Published On: December 8, 2023By

We’re back with the exciting conclusion of our conversation with sisters Haley and Kendra Penner. Last time, we covered everything from ageing to Yahtzee, this time we’re getting the scoop on inspirations, what it feels like to be on the right path and moving to Los Angeles.

If you haven’t had a chance to read part one, or if you’ve forgotten the frenetic joy with which these two interact, we’re happy to provide this reintroduction.

What are three words that you would use to describe yourself and three words to describe each other?

Hayley: For myself, I’d say optimistic, I’d say secretive, I feel like I’ve always got a secret world goin on. I talk quite openly about it, which maybe removes its secrecy, but I feel like I’m mischievous in nature. And curious, heavily curious. 

Kendra: I’m motivated, welcoming—

Hayley: Very welcoming

Kendra: And did you say curious? Because I don’t want to steal it.

Hayley: Only one person can be curious! I think you are sensitive. You are generous. You are… I’m really trying to get to the guts of it. I mean, sensitivity is loud in you. You’re warm. Loyal, I think you’re a very loyal human being, as a friend and as a family member. You’ve been very loyal to me, thank goodness.

Kendra: You are… it seems like this is always the hardest, like picking one word, It’s so hard to remember words. 

Hayley: Find a word, any word… neat! *laughs* 

Kendra: You’re neat! I want to find a word for “motivated.” Like you will get it done. You’ll do the thing that you want to do. 

Hayley: I could offer, “obsessed.”

Kendra: Driven! Driven is great. Kind. Funny.

Hayley: Oh thank God, I was praying. I was like if she doesn’t say I’m funny, I’m gonna die.

Kendra: My other word for you is confident. So you got confident, funny and motivated? Or driven? 

Hayley: Or obsessed? I think myself obsessed.

Can you share a time when you remember thinking, this is what I meant to be doing?

Hayley: I really feel very lucky that I feel that very often. Most recently, I was in LA, working on my own music with my producer who’s amazing, his name’s Austin Ward. And we were just writing. A huge part of my process is if I’m with a producer, he’s playing something, and then I just go into this meditative zone, where you’re just improvising for a long time. And it’s just crazy, it always brings out something you weren’t even actively thinking of that is exactly the heart of what you’re going through, or what’s about to happen. 

Moments like that, I just feel like, yeah, this is what I’m supposed to do. I can’t think of another environment where I’m just stream of consciousness, tapping into my own human experience, and then turning it into something that I can share with the world in this really specific and personally profound way. So anytime I’m in a flow, for lack of a better word, then I feel very in touch with purpose. 

Kendra: Yeah, I think I’ve felt it a lot too, in so many different places in my life. I got my first camera when I was 16 taking a class at school in high school. I knew I loved photography then. And then it just kept showing up in my life. I went to Ryerson for a year for photography, and then I was travelling for a while, then I went back to dance because I really missed it. 

Kendra sitting near a lake, putting her hair up.

And then mid COVID, and I was like, “What am I doing? What do I want to do?” I missed photography, so I started doing it more again. I took a summer program with Sam Kat, a program called Beginner to Boss. It was great and learning about the business side of things, and understanding what else is involved made me really excited for it because I do like that side of things. I like being really organized, I liked everything that came with photography and being creative also. 

I had a lot of different interests and creativity was always there, but seeing these other things were amazing. So half a year or a year into it even, when I was having to work less and less of my other jobs, eventually I just left everything. If I’m gonna try to do this, I have to get rid of everything else. And then I would say then it started really setting in that I was doing what I loved. 

Hayley, what was it like, moving to Los Angeles to pursue your passion?

Hayley: When I moved to LA, it was because I had met some songwriter in Toronto, who introduced me to a songwriter in Stockholm. I’d spent a few weeks over the summer writing with this guy in Stockholm, then just tried to get a publishing deal in LA, or wherever. And just through different circumstances, it landed in LA. And because of that, I was really going with direction, I really wanted to go and be a songwriter. 

I met this manager, he brought me to LA. Initially they put me up for a month, and then at the end of the month they asked if I wanted to stay for another month. Then for another month. And then for another month. Then they asked if I wanted to sign with them, and I said, “Yeah, okay.” And now it’s been 12 years. I didn’t know that was the move I was making when I was making it, which I think is true for a lot of life decisions. You don’t know you’re making a choice in the moment and then you’re like, “Oh, shit, it’s been 30 years. I guess this is what I do now.” That’s how a lot of my life has panned out, something feeling right in the moment, going for it, time passes. 

How do you approach songwriting in finding the balance between relatability and using your personal experience?

Hayley: When I first got to LA, I was trying to write something that was relatable, making it as big as possible, where anybody can envision themselves in it. You slowly start to realize that it doesn’t actually work and the songs that people connect with the most are the most specific.

