Novacane – Penny Stevens-Keller

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Interview by Nigel A. Messenger

In June 2002 Novacane released their first single LOVE BE MY LOVER. I spoke to singer Penny Stevens-Keller about the track’s origins and why a girl born in Illinois lives in London, has worked at the BBC and could have been Miss World!

You’re based in Ealing, London but were born in Illinois, how did that come about?

I used to live in Ealing but now I live in the East End, I’m in Docklands at the moment. It’s very nice but they need a few more restaurants and bars. I think in about five years it will become like Clerkenwell, very trendy. I’m actually thinking of moving back to West London.

So how does Illinois fit in?

At the time my mum used to work for Mecca the Miss World people and moved out to the States for her job. She met an American and got married so that’s why I was born out there. They separated so that’s when she moved back to England with me. It was quite lucky I moved back here because I might have become a cheerleader or something!

You never know you might have been Miss World!

Yeah right – I’m probably not thin enough.

Oh we’ve got some good pictures from the record company.

I don’t know which ones they’ve sent out, they go “yeah babe, they’re wicked, they’re wicked” but you still don’t know which ones they will use.

So how did you get involved in Novocane?

I’ve always done singing, even in little pubs and stuff because that’s what I like doing, but my sister used to go out with one of the members of the band who’s name is John The Dentist, a very famous hard house DJ, and he needed a vocalist heard my voice and luckily he liked me. Then Sam Spacey came along on the off chance and he created a track, which was quite huge in Ibiza last year (2001) called PLAY A SOUL. We decided to make it into a more commercial song, so it was more fun for me to do on stage for example, because I’ve got more to sing now and it’s called LOVE BE MY LOVER. It’s got the initial a guitar riff PLAY A SOUL so that’s where people might recognise it from. The vocals are a lower octave so people might not recognise my voice. On LOVE BE MY LOVER they made me sing high, if it was low it might be a bit depressing, it’s a summer track so this is more appealing.

You say in the press notes that LOVE BE MY LOVER is about flirting – do you like flirting?

Yes I like flirting but I’m very shy so if I like someone they’ll never know it, no one will, I’m very quiet about it.

Do you go clubbing a lot?

I do but not as much as I used to. Now it’s more for research and I usually only stay 3 or 4 hours. I’m not into drugs but I love dancing and you tend to get too tired to stay all night.

What did you do before Novacane?

I did lots of temping at the BBC. I worked on the Kilroy programme. I never realised how much foundation make-up they use! I thought it was all natural – that’s me being naïve. It’s very hard work there, always go, go, go. I’ve also worked at Granada Television. That was a little more relaxed. I did quite a lot of work there including some work on scheduling, so I even got to pick some of the films they show [which ones would be shown when] I really enjoyed it there. I left because of what’s happening with Novacane now and the deal with Sony.

You mentioned to me earlier about the actress in you – do you want to do acting?

Yes I would like to act, I know its clichéd but I enjoy acting. I’ve been to drama school and I’ve done things like pantomimes. I really enjoyed making the video for LOVE BE MY LOVER. We all had to play different parts. The whole thing only took a day to shoot but it looks really good.

Do you like movies?

Yes I love them. Music and movies are both real passions. I go to the movies a lot, even on my own, I really enjoy them. My mum used to sneak me into cinemas when I was about five or six to films we were supposed to be too young to watch, so I’ve always been into them. Plus I did media studies.

Do you play any instruments?

Yes, but they can’t use the clarinet! It doesn’t go [laughs]; you can’t really use that in this type of music. Also the saxophone a bit, but again that’s too jazzy for this. I’ve been brought up with music though because my mum was also a music teacher, so I’ve always been surrounded by music.

Are you working on an album?

We’ve been together now for about a year and a half and we’ve recorded a number of tracks. We are lucky because we have our own recording studio, so you can relax and try things out without the usual pressure [of studio work]. We also have quite a lot of unfinished songs and we are trying to pick the second single now. It’s got to be better than LOVE BE MY LOVER but can’t be too different so people can still recognise it’s ours

Will you keep dance / trance material?

This track is very commercial and the reason we did that is because people who don’t go clubbing and don’t get that experience and don’t go to Ibiza won’t necessarily know this type of music and we wanted to attract a wider market.

We do experiment with instruments anyway and we are trying to bring a lot of instruments into our music so we maybe not the typical trance / dance sound but definitely the essence is obviously still there.

We don’t need to sample sounds from the computer for instance the guitar in this track is someone playing a guitar and that’s what we like Luckily we have friends who play various instrument so we use them.

How about playing live?

Because we use a lot of real instruments mixed in with the computerised stuff I have other people on stage with me actually singing the music – not just me and a couple of dancers – that would be quite lovely. Novacane really are a band, it’s not only me, so I’m really looking forward to more live performances.

I think we’ve run out of time now. Good luck with the singles and we are looking forward to the album.

Thanks for talking to PHASE9.