SOMERDALE – Shake It Maggie (interview)

By Patrick Donders  October 8, 2016


Sweet Sweet Music talked to Somerdale about Shake It Maggie. Read what Chuck, James and JJ have to say about this Power Pop GEM!

You get great reviews and your songs get compared to Badfinger, Cheap Trick and Slade. Was that where inspiration came from?

Chuck: We are big fans of classic 1970s power-pop, so it’s no surprise this album keeps getting compared to bands like Badfinger and the Raspberries. We’re also big Beatles fans. To me, Badfinger always came across as a heavier and sadder version of The Beatles. I suppose that combination of heavy instrumentation and sad lyrical themes on this album is what generates all the Badfinger references.

James: I would humbly offer that Badfinger seems an obvious influence. I think a good amount of our inspiration is British Invasion meets The Beach Boys, but we also have more contemporary influences like Fountains of Wayne, Elliott Smith, and Guided by Voices.

JJ: I think The Raspberries, KISS, Sloan and Guided by Voices are more like it.

What was the biggest fun during the making of the last album?

Chuck: The entire process is fun: writing the songs, rehearsing the arrangements and then recording and mixing the tracks. However, for me, the most exciting moment of the “Shake it Maggie” sessions was the recording of those epic harmonies that open and close the album. The three of us were standing around a single microphone and layering all those lush vocals. When we finished, we listened to the playback and it was one of those “WOW” moments. There was this enormous sense of joy and accomplishment.

James: The many creative risks that were taken which felt right and turned out better than we expected. We also tapped into the resourcefulness of two great studio engineers (Matt Weber and Daren Wicks) who knew that their opinions and contributions were highly valued.  

JJ: Spending time with your friends and doing what you love to do. That’s the most fun.

If we want to know you, which song do we have to listen to? And why?

Chuck: “Excuse Me.” The lyric is universal. Here’s a typical guy in a typical relationship making typical guy statements. “Baby, I’ve made mistakes. I’m not perfect. I’m sorry. Please, remember, our relationship is special and nothing is going to get in the way.” Every guy can relate to that, right?

James: “Shake It Maggie.” It shows the band’s deft balance with heavy and light. It has lots of rich vocals, and a great story to tell about someone working her ass off to make her way. It’s a ripper!

JJ: “JJ’s Theme Song.” It’s an old song of ours, written about me, and it pretty sums me up in 2 minutes.

The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring you? And what not?

James: I think it has brought more global reach, which is pretty inspiring to a couple of guys from Southern New Jersey, USA.

Chuck: The music industry has changed for the better. Social media has helped SOMERDALE tremendously. There is a fanatical group of power-pop lovers out there. The band has picked up fans in the UK, Sweden, Spain, Australia, Brazil … the list goes on. Bands doing what we are doing aren’t limited to a hometown audience anymore. Look, you discovered us all the way over in the Netherlands!

An awful lot has changed between the first album and the new one, I guess.

Chuck: What has changed most since our 2006 debut release “Friday Nite in America” is that EVERYONE – the three members of the band and our super engineers (Matt Weber and Daren Wicks) – we all are paying more attention to EVERYTHING that goes into bringing a song to life. Everyone involved is thinking more like a record producer. Whether we are saying it out loud or not, everyone seems to be asking, “How does this lyric, this guitar tone, this harmony vocal, this keyboard part, etc… contribute to make this SONG better?” There is so much going on in a three-minute pop song, and every moment needs to count.

James: The band has matured through many experiences to write better and better songs. We know what it takes to write a good song and we have a much better sense of knowing how to execute it well in the studio.

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mix tape if there is going to be a second date. Which 5 would you put on?

James: Are you going for romance or for the thrill?

Shake It Maggie, Waiting for You, Sugar Valley California, Coolest Kid in the Room and The News.

JJ: My 5 songs would be:

Guided By Voices – Your name is wild

Sloan – If it feels good do it!

KISS – Dr. Love

Dr. Hook – A little bit more

School of Fish – Euphoria

 Chuck: Luckily, I haven’t been on a second date in ten years. Next question!

 What’s up for the next couple of months? How will you promote Shake it Maggie?

 JJ: We’re currently in the studio cooking up a little holiday treat. We will keep pushing Shake it Maggie through the new year and hopefully get it pressed on VINYL!

James: New releases, festival shows and more writing and creating

Chuck: SOMERDALE has generated a ton of momentum in the past six months. The band wants to keep the ball rolling. We plan on releasing an original Christmas song this November, a few new singles in early 2017 and a compilation album with a cross section of old and new material in the summer of 2017. Stay tuned!


South Jersey Guitarists Passionate About Their Great Gear(excerpt)

By Vincent Jackson-Press of Atlantic City(excerpt) January 5, 2014

 Chuck Penza, 45, of Hammonton, who is the bassist in the retro pop-rock band Somerdale, owns five basses. Penza was influenced to buy his favorite bass, a 1962 Fender Precision reissue, by seeing the 2002 documentary, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," about the Funk Brothers, a group of Detroit musicians, who backed up dozens of 1960s Motown artists.

