It’ll take a lot more than a stolen van and a global pandemic to stop The Penske File. During these hardships, the punk rock trio channelled their indomitable will and formidable bond into the 12 tracks that make up their fourth album Half Glow. They explore coming of age in the modern world, delve into the duality of life, and celebrate friendship with poetic lyrics, infectious hooks, and unwavering energy. Half Glow is available now via Stomp Records and The Penske File will be touring Canada starting next week.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with guitarist and vocalist Travis Miles over Zoom to talk about the new album, the importance of reconnecting with your friends, poems about the gold rush, and much more. Read the interview below!
Growth is one of the main themes on your new album Half Glow. How do you feel you’ve grown since you started to work on this album?
In so many ways! [laughs] As a band and as individuals. When we started writing for the record it was when we were touring for our last record Salvation, which came out five years ago. There’s been a lot of changes in our lives and in the world since then that have demanded growth in a multitude of ways. When we started writing it, we spent six months of the year on tour. In between those tours we would get in the rehearsal space or the studio and work on new stuff. There was a lot going on. Then COVID kind of put a forced pause on things. We didn’t want to stop like many people, nobody wanted to be holed up inside, but after a while, it became a welcome pause. The three of us have known each other forever and it was nice to hang out and not talk about band stuff for a while. We’ve known each other since we were four years old or younger so we kind of realized that in a lot of ways our friendship comes first. We’ll always love creating music together and that’s what solidified our friendship into beyond just a friendship and into more of a family dynamic. I feel like in a lot of ways our relationships with each other are the most important thing. Other than that, we all turned 30 and we’ve all got other things going on in our lives but through that forced pause that turned into a welcome pause, we were able to have the space and time to realize that this band - The Penske File - is something that is still a very, very important thing in our lives. Speaking for myself in this regard, when we were writing these songs the band was the most important thing in my life and now it’s a very important thing in my life. It’s all about learning and growth and balance. It’s funny because a lot of this record balances out the darker and lighter parts of life which is where the title, Half Glow, comes from.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
For myself, I’m constantly writing songs. I think since this record there’s something like 30, 40, 50 more. I’m always writing songs. It’s like a mode of existence for me. It helps me to put the things I don’t really understand about my own life into a filter that helps me understand things and be ok with the things that I’m having a hard time grasping and helps with my rational thought process. I’m always working on a song in my head when I’m going about my day whether it’s working or cooking dinner. Every week there’s something going on. I know Alex writes a lot - has a lot of the songs on the new record too. He’s a lot more meticulous. I’ll have eight songs in the time he finishes his one but most often his one is definitely going to go on the record. He’s my favourite songwriter. I feel like he’s writing from the same circumstances as me but with a fresh perspective and a fresh look on things so I really love that.
As far as our process as a band, usually one of us brings a song that is more or less complete into our practice space. I think we all write on an acoustic guitar setting so if the song is good on a single instrument and has a good melody and usually a couple verses and a chorus, the basic structure of the song will be brought to the band. If the other two guys attach onto it, then it tends to be a good song. It usually starts with one person writing their own song and then they bring it to the band and the whole thing gets flipped on its head. Everybody’s input is welcome and the best idea wins. It’s hard at times but when you bring a song that’s finished into the room you have to strive to remove a little bit of your personal attachment to it because although you might have written the words or the structure of it and it comes from your heart and mind, once it enters that realm of the three of us it becomes something of the three of us. You have to be willing to let the others in and let their opinions shine through as well.
Has doing that gotten easier after reconnecting as friends during COVID?
Yeah, I think so, to be honest. We’re going to start writing together really soon. This album’s kind of bunged us up in a way because we’ve been sitting on it, waiting for it to come out in order to let it go and move on to new stuff. We’ve all been working on different projects but in the next few weeks, we’re going to start writing again. I would imagine that the time we’ve taken will help that process and I’m really excited to get into writing with the guys again.
Did you have a song on the album that was the most cathartic to write?
