In the mycelial network of trees, each is interconnected at the root, sharing nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen with one another in times of stress. This natural web of connectedness and healing left Penelope Trappes awestruck. “It just became this beautiful metaphor in an idyllic way,” says the Australian-born artist, “for humanity, and all of life, and interconnectedness.”
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Fascinated by the communicative nature of trees and its link to the healing process, Trappes formulated the final piece of her musical trilogy—beginning with Penelope One in 2017 and Two following a year later—with Penelope Three (Houndstooth).
“There’s an ongoing theme about nature as part of this primordial healing,” shares Trappes about the final installation of her three-part musical journey, which started with an exploration of birth and rebirth on One, while Two concentrated on loss and grief. On Three, Trappes focuses on the healing power of love through motherhood, mental relapses, a connection to more spiritual things, and the removal of fear.
“I’m digging up the underworld with visual motifs and a mystical, gothic darkness that symbolizes my struggles,” says Trappes. “Yet, the universal message is that of overcoming our fears to allow the love in. This is the healing.”
Focused on her more “primal instrument,” vocals are the centerpiece of Three for Trappes, who was formally trained in jazz and opera. Brooding in unearthly arrangements, Three is very much rooted in the natural, opening on the stirring hymnal of “Veil,” then “Nervous,” a tale swelled around masculine versus feminine through the eyes, and mind, of a nervously smoking woman in a strange house, and her own looping thoughts and anxiety of I’m nervous when you stare into my eye / I’m nervous always there inside my mind. Changing through its different atmospheres, Three is a walk through the woods, one’s reflection in a lake, and the release of internalized dreads through the more natural-driven movements of “Forest,” “Fur & Feather,” “Blood Moon,” and “Northern Light,” before a closing incantation on the various shifts and shapes of femininity on “Awkward Matriarch.”
Partly inspired by experimental singer-songwriter Scott Walker’s trilogy of albums beginning with his 1967 debut Scott, Trappes was initially drawn to the power of the number three when starting this project. Written and recorded prior to the pandemic, thematically, Trappes knew she wanted to explore birth, life and death, but there was no particular order.
“It was definitely coming from a more personal angle,” says Trappes. “I’m a mature lady, in my 40s, so I had been through my own adventures to reach my solo work. I’m doing what Laurie Anderson does, and what Patti Smith is still doing. Obviously, they started when they were younger, but they didn’t stop when they turned 35. Artists in film and other mediums, they just get better with age, and the same thing applies in music. Creativity doesn’t stop as you get older.”
Living with Three through the pandemic, Trappes recognized how the past year brought everything to the surface, everyone’s deepest fears, and came full circle. “You go through your own life journey, and the first album it’s all of that newness of life coming into one’s own power, and then the second one, I jumped to more of the darker stuff like death, because I lost a good friend and my mother was unwell,” shares Trappes. “I wanted three to be about that sort of full circle healing.”
She adds, “It’s important for people to remember their own resilience. It’s about being kind to yourself when you’re not necessarily having a good day… you’ll get through. I’m thankful to work in a medium where I can address those things, that change within a song and that change within a person.”
Nature and it’s healing power was also an element of Three. “Nature had started to become this healing for me, and it was a common theme I saw in a lot of people during lockdown when everything went silent,” says Trappes. “The city stopped and you started noticing the birds and the trees and the flowers.”
Everything is an organic, meditative process for Trappes. Songs are composed from past, field recordings or listening to another artist. “I go into a bit of a trance, because I really love what they do, and then I’ll just start writing words,” says Trappes. “I find that words tend to come first through a feeling of meditation, a moment that I capture through being quiet within, whether or not I’ve got a field recording or other music going. I try to shape it, like a sculpture.”
Accompanying each of the 10 tracks are self-directed videos in collaboration with the art collective Agnes Haus. Now based in the Southern coast of England in Brighton, Trappes has lived in New York, New Jersey, and even London for years before relocating to the seaside town, a coastal backdrop that seems most fitting.
Looking ahead, past the closure of her Penelope triptych, Trappes is planning to return to stage by fall and is exploring a new piece of music linked to Three without the vocals. “This album was very driven by voice, and I’m thinking about doing an alternate version where I take the voice away and just let it breathe in a different way and reproduce it in a different manner,” she says.
Trappes adds, “Then, there’s this tiny little voice in the back of my head saying ‘what will be the next one [album]?’ I look forward to slowly opening that door up and seeing what light shines in.”