Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke are Penny & Sparrow; a duo who will send an emotional jolt through your body with their simple, yet smoldering compositions. That tingle you're feeling? That's the result of perfect two-part harmonies, lapped upon the shores by warm and gentle waves of acoustic guitar.
Dropping in on the sessions we captured at EAR Studios in Austin Texas this spring, Kyle and Andy were returning home, in a way. Penny & Sparrow met at The University of Texas, but had somewhat recently relocated to Florence Alabama; a small city they didn't know they needed in their life...until they had it in their life. One reason for the move was the rich, musical environment of that corner of Alabama. John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, lives up the street from the boys. So does Ben Tanner (aka Styrofoam Jones) from the Alabama Shakes. So it makes a whole lotta sense that they enlisted both musicians to assist on recording their stunning new album, Let A Lover Drown You. It's an album with little musical-embellishment; what you see (or hear, rather) is what you get. And what you get is songs seeped in poetry, romanticism, and a wee bit spirituality. Fans of Glen Hansard, Mumford and Sons, and The Civil Wars...Penny & Sparrow should be your new favorite band.
If all this sounds too deadly serious, don't worry...Kyle and Andy also happen to be two of the funniest fellows we've ever had the pleasure to sit down with. Interspersed between devastating performances from the group's new album, the two friends talk of their mutual physical attraction for each other, creeping on John Paul White, and the unfortunate story of the blogger they had to kill so that the name Penny & Sparrow could be theirs.
Let A Lover Drown You is available now. Pick it up HERE.
Penny and Sparrow, and we're here filming our Baeble session. This is a song coming at you live, or pre-recorded, in your case, of a song called "Each To Each. " My name is Andy Baxter, and I sing in the music band Penny and Sparrow. also sing, but also play guitar, in the music band Penny and Sparrow. - I know that music is subjective. I know that people who like certain things hate others, and that's not always a clear-cut deal. I know that we care about everything that we do. I know that every single lyric, and note, production element was thought through, considered for a long time. There was no nervous creation. All of it was based on joy, based on, "This is the record I would want to listen to. This is the record we would want to hear. " If we're growing old, let us speak Marrow carried underground Shade and sin you settle down If we got awhile on borrowed time Death can wait impatiently A dog is caught in up a tree And I'll read your mind Myself, and my bride But I came here for the fight Yes, I came here for the fight No, the world is never right Because I came here for the fight Measure out a life, both of ours In arguments and coffee spoons Dancing in the living room Every tiny word you sent to me I've kept and keeping even still Finger it in window sill I breathe, and it shows What we both know But I came here for the fight Yes, I came here for the fight No, the world is never right And I came here for the fight You love life We can take our time - Thus concludes our song Each To Each, listener. Thank you. - We met right at the end of college. We both went to the University of Texas. Andy did not have a place to live. He was intermittently homeless. - True statement. - Picked him up off the street. So he moved into my room, and I was learning guitar at the time, and he is not very good at singing. And so, we worked on his singing lessons, and I don't really remember why we started writing songs. - The musical attraction began with a physical attraction that I have for Kyle. He's a very good-looking gentleman. If one of us was going to be on the cover of Tiger Beat, it would not be me. I look like your uncle who knows the planet Hoth well, and collects shit from it. And I do, and that's fine. But so, I was like, "Damn, he's good-looking. I wonder if I could market that somehow in a grand scheme, and maybe work in the music. " And he agreed. We stole the name from our roommate at the time. Although Kyle said I moved into his room and it was me, and Kyle, and our buddy Jake, and Jake wrote a blog that had screenplays on it, short stories, poems, stuff like that, and it was called Penny and Sparrow, and when it came time for us to actually play our first legit gig, we needed a real name. We were going by like... - Utah Jebs. - ...sports teams. Like, "Hey, we are the Dallas Cowboys," because we thought that shit was funny. - That didn't go over that well, though. - We laughed, regardless. When we needed an actual name, we were like, "We don't have one, can we borrow your blog name?" And he was like, "Sure. " And then once we... - No, we killed him. And so, we owned it