When I speak with Owen Penglis from Straight Arrows, he is not, contrary to speculation between myself and their publicist, sitting in a tree with a bottle of tequila. Nor is he riding a horse through a hotel window, our second option. Instead he is reading a book while quietly sipping a cup of tea. It’s quite nice, he assures me, and for a moment I wonder if I have the right Owen. Then again, they are on the verge of their second album release. Maybe the band has mellowed with age?
Penglis laughs. “No way. In the beginning, I was kind of just going around being a fuckwit at that point of my life. I got kicked out of a few bands, one of my housemates moved out, I was a mechanic and my work shut down. So I just thought, ‘Fuck it, might as well try and write some songs.’ I borrowed a four-track cassette recorder off a friend, and after a couple of months, when I had a song that I wasn’t embarrassed to show to people, I called up my friend Al [Grigg] and asked him if he wanted to be in this band that was going to be revenge for getting kicked out of all these other bands.”
His motivations seem simple enough. In short order the revenge band was formed including, most impressively, a drummer who at the time didn’t actually know how to play drums.
“We were just making it up as we went along. I never would have imagined we’d reach a point of recording a second album, let alone a first. Our main goal at the start was to release a seven-inch, and that’s it. I mean, we were all really shitty players as well. I was absolutely no guitarist, the drummer had only just learned to play, Angie [Bermuda] hadn’t played much bass before and Al had played guitar, but never like this. We were just beating the shit out of things. It was really just a chance to hang out, have some fun, maybe get some free drinks out of it. Figure the rest out on the way.”
As plans go, it has worked remarkably well for the band. From playing backyard gigs and small-scale venues, Straight Arrows have since been invited to perform at the Sydney Opera House and Town Hall. The story behind their first gig at the Newtown Hotel, however, is as colourful as they come.
“Ha! The Newtown Hotel. It was this really nasty gay bar, with this upstairs area where dudes would go to hook up. There were all these booths up there, stuff like that. But this friend of ours organised a show there, and she was into girls, and they were all like, ‘You have to be gay to hire this venue,’ and she was all, ‘Yeah, I love muff,’ so they were cool about it. It was really loose up there, it was cool. I guess it’s shut down now so it doesn’t matter, but back then any ages could get up there. You’d have all these 15, 16-year-olds up there; people were bringing their bongs and stuff.”
After playing some of the most prominent venues in Sydney, are the days of house parties and warehouse gigs over? “Fuck no! We play parties whenever we can; they’re the best kind of shows. Everyone’s there to have a good time, everyone’s loose, you can bring your own booze so you don’t leave broke. We love it. Hit us up!”