The harmonizing duo talks about their latest album, Finch.
What started as two college roommates playing together as a hobby turned into a full-time gig when University of Texas students Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke committed to being Penny & Sparrow professionally.
After the release of their first EP, Creature, in 2011, Penny & Sparrow quickly found themselves booking gigs and performing at legendary music festivals like Austin City Limits.
Following the release of their highly regarded 2017 album, Wendigo, Penny & Sparrow are back with a brand-new release.
We recently caught up with the pair before they headed off on tour — kicking off September 6 — for a chat about Finch, out now.
Cowboys & Indians: What do you hope fans will get from the new record?
Andy Baxter & Kyle Jahnke: We are so excited for people to listen to this record. I think my favorite thing about releasing music is the potential for our songs to be a soundtrack to a season of their lives. That's how I listen to music, and love the idea of others doing that with us.
C&I: This is a follow-up to your breakout album, Wendigo. How does this new work compare?
Baxter & Jahnke: Wendigo is raw, dark-sounding, theatric, really rough around the edges, very demo-esque. Finch is much different musically. The songs are much faster, melodically catchy, and rhythmic. The lyrics complement that change as well, and the vocals feel clean and soulful. It's been a really fun departure for us, and surprisingly natural. Also there are no flesh-eating monsters in this one.
C&I: What’s your songwriting process?
Baxter & Jahnke: Each song varies a bit, but on average it goes like this: Kyle writes the melody and hums/sings nonsensical words to said melody onto his iPhone. He then sends the voice memo through outer space to Andy’s iPhone. If Andy feels inspired by the melody, he will usually sit down with some headphones and pick apart the melody, listening hundreds of times and figuring out the lyrics that fit with it. Once the lyrics are finished we sit down with the song together and edit each other’s work.
C&I: Any stories about how certain songs on the album came together?
Baxter & Jahnke: For “Long Gone,” we were toward the end of the album recording process, struggling to figure out one more song that would complete the album. I sent Andy a melody idea from my Prius, with no instrumentation, just ridiculous unidentifiable gibberish, as he was driving from Alabama to San Antonio for our final few days of recording. In the van on his nine-hour drive he wrote the lyrics to “Long Gone.” There was no instrumentation to it yet, so when we tracked, it was recorded a capella with just a metronome to keep a beat. We tracked all instruments after it, which for us is pretty weird and unique. I think it turned out pretty great though, so maybe we will do it that way more often!
C&I: Is there a specific song that fans have really taken to?
Baxter & Jahnke: Off the new album, it seems right now that people are digging “Don’t Wanna Be Without Ya.” And I don’t know [why]! Maybe because it’s a fun one to sing along with. Or maybe it’s because reincarnation is unexpectedly in vogue right now. Either way, we definitely had a good time writing it.
C&I: Are there any songs that didn’t make it on the album that we can expect to hear down the road?
Baxter & Jahnke: There are definitely songs that didn’t make the album, but I think for good reason, so you won’t be hearing them in the future most likely. They weren’t quite up to snuff, if you will. That being said, we have thrown around the idea of releasing all of our outtakes one day, so maybe they will find a way to resurface in the future. But probably not.
C&I: You two met at the University of Texas. When did you first know you’d make a great and original duo?
Baxter & Jahnke: There was no designated time really when we were like “Let’s start a music career together!” We both had other things going on when we were having fun writing. A ton of random events led us to decide to make it more official by touring around the nation, but committing to a career in music didn’t happen until about album three. I think we knew pretty instantly that we liked making music together though — it was always our excuse to hang out together.
C&I: I read that Andy writes most of the lyrics, while Kyle does many of the melodies. How do you go about finding a balance and generating a new, yet familiar, sound?
Baxter & Jahnke: Yeah! I think the best way to answer that is that we really focus on trying to make music that we want to listen to and that is honest to who we are.
C&I: What’s next for Penny & Sparrow?
Baxter & Jahnke: In the near future we will be on tour playing these new songs. After that, not sure! We are always working on new music. Right now we are chasing down some very exciting and different ideas and writing pretty quickly, which has been really fun and surprising considering we just finished Finch. Another thing we are starting to work on is a musical, but that could take a while.
Photography: Noah Tidmore