The main bassist in the Funk Brothers was the late James Jamerson, who played a Fender Precision bass guitar.

"The tone of the instrument, there is nothing I ever played that has got the tone of the Fender Precision. It's the perfect bass for recording," said Penza, who added the bass can be heard on Somerdale's CD, "Brighter Than Before," which was released in 2011 and is available through iTunes and "The engineer and producer said it was the best sounding bass he ever heard in his recording studio."


Mainland Teacher's Band Partying Over New CD

Shore News Today  July 22, 2011

LINWOOD – Mainland Regional High School teacher Chuck Penza and his band “Somerdale” will celebrate the release of their newest CD, “Brighter Than Before,” on Saturday at Pistol Pete’s Steakhouse and Saloon in Pleasantville. The release party kicks off at 6 p.m. and the $10 price of admission to the all-ages show includes a copy of the band’s new CD.


“The band has been together now for about seven years,” Penza said Tuesday, July 19, “and this is our second full-length release.”


Penza, 43, of Hammonton sings and plays bass in the three-man band along with pals J.J. Fennimore, 39, of Williamstown and James Caputo, 42, of Medford Lakes.




The English teacher said his rock ’n’ roll band creates “insanely catchy, head-bobbing, foot-stomping, fist-pumping, hook-laden, sing-a-long tunes.”


“We’re really influenced by the classic artists of the late 60s and early 70s,” Penza said. “The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who; I think we kind of fall right in the middle of that triangle of artists.”


Penza said Somderdale’s first full-length release was in 2005, and after that CD came out the band caught its big break.


“We were lucky enough to get signed by Zip Records, which is a San Francisco-based label with a pretty extensive roster of artists,” he said. “We were very fortunate.”


Penza, who also teaches courses in songwriting and recording technology at Mainland, said the release party on Saturday will be a fun time for anyone who stops by.


“They can expect a lot of very catchy, upbeat songs,” he said. “And if people are unable to get to the release show, we play every Wednesday night for the rest of the summer at the Trump Beach Bar from 7-9 p.m.”


Saturday, July 23


$10 admission cost includes CD


Pistol Pete’s Steakhouse and Saloon


1000 W. Black Horse Pike


Pleasantville, NJ 08232


(609) 484-1000


Doors open at 6 p.m. with performances by Backseat Riot at 7 p.m., The Successful Failures at 8 p.m., and Somerdale at 9 p.m.





 By SCOTT SEMET For At The Shore  October 5, 2006

 Over the past few years, Atlantic City has slowly been luring more and more high-profile recording artists. Long a bastion for lounge singers and worn-out performers, even the casinos have begun to feature musical acts that attract a younger, hipper audience. It was only a matter of time until the local original music scene caught up with the act, and for the second weekend in a row, there's another reason for the closet music snob to head out of their basement and into the scene.


On Saturday, Oct. 7, the first official "New Jersey Pop Fest" will take place. Pistol Pete's in Pleasantville is proud to present the premier power pop performance, providing an alliterative alternative to the perfunctory pursuits of provincial pundits. Somerdale, A Case of Hysteria, the Castle Arms, the Dipsomaniacs and Ike will each bring their musical tastes to the table, inviting all to dig in. The concert begins at 7 p.m., with tickets costing a mere $5.


The genesis of the event came together when Somerdale frontman Chuck Penza underwent a moment of clarity.

"We had been fighting to get performances in Philadelphia. It seems like the mindset around here is that you have to play Philly to get recognition. I realized that all of my relationships are here in Atlantic County, so why fight it?"


The event is designed to spotlight some of the best pop bands the area has to offer.


"All of the artists are kind of connected," says Penza. The Castle Arms, hailing from Audubon, will be bringing their synth-centric sunshine to Pete's for the evening. Band member J. Tagmire recently released the "Mass Broadcast" compilation, a collection of regional bands which featured tracks by Somerdale and other local favorites.


Though all of the bands are connected in spirit, the bond between Somerdale and A Case of Hysteria runs even deeper. The band is comprised of students from Mainland Regional High School, where they recently won the "Battle of the Bands" competition. Penza, who teaches a pop songwriting class at Mainland, describes the youths as being "likeminded" when it comes to their musical tastes and sensibilities.

 "They're so mature and receptive; they understand the three-minute pop song mentality."

 Also appearing on the 7th will be likeminded popsmiths the Dipsomaniacs and Ike, John Faye's latest outfit. The Dipsomaniacs, who hail from the Trenton area, carry a more garage-inspired vibe and is reminiscent of bands like the Replacements and the more "rootsy," early 1970s Rolling Stones albums. Frontman Mick Churba is currently putting the final touches on the "About a Girl" comp, which will feature various covers of "girl" songs. Somerdale contributed a version of the Left Banke's 1966 classic "Walk Away Renee."


Power pop is all well and good, but when most people think of Pistol Pete's, the predominant image in their mind is that of a mechanical bull dissuading all who would dare attempt to tame it. The question on everyone's lips is undoubtedly "Will the Bull make an appearance?"

