Mike and Karen Penton aren’t your average married couple living on PEI. That’s because they play in a rock band together. They’ve been married for 14 years, and though they’ve played music together for the last 16 years—as a duo, in cover bands, at family gatherings—their current project is meant to stand apart from everything they’ve previously done.
Soul Filter started in 2017 and the band released its first full-length album, A Minor Conspiracy, in December 2018. The band consists of Karen on rhythm guitar and vocals, Mike on lead guitar, Ronnie Arsenault on bass, and Marc Robichaud on drums.
If you’re anything like a lot of Islanders and enjoy driving into the sunset while pumping out local jams with the windows down, Soul Filter will be the perfect addition to your road-tripping needs. It’s window-down, wind-in-the-hair alternative-rock that transports you to circa 1995.
When Karen and Mike first met, she didn’t know he was a musician and he didn’t know she was a singer. Over time, things just fell into place. “It was pretty natural for us,” said Mike. They started off in cover bands, but Karen and Mike always wanted more than that. They would try to work original songs into the mix, but the songs never quite fit right.
In 2016, Karen had started to write songs again after a bit of hiatus. As Soul Filter’s primary songwriter, she writes all the lyrics, chord progressions, and melodies, creating the backbones of the songs. She and Mike then work together to create easily-listenable 90s-inspired rockers with soul-baring lyrics, catchy melodies, and beautiful vocal harmonies.
Being in a band with one another, along with being partners in life, is about balance and give and take, said Mike. “It works. If you can get along with someone in marriage, you’ll probably get along with them on the stage.” Being married can also make things easier, compared to playing in a group where members are scared to step on toes. “We’re not afraid to push the boundaries. It might be easier in the end to get what we want, because we’re not afraid to fight for it.”
Most of Karen’s lyrics are self-reflective, touching on common lyrical themes of life, love, and heartbreak. She tries to wake up in the morning and write anything at all. “If I start my morning that way, I find my whole day is different. I’ll come up with these lyrics or ideas and I’ll forget about them sometimes, but then if I have a melody or lyric in my head, and if it won’t leave me alone then I’m like, ‘I can’t wait to get home tonight and work on that,’” she said.
The duo both feel that music is what they’re meant to do together. “It’s our life. It’s all we do now. We’re empty nesters now, so this is our baby,” said Mike. When they’re performing, it feels like nothing else matters, said Karen. “Honestly, if I’m not performing, I just want to be playing. It just makes me feel alive.”
“When we play our own music, there’s this vulnerability that you just have to lean into. That’s when I feel most connected to the audience,” said Karen. Mike said it’s a powerful thing performing by her side, because he’s able to feel Karen’s energy as she lights up on stage.
Listen to Soul Filter’s 10-song debut album, A Minor Conspiracy, on all streaming platforms. A good place to see them play this summer will be opening up for Big Wreck at the Rock the Boat festival on August 3rd.