I sit and chat with Pembroke Tenneson ahead of the release of his debut album
What do you get if you blend a high falsetto with a little bit of growl and a philosophical soul with a classic rock? Add some acoustic guitar riffs and you get Pembroke Tenneson – 26 year-old, San Francisco born, philosophy student and a huge Star Wars fan.
Intrigued already? I hope so. You should be.
Earlier this month I got a chance to catch Pem playing a show in the Notting Hill Arts Club in London and chat about the inspirations, the endlessness of The Beatles, future plans and oh well, music. Obviously. What else? Everything is music.
Kasia Osowiecka: Hi! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Thanks for seeing me. That was really great show. I must admit you’re very distinctive and charismatic on stage.
Pembroke Tenneson: Hi! Thank you. It’s really nice to meet you too.
Let’s start with the thing that caught my attention in the first place. BBC Introducing. Congratulations! That’s a pretty big deal. Can you tell me more how this all happened?
Yes! BBC Introducing is the coolest thing that has happened to me so far. Basically, how it works is you can send three tracks every month to your local BBC Introducing station. For me it was BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing. I’ve started to upload my music at the beginning of this year in January. I sent a mix of songs – some I did a year ago, some took out from the fresh material and they’ve just got picked up. You know, everybody can send three tracks but that doesn’t mean they’re gonna play any of them. It is only guaranteed you’ll get the hearing, someone will listen to them. But after that, in February I got an email with the invitation to appear on the show as the Artist of the Month in March which means they play one of your tracks every week. Brody Swain, the DJ, made it really easy for me. He’s a very friendly guy who makes you feel like you are the star of the show. Which was really nice because that was my first time on the radio [find the link below to get the interview on Pem’s website]. Back at that time I was still working in my previous job as a copywriter in the marketing agency but I didn’t like it.
That’s the topic for a really long conversation! The job didn’t agree with me, although I liked everybody at the company. Let’s just say I have some philosophical issues with advertising, and it’s hard to give your creativity every day when you feel that way. Luckily, there was the music. I was playing in a band and writing songs. And after the whole Artist of the Month thing the track Bakerloo Blues was played nationally. All that happened in March and then I made the decision to quit my job. It’s been only the matter of writing and practicing the new material since, having as many gigs as I can, meeting people, making plans..
So what is the plan now?
A lot of short term plans.. as where I’m gonna play, what I’m gonna do next… I mean, there is no career ladder for music. You can take one step at a time. Nevertheless, the ultimate plan is that I’d like to be an independently successful musician, playing my own music rather than covers. If that didn’t work out I’d like to be a songwriter. I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want to be in a public eye. I just want to make music and I want people to appreciate it. That’d be actually really fun to be behind the scenes.
You’re speaking about independence which obviously is great but that makes me wonder. Have you ever been in a band?
Yes, I was in a band while at University, the Black Dogs, named after the Led Zeppelin track. We did a few tracks and it went pretty well but you know it’s been 6 years since then so I’ve learnt a lot. Then I joined another band, Hums on Wires, in 2013 and we played a bunch of gigs around the Midlands. It was great fun and I miss it a lot. To be honest, leaving them sucked and frankly speaking I’d rather be in a band than being on my own but the problem is my friends they have families, mortgages, responsibilities. They can’t just leave like that as I did. That’s why it’s just me.
Fair enough. Let’s talk some serious stuff now. Music. Do you tend to describe your sound?
Hmm.. what I want to be is a mix of pop and rock, and folk all at the same time. I mean I want the songs to be catchy only with more interesting lyrics. However, I am limited by the things I can do with the guitar because I can’t play keyboard very well. But the guitar is all fun! You can put lots of rhythm. What I mean to say is that most pop music today is overproduced.
[Oh and I must point that at this moment of our conversation very disturbing noise got into my ears. And that was the guy on stage trying to sing Ed Sheeran’s songs. Well, I’ll definitely keep that Photograph in my mind for a very long time.]
Let’s go back in time. When did you start your journey with the music? And how old are you actually?
I’m 26. Not a spring chicken but not quite old yet.
Oh come on! I’m 26. That’s certainly not old.
Yes, 26 I think that’s a great age. I’m pretty much who I am now. But I picked up guitar when I was 16 and I’ve always sung but never seriously. I sang in a choir when I was in school but I never thought of becoming a singer. I wanted to join a band as I guitarist but since I could sing I did, mainly because well… no one else could. I remember when I got a car though which made everything easier. Everywhere I drove I just sang without even thinking about it. But then I got a job and things just happened.. so I had like 3 years’ break between ending the university and now.
What has changed then? Was there anything particular that made you turn towards music in such a big way?
Good question. I can’t actually remember when I suddenly decided I wanted to do it but I kind of did. I was like Hey! I want to write some songs. Then I wrote some shitty ones. I still write some shitty ones but the trick is you have to keep writing till eventually you get the good ones.
Yes, songs. Let’s talk about an album.
It’s done. I’ve recorded all the parts and I’ve got a lot of the artwork done. We gave some thoughts on when we wanted to launch it and it is set to be released at the end of October. I must say there was just a lot of things I had to do for the very first time, I did most of the artwork myself and wasn’t sure it’d work out or not, you know..
Can you guide me through the track list?
There will be twelve tracks on the album, which is 43 minutes long. It’s kind of mishmash. Two songs I recorded last year in July, there’s three from January this year and seven from this summer. You can hear a massive difference in the way I write and sing, and play. Plus, I’ve got first singing lessons since last summer so I definitely sound different.
Different is good. Who has had impact on your work then? Who inspired you? Do you have any favourite bands/artists?
Yes! But this is really hard because I have two No 1 bands and that’s Led Zeppelin. The first band I really, really liked and I think I was 11. And The Beatles but I’ve got into them quite recently since I started getting into songwriting. Their songs are extremely well crafted. I always liked Rolling Stones before but then The Beatles happened. They still sound so fresh you know.. Revolver is my favourite album of theirs.
Yeah, The Beatles will last till the end of time.
That’s right. The Beatles are timeless. But other people I really like are Neil Young, Bob Dylan..
All you’re telling me is very classic. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that. But do you listen to any more contemporary acts?
Like since the 90s maybe.. I’m not super up to date with the music but Massive Attack, Portishead, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes, Florence and the Machine are pretty good and The Staves, Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamarr. I’m trying to explore more current artists but I’m also going back in time and getting into jazz.
Well, that was never my thing.
Me neither. I didn’t like jazz but then the more I learn about music the better I like it because I understand it more. But it’s not for everyone.
Any philosophical advice for me and the readers?
You need to fail over and over again to get anywhere. That’s very true but I have an enormous support from my friends and family right now. And I want people to get involved in the show. Otherwise they’re not gonna remember you. You need to deliver an experience for them. Everybody is my friend until they prove themselves differently.
See Pembroke’s website for all the live dates and check the songs from his EP Upside Down so you get an idea of what’s coming.
Pem’s debut album Chimera is out on October 27th with the track list as follows
01 Look Out Below
02 Let’s Dance
04 All Right
05 Lost Traveller
06 Murder In Moscow
07 The Shadow
08 Little Town
09 The Fracking Song
10 Upside Down
11 Bakerloo Blues