Penny Jo Buckner is a jack-of-all-trades artist. Whether she is being amazing behind a drum set or a host on a radio show, she does it well. Having started her musical career in her mid-adolescence, Penny has successfully made her mark by playing in various bands. Tom Tom had the privilege to get to know a little more about Penny and her journey.
Name: Penny Jo Buckner
Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta
Lives In: Vancouver, BC
Past Bands: See Through Pickles, Twin Fangs, Rabies AB, Richard Buckner, Headbands
Current Band: Slow Learners
Favorite Food: Tough one… TEQUILA! And perogies
Kit: 80’s Ludwig, 18 in floor tom, 14 in rack tom, old black vista lite snare, 26in bass drum, Ride: 24in Zildjian a ride, crash: 22in Zildjian a ride, bass pedal – some old DW pedal my friend Chris Fahey gave me slightly broken, fixed up fine!
I am always curious to know how lessons have influenced the development of any drummer. When I asked Penny Jo Buckner, of Slow Learners, she recalled a time years ago when her sister was dating Ted Simm, of SNFU, and exchanged a lesson to hem a pair of his pants. “Ted taught me how to slow beats down and count them to see where everything sits in order to get your head around them, and that was helpful. I think he showed me how to read drums on sheet music, but I never followed up and don’t remember how. That’s the only lesson I ever took.” This recollection was followed by a trademark endearing chuckle that peppers Penny’s conversational style.
I met Penny for the first time on a rain drenched afternoon in Vancouver, BC. We met with a hug as opposed to a handshake, a sign I had sized up her inviting personality correctly during our first online introductions. Indeed, as the day moved along I discovered this Aquarius to be humble, a people person, and a romantic at heart. “Painfully so” she adds, and that Penny possesses a true artistic side.
With her Dad being a printer, Penny recalled how there was always blank paper and Doodle Arts around when she was younger. Her drawing and painting talents were nurtured in vocational school and she continues to create to this day. The musical applications of her talent have been well represented on record covers, gig posters, and band t-shirts.
We chatted on our way to famous Vancouver eatery The Tomahawk. Our waitress threw delayed glances at our table, perhaps wondering who the famous girl in the original Van Halen 84 tour shirt might be, that I was recording and taking notes from.
Born in 1971, Penny grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In a 1999 interview, Penny said, “music has more to do with my life than anything.” Her first steps into a life of music seem humble, “I saw the Bay City Rollers when I was 7.” Penny’s teen years saw bands like SNFU, Down Syndrome and the Doughboys, carving an identity for punk in Canada, right in her home town. She recalls going to a lot of all-ages shows and remembers a few clubs where you could sneak into the back door. Penny found the scene to be inclusive and open and seemed like anyone could take part and you didn’t have to be very good. “I think that is why so many misfits end up in the punk rock community, because it is so accepting and you really discover that there are nice people in the world.”
Like a lot of musicians I’ve spoken with, a variety of genres are represented in their music collections even though they may be known for playing and appreciating a single style of music. “I have country, jazz, rock, punk, and I think every record Hanoi Rock’s ever made.” The Nils and The Replacements were valued recordings, and she recalls the best place to buy music in Edmonton was Sound Connection or Red Cat Records.
With both her sister and Dad owning guitars, Penny brought drums into the household at the age of 16. She started playing without the pressure in her mind of having to be good right away. “It’s been a long process,” she injects with a laugh. Her first band would be formed with her sister, named the See Through Pickles. That 1987 band it turns out, never left the basement. I take the conversation back to the bands of the day. Penny saw a lot of SNFU shows, being an Edmonton band; got to know them and has stayed in touch with them and other guys who played in the band over the years. She was the merch girl for the band, and even appears in their documentary, Open Your Mouth and Say Chi Pig. I hope to see that myself one day.
I asked Penny who inspired her and she said, “Dave Rees of SNFU was an amazing drummer. There weren’t any girl drummers to look up to at that time.”
In 1989/1990, Penny became a vegetarian, sold her kit and moved to California to marry young. She worked in coffee shops, a vitamin store, and hit the beach a lot. “But I also saw a lot of really great music then.” It was also her first real taste of touring, with her husband’s band, Big Drill Car.
After her marriage ended, Penny would return to Edmonton and to drumming in 1996. She bought a set of Ludwigs for $500 from Mother’s Music in Edmonton with all the hardware included. “I love these drums, but I’m convinced nobody can really tune a set of drums. It is still the bane of my existence. I have this huge 4 tom that’s like a wild animal; I really can’t tune a drum.” From the same store, Penny also bought a pair of Vistalites, which she loved but ultimately sold to a nephew. I found it curious that with such a big kit, capable of such a booming sound, that Penny’s second band would be a timid country outfit called the Maybellines (1997-1998). “I love country,” says Penny, “I replaced a girl who was really good. Luckily music is an accepting community,” she smiles. It was hard to picture Penny playing in a country band when her musical upbringing was routed in punk. She remarked how bands emerged at the time that were a fusion of both, like Junior Gone Wild and X.
