Tell us everything will need to know about you.
I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky; I’ve lived there since I was 9 years old, but I have gone to Greenville University in Greenville, IL for the last four years. I’m graduating this May (2018) with three majors: Audio Engineering, Commercial Music (Vocal Performance), and English. I will be moving to Nashville in June to finish my degree with an internship at a recording studio, and then will be pursuing my career in music.
I have five younger siblings—four brothers and a sister—and two happily married parents. My mom is a mosaic artist and my dad is a professor/writer—we have a very artistic family. My favorite color is blue, I love to roller-skate. I also love to buy dresses; they’re my favorite kind of clothing. Right now I’m really into late-80s early-90s fashion. My favorite book series is Harry Potter and my favorite TV shows would probably be Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, and Friends. I really love hot drinks.
State your favorite genre of music and your reason.
I love singer-songwriter. I know that’s a broad genre, and some of those people can also cross over into pop because that’s an even broader genre. My favorite artists are Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, and Taylor Swift, who I think fit into both of those categories. The reason I love singer-songwriters is that I think they capture the truest forms of emotions in their lyrics, and then let them unfold in simple and catchy melodies. That is not to say that other genres do not also tell true emotions, but songs by artists like Sara and Ingrid, and Taylor have always had a special place in my heart and moved me in a way that other genres cannot. I would also place myself in the singer-songwriter genre.
Tell us your experience as a musician.
I’ve been into music since I was really little. My favorite thing to watch when I was really little was Veggie Tales, and my dad, who was a worship leader at the time, would play all of the Veggie Tales songs on his guitar and we’d dance around the living room and sing them at the top of our lungs. They are even videos of me banging on our keyboard when I was about two years old. I had my first solo when I was 4 years old when I sang “Silent Night” in German in a Christmas pageant at my church (incredible; I have no idea how I did that). I started taking violin lessons when my family moved to St. Andrews, Scotland, which was when I was six years old. My little brother and I would busk on the side of the street at Christmas time, playing Christmas duets on our violins, and we made a decent amount of money, and even raked in some chocolate Santas one year. When we moved back to the States (Kentucky), my brother and I joined the Louisville Youth Orchestra, in which we played for a number of years. I also started taking piano lessons and grew to love the piano. In high school, I chose to stop taking violin lessons and continue with piano and vocal lessons. I took classical voice at a music academy and learned to expose myself to styles other than just contemporary. Also, from when I was about 9 years old; I became involved in musical theater. My first role was Gloria in The Wizard of Oz, and from then on I was Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer (twice), a singing plate in Beauty and the Beast, Maria in West Side Story, Lindsay in Godspell, Marian Paroo in The Music Man, and many more. For a long time, I wanted to pursue a career on Broadway, but then I realized that I couldn’t dance and that the rough rejection of not getting parts I really wanted was going to be too hard for me in the long run. I took up songwriting when I was fifteen, and fell in love with it. Ever since I was sixteen or seventeen, I knew I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I won some state fair karaoke competitions during middle and high school, and I continued to grow my craft. Going to university to study vocal performance was one of the best decisions of my life because working with other musicians and being in an atmosphere of passion and dedication really transformed me as an artist. I got to play and write with others almost constantly, being a part of multiple bands on campus, and eventually added a major in audio engineering after spending so much time in the recording studios on campus. Private vocal and piano lessons, being a part of choir and chamber group, and being poured into by music faculty were things that shaped me into the artist I am today. I experience music as an expression of pent-up feelings, or a poetic way to carefully tell the truth. I can’t imagine myself or the world without it.
Tell us the theme of your song.
In one-word phrases, “Down” is about acceptance, sorrow, melancholy, bittersweetness, realization, revelation, misunderstanding, regret, and many more things.
Name the people behind your success and thank them on this platform.