Yeah, there’s definitely some. I feel like there are a couple more personal songs for me that didn’t end up making the record, just speaking for myself. [laughs] It’s the same thing with the last record but usually, the song that’s the most collaborative ends up being my favourite and on this album, that’s the first track “Bad Dreams”. I had that riff and I had the whole song written with the chord structure and the melody more or less. It was one of those ‘ok’ songs. When I finished it I was like, “This is the best!” and then a week later I was like, “This is another song”. [laughs] We were on tour in Germany and we were backstage having a beer and Alex was playing some song ideas on the acoustic guitar. I remember he sang that first verse which has the lines, “Growing pains, polluted traditions / Painting entertainment on our politicians” and it also has the line, “Mixing up your bible with the Lord of the Flies”. I have that so vivid in my head because I remember being so excited like, “Yes! This is exactly it!” It felt like he was saying perfectly what I was trying to say but wasn’t quite getting at. It seemed to sum up a lot of the themes and stuff that I was working on in my head. Once we got back from that tour we re-wrote that song around that first verse that Alex sung. I feel like because it has that collaborative element at the ground floor of the actual lyrics, I feel like that one’s the most cathartic for me. That’s the memory that stands the tallest in my mind for sure.
On “Chorus Girl” you really explore the connection between music and memory. Which song off this album has the most memories attached to it?
I definitely have a lot of memories about “Cyanide Stories”. We started writing that song when we were waiting for Salvation to be mixed. It took a really long time, not as long as Half Glow took but it was a similar thing where we were sitting there waiting and we started writing again. “Cyanide Stories” was definitely the first song that we wrote so it’s the oldest song on the record. James had an unfinished basement in the house he was renting and we jammed there. He had the house for what feels like six months, it wasn’t very long. I remember working that song out in the basement and being really excited. [laughs] There’s that one line, “So smoke another cigarette, watch it shine / We swore we’d quit by 25,” and I remember at the time of that I was smoking cigarettes and I was 24 years old and now I’m not smoking cigarettes and I’m 30 years old. [laughs] It’s funny to think of that when we’ve been playing that song live recently. I always think how funny it is how old that song is but it kinda takes on a new life when it’s released in the world. That’s the experience I’ve had with the songs myself and I imagine the other guys have that too. The record was being mixed for way, way, way too long and the songs kinda get old and overdone in your head because you’re listening to it all the time. As soon as it’s out and you’re not listening to it anymore and other people are listening to it so then it takes on new life. When we play them live it re-energizes all those songs so that’s really cool.
Another one that I have memories attached to on the record would be “Modern World”. I remember we were at a party and a friend of ours had a detuned piano and we were hanging out in the garage. I started playing the chords to “Searching For A Former Clarity” by Against Me! because it’s so easy. It’s just simple chords and I really didn’t know how to play piano. I started singing the chorus to “Modern World” over it which is just a simple question, “How do we live in this modern world?” and then I remember people getting involved. In my head, it sounded perfect but it probably sounded awful because we were a little bit inebriated. [lauhgs] But I had that memory in my head and had been messing around with that concept for a song, just that question “How do we live and be good people but also survive and be comfortable in the paradigm that we live in?” That song has a lot of memories attached to it as well.
It’s such a big question too to try to tackle. I don’t think it has an answer.
Exactly! That’s why the whole chorus is just the question because I don’t have any answers. I just tried to paint a picture of people struggling with that question that many of us with dreams and consciouses have to battle with daily.
“Waiting For Rain” ends with a few lines from Robert Service’s poem The Spell of the Yukon. What drew you to this poem? Why did you choose these lines in particular?