In those same years Penny would venture into radio. On CJSR in Edmonton, Penny would co-host “The Convoy” for about a year. This I could picture easily because Penny has both a great voice and personality for radio. Those same attributes would see Penny start deejaying at the Black Dog in Edmonton as “Penny Tentiary.” She continues deejaying to this day. We leave the Tomahawk for her band’s rehearsal space in an industrial section of town. A universal problem for bands being lack of rehearsal space, she points out how this converted warehouse has helped out a lot of local musicians. It’s a confined space that Penny and her current band, Slow Learners, share with a few other musicians. This is where I first get a glimpse of the Ludwig drums. “I’m small, I can hide behind them,” she chuckles.
I had seen one video of Penny playing online and her style seemed very aggressive. Penny has a hair in face, head-down powerful style. “I like to hit hard and I used to break a lot of sticks. Good sticks help. I’m told I use the signature sticks of the drummer from Tool, not that I like Tool,” she says. I ask about her signature black gloves, “grip and warmth. We used to rehearse in the coldest basement in the world, and now there’s fewer blisters and dropped sticks, and it looks pretty bad-ass.”
Penny would move on from the Maybelline’s when she met country rock fusion artist, Richard Buckner, in 1998. She started to play with his band that year and would marry him in the next. The three piece toured extensively and Penny would sometimes wonder how it came to be that she was playing with bands like Son Volt and Sebadoh. “Even though I wasn’t very good, they were all supportive though and made it all fun.” Richard and Penny parted ways in 2003.
In 2004 until 2009, Penny would become one half of duo Twin Fangs. I asked her about being a drummer in a duo and what she took away from the experience. “Twin Fangs was definitely my most challenging band up to that point. This is when I started hitting hard and writing my own drum parts, cause it was the first time it was a brand new band instead of me filling someone’s shoes who had been there before me. It taught me about being more creative and playing from the gut.”
I researched some history of the band, noted a following, and saw a few powerful images of the duo playing live. Turns out that as Twin Fangs Penny would receive the most money she ever got for a show, recording a segment for CBC. “Usually you get the $50 to $200 as a club band, so that was definitely the most I’ve ever made.” When Twin Fangs played Sled Island Festival, they got to play alongside The Boredoms, which Penny still has trouble believing in a ‘how did I get here’ moment. The same year, Penny would also play just a few brief shows with Edmonton locals, Headbands.
In 2008, she would start playing as part of another duo, Rabies AB. “Rabies AB is totally different from anything else I’ve done. It’s a two piece with my old roommate Jason Deblanko. He writes super-catchy kickass songs. Sometimes we have played without practicing or living in the same town as each other, and sometimes it’s even good. He writes really fun songs that are easy to think of drum parts to, so I guess these bands, and somewhat in Headband was the beginning of contributing to tunes and writing my own parts.”
2009 would see a change of city for Penny. When I ask why she moved, she replied that Edmonton was a small town, and had done all she could do there. Penny had been to Vancouver before on vacation. “So I packed up a lot of my vinyl, took my mattress and my bike and moved to Vancouver.”
“Then my bike got stolen.”
Her arrival to a shared basement suite in Vancouver, with now band mate Sean Hawryluck, turned out to be the humble beginnings of Penny’s current band, Slow Learners. A new 7″ is being launched in February and new tracks have just been recorded, with more in the near future. To myself, it seems everything is headed in the right direction for this inspiring drummer; or perhaps has been for a long time.
I told Penny that when I researched her, she was once referred to online as “legendary.” When the source of this quote was chased down, it turned out to be a young man by the name of Kevin Romaniuk. “We were married a month ago,” she beamed with a smile. I’ve had a chance to meet Kevin a couple of times now, who also plays drums. He plans to buy back those Vistalites that Penny sold so long ago.
As the day with Penny draws to an end, I ask if she has idols now? “There are no idols, but I have a hero. A friend named, Michelle Pezel, who owns the Antisocial Skate Shop on Main Street in Vancouver. It’s also the best place to see shows in this town,” she adds. She is an incredible person, a community figure who gives back, is inspiring to me and is the total opposite of anti-social, funny enough.”
As Penny and Kevin graciously drive me out to the ferry, I ask again what her words of wisdom to any young drummer starting out would be.
“When you start out, accept that you are going to suck and practice a lot. I used to lock myself in the basement and practice by listening to Beck because with his records the beat never changes. Get good, play with your friends, and keep it fun.”
By John Carlow
Finding Charlotte Photography