JPR Live Session: Penny & Sparrow (2016)

Apr 22, 2016

Austin-made singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow dwells in the spaces left between contradictions and opposing forces. In fact, it’s where they’re 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. But until recently, Kyle and Andy thought of their respective talents, words and melody, as elements on “separate continents” that they fit together—Andy’s voice and lyrics an audible sunbeam appearing in a dark and dusty room; Kyle’s 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 weren’t 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 ‘What’s wrong?’”

Like the album’s 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. “It’s 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.