That one actually has a good story to it! [laughs] I usually go to Value Village to do book shopping because they’re usually like $3. It’s fun to go in and I’ll pick up four or five and maybe I’ll read three. It’s a great place to get cheap books. Every once in a while, I’ll flip through the records they have there, the LPs, and they had this one there for 99 cents and it looked really interesting. It’s called The Spell of the Yukon and it’s a collection of poems by Robert Service narrated by J. Frank Willis. I like poetry and stuff like that and I was like, “This is interesting to me”. It’s cheaper than a can of soda so I grabbed it. I came home and put it on and was like, “This is amazing!” I was saying to my wife, “You gotta listen to this!” and she was laughing at me because she knows I’m weird. I was so excited about this 99-cent record. I put it on from time to time and get so into the poems. There’s good storytelling and an awesome use of language. There’s also this mystic Canadian romanticism about it. It’s about the gold rush and the Yukon and that’s a time that’s fun to imagine for me. After listening to that record periodically here and there, I was like, “Something off of this is going to go on the record”. Gold is a metaphor for youth and glory and a lot of this record is about the youth that’s waning. Even if you get the gold that you’re seeking, it’s often not what it seems to be which I think is a very real sentiment and something that loosely ties concepts of the record together. That’s why I chose that line in particular but mostly because I was really stoked on this LP. I just put a microphone on my speaker and recorded it at home. [laughs]
Ghosts are another big lyrical theme on the album. Why is this?
Ghosts are cool. [laughs] I think a ghost is an easy key to personifying a memory. I think it’s usually used in a “ghosts of your past” kind of cliche. It’s like the things that you’ve done aren’t tangible anymore can be conceptualized as ghosts or just as things that haunt you for good or bad.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
No. I’ve had a lot of weird sleep things which is why the “Bad Dreams” chorus is very, very literal. It’s like night terrors and sleep paralysis, which I have a lot on tour. It’s pretty funny. I’ve had a few experiences over the years on tour where the guys are like, “This guy’s insane”. It’s good because I only need somebody to tap me on the shoulder and then I snap out of it. No paranormal experiences. We’ve stayed in a few places where we’ve worked ourselves up into a frenzy like, “This place is definitely haunted” but nothing beyond a flickering light or a spooky hotel that we paid for but was open but vacant. Like spooky scenarios but no full-blown paranormal experiences.
Yet, yeah. [laughs]
A ghost is also the central character in the video for “Bad Dreams”. What was filming this video like?
It was so much fun! We filmed the video for “Chorus Girl” where we tried to do a bit more of a serious storyline. We talked after and were like, “Every time we try to do something with an actual storyline it never really fully translates the idea we had in our heads”. Then Alex made the suggestion, “Let’s just do something that will be a fun day for us. If we’re just having fun it’ll turn into a good video”. We thought about all our past videos and all the ones that we look back on and think are visually the best are the ones where we’re having a good time. The idea was really simple because there’s all of that ghost imagery and stuff. We got our buddy Ralph to be in the video. He comes on tour with us a lot and he’s been on almost every European tour with us. If we show up without him, people aren’t like, “Good to see you!” They’re like, “Where’s Ralph?” He’s the most charismatic, funny guy. So we were like, “We’ll put him in a sheet and then we’ll just get him to come to one of our shows. We’ll have a whole day to just see what happens”. That was kind of the idea. It was so fun to shoot. We laughed so hard that day. It was just great.
The fun really comes through when you’re watching it.
That’s exactly what we were going for! It kinda goes in with our live thing too. When we’re playing live, we’re having fun. A lot of our lyrical content centers around serious themes but at the end of the day getting to perform them is the most fun thing to do. I think any of the three of us would say that. When we’re up there we’re having fun and we want to have that collective experience with people watching us also having fun so we took that same approach with the video. We’ll do something that’s fun so when people watch it, they’re like, “Haha, nice!” We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with the music video thing. [laughs]
You’ll be going on tour around Canada this fall and you’ll be playing the Music 4 Cancer and Le Deluge festivals as well. What are you looking forward to the most about these shows?