out right... - He was, for a while. - But the killing stopped all bitterness. So he reluctantly...not even reluctantly, he was great about it. He's awesome and sweet, he let us have the name. - Yeah. You know in moments of weakness I could want you But you don't make the shape or the blood of anything I swear and shake, that you will not take No, you will not take me Put away that look Because I burn Every touch you took And I won't be tasting you I know that you never gave a damn about me I know your body only peeling all the paint I won't bend down with such a hate Well, at least, at least not anymore Put away that look I've gathered and thrown away Every touch you took And I won't be tasting you I've been hell to hell since I left, oh, I know I've been hell to hell since I left, oh, I know I've been hell to hell since I left, oh, I know I've been hell to hell since I left, oh, I know Put away that look I've gathered and thrown away Every touch you took, that I've burned, oh Put away that look I've gathered and thrown away Every touch you took And I won't be tasting you no more No more, no more No more, no more No - We moved to Alabama originally just because we knew we were going to record there. We got a cool opportunity to work with a producer that was a hero of ours, and so, we moved right down the street from him, consequently, which was a little bit creepy at the beginning. - For him. - For him, but he's kind enough to be our friend. And so, upon doing so, we fell in love with the little city. It's right new to Muscle Shoals, it's a place called Florence, Alabama. It's 2 hours from Nashville, 30 minutes from Tennessee border, and I don't think we knew that we wanted to live in a tiny, tiny-ass city until we lived in one and then fell in love with it. It was a golden opportunity. John Paul, in particular, would have been on a list of people four years ago that if you'd have said, "Hey, if you could sing with anybody..." I mean, Glen Hansard, Sam Beam, John Paul, those would been the names on our very short list. - Unless he's watching this... - We hate his guts. He sucks. He's such a jerk. - We just don't want his head to get too big. - But if he's not, then we really respect him, and we think he's great, and the coolest part about working with him, aside from the fact that they're creative geniuses and they work so hard, so hard. The pace of life is slower in Florence, but that does not stop the hours getting clocked in. They spend so much time working, and they're so good at their jobs. But the best part, aside from all the creative stuff that both of them brought to the table was we that get to call them friend. We know their families, they know our families, we enjoy them. If music got taken away forever, I would be...we would consider ourselves lucky just to know them as people. And so, that's a really cool deal. It just doesn't hurt that they're great at music. Covered in gold, forgetting my skin I recall you, and I recall when Pulling your shirt up over your head And laughing gets stuck, it gets stuck in bed All that I do is a shadow of you And the light you make I'm turning my face away from the shade Swaying on cue, I'll be mimicking you And the way you shake You're a difficult love, I'm a narrow escape Pulling my clothes, none of which fit Bringing back us, meeting as kids I covered up red, I figured our fame I honor your death by making my name All of my guilt and the way that I'm built I don't sleep so well With all of that hope, the end of a rope Swaying on cue, I'll be mimicking you And the way you felt When I know what you know, it's an easy let-go All I... I... All I... All I... All I... All I... All I... All I... All I... All that I do is a shadow of you And the light you make I'm turning my face away from the shade Swinging on cue, I'll be mimicking you And the way you shake You're a difficult love, I'm a narrow escape You're a difficult love, I'm a narrow escape I'm covered in gold, forgetting my skin And I recall you, and I recall when - I like to think that people just get whatever they need. Each song is different enough that although we can explain it one way, it's not really our song once people hear it. And so, I like thinking that people connect with it in a way that they need to. And then in between, hopefully, there's a levity enough that it's not soul-crushing every time we play a song. So there's laughter in between songs if you come to see us live, and then if not, then... - We're just sad. - We're just sad. Just a lot of sad music. - But we're not. Watch this interview, you'll see.
Austin-made singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow dwells in the spaces left between contradictions and opposing forces. In fact, its where theyre most at home. As the title of their latest album, Let A Lover Drown You, suggests, they know intimately the ideas of using pain as a barometer of passion and giving as a means of gaining.
Opposites themselves, vocalist Andy Baxter (lover of books and climate-controlled coffee shops) and composer Kyle Jahnke (seeker of adventure, preferably outdoors), sacrificed most semblances of comfort and certainty in their lives to take their self-released recordings they made after meeting as University of Texas roommates to the next level: full-time, D.I.Y., coast-to-coast touring.
Their gorgeous, almost luminescent harmonies paired with cutting, contemplative songs, inspired by a musical grab bag of Simon and Garfunkel, Slim Whitman, The Swell Season, Bon Iver, even Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, earned the duo a nationwide legion of fans; many bordering on, if not, obsessed. Just ask their wives who tour manage them.
But until recently, Kyle and Andy thought of their respective talents, words and melody, as elements on separate continents that they fit togetherAndys voice and lyrics an audible sunbeam appearing in a dark and dusty room; Kyles lean, yet lush arrangements following unpredictable paths with acrobatic flourishes layered over grounded grooves.
But it was in writing and recording Let A Lover Drown You they let those roles bleed into each other. With the help of producers John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), they slashed unnecessary phrasing and stripped their songs down to their core.
The process was terrifying and raw, says Kyle. This time, we werent afraid to voice our opinions. Lyrically, I got to hear things from Andy and tell him whether I believed him or not I mean, I know him so well now that the other day he came in the room with a smile on his face, and I asked him 'Whats wrong?
As they stepped into a room with just two chairs and a mic (a departure from the headphones and click tracks they used to record their two previous albums), there were few places to hide disagreement or flaws. But, they slowly fell in love with the peccadilloes they once hid; discord created harmony. Like the albums title, Andy and Kyle were exploring the notion of struggle as something worth feeling on behalf of a greater object.
This title to us is a reminder that loving and dying are tied up, says Andy. Its the cover page for an album that studies who we love, how they love us back, and how much we give up along the way.
The thoughtful attention paid to each individual line and even the smallest instrumental placement makes the songs on Let a Lover Drown You so much more multi-dimensional and virile than the ubiquitous singer-songwriter folk. If foot-stomping, hand-clapping, raw-edged Americana feels like a well-worn, favorite flannel shirt, Penny & Sparrow are a made-to-measure Billy Reid suit.
We thought of the live takes of these songs like skeletons, says Kyle. We would find the right one and then ask ourselves what skinsstrings, filters, percussionwould fit best on top.
That refined sound paired with finely honed lyrics is apparent from the thundering opening arc of Finery, showcasing the full range of their prismatic harmonies over a sweeping arrangement then leading into the enveloping Catalogue, one of many tracks that features a guest performance by bassist David Hood of the legendary Swampers from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a twin city of their new hometown of Florence, Alabama where they recorded the album. Appearances by Tanner on keyboards and White with vocals dot the rest of the album.
Throughout Let a Lover Down You, Andy and Kyle lyrically explore commitment, choice, and conflict. A favorite novel, Red Rising, where the protagonist loses his wife and turns toward darkness inspired the quietly arresting Gold. It was a vehicle to discuss our willingness to change because of love, says Andy. Will we like what were made into? Will the process be painful? Am I being made better? These questions are fascinating to us.
In Bourbon, they capture what its like to stand at those familiar fork-in-the-road moments within an understated, elegant orchestration, while the haunting Bon Temps came from an oral history Andy gathered talking with a family friend who survived Hurricane Katrina. Maybe, the most charismatic track on the album, Unfold, equal parts staggering and seductive, offers the albums most satisfying vocal sections.
While the weight their music carries may imply that Andy and Kyle are weighed down with serious demeanors, it belies their most endearing quality.
We try to be the same people regardless of whether were playing for 14 people or thousands, says Andy. We joke the same at home and on stage, and try to root out any degree of being disingenuous. Really, we just like to be the same humans no matter where we are.
Whether through their jovial on-stage banter or the palpable humanity of their songs, that ability to make listeners feel as if theyre speaking to them, to relate to lifes contradictions and struggles with compassion and humor, is the true force behind Penny & Sparrow and why their music resonates so deeply.