Interview with our ReverbNation Winner, Chicago’s Mandy Pennington!
1. Age and how long in the industry?
I’m 21 years old, and I’ve been playing music my whole life, but pursuing it as a career since I was about sixteen. My first album came out two years ago, when I was 19.
2. Let's have some fun! What's your Zodiac Sign?
My Zodiac sign is Gemini, but I’ve never really gotten into that kind of stuff; I just had to Google that! What I really love is personality tests like the Myers Briggs and the Enneagram. Exploring myself through those avenues is so cool.
3. What is your main inspirational philosophy in life? Favorite quote?
My inspirational philosophy is self-betterment. I think that the healthier you become as a person, the best version of yourself you can possibly be, the more equipped you are to influence the world around you. Interestingly enough, introspection can help so much with relating to the external world and being able to make lasting relationships and meaningful impacts. Self- awareness also creates the most truthful art. I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a favorite quote, but there are a lot of lyrics that strike me as powerful.
4. Ok, now...who are YOU as an artist? What is your story?
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 have five younger siblings—four brothers and a sister—and two happily married parents.
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. 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 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 took violin lessons for seven years, starting when I six years old. In middle school, I played in orchestra, and I started taking piano lessons. In high school, I took classical voice at a music academy, and learned to expose myself to styles other than just contemporary. I also was very involved in music theater growing up, and continued to do a few shows at college, as well. 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. 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.
5. Who are your musical influences and what genre of music would you say your style is?
I LOVE Sara Bareilles. And Ingrid Michaelson. And Taylor Swift. Sara Bareilles’ lyrics are just so incredibly beautiful, and insightful, and spun perfectly on her simultaneously lilting and heart- wrenching melodies. I’ve cried to Sara’s songs more than any other songs in the world. They move me so much. My favorites are probably Manhattan, Between the Lines, Bottle it Up...There are so many great ones.
Ingrid Michaelson has some of those songs too, like Drink Me Gone and Over You and Everybody’s Gonna Love Me Now and The Chain, that really get me, but she also has a fun and spunky side that is so lovable and contagious. I had the opportunity to see her live in Chicago a couple years ago and she inspired me to move forward with my music. I would love to perform like her someday.
And Taylor Swift...you gotta love Taylor Swift! At least I do. I really am not a huge fan of country music, so I started getting into her around the Red era, but have now learned to appreciate it all. I love her honesty and her fearlessness (no pun intended), and her live shows are just a total blast. She also has some major jam songs.
My style would be considered singer-songwriter or pop or maybe a mix of both. Both are very wide genres, and the artists I mentioned above would fit into those as well, I think.
6. What is the state of the music industry right now? Where is it going?
The music industry has changed a LOT over the last decades, obviously, with the internet and the rise of streaming and the decline of CD sales and home recording studios, and the fact that anyone can put their music online now! It’s basically a free-for- all and talent is no longer the most important ingredient to becoming successful. It’s so much harder than I imagined when I was on the outside; it’s branding and constant social media updating and photoshoots and new video content and doing interviews like this one while simultaneously trying to create great art! I think the industry is going in an exciting direction; being in the bustle of Nashville life even felt exciting to me, but I think it’s definitely harder than ever to “make it” because of the influx of people trying to do just that.
7. How is your Art “your Religion”?
Creating art goes along with self-improvement for me. I’ve studied about a lot of poets and musicians who use their writing as therapy, and I think that a lot of the time, that’s what it is for me. I try to be as honest as I possibly can in my writing, and usually if I force a song out I don’t end up liking it. I’m committed to creating art that both expresses the things I need to express and also relates to others in a way that is universal and meaningful. I honestly don’t think I would be who I am without the ability and even the compulsion to create music.
8. What are you truly creating with your music that changes the world, changes society?
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. I hope that whatever I create is not just personal, though. I want to help society see that being vulnerable is a positive thing, and that feeling deeply is okay, and normal. I especially have a passion for those suffering with depression or other emotional struggles.
9. What is the spiritual, political or social message of your music?
I think just what I’ve said above, that society has become all about appearances, but what we feel inside, and truth about ourselves, is much more important than portraying ourselves as someone we’re not just to gain approval or false love.
10. What do you really think it takes to make it in the music industry? Tell us 3 keys.
I think number one, you have to have incredible music or an incredible talent. If you have a great voice or are awesome at the guitar, you can probably have someone write you some catchy songs. If you’re an incredible songwriter but can’t sing a lick, you can sell your songs to someone who can. One or the other.
A great brand. This doesn’t necessarily mean an amazing fashion sense or that you have to be really good-looking, but that you have to be unique, have something that sets you apart from everyone else in look, meaning, or message.
A great team. I truly believe that a support system is vital to success. Have people around you to support your art and do all of the business work for you so you can focus on creation, or even just having a fanbase in your friends and family, can make all the difference.
11. Where do you see your career going in 2018?
Well, I’m graduating from my university in May with three majors: Audio Engineering, Commercial Vocal Performance, and English. I’m moving to Nashville to do an internship at a studio in June, and then will stay there to pursue my career. I hope to record a few more singles this year, and to connect and write with fellow musicians down in Nashville. I would just love to ingrain myself into that music community and learn to thrive there.
12. Legacy: At the end of the day, how do you want your fans to remember you and your music?
I want to be remembered as authentic and honest. I want to be someone they feel like they can talk to and relate to, and who has songs that tell them truths about themselves. Lofty goals, but I believe it can happen.
Find Mandy here: