“It was a big blessing in disguise.” Early in 2012, six songs that had been recorded for Penicillin Baby’s debut LP were mistakenly deleted. Someone got ahead of themselves at the studio and in an attempt to clear up some hard drive space, wiped the session without double-checking to make sure it’d been backed up. “I guarantee you, if we would have released those songs,” says singer Jon Tyler Conant, “they wouldn’t have had an impact like the other ones did, and they wouldn’t have sounded as good either.” Discussing the album in his home studio, distance and time have lent the incident a bit of humor. Laughing a little, he continues, “Bands probably shouldn’t just go record a record right after playing one show, and think it’s gonna be great. I know that now: You gotta play songs quite a bit before they’re perfect.”
Chalking it up to fate, the group took its misfortune in stride and embraced a slower pace in finding its sound. In July of 2012 Penicillin Baby released the Jams: Volume I EP, which was followed by a split cassette release with Megajoos in October, Volume II in December, and Volume III the following March. All told, a dozen tracks were recorded over the four compact releases, each of which helped the band take baby steps musically while Conant honed his technique behind the board at his home studio (which he only began assembling components for after the group’s first album went missing). The process worked as something of a continuation of the slow-growth model of playing and recording that Conant first picked up in grade school, growing up in Oklahoma.
“My family’s super musical,” he says, going all the way back to his first interactions with music. “My dad’s a pastor. I come from a very Christian family, and my family was the church band. So, everybody in my family plays an instrument: I always had a piano, a drum set, a guitar at the house, from the time I was born.” Laughing at the obvious, he adds, “Pretty much, my dad taught me to play instruments so he could put me to work in the church band.” No matter the reason for his introduction, music stuck with him and as Conant grew his music continued to develop. “When I was in high school I played in four church bands. I was traveling, playing somewhere every night. I was just learning how to learn songs really fast, learning how to work with people, you know? It’s good practice. Once I got out of high school I started tinkering with my own recording, making my own music outside of church, obviously, and that’s when I kind of decided I was going to come out here. I really like this recording thing, I like this music thing, and Nashville seemed like the best option.”
Starting in 2006, Conant began recording and releasing music online, slowly developing his direction as he grew into himself. “Favorite Face was actually a name for a project I had when I was still in Oklahoma that never played shows, I just made music at my house and put it up on Myspace.” This experimentation continued for the next three years. “Really, I was doing a lot of partying and drugs during that time. I was like 18, 19, didn’t give a fuck about anything, you know? So, I did a lot of that and a lot of learning how to record, learning how to write songs. It’s definitely a process. It pretty much took me three years to be like, ‘OK, I think I’m good enough at this to where I need to move somewhere else to try it.’” In 2009 he landed in Murfreesboro where he began attending school at MTSU.
The musical web that developed once Conant arrived in Tennessee was tightly knit, with a core group of friends weaving in and out of each other’s bands for the next few years. It was just as well that fate intervened and wiped the first Penicillin Baby album from the record, because up until last year the group had yet to find a firm lineup. When the band first formed in 2011 it included Conant and drummer Anuj Pandeya, who had both been playing together in Magic Veteran, along with guitarist Charlie Davis and bassist Zack Bowden, who had been playing together in the Dirty Truth. After Bowden left the band he was followed by Brennan Walsh, later of Deep Machine and Thief, who now plays in Shy Guy. After a brief stint in the group, Walsh was replaced by Taylor Lowrance, who Conant first connected with when they played together in Electric Teeth. (Lowrance also plays in Shy Guy, whose debut album, Dreams was produced by Conant.) By 2013 things had gotten rocky with Pandeya and he was replaced by Wesley Mitchell (who remains one-half of Megajoos). Says Conant, “I was talking to a mutual friend and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think we might be looking for a new drummer soon, I’m not sure.’ And somehow it got back to Wes and [he] texted me and was like, ‘Hey, are you guys looking for a drummer?’ And I was like, ‘Not really, but if you’re wanting to be the drummer then: Yes, we are looking for a new drummer.’”
As Mitchell says, he first sat in at “the official ‘signing celebration’ show with Jeffery Drag Records. I was pretty stoked and also terrified. It technically was my first time playing both as a ‘signed’ artist and with Penicillin Baby. Kind of killed two birds with one stone.” “I had noticed them for a year or so,” adds Jeffery Drag founder and Bad Cop frontman Adam Moult, “and after I watched ’em live a few times, my entire band got really into them. We were even jamming their songs at practice, so I reached out to Jon about August 2013, and that’s when this all began.” Before the end of the year the label gathered the Jams EPs into a single collection for iTunes and Spotify, and as turnover leveled off the group began to receive some positive press, including nods from Pepsi’s Pulse blog (calling Penicillin Baby one of the “Top 5 Nashville Bands Right Now“) and KCRW (where they were included as one of the “Hottest Bands Breaking Out Of Nashville in 2013“).
Earlier this year Jeffery Drag released the single and music video for “Private School Kids,” which was produced by Lincoln Parish (formerly of Cage the Elephant) and mastered by Bad Cop’s Kevin “Danger” Kilpatrick. Most recently the same team helped produced “Not Getting Any Younger,” which Jeffery Drag released in April as a 7″ single. (The accompanying music video recently premiered on PureVolume.) This month they will begin to record their proper full-length debut at Conant’s studio, with “Danger” helping produce, eyeing an October release date, which will coincide with an anticipated outing to New York where they’ll play CMJ. “I honestly see the band blowing up,” continues Moult, “becoming a DIIV or a Beach Fossils.” A Daytrotter session was just released, and in addition to recording, the band will tour to continue expanding their reach beyond Nashville’s city limits. What happens next — who knows. But after a few years of lessons learned: wisely, they’re in no rush getting there.
Related Photos → Penicillin Baby at The Basement