There are many people behind my success, as there always are. My parents, of course, for paying for music lessons for so many years, practicing with me, driving me to rehearsals day after day, and always encouraging and supporting me. My dad, specifically, for giving me a love for music. My high school voice teachers, Emily and Nancy Albrink, who taught me to love classical voice, and without whom I would not have flourished as much as a vocalist in college. My college voice teacher, Miriam Angela Porter, who has been there to tell me I’m amazing and to tell me when I’m not so amazing. She has always been so truthful and so kind to me in my vocal studies and songwriting classes with her and has become like a college mom to me. I’ve spent at least five percent of my lessons crying and talking about life in her office. Actually, all of my music teachers throughout the years (there have been eleven) have made a huge impact on me. Dr. Jeff Wilson, or “Doc,” my choir director in college, who has also poured so much into me, taught me so much about singing and music and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Stephen Leiweke, who let me hang around his studio all summer even though I turned down his internship initially, and then took stock in me and believed in me and helped me make the first record that I’ve actually been proud of for a long time. He makes me feel at home in Nashville. Thanks to all of you, because there’s no way I would be where I am personally, emotionally, or musically without you.
Tell us about your future goals.
Well, my dream is to be a self-sufficient musician and be able to quit my day jobs. I would love to tour for a while, and I absolutely love being in the studio, so I’d like to create as many more records as I possibly can, and maybe even help others make theirs. I want to live in a community of artists who all write and perform together and love what they do.
I also would love to go to graduate school at some point in my life; I really value education and bettering myself. I also really want a family someday; relationships and family are a value I hold very dear.
Go into detail about your opinion on religion and politics.
I am a Christian and have been saved since I was thirteen years old. My dad was a worship pastor growing up, and now is a professor at a seminary, as well as a guest lecturer and preacher at many churches. I have led worship at various churches since I was thirteen or so, and am now the worship director at a church in Highland, Illinois. I believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and of our condemnation to hell because of our inherent sinful nature without that grace. This belief has carried me through a lot of pain and heartache and brought hope to times of loneliness and depression.
Politically, I lean Republican, but can’t fully commit to either side. I am pro-life, for sure. I am undecided on many issues, not because I don’t care, but because I like to be thoughtful in my beliefs, and I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I forgot to fill out my absentee ballot registration, so I didn’t even get to vote in my first election last year. Depressing.
Elaborate on how you think your music is inspiring your fans.
I hope that my fans can see themselves in the songs I write. I want to do for others what my favorite artists have done for me: make them feel understood and like their feelings are heard. My favorite artists have put into words the things I knew I felt but didn’t know how to express, and I would love to do that as well. For these reasons, I work to be truthful and authentic in everything that I write, in hopes that those who listen will be able to relate and gain some insight from each song.
Explain the changes you have observed so far in the music industry.
I see a lot of indie musicians making a living without needing a label. I see an exponential surplus of musicians trying to “make it,” whatever that means. I see the internet overcrowded with so much music in every form and every genre, which almost evens the playing field for new musicians, but also can be deafening. I think the music industry right now seems very overwhelming to enter, with so many people all wanting the same thing, and it being so hard to get people’s attention. However, I’m certainly willing to try.
State the artists you cherish most and your reason.
Sara Bareilles. Sara is my ALL-TIME FAVORITE artist because she has touched my soul in a way no one else has. In my worst breakups and my darkest moments of doubt, her songs have understood me. Her lyrics give me moments of introspection, realization, and revelation. The way she spins those lyrics into simultaneously complex and simple melodies baffles me. I admire her so much as an artist and love the piano-ballad sound. My favorites of hers are “Manhattan,” “Between the Lines,” “Gravity,” “December,” “1000 Times,” and “Bright Lights and Cityscapes,” though it’s so hard to choose.
Ingrid Michaelson. Ingrid does the same thing as Sara for me; the lyrical depth behind some of her songs is just incredible. However, Ingrid brings fun to it as well, with songs like “You and I,” “The Way I Am,” “Be OK,” “Hell No,” and many others. Seeing her live was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. She was so lovable and kind and fun-loving and relatable onstage, and I felt immediately connected to her as an artist and a person. The sonic sound of her recordings is also so intriguing and enjoyable to listen to.
Taylor Swift. Funny story: I hated Taylor Swift when I was in middle school because I hated country music. However, a friend forced me to listen to her, and I got really into “Fearless”, and from then on it was a straight shot to joining the fandom. I love Taylor for her lyrics, her music, her fun-loving spirit, her style, her branding, her savageness, her drama, her live shows, really, her everything. Her live shows are SUCH a spectacle, and I love them. I got to see the Red tour and the 1989 tour, and I’m so excited to see the Reputation tour in August. Taylor just inspires me in every way possible. Can I please be her (in another life, maybe)?
Give us the links to your social network and stores.
Elaborate on how you develop your lyrics.
My lyrics start from so many different places. Sometimes I have one or two-word phrases that I think would be a great title or hook, and I build from them. Sometimes, I write a poem first and put music to it. Always, the lyrics are something I’ve been feeling or thinking about, and they always come from the heart. Sometimes, I’ll do a free-write, where I’ll sit down at my laptop with a blank word document, set a timer for 10 minutes, and write whatever I want without stopping. Most of it comes out as gibberish because sometimes I’ll just write the same word over and over, or the lyrics to an old song, but there are always a couple of things I can pick out and use to start a song. Most of the time, I’ll sit down at the piano, start a voice memo on my phone, and play and sing whatever comes out. A lot of the time, lyrics will just come out of my mouth if I don’t think about it. I always make sure I’m recording for when they do. Then I hone them later.
Tell us if you enjoy collaborating with other artists or just singing as a solo artist.
I love collaboration! There’s something about being on stage with other people or writing a song with others, that is such a thrill. I love the idea that people can create beautiful art together. I’ve been in multiple different bands. The first I don’t like to count, but I was in a Christian cover band when I was in middle school. We were really bad. We were called “Brought to Life” and we only had one reality show, which only our parents showed up to. Sad. Freshman year of college I had a band called Highland, and I co-wrote all of the songs for that band with the other lead singer, Trey Brockman. It was a fun experience to co-lead a band, and a great experience for me early on in my music career to get to play shows in St. Louis, and record my first real EP in the studio. The EP we came out with was called “On Love,” and I’m really proud of it, even though the band broke up shortly after. I had a backing band for my music the next year. We called ourselves the Mandy Pennington Band, the Pennington Project, and some other names I won’t recount here. Last year I did a project called A.M. with my friend Adam Lamb, and we wrote and recorded ten electronic pop songs all in a semester, a feat I would not attempt again, as we were both also taking full class loads and working jobs.
However, that project was so satisfying, because I wrote so well with Adam—better than I’d written with anyone—and my faith in co-writing was restored. I also had the pleasure of producing and recording the whole record with Adam, and two other producers, and being a part of the collaborative process the entire time, as opposed to tracking and then letting the audio engineer do the rest of the work. Collaboration with other artists has made me better. Other artists can always teach you things you didn’t know you needed to learn. Of course, performing alone is a completely different experience, and one I enjoy, as well, but playing with a band behind me gives me a feeling of community and support that I really appreciate.
Brief us your opinion on making music that makes people dance or making the kind of music with a genuine message that inspires them.
I think both are fine, and the world needs both. I definitely prefer songs with a genuine message that inspires me, because that’s the meat of the music that I love. However, I wouldn’t want to listen to that all of the time. When I’m getting ready for a dance I don’t listen to songs that make me want to cry! I listen to Top 40 pop stations because that’s what pumps me up. There’s a place for both. I definitely make music in the latter category, however.
Tell us what you know about copyright.
I know some from music business classes; I know that to officially copyright the songs you have to go through the US government and that copyright infringement (taking or stealing from others’ art) is a federal offense.
Discuss the impact of a Performing Rights Organization.
Performing Rights Organizations are very important for independent artists nowadays. They track where your song is played—live, on radio stations, on playlists, etc. Without them, artists miss potential royalties and revenue. I’ve made a decent amount of money from radio play through my association with ASCAP. I have a publishing company and an artist account with them.
Elaborate on how you develop your melody and instrumentation.
Well, my songs are written in multiple different ways, but I usually start with a chord progression. After that, the melody and lyrics come at the same time. There’s a rhythm to the way that words are said that really helps the development of a melody. I usually write on the piano, and then instrumentation follows from there. Having a producer really helps me because a lot of the time it’s difficult for me to imagine the other instruments’ parts on a song I’ve written. I’ve been lucky to work with some awesome engineers, producers, and instrumentalists who have been really creative and made my songs come to life.
Go into detail on the recording process of this song.
I tracked this song at Yackland studios with producer/engineer Stephen Leiweke. We did a demo/production track in August with just acoustic guitar, vocals, and MIDI drums so that we could send a recording of the arrangement to the bass player and drummer. Then, in October, I brought my drummer, T.J. Steinwart, down to Nashville and we tracked drums with Stephen. I tracked my friend Nathan Moll playing bass in the studios at my school, Greenville University. Stephen played acoustic and electric guitar on the track. We spent a lot of time on the vocals, getting the emotion and the tone just as we wanted it, and we comped the vocals together to get the best takes right after we were done recording. Working with Stephen was a very inclusive and collaborative process, which was so nice. I tuned the vocals when I was back at school, and recorded background parts, and sent the files back to Stephen in Nashville, where he mixed the song. It was an awesome experience to work with him on the track; it came out sounding exactly how I imagined it.
Discuss your music performance.
I try to be as heartfelt, authentic, and relatable as I can be on stage. I don’t like having a barrier between me and the audience, so I try to invite them into experiencing what I’m experiencing, and I try to feel how they’re feeling. I have no stage fright when it comes to singing and playing, but I do have a little bit when the song is over and I have to say something. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, and now it’s starting to come more naturally. I have come to see my friends as fans (as many of them are), which makes it so much better.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
Mandy Pennington. It’s just my name! My legal name is Amanda, but I’ve been called Mandy since I was a baby.
State the title of the song and the meaning.
This song is called “Down.” It’s about someone who has realized that their relationship is failing and is doomed to fail, and is forced to accept that reality with grace and courage. As opposed to some relationships that end suddenly and with no warning, the listener gets the feeling that the ending of this one has been a long time coming. The song isn’t supposed to be as depressing as some of the other songs I’ve written, but more just melancholy. There’s a line in the second verse that says “the free fall might be thrilling, but we’re gonna hit the ground sometime.” This was written from personal experience, as I was in a relationship that was full of passion and really exciting, and also unhealthy. The thrilling part of the relationship was that we both knew how bad it was for us, and this song is what I wish I had thought, and what I wish I had said, in that situation. I wish I could have realized that the end was inevitable. For this reason, this song represents the strength and the wisdom that I never had to recognize something unhealthy and to walk away.
State the title of the album and the reason for picking the title.
The record is called “Now & Then.” I am really terrible at coming up with titles, so I posted on Facebook asking my fans to come up with titles for me. I got some really awesome submissions, but nothing that I was 100% set on. I searched through all of the lyrics of the seven songs that are on the record and wrote down anything that caught my attention. It was actually my engineer/producer, Stephen Leiweke, that suggested this title to me. It’s from the last verse of “Neighbor”, the last song on the record. The verse is: “Hello neighbor, hello friend /You don’t even have a clue of who I am / but I see you through my window now and then / I could make you happy again.” I felt like this title represented the whole theme of the record, which is reminiscence and looking back at where I came from and where I am now. The songs are full of memories and pain and also joy and looking to the future. I felt that “Neighbor,” which is the most innocent and perhaps even poignant song on the record, was a fitting one to take the title from, as well. It was between “Now & Then” or “Dear Old Friend,” but I’m really glad I went with the former. Maybe I’ll use the other one for another project someday.