Music Interviews
7:30 am
Sat November 24, 2012

Piney Gir: From 'The Muppets' To 'Geronimo'

Originally published on Sat November 24, 2012 11:44 am

What do you do if you're an aspiring drummer and someone steals your drum set? Well, if you're Piney Gir, you become a singer — because, as she figured it, they can't steal your voice.

Gir grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal household in Kansas, attending church four or five times a week. She got the solos in the choir and grew to love performing. The singer, whose real name is Angela Penhaligon, eventually found her way to London and the world of indie art-rock.

Her sound has been compared to Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, but on her latest album, Geronimo, Gir sometimes seems to be conjuring up '60s pop from girl groups to The Troggs. The singer-songwriter spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about making the album, her music influences and her next project.


Interview Highlights

On naming the album Geronimo

"There's a double meaning to that title because I'm a little bit Native American. I came back to the States to record this album, and it felt like a bit of a homecoming. And there's a lot of tribal drums on it, so that's a bit of homage to him. But also, it's that fearlessness, that battle cry. I wanted to do something I'd never done before, and I wanted to do it with my whole self and dive in and just try something new. So it's that kind of 'Geronimo!' So it has those two significances for me."

On recording with a live band

"I think you get a certain live energy when you can look at your drummer in the face or you can glance over at your guitarist and give him a wink. You can even take the song in a bit of a more jammy direction because you can take it as it comes versus contriving it and structuring it in a rigid way. So it gave us a kind of freedom."

On musical influences growing up

"I grew up mainly on a diet of church music, which was sort of bluegrass and gospel influence with a bit of 'happy-clappy' thrown in there — you know, that kind of happy Jesus music where people play tambourines and dance around, very melody-driven. In that sense, I can thank my church education. ... Friday nights, my dad was often doing a youth ministry. My mom and I would watch The Muppets and that was amazing. Johnny Cash was on there and Elton John. I got kind of hooked on The Muppets, so that probably planted the seed."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

So, what do you do if you're an aspiring drummer and someone steals your drum set? That happened to Piney Gir. She became a singer because, as she figured it, they can't steal your voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTTA SIGHT")

PINEY GIR: (Singing) I wanna be with you all the time. I wanna be with you day and night...

SIMON: Piney Gir grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal household in Kansas. She attended church four or five times a week and got the solos in the choir and grew to love performing. The singer, whose real name is Angela Penhaligon, eventually found her way to London and the world of indie art-rock. Her sound's been compared to Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. But on her latest CD, called "Geronimo," Piney Gir sometimes seems to be conjuring up '60s pop - from girl groups to The Troggs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUTTA SIGHT")

SIMON: Piney Gir joins us now from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.

GIR: Hey. It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: That first song, "Outta Sight," sounds pretty '60s. Is that what you're going for?

GIR: Well, I love classic rock, good old-fashioned pop with strong melodies and all that jazz. So, in that sense, yeah, I suppose that is what I'm going for. In this case, making the album. We just did it all in one room and I guess that's quite an old-school way of approaching making a record. So, maybe that does come across a little bit.

SIMON: Why one room as opposed to - and you know how these things can be done nowadays. I mean, the guys playing bass can be in Australia just contributing tracks online. Why was it important for everyone to be in one room?

GIR: I think you get a certain live energy when you can, you know, look your drummer in your face or you can glance over at your guitarist and give him a wink or you can even take the song in a bit of a more jammy direction 'cause you can take it as it comes versus contriving it and structuring it in a rigid way. So, it gave us a kind of freedom.

SIMON: Most of the songs on "Geronimo" are less than three minutes and one is a minute-19, not counting the applause at the end. So, did the producer ever say to you, come on now, the song has got to be three minutes?

GIR: No. I think, you know, if you can say all you need to say in a concise way, why do you need to drag it out? I love these little perfectly formed bursts of pop music. And I thought, you know, why add a big fat guitar solo if you don't need it, and that kind of thing. So, it was kind of part of the process to try and keep it short and sweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LONGEST DAY OF SPRING")

GIR: (Singing) Seasons change for better, sign your name to every letter, step-by-step climbing walls, who's the fairest of them all? Rain, rain, go away, come again another day. It's the longest day of spring...

