Singer / guitarist Ramón Bieri and lead guitarist Brendan Ward had been making music in Portland for years before forming PennyMart.
First, with Navarone Bandit back in 2014, which featured David Robert Burrows of Kulululu on drums and bassist Dillon Pierce Glusker. They would usually pack the house and tear it apart. They changed their name to Telephant in 2016. Why is anyone’s guess. Portland has a knack for funny band names if you take the time to look around. The music of Telephant was in a progressive indie-pop idiom. It was danceable, dynamic, impressive, and complex. I would consider the composition and execution of Telephant world-class for that particular style of music.
If you need analytical comparisons to other bands, think of what The Strokes would sound like if you did some musical gene splicing, incorporating the experimental nature of King Crimson and Zappa with the bass-heavy / rock steady influences of Television or later Clash records. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. PennyMart is Bieri and Ward’s continuation of their collaborative effort, which features a new rhythm section, Geoff Victor Pope on bass, and Stefan Turner on drums. Their debut single ‘Wonderbread’ is a prime example of contemporary hard hitting rock ’n’ roll.
The first single features subdued slap-back vocals, ’70s style hard rock riffs and a bass-driven interlude ornamented with atmospheric lead lines. The sound is clearly a departure from their previous projects. The lyrical content is brash and socially cognizant. They describe the single as “a provocative commentary on the relationship between Portland’s hyper gentrification, ’90s fetishizing, and our city’s dormant and disturbing racist history.”
From a verse: “You think you know / Where you’re moving to / But you never seen the Pearl / With crackheads and red-light girls / You never saw the skinheads spillin’ blood in the street.” Clearly, they are addressing the droves of people moving to Portland. They are addressing the lack of knowledge many people may have regarding racist skinhead culture in the area (both past and present). They are also addressing the development of what was once a seedy industrial neighborhood (the Pearl)—now filled with overpriced boutiques and tourist attractions.
The song continues: “You livin’ in the Radio Room / Eatin’ in a Tin Shed / Talkin ’bout the protest / But you never counted pennies at the Murder Market.” If you’ve walked down NE Alberta over the past decade you will get at least two of these references. The other, the Penny Market, is a stark contrast to the other two. Overall, the complexity that was obvious in Telephant is now subtle. It has been traded for punk rock brutality and lyrically pointedness that might get some of the Portland people—who are very often afraid to move at shows—slam dancing. Or at the very least, doing a little more than loafing around.
You can listen to their debut single ‘Wonderbread’ below: