Ron S Peno shows us why he’s always been a Guiding Light
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Ron S Peno shows us why he’s always been a Guiding Light

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Riding the wave of staunch cult success, frontman Ron S Peno and fellow founder Brett Myers officially pulled the pin on Aussie indie darlings Died Pretty in 2002. Not content to rest on his laurels, Peno has continued to delight his legion of fans in subsequent years, first by teaming up with another indie luminary – namely one Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and the Surrealists – for a dark alt-country outing in the form of the Darling Downs, and more recently with his eponymous outfit Ron S Peno and the Superstitions.

 

On the cusp of launching the Superstitions’ belter of a third album, Guiding Light, an effusive, charming and debonair Peno is elated, describing the platter as akin to his best work since Died Pretty fave Doughboy Hollow. Sprung Peno: you said that about the Superstitions’ first album too.

 

“I’m repeating myself,” Peno cheerfully confesses. Either way, it’s not hyperbole: Guiding Light really is that good. The Superstitions, which centres around the songwriting duo of Peno and guitarist and composer Cam Butler, have united Peno’s distinctive warble and Died Pretty style with songs that Peno describes as “cinematic” in scope. “There’s been a few years in between albums this time,” Peno says. “But Guiding Light has finally arrived and I think it’s a corker and it’s the strongest work I’ve done since Doughboy Hollow: vocally, lyrically, performance wise. That’s pretty good from an old codger. The production and the mix; everything just came together there. Brett [Myers] and I had that when we first heard Doughboy Hollow in rehearsals and felt that we had something quite special, that we’d turned a little corner of sorts, and of course it became one of our most loved albums. I don’t think the same is going to happen with Guiding Light, but it is a very strong album.”  

 

Coming in at just over 30 minutes, Guiding Light is a punchy platter combining hip shakers, alt-country drivers, and bruising ballads. “I don’t think it outstays its welcome,” Peno reflects. “You hear some albums that just go on and on and on, and it’s like, ‘Stop now.’”

 

You can also hear a whisper of Bowie hovering over the album, which is hardly an accident. “There’s a couple of Bowie references throughout the album,” Peno admits. “He’s obviously an artist that I absolutely worshipped and was heavily influenced by. There’s a ‘Let’s Dance’ reference in ‘Hurt ’n’ Run’ and ‘Dreams of Leaving’, the ‘Oooowwwooowwwooww’, that’s was my attempt at a Bowie-esque vocal thing: an homage to Bowie.”

 

By rights, it should be a resounding success, but Peno is cautious. “I thought the transition from forming Died Pretty to forming another band would be easy, but it hasn’t been,” he muses. “I’m going to have a whinge now. It’s been like starting over again. I had this silly idea that with the 20 years of Died Pretty and being quite established I’d form another band and we could do the festival circuit and it’d be cool, and we wouldn’t have to do corner pubs, but that’s all we’ve done.

 

“We love music so much, we love writing songs, we love performing, so that’s what keeps us going, otherwise you’d just fall in a crumpled heap and go, ‘This is silly. One minute I’m performing to 1500 people and something sold out for Died Pretty, and the next minute I’m playing to 20 people at the corner pub.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just didn’t think I’d be starting over again.”

 

As unfortunate as that is, it’s also what makes seeing Peno at the local all the more a buzz. The man’s a living legend and he’s a barnstorming, mesmerising demon whenever and wherever he performs, even if it is just down the road.

 

“I’m from that ’70s thing where you’ve got to put on a show. A show’s a show. You must separate yourself from the audience, you can’t just walk in from the bar. It’s a performance and you want to bring the audience into a world that you’re creating and in order for me to do that, personally, you’re got to distance yourself, just for that hour before. That’s probably why people think I’m a bit snobby beforehand. Afterwards I’m one of the gang.”