by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for Folk Alley
The two gents who comprise Penny and Sparrow — Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter — didn’t set out to be musicians. They were living together with a bunch of other guys in a house during college and, basically, stumbled into an artistic collaboration that worked… really, really well. With Jahnke focusing on guitar and Baxter leaning into vocals, the alt-folk duo has emerged to much critical acclaim with their lovely new Let a Lover Drown You release.
Kelly McCartney: Being late-comers to playing guitar and writing songs — having sort of fallen into music as a career — do you think that takes some of the pressure off? Or are the stakes just as high now that you’re in it?
Kyle Jahnke: I would say that the pressure is off. We just love writing songs. I just didn’t know I loved it until post-college! We are supremely grateful that music is our living, and I think it’s hard to feel pressure because of that.
Kyle, as you deepen your guitar skills, what approach are you taking — experimentation or tradition?
Kyle Jahnke: It ebbs and flows. I think both are important. Right now, I’m handling it in the most millennial of ways: watching YouTube lessons and videos of Paul Simon.
Andy, when you hear a lyric or read a passage that rocks you back on your heels, what’s the take-away for you?
Andy Baxter: I keep multiple word banks written down at any given time in my journals and in text messages to myself. Any sentence or idea — or even just one word — that inspires me gets written down immediately. It happens (fairly often) that I’ll take One Word and write a song around that. Anything that moves me immediately gets translated into fuel for writing songs or short stories.
What kind of freedoms — and limitations — are there in an acoustic duo?
Kyle Jahnke: I think that we are offered total freedom as an acoustic duo. It’s really just giving us a chance to put two brains together to write the best songs we can write. Playing live, right now we are touring as a duo, but in six months we could be out with a full band or a string quartet. We just want to keep changing and pushing. I think the only limitation that we are experiencing is Andy’s reluctance to dive deep in to the world of math-rock and free jazz.
You guys have cited Glenn Hansard and Justin Vernon (or their former projects) as influences. How do you feel as they both move in different artistic directions? Is that a bummer or an inspiration?
Kyle Jahnke: A total inspiration. We never want to make the same album twice. And it seems that is the case with both Glenn Hansard and Justin Vernon. They are part of the reason we know that it’s possible to evolve and grow creatively. I’ll always check out whatever they are working on. Also pretty sure their voices are actual butter.