Life is a little slower in Mesa than it is in Los Angeles.
Singer-songwriter Penny Barlow, who performs under the name pennybirdrabbit, started her career in the latter’s electronic music scene. She released two EPs and appeared on tracks with EDM notables like Skrillex, The M Machine, and 12th Planet. Then Barlow took a long break from music.
It wasn’t exactly planned. Several years ago, right before she was about to release a new EP, Barlow learned she was pregnant with her daughter, now 6.
“She kind of changed things for me,” Barlow says. “My priorities shifted and I had to focus on her. And truthfully, I was dropped from my label. ... It was frustrating at that time, to be honest, to have stuff ready to go and have someone say ‘No, we’re not doing it.’”
Life kept her busy. She got married, had a son (now 2), and moved to Arizona. But she missed making music. A couple of years ago, Barlow began poking around some old, incomplete songs she’d written years back.
“I’m glad that I had projects that were unfinished, that needed refining and needed more attention,” she says. “I’ve started things from scratch, but I have a lot of beginnings of things. ... So I’m thankful to younger me for that.”
Barlow released two singles this summer independently. “Once Before” shows Barlow’s EDM roots, though her voice is reminiscent of Lorde on the track. The song is a collaboration with Ooah (of The Glitch Mob), Nusi Quero (a.k.a Paul Giese, formerly of Hundred Waters), and RAGS. It’s a trancey reflection on her time away from music with a gently throbbing beat. “Would I do it differently?” she sings over and over.
The other, “The Light in Me,” is poppier (think Christina Perri or Sara Bareilles), a gorgeous statement about finding one’s strength. She’s got several more songs ready to go over the next few months, too, she says. The new singles are available to stream on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify.
Most of the work on the new singles was done before the pandemic started — Barlow says it’s been hard to work with everyone at home all the time. But that doesn’t mean her house isn’t filled with songs.
“My kids have pretty excellent taste in music, which I love,” she says. Her 2-year-old likes Billie Eilish, and the family listens to Post Malone and Harry Styles, too. “Besides Kidz Bop. We do a lot of Kidz Bop at our house. So like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’, but kids singing it. That’s probably what I listen to the most. It’s been wild. Luckily, [the kids] are pretty good at listening at pop music.”
Just as Barlow’s life has changed dramatically over the last seven years, so has her outlook on music and success.
“I think for a long time I wanted a different kind of career,” she says. “I wanted a lot of success and I wanted a lot of things, and then my life kind of didn’t turn out that way. I want different things now. I want success with my music, but I also like being a stay-at-home mom.
“I’m excited to be back. It feels really good. For a long time, the focus was on my kids, of course, and it still is. But to be able to get away and make time for me — it’s nice to play my music for people. I missed that. To hear other people react and respond to [the songs] in a positive way — that’s really what I want now. That’s the goal. To have people relate and enjoy and feel something. That’s the most important thing.”
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