Definitely really, really looking forward to getting out there with a new record and playing the new songs live. That’s really exciting. We’ve been holding onto them for too long and I feel like once we get out and play them for people it will feel like we’re letting go of the songs and the past that created them. Also, I’m really looking forward to touring with our friends in MakeWar. We’ve been friends with those guys in passing for so many years, always running into them at Pouzza or the Fest or on tour and always having a ball and ending the night by saying, “We should do something!” It actually worked out this time so we’re really looking forward to teaming up with them for the Ontario and Quebec dates. And definitely looking forward to getting out West again because we have a lot of friends out there. I’m looking forward to seeing the mountains, personally. I like driving in the mountains, I'm a big fan of that. So basically, I’m looking forward to all of it. [laughs]
What song off the album are you looking forward to playing live the most?
That’s a good question! I think “Ride It Out” but I don’t know if we’re going to play it. That is one of my favourites, in my top three. I really love that song. I think two or three times over the past few years we’ve tried to play it in the practice space and we’re like, “I don’t remember how this song goes!” It literally hasn’t been played in years so I think we’re going to actually relearn how to play it because it’s been so long since we recorded it in the studio. I really like that song, I think it’s strong. In the third verse, there’s a lot of stuff that’s personal on a collective basis about the band and about our van getting stolen and stuff like that. I feel like it’ll feel good to have those parts presented live.
Let it out, let it go.
Exactly! [starts singing “Let It Go” from Frozen] [laughs]
That needs to be a cover.
We’ll just be playing Frozen songs. [laughs]
How would you describe the punk scene in Burlington?
I wouldn’t because I have no idea if there is anything anymore. We all live in Hamilton more or less. We’re from Burlington and growing up there was an amazing all-ages scene that we came in at the tail end of. There were a lot of bands we looked up to like Jersey which kind of went into Saint Alvia. Those bands were quite a few years older than us but when we were in grade 9 or whatever we had a ska punk band called The Bad Names - same members plus one more guitar player - and we played shows with them and stuff like that. I feel like around that time, Grade 7, 8, 9, it felt like there was a show at the Burlington YMCA every Friday and they were always really packed. It was weird because that’s when screamo and emo was really big and Burlington had a lot to do with that with Grade and Silverstein and Boys Night Out, there were a lot of those bands that propelled that scene at least in the context of Southern Ontario. At that time we were 13-14 and more like, “If it’s not Rancid, then it’s stupid!” There were screamo/emo shows and there were ska shows and we went to a lot of ska shows. I had checkerboard shorts, we played a lot of hacky sack. [laughs] The scene was good growing up and we had a lot of opportunities to play. It kinda fell off, it felt like, by the time we were 16-17. But there’s always been people who have kept it alive and we’ve tried to do our part in that as well. I feel like a lot of it that started in Burlington has shifted to Hamilton. It’s really expensive to live in Burlington now. It’s different from when we were younger so a lot of people moved to Hamilton. There’s a lot of good music and a lot of continuation from those things that we were in growing up. It seems to be happening more in Hamilton now rather than in Burlington which is cool.
What does the future hold for the Penske File?
We’ve got that Canadian tour coming up. We’ve got a European tour that we’re going to be doing in early 2024 and we’ll probably get into the States for a handful of shows next year. Getting out there and supporting the record and getting our road legs back. Playing some tunes, really looking forward to that. We’re also going to start to make more new music again. Trying to keep on top of it, trying to keep it fun, trying to keep it inspired, and keep going one foot after the other. [laughs]
|Sept 08||London, ON||Palisade Social Bowl||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 09||Toronto, ON||Hardluck||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 10||Barrie, ON||Queens Night Club||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 12||Oshawa, ON||Atria||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 13||Ottawa, ON||Dominion||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 14||Montreal, QC||Turbo Haus||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 15||Jonquiere, QC||Déluge Fest||(w/ Make War)|
|Sept 16||Sainte-Thérèse, QC||Music 4 Cancer Fest||(w/ Make War)|
|Oct 12||Edmonton, AB||The Buckingham|
|Oct 13||Kelowna, BC||The Well|
|Oct 14||Vancouver, BC||Lanalou's|
|Oct 15||Rossland, BC||Flying Steamshovel|
|Oct 16||Golden, BC||Rockwater's|
|Oct 17||Banff, AB||Rose and Crown|
|Oct 18||Calgary, AB||Ship and Anchor|