Penny Sheets, the solo project of Full FrontalSaurus frontman Jared McKinney, dropped a new EP entitled “P.S. 17,” Jan. 26.
McKinney started Penny Sheets in 2015 during a tumultuous period that found him heartbroken, jobless and riddled with uncertainty in nearly every realm of his life. Penny Sheets’ second EP is an eclectic, quirky and ambitious collection of songs, influenced by everything from 60s Motown to the songwriting of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie & The Postal Service). The EP is drenched in McKinney’s idiosyncrasies, highlighting his scattershot sonic palette and at times abrasive vocals.
“I am well aware that my music is an acquired taste, I’ve never felt like it has been very popular,” he said. “That’s the main reason for the title of the first track ‘Later Bud’. My own self doubt wants me to believe that most people won’t make it past the first track so I start off by saying my goodbyes to those who won’t make it through the initial track.”
Though his music may at times be polarizing, McKinney’s honest songwriting on “P.S. 17” will resonate with listeners’ who have dealt with crippling self-doubt, or even the experience of walking away from religion.
On “My Backpack” McKinney reflects on his departure from the Mormon church ten years ago.
“I use the backpack and taking walks to fill it with everything I can find as a metaphor to leaving an intellectually repressive society with a hungry mind searching for answers to all the questions I wasn’t allowed to ask,” he said.
Listen to “P.S. 17” and read an interview with McKinney below.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a solo project outside of Full FrontalSaurus? Or were you just starting to write songs that didn’t mesh well with that band and decided it was time to start a new project?
Jared McKinney: Penny Sheets kind of decided on it’s own for me that it was going to be it’s own thing separate from Full FrontalSaurus or any of the other musical projects that I am involved with. 2015 was very much a transitional year for me. I had lost my partner of 6 years, lost my job of 3 years, I was unsure if I was going to get any custody of my then 4 year old daughter and I was looking for love in all the wrong places. I was drinking pretty heavily at the time also. I have had a home studio for the past 18 years but had at the time just invested in some serious upgrades. I was experimenting with various sounds and found myself layering different improvised lines and adding some drum beats that were inspired by the Motown and R&B sound of the 60’s. I started to do some improvised single take vocals and layered them. I didn’t really leave my studio for an entire week and by the end of it the self titled EP was finished and on Bandcamp. I enjoyed the process of going start to finish in one sitting that I decided to make it a criteria for further recordings and that I would keep the Penny Sheets name and expand on my sound.
How does the work you’ve done as Penny Sheets differentiate from the music you write in Full FrontalSaurus?
JM: Penny Sheets and Full FrontalSaurus are quite different sonically but the process is very similar sans the improvisational aspect. More often than not With FFS I will record a demo version of a new song by myself and will hand that off to the members and have them put their spin on it while keeping the essence of the song intact.
How long did it take to put together P.S. 17? Were you sitting on the songs that comprised the EP for a while or did you write most of the material over a short period of time?
JM: While the first EP took only a week, P.S.17 was a collection of works that spanned 2016 and 2017. Keeping with the one sitting criteria I had 6 singles that were produced and posted already. In late January I recorded two new songs, Sunday Morning and My Backpack. I remixed and mastered the 6 singles and put them together with the two new songs to make the EP.
Can you talk about the significance of the title?
JM: The title P.S.17 has a separate intended meaning for myself and for the listener. Personally the title simply stands for Penny Sheets 2017. With 2015 being a transitional year and 2016 having me find my footing with a new job, joint custody of my daughter, and a wonderful new partner who loves my daughter too in my life I feel like 2017 is going to be a year where I solidify my goals and begin really rebuilding my life. I think this is reflected lyrically and musically with this new record. For the listener think of it like a generic name for an inner city public school. Public School 17. I am well aware that my music is an acquired taste, I’ve never felt like it has been very popular. That’s the main reason for the title of the first track Later Bud. My own self doubt wants me to believe that most people won’t make it past the first track so I start off by saying my goodbyes to those who won’t make it through the initial track. I want this album to be a learning experience for anyone who listens to it. Lessons from the school of me if you will.
What would you say the biggest differences between your debut EP “Penny Sheets” and “P.S. 17” are? What progressions did you want out to make with your new EP?
