hit,” she explains. “That’s a sense memory exercise that I can do because, as a dancer, we’re not only dancers, we’re professional music listeners. We listen to music constantly and we’ve heard so much music and we’ve interacted with the music in a more intimate way than anybody else because we kind of step inside of it. That’s been really helpful for me to produce.”
In recent years, Pennywild has added directing to her skill set. She’s directed clips for Zedd and RL Grime. “Every five years or so there seems to be a new interest, which is the pattern,” she says, adding that, right now, she’s hoping to focus on the talents she’s already developed. “I’m already drowning with everything that I’m trying to work on and trying to get better at,” she says. “But, it never gets boring, which is the fun part.”
As venues began to reopen, Pennywild was able to return to the decks. She has gone back to Winston House and has also played at Sound in Hollywood. She opened for Chris Lorenzo at the Hard Rock in San Diego and had the chance to play at Elsewhere and Lot 45 while in New York.
But, her club life might still be evolving. That’s the other reason she made Night People. It’s a memento of a specific time in her life. Pennywild was 26 at the start of the pandemic. She turned 28 on the day “Dollars, Dolls and Drugs” was released. “It expedited my age group’s need to slow down and start to have a different lifestyle,” she says of COVID-19 and the subsequent nightlife shutdown. “Everything was just a little bit sped up.”
She adds, “I might’ve had a couple more years of going out all night and being crazy, but then the pandemic happened and it forced me to take a step back, to zoom out, and now I’m feeling glad that I got all of that out with this project so that I can move on to the new chapter of my life that doesn’t involve maybe so much partying.”
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