 "There's always a chance," says Penza.





 By DIANE D'AMICO  January 20, 2003

Lots of students sing the homework blues. Chuck Penza's students write them.

 Penza, a Mainland Regional High School English teacher and singer-songwriter, is making high school a bit more hip - offering an elective in songwriting.

 "It really is an art form that is overlooked," he said. "This is the course I wish I'd had in high school."

 The half-semester elective, now in its third year, covers popular songwriting, and looks at styles, lyrics, structure and melody.

 "Mr. Penza's taught us how to listen differently, and to analyze," student Heather Newbert said.

 Penza begins the course by asking students to bring in three songs they think are great. "We get a little of everything," he said.

 The class discusses and analyzes the songs, then Penza presents his own list of Top 40 songwriters. Finally, students pick someone new whom they think is likely to become a classic songwriter and justify their choices.

 For their midterm, students had a choice of writing and performing their own song, performing a cover song and analyzing it, or compiling a CD of songs with an explanation of what makes them great.

"I really try to impress on them that there are fluff songs, and there are songs with substance," Penza said.

Penza brings in guest performers when possible. Recently, Ben Arnold and Scott Bricklin of Philadelphia performed and discussed music with students and staff members who stopped by.

Arnold talked about technique, using songs to tell a story and looking beyond the obvious rhymes.

"When I write, I try to edit the song in a way that when you hear it, you see something," he said. "It might not be a whole story, but they should see a picture."

He encouraged students to listen to college radio, music beyond the mainstream and all types of music.

He even had a few nice words for nonsense songs. "They can be fun, and it's a way to be creative and play with words."

Students said songwriting is one of the few courses that lets them be creative and express themselves as they learn.

"It's an escape from the regular math and English," Stephanie Huntley said.

"I've learned to appreciate other music," Dennis Dutton said. "I used to be just all rhythm and blues."

"I'd never heard of 99 percent of the music we listen to," Jill Gottlieb said.

Chelsea DiPilla said the guest performers also offered insight on what it's like to be in the music business.

Arnold warned those who envision life as a rock star that they should write songs for love, not profit, because fame is fickle.

"We've had major highs - and lows," he said. "You can't just live for the highs."

When the class bell rang, there were audible sighs of disappointment.

"I could just be here all day," DiPilla said.






By Scott Semet  October 5, 2006

If Willy Wonka decided to start up a record label, Somerdale would undoubtedly be the first band he'd sign. Their songs are so sugary sweet, audience members are often found reaching for the dental floss before the first set has finished. Chuck Penza, who double-dips on bass and lead vocals, traces the band's sound to the originators of the form.


"We're paying tribute to the power-pop bands of the '70s," he explains. "I really connect to the energy, joy and fun of that music."


Bands like Big Star, the Raspberries and the Who are cited as major influences, along with modern counterparts Fountains of Wayne, Weezer and Ben Folds.


"Oh yeah, and KISS. Make sure you mention KISS as an influence," laughs Penza.


Fun is a key point to their sound; a concept which, according to the band, seems to be slipping from the public's conscience.


"I think we're trying to let people know that it's alright to listen to music that makes you feel good," he explains. "You don't have to walk around feeling miserable and gloomy all of the time."


To wage war against the modern era of violent, angry, and discontented music, Somerdale has armed itself with a bevy of power chords, a palate for tasty licks and tight vocal harmonizing between Penza and bandmates James Caputo and J.J. Fennimore.


"I think, deep down, everyone wants to have more fun," says Penza. "Some people are just afraid to, or have forgotten how. Everybody in the band is on the same wavelength. It's like working with your brothers."


Though there are no biological connections between the three members, the trio seems to operate as a single entity. Their latest effort, "Friday Night in America," has sold more than 1,000 copies and has already garnered interest from some major players in the music world, including Kool Kat Records, which is distributing Somerdale's debut.


As for the band's ultimate goal, they're interested in pushing their music to the limit. According to Penza, "It's more than a hobby. It's a passion." In fact, the boys are "willing to work as hard as we can, for as long as we have to, to be recognized as the best power pop band in the area."


After this weekend's Power Pop Festival, which came about as a result of Somerdale's orchestration, the band will focus on recording the follow-up to their debut album.


"We've already got about a half dozen songs written, which we're 'fine tuning' during our performances," says Penza.


What they play: Original power pop


Specialty: Harmonies and strong hooks


New to the setlist: The boys will be performing several recent compositions, such as "We Are All Together," and will debut a song called "Feel the Magic."

Why They're Cool: They perform strict, three-minute pop songs. No more, no less.

Originals: Their latest release, "Friday Nite in America," is available at every gig and online from

Claim to Fame: Somerdale placed second in the inaugural House of Blues "Battle of the Bands" last spring, after a neck-and-neck competition.

Go See Them: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at Pistol Pete's, Black Horse Pike, Pleasantville, for the New Jersey Pop Festival.

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