One of the best albums you are likely to hear this year comes from Burlington, Ontario's The Penske File. The band's upcoming album titled 'Salvation' comes with eleven punk rock songs that are as honest and heartfelt as they are anthemic and full of raw energy. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Travis Miles to talk about all things 'Salvation,' which will be out April 6 via Gunner Records/Stomp Records.
PRT: It's been three years since 'Burn Into The Earth' came out. How did you spend that time as a band?
Travis: We've been keeping pretty busy. Spent a lot of the last 3 years on the road supporting the album. Between tours in the summer and fall of 2016, we spent a ton of time working on songs for 'Salvation'. We went into the studio in the winter of 2016/2017 and recorded the album more or less in two weeks consecutively. The record took a very long time to be mixed and we remixed everything a few times. So as these things go, its release was pushed back multiple times. But we still kept busy with shows and a few bigger tours in 2017 and released an EP containing the song 'Come What May' off of 'Salvation' and a B-side called 'Oh Brother' that we recorded during the album sessions but decided to leave off the album itself.
PRT: What's the story behind calling the album 'Salvation'?
Travis: We had a bunch of album names kicking around for a long while after recording, and 'Salvation' wasn't one of them. A lot of the titles were kind of long and wordy and one of the guys mentioned that it'd be cool to just have a one word name for the album that kind of summed it up in ways. At the same time, we were considering options for the album art and I stumbled across a photo a friend of ours, Kyle Fisher, took. It was a car with deflated tires seemingly abandoned in the desert and it had the word "Salvation" painted across the body. I thought the hopefulness of the word set against the bleak condition of the car probed an emotion that was in keeping with the themes on the record. I showed the guys the photo and suggested we used it for the cover and Salvation for the name and it just seemed right, so we stuck with it.
PRT: The first thing I noticed about the new album, is the simply massive opener and first single 'Kamikaze Kids,' which just blew me away. Can you tell us a bit more about that song and where it came from?
Travis: Thanks! Yeah, that song came about very gradually and collaboratively. Alex had the first verse and the 'kamikaze kids' refrain kicking around for a bit and would play it from time to time on acoustic during inebriated nights throughout the summer of 2016. We all knew there was something there, but it kind of just remained as a part for a little while until Alex and I went down to my family place in Crystal Beach, ON to hang out, have a fire and go over some song ideas. He played the verse and refrain and a lightbulb went off. I had been working on some lyrics and a concept of a chorus that seemed to fit well, after agreeing on that and being generally excited about it we threw some lyrics back and forth and quickly sculpted the second verse. Fast forward a month or so and we were hanging out in our old jam space with a couple buds, one of them being our pal Chuck Coles who's a great musician and songwriter himself. We were messing around a bit with the song on acoustics and Chuck came up with a lead guitar riff that we loved and claimed for the song, with his gracious consent. That same night we all swirled some ideas around and collectively formed the song's bridge around some lyrics Alex had kicking around.
Where the original sentiment of the lyrics came from is probably a better question for Alex, as the whole song was formed around his original verse/refrain. But if I had to take a stab at it, I'd say the song is, in a way, an ode to a lot of our hometown friends in Waterdown and Burlington, ON and the resilience of their communal spirit and oft insatiable thirst for life.
PRT: I think it's fair to say you have grown by leaps and bounds as songwriters. What do you feel has been the biggest change in your songwriting?
Travis: I think it's mostly a natural growth that's a side affect of us always striving to be better at what we do. I'd like to think the more we write the better the songs get. Outside of that, I feel like this album was our most collaborative and concentrated effort to date. There were a few co-writes between Alex and myself, which is something we haven't really done too much before and i think is something we'll explore more going forward. I think we all just put more effort into the songs than ever before. And we had more songs than we've ever had before. We scheduled full day jams to sift through them and zero in on the best material. We all just got really invested in the entire process. I think perhaps one of the biggest changes is that we never really looked at a song as being finished. We just kept deconstructing, editing, and building upon the songs, until they were recorded. And in some cases even after that. All in all, it was a lot of fun sculpting this record out and am excited to move on and start playing these songs live and continuing writing for the next one.
PRT: Are there specific things you approached differently this time?
Travis: We spent more time in the studio than we have before. We wanted to have extra time to work on each song to ensure it really was turning out the best it could possibly be. If there ever was a part that we heard back that we thought could be better, whether it was chorus, melody or lyric, or a guitar or bass part, we were able to kind of stop the tracking process and reassess said part collectively and as individuals before jumping back in to make changes on the fly. Sometimes you don't realize something isn't that good until you hear it back through clear speakers haha. It was cool to be a bit more relaxed and be able to make changes to what we wanted without being entirely stressed about eating up studio time.
PRT: You recorded the new album with Steve Rizun. What made you want to work with him?
Travis: We recorded the last record with Steve and it's just a very fun atmosphere. He really knows how to push the best performances and make things sound really good. We also don't take compliments all that well and Steve's version of a compliment is something like, "well, well, well that take wasn't a total pile of steamy crap!"
PRT: You have been together in bands for more than half of your lives. Have there ever been moments where you felt like calling it a day? And if so, what was it that kept you going?
Travis: Yeah, we've been playing in bands together since we were about 12/13, and I believe we started Penske in 2010 while phasing out of our childhood band The Bad Names, which was more of a ska punk thing.
There are definitely times when it seems like a steep hill we're climbing and there's no doubt that personal sacrifices are made by each of us in order to continue pursuing the band. But speaking personally, I'd have to say, while I've been down and I've been frustrated at times I've also been so content and so high that it's hard for me to put into words. I've never doubted my desire to create and play music with with James and Alex. We've checked of a lot of boxes together as dreamers, and the list just keeps growing.
PRT: And what are your personal highlights so far?
Travis: There's so many to speak of. I think our first Canadian tour would be one for me. We hardly booked up enough shows to fill the gas tank but still left home for nearly a month and covered 10,000 or more kilometres. Definitely not the smartest move but, looking back, it seems like it was the perfect time to discover the country and we made a lot of memories and friends on that run.
Touring Europe for the first time was also a major highlight and something we didn't anticipate ever having the means of doing when we started out. So that was cool.
Also, last year's sets at The Fest and Pouzza Fest respectively were definite highlights. It's really neat to see likeminded people gather from all over the world to celebrate our little sub-sub genre universe. Being surrounded by a couple thousand people who you know you probably have something to talk about for a weekend in the middle of a city is a cool and unique experience and that translates tenfold to our experience playing such festivals. It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing strangers gather as comrades through music, when it's your music. Anyways, yeah, our sets at both festivals in 2017 were probably some of the most fun I've had in my life haha.
PRT: Are there any goals you would still like to achieve with The Penske File?
Travis: Platinum records, sex tapes, rehab, emotionally turbulent memoirs, glory in death.
PRT: You will be doing quite a lot of touring in the weeks and months to come. Do your band mates have any habits that tend to drive you slightly insane when cooped up in small quarters for weeks on end? If so, here's your chance to subtly let them know.
Travis: Oh for sure, but nothing major. We've been buds for so long that certain micro annoyances are just par for the course. I probably annoy myself more so than either James or Alex annoys me, if I am to be completely honest ahaha.