Founded in 2012, Iowa-based American indie-rock band, The Penny Serfs are no strangers to the music scene or the tour circuit. Band members Mikey Loy, Stu Tenold, Kyle Lewis, and Aiden Landman have worked behind the scenes on the production side of the music industry and decided it was time to get off the bench and answer their true callings.
The band’s follow up to Like Eating Glass was released earlier this year. Politics in the Time of Heroin can be found on Spotify and Apple Music. On the new album, the band shared: “Politics in the Time of Heroin is a fiery memorandum of the state of the world as seen by The Penny Serfs; smashed between catchy songs and moody vibes.”
Singer Mikey Loy received life-threatening injuries that jeopardized his health and the bands future. After a long recovery, Mikey and the band are back stronger than ever.
Music Madness checked in with Stu Tenold of the Penny Serfs to get an update on the band, new music and the church…
Music Madness: The follow up to Like Eating Glass, Politics in the Time of Heroin was released earlier this year.
Stu: Yeah, that’s right. We kind of had it sitting on the shelf for a little while and we were kind of trying to decide what to do with it. Do we try to push for a label release or something? Finally, we just decided that we just wanted to get it out there, and then realized we should probably tell people about this thing. So that’s kind of where we are right now the, oh yeah, well we recorded this great record, we should let people know that it’s out there and try to get it in their ears.
Music Madness: Yeah, it’s funny how that works, you know. You do all that hard work, you put your blood, sweat, and tears into the music, and then you’re like, shit. That’s not it. There’s all this other stuff we have to do?
Stu: That’s the thing, man. We all started playing music because we wanted to play music, not because we wanted to have to think about record releases, and all the stuff that goes into that. We just want to play some tunes, you know.
Music Madness: Exactly. Well, you guys are all involved in the music industry as well, correct?
Stu: Yeah, yeah. We all work for the same band, so we travel around the world supporting the national act in various technical ways, which, most of us, have been doing for quite a while. So, it’s kind of nice to be working in the music business I guess, for our day jobs, and it also means that we basically have the same schedule, so when we’re all free, we’re all free at the same time usually for a chunk of time, which is kind of nice.
Music Madness: Very cool. Do you ever get an opportunity to open for the band you work for?
Stu: You know, we’ve done a couple of festivals that they have put on or played, but they haven’t given us a shot to do a normal opening slot for them which, maybe one of these days we’ll see. But, they have kind of a tendency to pick a certain kind of band for their support slots and we’re kind of just a little bit too rock-n-roll for that I think.
Music Madness: How has the reception been for the new record?
Stu: It’s really good. It’s kind of strange for us because we were working on this thing a couple years ago, so now for us it’s old news. We have listened to it a bazillion times and so we’re already ready to move on to the next thing, but we keep on forgetting it’s kind of fresh for everybody else. We are just a little disenchanted like, oh yeah, yeah, that record, whatever.
Whereas, anybody listening to it now is like, oh, this is amazing, yeah, tell us about this thing. We’re like, yeah that happened, but let me tell you about what we’re doing now. You know. Funny.
Music Madness: If the new music had all that fanfare at the beginning, people would already be like what’s coming up next? So, you can’t win either way. You know that, right.
Stu: Oh yeah, oh yeah. We’ve come to grips with that.
Music Madness: Right on. Tell us who the Penny Serfs are.
Stu: Mikey, the lead singer, he’s basically a dude born and raised in Midwest. He lived for like fifteen years out in Phoenix. He was in this major label, like Interscope, band called Chronic Future back in the early 2000s, which is kind of, what got him hooked on this whole music thing. He kind of put the whole thing together. He just kind of schemed away while he was working for other bands, with this idea of trying to get some friends together that were all people that were on tour, and put this project together.
Kyle Lewis is the drummer. He and I worked together for years before I ever met Mikey. He and Mikey were on a tour together, Mikey enlisted him, then Kyle brought Mikey onto the tour that I was working on, and we all kind of hit it off. They invited me to come out and play a couple shows with them out in Iowa and thought that sounds like fun. And by the end of that trip, I was in the band.
So that happened, and then AJ is from the same area as Mikey, kind of the Quad Cities area of Iowa. And they have known each other for years and years, but didn’t really get to know each other that well until Mikey kind of brought him into the tour working as well. Turns out that he’s a really amazing bass player, so it kind of all fell together perfectly.
Music Madness: It’s nice when that happens, for sure. Now, you guys have done some music, then you had a little time away, now you guys are back, is everything behind you guys after that scare?
Stu: What happened was Mikey and I decided to buy this church in the small town that he lives in, LeClaire, Iowa. It’s amazing, built in 1870, but it was just a total dump that was just trashed. We had this idea like, hey, let’s buy this really cheap property and we can do a little work on it ourselves because we all know a thing or two about construction work, and let’s just fix it up a little bit and then we’ve got a great place to have rehearsals and maybe do some recording.
We may have bit off a bigger bite than we could chew, and it turned into a huge project, so Mikey has been working non-stop on this thing for almost two years now. But I guess maybe about nine months ago, kind of right after we released the record, he was working up in the ceiling, and this thing’s a church, so it’s got these really high ceilings. And he’d been running around on these rafters for a year and giving people shit about, oh, it’s not going to break, it’s fine. And sure enough he’s up there and one of the beams gets wet and, his brother was working with him, and he had managed to jump to safety, but he fell face first from, I don’t know, it’s probably like sixteen feet or something, straight down onto the ground.
