Alexis Blair Penney celebrates the release of debut album 'Window,' and mourns a personal loss
TOFU AND WHISKEY The moody "drag-pop" songs on Alexis Blair Penney's debut album, Window, were written with an ex-boyfriend in mind — Seth Bogart, aka Hunx — yet in a cruel twist of fate, they'll come to memorialize the death of another man, a best friend, collaborator, and roommate.
Known for his prolific appearances at club nights across San Francisco, including his own High Fantasy night with Myles Cooper, Penney moved to New York in the middle of the record-making progress, in part to live with Grant Martin, of the band Icewater, who also contributed all the guitar lines to Penney's record. Martin, age 26, unexpectedly passed away on July 26, two weeks before the release of Window (Aug. 6, Ecstasy Records).
Penney's first single from the album, emotion-packed dance track, "Your Eyes," came with a stunning video, which premiered last Friday on Spin.com, showing Penney and friends at home, in the dressing room, in the mirror, and out on the dancefloor as the synth beats wobble and Penney soulfully coos. And there on the floor is a glimpse of Martin with his band, followed by the final thought: the video is "for Grant." Truly heartbreaking stuff for the tender, creatively bursting artist.
"It's this really crazy time because it's like, I'm here, I'm in our house that we shared together, and I'm promoting this record he worked on with me, but he's no longer here," Penney says during a phone call from Brooklyn. "I'm in this manic post-grief moment, where I'm just going forward, charging ahead. I don't know what else to do."
"I'm going to miss this person for the rest of my life, but I can't dwell on that now."
Penney began working on Window, the record (there's also a debut book called Window, which comes out on Peradam Press on Sept. 6), in the spring of 2011, while living in a Mission District apartment. He moved to Brooklyn in April 2012, but before that he converged on LA with collaborators singer-songwriter Jamie Crewe of Poisonous Relationship and Teengirl Fantasy's Nick Weiss to write the bulk of the record.
The idea for the book came about later, when he met publisher Elizabeth Jaeger of Peradam. Penney had a mess of stories, and mentioned so while making small talk with Jaeger at a party. She loved his ideas and paired him with editor Michael Zelenko, who's also from San Francisco.
They finished up the final manuscript for the book around the same time he was wrapping up the mixing of the record, at the start of this year. "I definitely didn't plan for them to be companion pieces but they evolved that way. The main narrative arc of the book is this relationship, the dissolution of which is what this record is about," he says.
That relationship, later revealed to be the one with Hunx's Bogart, is what brought Penney originally to San Francisco from his home town, a suburb outside of Kansas City. He'd initially met Bogart when he was touring with SSION and they opened for Gravy Train!!! He and Bogart dated long distance, then Bogart moved Penney to the Bay Area, where they dated for a few more years before breaking up. "I'm actually going to see his band tonight, they're in town," Penney mentions. (Hunx, a fellow former SF-er who now lives in LA, was in New York on a tour promoting his newest release, Street Punk, described as "Darby Crash on helium," which he'll bring back to the Bay Oct. 21.)
"[Seth] read the book and was like, 'oh it makes me seem so mean,' and I was like, 'you were mean, but it also makes me seem crazy, so...'"
"Its kind of all about me being accountable for how crazy I was."