SIMON: Am I correct in assuming this is nowhere near the kind of music you grew up with?

GIR: That's correct, yeah. I grew up mainly on a diet of church music, which was sort of bluegrass and gospel influence with a bit of happy-clappy thrown in there. And then I would just...

SIMON: Bit of happy-clappy? What's happy-clappy? I don't think I know that one.

GIR: Happy clappy, you know, that kind of happy Jesus music where people play tambourines and dance around and very melody-driven. In that sense, I can thank my church education.

SIMON: Did you listen to any other kind of music, if not exactly in secret at least not conspicuously?

GIR: Well, Friday nights, my dad was often...he was probably the religious figurehead in our household, and he was often doing a youth ministry and my mom and I would watch "The Muppets." And that was, like, amazing, you know. Johnny Cash was on there and Elton John. I got kind of hooked on "The Muppets," so that probably planted the seed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY GOODBYE")

GIR: (Singing) Say goodbye to the people that you love the most...

SIMON: There's a French horn on this album.

GIR: Yes.

SIMON: And the French horn with a pedigree? May I put it that way?

GIR: Yes, yeah, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY GOODBYE")

GIR: (Singing) Say goodbye...

SIMON: This is Tom Bennellick.

GIR: That's right. He's got some pretty cool history. I saw him playing with a band in the Oxfordshire countryside at a pub. And there was this great brass section in this pub band. And I went up to him after the gig and went, hey, would you consider playing on my album. There's a bit of brass that needs to happen. And he was like, oh sure, that would be great, you know. I go have you ever played on anything like this before? And he went, yeah, I have. And I was like, well, what have you played on? He's like "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

(LAUGHTER)

GIR: Like wow. He just came in and played it, like, in about two takes. He was a real pro, so it was a real blessing to have him on the record. He really added some finesse.

SIMON: Why do you call this collection "Geronimo?"

GIR: There's a double meaning to that title, because I'm a little bit Native American and I came back to the States to record this album and it felt like a bit of a homecoming. And there's a lot of tribal drums on it. and so, that's a bit of an homage to him. But also it's that fearlessness, that battle cry. I wanted to do something I'd never done before, and I wanted to do it with my whole self and dive in and just try something new. So, it's that kind of Geronimo, you know, when you're going to...

SIMON: Yeah, jumping out of a plane, yeah.

GIR: Exactly. So, it has those two significances for me.

SIMON: Any significance of that fact that I understand that you recorded this not in London but in Hollywood?

GIR: Yeah. I guess in my mind it had this warm, SoCal sound, this kind of birdsy jangle pop thing. And I thought what better place to do that than in the sunshine-drenched state of California. And I wanted that sunshine to kind of come through in the music. And I think it's a happy, sunny album. And I enjoyed the process.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIFT")

GIR: (Singing) I have a gift that just keeps on giving, a guy that I take for granted. Surprise, I didn't realize I had it and I never even know till it was gone. So, I can take my time. The drugstore sold the last diamond ring...

SIMON: That's a nice yodel, by the way.

GIR: Thank you. I love a bit of yodel.

SIMON: You don't hear it a lot. I had Placido Domingo on a couple of weeks ago and he didn't yodel once.

GIR: Really?

SIMON: Yeah.

GIR: Maybe he should try it.

SIMON: Yeah. And I've read he has a home in Switzerland, so he probably hears it all the time.

GIR: I bet he does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIFT")

GIR: (Singing) So, I can take my time. The drugstore sold the last diamond ring...

SIMON: What do you think you're moving towards?

GIR: Well, I've written the next album, and it's similarly concise with the song length and it's kind of poppy. I guess until it gets out of my head, I don't want to say too much 'cause the studio can change what you hear in your head. So, we'll see.

SIMON: Piney Gir. Her new CD is called "Geronimo." She's at WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

GIR: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GIR: (Singing) I'm sorry I've loved you and lost you those years ago, and all of your friends say I told you so, now you know, even though you're...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.