His kid was there, and he was knocked unconscious, destroyed his jaw, both of his hands, just completely wrecked himself. He had to have his mouth wired shut for like eight weeks or something crazy, had metal bars in both of his hands. So it really, needless to say, kind of shut things down for a little bit while he put himself back together again, but he’s back to fighting weight now. We’re back at it, but it was pretty scary.
Music Madness: Oh, I’m sure. It sounds like it has made you guys stronger and back at it, so hopefully good things come from all of that. By the way, I have actually stayed in LeClaire, Iowa before.
Stu: Oh really? That’s funny. Yeah, it’s definitely not a place I ever would’ve expected to go to, probably for any reason, until this all came together. Now I spend quite a bit of time out there, and it’s a charming place. I’m born and raised in California, so the Midwest is kind of an unknown for me. It’s definitely interesting. Good people out there. Just different folks from us Coasters.
Music Madness: Now you are proud owners of a church…planning to do any videos in the church?
Stu: It’s still on the books. We really should have done something when it was all fucked up, but now it looks beautiful so, it’d probably be pretty cool, but not as cool as it would have been back when it was just a total disaster. I’m sure we will probably in the not so distant future. We pretty much just finished like, this past week, so it’s kind of time to start moving in.
Music Madness: What are in the plans next? Touring? New Music?
Stu: Well we actually just got back from some recording sessions out in LeClaire, kind of working on some new material. There’s a song called “My Dad’s Dead” actually, that Mikey wrote not long after falling out of the ceiling, because that’s what his kid was running around screaming when he fell.
Music Madness: Wow. That sounds intense.
Stu: So, we’ve been working on some new material. We’ve got a tour that we’re kind of putting together right now. Probably February, and probably some of March, and looking at trying to do the Southwest this year. We’ve avoided it long enough, but we feel that we should probably just buckle up and head out there. So, we’ll probably head out there in March and kind of take it from there.
Music Madness: Very cool. All right, so the theme of the last album had a political vibe to it. What typically inspires the band when writing new music?
Stu: It’s interesting. It’s hard for me to ever speak for Mikey in terms of what he’s writing about. I don’t know where he gets some of this shit from, but the record was all pretty much written for the previous, the 2016 election. It kind of came out of a time prior to what feels like this extremely sort of political landscape that we’re in. It’s sort of when things were simmering before it really kind of started to boil over, but regardless of where anyone’s political standing might be, I think everyone can kind of agree that the political system in our country has been kind of messed up for quite some time, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
I think a lot of it was an expression of just frustration with either people that are supposed to be representing us, and really just representing themselves, and kind of doing whatever it is that they want to do and whatever their personal interests are as opposed to the interest of the people. So I think a big part of that, is just kind of our frustration with everything going on, and I mean, now it rings even more true than it maybe did when we were actually writing it.
Music Madness: Funny how that happens.
Stu: Yeah, I mean, it’s a strange world out there right now. I can’t really wrap my head around it. It’s like, I used to be able to have a reasonable conversation with people of an opposing viewpoint on politics five, ten years ago, and now I feel like nobody even wants to sit at the table and talk about anything. It’s just finger pointing from both sides. That’s not going to move anything forward for anybody.
Music Madness: You do some serious jamming on the tune “Somebody Else”. Can you tell us about the song?
Stu: Yeah, that’s interesting. Mikey, Kyle, and me were on tour with this artist Sufjan Stevens, and he has a few really, really incredible songs where he sits down and plays piano on them, and we were kind of really inspired by his music and what he was feeling. So we kind of, over the course of that tour, just he and I would sit at the piano every day and work on stuff before sound check. It kind of just slowly evolved from every day on tour, just pushing it a little bit further and working on it together. But yeah, it’s kind of a special song for both of us.
Music Madness: Very cool. Do you have a cover that you guys like to break and play?
Stu: It’s funny, we have a cover of “Walking in L.A.”, which, I don’t know if we’ve actually released it or not, but we’ve recorded a cover of that song, and we’ve been playing a lot of different songs. We will throw a cover into most of our sets, just because it’s a lot of fun. There’s a Harry Nelson song called “Breaking My Heart” that we recovered for a little while that’s really great.
We’ve been playing this Matthew Sweet song recently because we’re all kind of kids of the 90s. We’ve got a little bit of 90s alternative still in our blood that we’ve got to get out every one in a while. There’s a Traveling Wilbury’s song we play once in a while. We kind of like to mix it up because we all have a lot of different musical influences.
Music Madness: Very cool and I think fans really get into it as well. I remember being at a Dead show once, them coming out for an encore and breaking out “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash, which you never would have expected, which makes it that much cooler.
Stu: That’s awesome. That must have been amazing. It’s a funny thing though. There’s like this Weezer cover of a Toto song that’s been on the radio recently?
It’s like too spot on. It’s so good, like so close to the original, that you’re almost like wait is this the original. No, no, no. This is somebody else. I think that’s kind of the cool thing about playing someone else’s song is that you have the opportunity to sort of reinterpret it, or change it up and make it something new instead of just, I don’t know, doing what’s already been done.
Music Madness: Exactly. I think the fun part is that it takes people down memory lane. Sometimes they’re like, holy shit, remember that song from high school? Especially those songs that everybody knows but haven’t heard in a hot minute and all of a sudden you’re like, holy shit. I think that gives an even cooler element to it.
Stu: Right, totally. Yeah, totally. It’s funny, there’s this kid in LeClaire who kind of latched onto the band and helps us out with a bunch of things, and he’s probably a decade younger than any of us, and he had no idea who Toto was, or I don’t know if he’d ever even heard the original. So, to him it was something brand new, which was kind of cool.
Music Madness: Yeah, that is cool.
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