they seem cool

The Musician Who’s As Fierce As a Bear

Meet Jack Peñate.

Missoni suit and sweater vest. Musician’s own jewelry. Photo: Lia Clay Miller
Missoni suit and sweater vest. Musician’s own jewelry. Photo: Lia Clay Miller

“I would never class myself as cool,” says Jack Peñate, an English singer, songwriter, and producer. “The only reason it might seem like I am is because I’m secretly a nerd. Not even secretly really. And I think that we are probably in a time now where practicing lots and spending a lot of time on your own is seen as cool.”

Peñate has been playing music his whole life. As a kid growing up in south-east London, he experimented with piano lessons before settling on guitar. By the age of 9, he was making music as a form of creative escape. “I wanted to find something that was isolating, but intertwined with something that gave me self-esteem,” he said. Peñate has traveled the world over eight years of touring, and worked on projects with refugee children in Sicily. Below, he spoke with us about carpentry, music, and bears.

What three creative people have had the most impact on you and why?
Jean Cocteau because I am obsessed with his poetry, films, paintings, and his ability to be a pretty powerful polymath. Nick Drake, whom I obsessively listened to as a teenager. His story is one that I think, as a teenager, I found perfectly tragic: the artist who should have been seen and understood, but wasn’t. Arthur Russell for wholeheartedly encompassing the creative force without considering the outside excessively.

If you were running for office, what would your campaign song be and why?
“Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes. It was the first song that popped into my head.

What kind of animal would you be and why?
Bear. I feel like I inhabit caves and I’m fierce but family-oriented.

What are the last three songs you’ve listened to?
“Toast” by Koffee, Beatrice Dillon’s Workaround album, and some Bach.

What superpower would you have?
I would like to breathe in water.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I would take my dog for a walk in the forest, go to the cinema, play music with friends in a kind of band setup. I would cook something, and then I would eat the food that I cooked with the friends I was playing music with.

If you could master any skill (that isn’t related to your current job), what would it be and why?
Carpentry. I would really love to make furniture.

What piece of advice has had the biggest impact on you and why? 
Richie Havens was this really amazing singer in the ’70s. I met him once and he told me that when you go to perform, only know the first and last song. Let everything in the middle come to you.

Missoni suit and sweater vest. D boots. Musician’s own jewelry. Photo: Lia Clay Miller
The Musician Who’s As Fierce As a Bear