JM: The most noticeable difference between the first and most recent releases are the vocal style. One review of the EP said, “It sounds like the vocalists got drunk beyond repair, did some ether, and topped it off with a couple bottles of codeine.” While I did do every vocal recording in one take with no idea of what I was going to say and a whiskey bottle in hand, that was a bit of an exaggeration. I took it as a compliment though as I was going for something quite different. With P.S.17 I was much more thoughtful both musically and especially lyrically. I tried to make sure that my words had meaning.
What song(s) are you most proud of on “P.S. 17”?
JM: The song I am probably most proud of on the new record is My Backpack. It’s about my departure from the Mormon church 10 years ago. I use the backpack and taking walks to fill it with everything I can find as a metaphor to leaving an intellectually repressive society with a hungry mind searching for answers to all the questions I wasn’t allowed to ask. This is a theme through the album. Too Far Up is also about religion, but with My Backpack I feel like it’s more honest and upfront with the issues I had and were facing.
Were you influenced by any specific songwriters/bands, eras in music, etc. over the course of creating “P.S. 17”. Definitely seems to draw on a lot of influences, towards the beginning you’ve got an introspective piano ballad “Too Far Up” and then you finish with the abrasive, yet danceable “Rock & Roll”?
JM: This record goes all over the place style wise to only have 8 tracks. Part of that is because I never come at the writing process with anything particular in mind. I like to have a clean slate uninhibited by the constraints of genre. At the same time though I cannot deny a few of my influences. On the self titled record I think you can hear a very heavy influence from the Halo Benders, a side project of Doug Martsch of Built To Spill and Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic. That band had me in their grip for about a year where I listened to hardly anything else. P.S.17 was a different process, a less drunk one. I think my influences showed themselves in a much more constructive way. Ben Gibbard’s work in early Death Cab records and in The Postal Service along with They Might Be Giants are probably the biggest and most apparent influences on the new record. TMBG will always be my number one favorite band and in my opinion they are the quintessential pop band. The Postal Service’s album Give Up came out my junior year of high school and it changed my mind on what electronic music was. It made me realize that electronic music could have a very real human element. I think vocally I pull a bit from TMBG but I keep some of that early 90’s skate punk and pop punk influence when it comes to my pronunciation of certain words and sounds.
Talk about the production on the record. You’ve incorporated a lot of different sounds (everything from random audio samples (“Later Bud” kind of reminded me of that song A“Frontier Psychiatrist”) to piano, synths and a drum machine, just to scathe the surface. The effect in blending them all together seems to create a kind of avant-garde, quirky (in a good way) sound? How would you describe the sound on this EP?
JW: As you said there are a lot of different sounds on the record. I like to start with a canvas of either acoustic or electric piano, upright bass, and either acoustic drums inspired by 60’s Motown and R&B or electronic drums inspired by some of the more frantic electronic genres of today. I am a very big fan of using orchestral instruments as well and I layer those next. There are very few Penny Sheets songs that do not incorporate along with the upright bass, flutes, clarinets, violin, cello, oboe or bassoon, or trumpet along with other string, woodwind, and brass instruments. Most songs have parts with full string or woodwind ensembles. As a student at EKU over 10 years ago I would compose for string quartet, piano, guitar duets and trios among other things and this has been a fun way to expand on that really. From there I really play with the soundscape and incorporate things that have a lot of motion to them to play off of the organic instruments. The vocal melodies come last and I typically have the movement of the synthesizers or orchestral ensembles and the movement of the vocal melodies play off one another. I tend to use counterpoint a lot using two or often more separate voices or entities to create a relationship that is interdependent while simultaneously independent of one another. So even though you do hear a lot of synths the songs begin very organically with instruments of the classical and romantic period.
Do you have any shows coming up?
At the beginning of the year I started cutting my teeth with the live performances at Tidball’s open mic. It met with a surprisingly good reception. On January 14th the first “meeting” of the No Friends Club met at the Falcon’s Nest on Chestnut street. A bandmate of mine from Former Friends of Young Americans, Toby, and Aaron AKA Chuck Falcon decided to have a concert where one person bands were featured and called it the No Friends Club. The next “meeting” is scheduled for Valentine’s Day at the FFOYA House on Kentucky street. I’m not sure how much leeway I have in disclosing information on the next show but also at FFOYA House March 9th Penny Sheets will be playing with one of the influences I had mentioned earlier. Needless to say I am overly excited to be a part of this and I will probably embarrass myself by bringing their discography on vinyl for them to sign. I won’t apologize for it, the world will forgive me.