A Different Kind of Suffering

An Interview with Filipino Folk Musician Ian Penn

Bel Poblador

I first discovered Ian Penn’s music when I was searching the Internet for country music from the homeland. I came across the independent Philippine music label, LILYSTARS RECORDS, which is based in Manila, and once I played Penn’s single, ‘Headback Home,’ immediately, I fell in love.

My nephew is obsessed with country music. He’s eleven years old, lives in Palmdale, CA, and when he told me he was madly in love with musicians like Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Bob Dylan (I actually love Bob Dylan), I wanted to find something that spoke a little deeper to his Philippine soul, his Filipino American identity, music that dug into the untapped, disaporic self we both hold which constantly tries to find a home. Then, I came across Ian Penn’s melodic sounds, his rendition of “heading back home,” of trying to find your way in a fractured, disparate world.

I was thankful that Ian Penn was ecstatic to do an interview with us. Our Managing Editor, Bel Poblador, was gracious enough to perform the interview.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with singer-songwriter Ian Penn!
— Melissa R. Sipin, Editor-in-Chief

Photo Credit: Ian Penn



Ian Penn is a singer / songwriter from Mt. Arayat, Philippines. He released his first single ‘Headback Home’ distributed under Lilystars Records on October 2014 & he is now currently recording his 6-track EP called, ‘Wild Abandon,’ at Sonic State Audio Manila.

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What brought you to music?

Music is always there for everyone. I made it a career because opportunities were knocking on my door and I had to respond to the adventure. I don’t see myself being in an office, facing a blank screen while I have all these ideas in my head about the places I could see or the people I could meet.  

What are some songs and who are some musicians that you look to as your artistic role models and why?

Neil Young has always been an inspiration of mine. When I first heard of “Out on the Weekend,” I was working and was sad and fed up with my routine. I thought, “There must be something else I could do, I could be, I could see.” It’s a straight-up country song that spells out melancholy and a longing of a man trying to make it pay.

In the biography on your website, there are many American folk musicians that you list as your inspirations—how do you see yourself in American folk songs? What about your experiences growing up in Pampanga do you see reflected in American folk music?

It's hard because I don't see myself in American folk songs. I will forever admire their body of work, but I'm just writing from my own point of view, and when I do that I don't necessarily think about American folk music or any kind of music. Our experiences in life, our own bereavements, they reward us and they help us see the bright side, and I wanna write about that, too.

How does your home, Pampanga, factor in to your music and your persona as a musician?  

I wrote most of my songs at home. After being out on the road for a while you could really reflect on the things you want in life. It’s a sanctuary for the tired man.

Tell us about your recently released single “Headback Home.”

I wrote “Headback Home” when I was nineteen. I recorded the first demo in a pocket-size studio in Angeles City, and I started sending the demo to different record labels in the Philippines and abroad. After a year, Lilystars Records signed me and gave me the opportunity to record the single at Sonic State Audio.

What inspires you when you make music?

People. Places. Experiences. Some songs are about my conversations with people, my experience, their experiences in life, and I try to put myself in their position and try to have a different kind of suffering.

Are there themes that intrigue, fascinate, or haunt you the most?

I like to write songs about people wanting to be back home, desirous of the adventures of life. People having a long day, people being stuck in the rain, women pregnant at an early age, friends who’ve become strangers. Those are ideas of songs that I like to write at the moment, and they haunt me because they are so real. I wrote a song called “Young Blood.” It’s about my friend who got pregnant and everybody was criticizing her, but all I could see was her love for her child. Straight up folk songs.

Are there any Filipino folk songs that inspire you? If so, who/which songs, and why?

Writers like Rey Valera, Apo Hiking Society—they are the pioneers of Filipino Folk. Their music will always be familiar to us. They influence me when it comes to the chord progression and that "Garfunkel" harmony.

What struggles have you come up against in the folk music world? 

Folk music needs to be re-introduced in the Philippines, and that is my main goal: to sing and write songs about the daily struggles of life. I can't say how people would respond to my music—let's just hope it pans out well. 

What are your strengths as a musician? What are your weaknesses?

As a musician you need to know and see all the possibilities of how you can be better and have better opportunities. The question is, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to be better? As they say, “It’s not the cost of things but what it costs you to do it.”

Does your family play a role in your music career, and if so, how? 

Yes, they are sometimes my songwriting influence. After college I was really not interested in wearing my necktie and getting myself a job. I wanted to write songs, and I want people to hear them. My family was supportive, but they worried about my future and then I wrote a song about that, too. Sometimes the pressure makes the song worth writing. 

Here are the links where you can download the single: |

photo credits: ian penn's website

Associate Editor

Bel Poblador is a Los Angeles native, writer, and editor who lives, loves, and creates in San Francisco. She received her MFA in Writing from CalArts in 2013 and is an editor of the anthology Best of Trop, Volume I: Watching the Cash Roll in Since 2012. Bel is a rock that holds the ocean.

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