From the moment Jack Peñate took the stage during his gig at the Mercury Lounge, I could not take my eyes off his shoes. His kicks shifted and shimmied across the stage, sometimes carrying him through the air, as he jubilantly leaped and frolicked during riffs. The burnt sienna leather was worn and ravaged, its distress suggesting some grander story than mere function.

“They’re Clarks—desert boots. Real English shoes,” he explains, jutting out his feet, revealing loosely tied, stringy laces.

Jack later adds, smiling indiscreetly, “I’ve only had them for about a year. They’ve been through a lot.”

The leather resembles a sheet of crumbled paper, full of wrinkles and aberrations, brimming with dirt and dust. And indeed, if these boots are any indication, Jack’s past year has been nothing short of whirlwind, jam packed with all the exciting exploits of a promising new guitar hero.

He hails from the suburbs of southeast London, where his love of music paved the way for his future. After studying Classics at University College London, he decided to seriously pursue a career in music. The 23-year-old heavily worked the indie circuit, where he caught the attention of record executives and a steady following of fans.

Jack’s debut offering, Matinee, is a hodgepodge of soulful foot-tapping anthems that nestle their way into your head. Each of their tunes is twinged with their own unique sensibility, from rockabilly to ska. The record has been a huge success in his native England, spawning the Top Ten single “Torn on the Platform” and other hits “Second, Minute or Hour” and “Spit at Stars.”

His chart victories led to slots on the Glastonbury and Reading Festival bills, but he remains down to earth and forthright. Putting his hand against his scruffy beard, he muses about his éclat, “You can have a lot of fans, but have them not buy a record. It was great to see that the kids were actually going to buy the record.”

Quite often, the crooner has been pigeonholed into the new “London Scene,” hence the relentless comparisons to the musical stylings of Lily Allen, Jamie T, and Kate Nash. For Jack, it has been something of a blessing as well as an annoyance.

“It’s more tedious than anything,” he says. “I don’t mind being put in with them. I’ve known them for years. I suppose it’s easy to lump us in together. All of us are on our first albums so none of us given a chance to have a little personality yet. And in a way we need each other to work off of each other…But it gives you a real kind of a focus to break out and be your own person.”

That ambition and yearning to reach out further is also apparent in his sights of conquest for America. Reflecting on his recent New York stint he philosophizes, “For me, it always comes down to the music. And I’m an English artist and I sound English, which is good to have your own personality, but there are ways to make where you’re from accessible to everyone. But that’s very hard, it’s an incredible skill. It amazes me how someone like the Wu Tang Clan can permeate throughout the world. Even though people who properly understand their story is few, the way they tell it makes people want to understand it and be part of it. There must be a way of doing that as well.”

Perhaps Jack’s strongest asset is his ability to work a crowd. His eccentric and rapturous dancing perfectly complements the rollicking tone of his up-tempo songs. His dance moves are essentially a form of “skanking.” However, I can’t help but wonder if his moves are a reinterpretation of tap dancing. Jack took lessons after being inspired by Singin’ in the Rain as a child.

“I’ve always had a lot of energy,” he confesses. “I never know when to stop or to sleep or things like that. I’m not very good at resting or relaxing. It’s not in my nature.”

Lucky for us, Jack’s restlessness is a sign of greater things to come. There’s already a second album in the works—and it only promises to be a bigger, bolder affair. And maybe, he’d better get a new pair of shoes this next time around. –Brittany Lange, Photos by Tear-n Tan

www.jackpenate.com

 
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