Lennon Stella – Save Us (written by Hayley Penner)

 

I’ve thought a lot about movies in this way too, that you don’t actually have to have been through it to feel in touch with it. It’s the reason we can watch war movies and feel moved. I haven’t lived through a war, but because it’s so specific, I can be immersed in the storytelling of it and feel connected to it. Sometimes the more broad and accessible you try to make a thing, the less a person can connect to it. So I’ve just found that the more you use stories from your real life, the more people relate to them. 

And my book was a really helpful contributor to that thought too, because I wrote all these stories that are incredibly specific. And the only thing across the board that I’ve gotten is, “Oh my God, I went through the same thing,” or “This is so similar to something I went through.” I think we connect more with the truth of a feeling than the specifics of the story. And then it hooks you more deeply.

You mentioned your memoir, People You Follow. What was that writing process like? 

Hayley: Oh, man. That book and the process of writing that book has become the North Star for me, because it was the single most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life. And the fulfilment came from the actual act of writing it. Of course, people responding to it has been mind blowing, but the actual process of sitting down and writing it and thinking about my life, and it was just so driven by passion and obsession and love and need. And I think because it was so filled with all of those things, it was so easy. 

Not that it was easy to write all the time, because some of the things were hard to write about. But just the process of sitting down to write was so easy, because it was so driven by love. It’s this pillar of “It will feel good if you love it. Find the love in the thing you are doing, and then you will love to do it. 

Kendra: And when you started writing your book, you weren’t like “I’m gonna write a book.” You just started writing down stories that were significant in your life and it was like journaling at the beginning. You were just writing everything down and then it very quickly turned into, “Oh, these are stories.” And then at a certain point, you were like, “I think I’m writing a book.”

Hayley: That’s a good point. The way it really started is with the first story I wrote, one with this guy that I met on Riya in a hotel, this one night stand that became more than one night stand. I wrote this one story and posted it online, and a friend of mine who’s a writer and director was like, “Take that down, this is a book. Keep writing. Just keep writing. Don’t think about where it’s going. Just keep writing. Keep writing, keep writing.” 

Who are some creatives that you admire or who inspire you?

Hayley: To be honest, Kendra, out the gate. Not to be cheesy, but watching her build her business over the last few years, and seeing the effort you’ve put in, throughout the pandemic, and taking courses and reaching out to other professionals. You’ve done it in such a deliberate way, you built a creative industry… you CREATED photography!

*laughs* 

You built this creative infrastructure for yourself in such a clinical way, which is really just so you. She was such a good student, she’d be crying on the phone because she got 98% like,, “Where did the last 2% go, what did she mess up?” I am not like that. I’ve hired a bunch of professionals to handle parts of my work so I can be more creative. I just think you have really done something, it’s very inspiring. 

Kendra: That’s beautiful.

Hayley: That’s real. 

Kendra: Anyone else or just me?

Hayley: Just you! Nobody else inspires me. 

No, I mean, lots of people. I have a friend of mine, Dayle McLeod, who’s an actor in Toronto. A few years ago, she said, “I’m gonna write a book.” And then 6 months later she’s like, “Hey, do you want a copy of my book?” She just never says something she doesn’t follow through on. She has constant ideas and when you check in with her a few weeks later, it’s in movement. She really follows through on her own creative ideas. 

I really think that is the whole struggle because everybody constantly has ideas, but the hard part is actually sitting down and doing it. I really admire that follow through because the nugget of inspiration is not the challenge, it’s actually prioritizing yourself and following through and showing up for yourself when it’s hard over and over and over and over again for years. But with her it’s constant, she’s working on a documentary right now. She got a ton of funding for it because she went after all these grant organizations. She’s just incredible. I love her. 

Kendra: Not to turn it back on you, but Hayley, for sure. Since we’re six years apart, when I was in Junior High School, you were already in Toronto writing music. Then you were in LA not long after that, so I think I’ve always seen that creative life through you. 

And with photography, I didn’t think it was an option, or that it was always something that I do in addition to other things. But seeing people like you, actually have creative fulfilling careers, has been huge in actually letting that in as an option. You’ve definitely been that person I’ve seen and admired. Our parents are both creative, they both have creative careers and continue doing those careers. And people I’ve worked with here, my friend Chelsea, runs a company called Sumter and Co. It’s really nice to be able to work with creative people all the time. I like collaborating with people and having other ideas out there, seeing different perspectives.

And last but not least, what is one song that would get you on the dance floor no matter what?

Kendra: That is a great one. I’ve got to think about this one. 

Hayley: Something old, something Dance Mix ‘96 maybe?

Kendra: YMCA!

*laughs*  

I feel like there’s so many, but I often would request Yoncé by Beyonce, which is a great one. But then I think about dancing to it and I’m like, is it something that’s easy to dance to? 

Hayley: Oh, it depends, but right now, it’s Rush by Troye Sivan. It is… I mean, just the best.

If you still haven’t had your fill of these two, you can see more fantastic photos (like the ones we’ve been using) on Kendra’s website or see where you can find a copy of People You Follow via Hayley’s website.

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