By Lindsey Lowe Osborne
What do you ask from your music? I ask a lot. I want it to transport me places, both backward, to times I can’t physically revisit, and forward, to someplace that is different than the present I (occasionally) need to escape. I ask some of it to give me a reason to dance while I’m cooking a spinach omelet on a Monday night and more of it to make eight-hour car trips worth it. Most often, I demand that it peer inside of me and report what it finds.
This month’s band, Penny and Sparrow, challenged me to ask not what my music can do for me, but what I can do for my music.
“We think this album asks a lot of anybody who really listens,” says the duo who make up the band—Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke—of their upcoming release, Let a Lover Drown You. “In short, we hope it makes people put all the relationships they’ve ever had out on the table and examine them. Each song is like a glass case with a different lover in it. Some selfless, some abusive, some cotton soft, some with so much eroticism it hides their lack of depth. And still others that ask you for a one-night stand just to prove they’re worth keeping around. Holding each of these tracks up to your past and current loves is a worthwhile thing to do because it urges you to be honest.”
Perhaps that’s a lot to demand of you on a weekend drive, but the guys believe it’s a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless. After all, they say, maybe they can give you a little bit more than music. “We hope we wrote an album that makes you wonder,” they say. “And maybe, if we did it right, it’ll make you ponder what kind of love you want and how to get it.”
Penny and Sparrow is three years old and based out of Austin, Texas. The duo was founded on leaps of faith—one of their pivotal turning points was when their wives gave them both permission to gamble and quit their day jobs—and lots of doing hard, small things in hopes of their efforts leading to something bigger. “We inadvertently turned a hobby into a DIY music career. Sometimes we think about the last three years and our band being where it is seems like happenstance,” they say. “Honestly, we kept trudging and laying slab at the beginning of all this, even though we didn’t know that we were paving the way for ourselves to make music full time. As we worked our day jobs, we would take some time off to play shows around Texas and occasionally Oklahoma, but all of that was just for fun.” From there, they collaborated with Chris Jacobie (a producer out of San Antonio, Texas) and later, with Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes and John Paul White of the Civil Wars, who both produced Let a Lover Drown You. And the story behind their name is simple—they borrowed it from a friend who used to blog (and never gave it back)—but before that, they introduced themselves differently: “We used to go by various sports team names. I.e. ‘Good evening, we’re the Utah Jazz.’”
Let a Lover Drown You, out March 11, follows 2014’s Struggle Pretty and 2013’s Tenboom. Their sound lives somewhere between Iron and Wine and The Antlers, with a bit of Dawes thrown in, especially in their earlier stuff. And though they fall in the singer/songwriter category, they stand out in the way that if you heard them in a coffee shop, you’d likely shush your friend so you could write down the lyrics and look them up later, which, in my opinion, is an impressive feat. They said the accomplishment they’re proudest of is that they’ve written music they’re proud of without worrying about who’s going to listen to it. “I realized I could stop comparing myself to other singers and just use my own voice,” says Baxter. “And that I’d be better off if I did.” Jahnke agrees: “You don’t have to fit in a genre,” he says. “The more I connect with a song, the more I love it.”
Penny and Sparrow will be performing at WorkPlay on March 23. Get tickets here.
3/10: Mayday Parade & the Maine at Iron City. For fans of Boys Like Girls and All Time Low.
3/24: The Wild Feathers at Saturn. For fans of Dawes and The Lone Bellow.
4/3: Shovels & Rope at the Druid City Music Hall. For fans of Jason Isbell and Langhorne Slim.