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Written and recorded over the past year, Penny and Sparrow’s remarkable new album,
Olly Olly, is a work of liberation and revelation, a full-throated embrace of the self
from a band that’s committed to leaving no stone unturned in their tireless quest for
actualization. The songs here are fearless and introspective, embracing growth and
change as they reckon with desire, intimacy, doubt, and regret, and the arrangements
are similarly bold and thoughtful, augmenting the duo’s rich, hypnotic brand of
chamber folk with electronic flourishes and R&B grooves. The duo—Andy Baxter and
Kyle Jahnke—produced Olly Olly themselves, working without an outside collaborator
for the first time, and the result is the purest, most authentic act of artistic self-
expression the pair have ever achieved.
Texas natives Baxter and Jahnke first crossed paths at UT Austin, where they
developed a fast friendship and deeply symbiotic musical connection. Beginning with
2013’s ‘Tenboom,’ the staunchly DIY pair released a series of critically lauded records
that prompted NPR to praise their songwriting as a “delicate dance between heartache
and resolve” and Rolling Stone to hail their catalog as “folk music for Sunday
mornings, quiet evenings, and all the fragile moments in between.” The duo’s most
recent album, 2019’s Finch, debuted at #2 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, racked
up more than 40 million streams on Spotify, and earned the band their biggest
headline shows to date.

PENNY AND SPARROW

Written and recorded over the past year, Penny and Sparrow’s remarkable new album, Olly Olly, is a work of liberation and revelation, a full-throated embrace of the self from a band that’s committed to leaving no stone unturned in their tireless quest for actualization. The songs here are fearless and introspective, embracing growth and change as they reckon with desire, intimacy, doubt, and regret, and the arrangements are similarly bold and thoughtful, augmenting the duo’s rich, hypnotic brand of chamber folk with electronic flourishes and R&B grooves. The duo—Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke—produced Olly Olly themselves, working on their own without an outside collaborator for the first time, and the result is the purest, most authentic act of artistic self-expression the pair have ever achieved.

“Andy and I talk about the process of making this record like a sort of musical Rumspringa,” Jahnke says. “It was an opportunity to truly become ourselves, to evolve outside of the roles we’d been put in—or put ourselves in—because of the way we’d grown up.”

Texas natives Baxter and Jahnke first crossed paths at UT Austin, where they developed a fast friendship and a deeply symbiotic musical connection. Jahnke was a gifted guitarist with an ear for melody, Baxter, an erudite lyricist with a mesmerizing voice and crystalline falsetto, and the duo quickly found that their vocals blended together as if they’d been singing in harmony their whole lives. Beginning with 2013’s ‘Tenboom,’ the staunchly DIY pair released a series of critically lauded records that garnered comparisons to the hushed intimacy of Iron & Wine and the adventurous beauty of Bon Iver, building up a devoted fanbase along the way through relentless touring and word-of-mouth buzz. NPR praised the band’s songwriting as a “delicate dance between heartache and resolve,” while Rolling Stone hailed their catalog as “folk music for Sunday mornings, quiet evenings, and all the fragile moments in between.” The duo’s most recent album, 2019’s Finch, marked a turning point in their career, pushing their sound to experimental new heights as it wrestled with notions of masculinity and religion and transformation in deeper, more personal ways than ever before. The record debuted at #2 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and was met with a rapturous response from critics and audiences alike, racking up more than 40 million streams on Spotify and earning the band their biggest headline tour to date.

Lera Lynn

With her new album On My Own, Lynn has emerged not only with a clear vision of herself, but with an entirely self-propelled breakthrough: Lynn wrote, sang, produced and recorded On My Own alone. She also played every single instrument on the record. It is a magnificent album, haunting and wild. It is also a record that no one else could make, because no one else is Lera Lynn. “I think there is something special about a singular vision,” Lynn says. “That’s not to say there’s not something special about a shared vision, a collaborative vision. But I would be so thrilled to hear records made in isolation by my favorite artists, just to know what their uninfluenced vision of their music is.” She pauses, then adds, “I guess I just wanted to hear what my own imagination sounded like.”

Lynn has earned a loyal following, critical acclaim and the admiration of peers and heroes. She first came to international attention through her writing and performances on HBO’s True Detective. Throughout her career, nearly a decade-long run filled with four album releases and hundreds of shows on both sides of the Atlantic, Lynn has maintained her fierce independence and dedication to her fans.

Her latest On My Own Deluxe is available where music is consumed.

“Almost everything changed for us in these last two years,” says Andy Baxter, one half of the acclaimed duo Penny & Sparrow. “It was a painful experience in a lot of ways, but it was also a joyful one.”

Joy and pain walk hand in hand on ‘Finch,’ Penny & Sparrow’s magnificent sixth album. Written during their first major break from the road in years, the record finds the band reckoning with a prolonged period of intense personal transformation, a profound awakening that altered their perceptions of masculinity, sex, religion, divorce, friendship, vanity, purpose, and, perhaps most importantly, self. Deeply vulnerable and boldly cinematic, the resulting songs blur the lines between indie-folk and alt-pop, with dense string arrangements and atmospheric production underpinning soaring melodies and airtight harmonies from Baxter and his longtime musical partner, Kyle Jahnke. It’s a revelatory collection, both for the listener and the performers, one that’s been a lifetime in the making.

“We were both brought up in the conservative South, where you’re instilled with the notion that the straight white Evangelical Christian male perspective is, if not the only, then the most correct view,” Baxter explains. “We didn’t understand how wrong that was until we went out and experienced the world for ourselves.”

“Touring was what really got us outside of that bubble we grew up in,” adds Jahnke. “We met so many people on the road whose lives were so different from ours, and that led to conversation after conversation in the van about the beliefs we’d grown up around and whether they were the sorts of things we wanted to carry with us.”

Texas natives, Baxter and Jahnke first crossed paths at UT Austin, where they developed both a fast friendship and a deeply symbiotic musical connection. Jahnke was a gifted guitarist with an ear for melody, Baxter an erudite lyricist with a mesmerizing voice and crystalline falsetto, and the duo quickly found that their vocals blended together as if they’d been singing in harmony their whole lives. Beginning with 2013’s ‘Tenboom,’ the staunchly DIY pair released a series of critically lauded records that garnered comparisons to the hushed intimacy of Iron & Wine and the adventurous beauty of James Blake, building up a devoted fanbase along the way through relentless touring and word-of-mouth buzz. NPR praised the band’s songwriting as a “delicate dance between heartache and resolve,” while The World Café raved that they’ve “steadily built a sound as attentive to detail as Simon & Garfunkel and as open to the present day as Bon Iver,” and Rolling Stone hailed their catalog as “folk music for Sunday mornings, quiet evenings, and all the fragile moments in between.” In addition to the mountain of glowing reviews, the band also earned high profile fans—including The Civil Wars’ John Paul White, who produced 2015’s ‘Let A Lover Drown You’—and extensive tour dates with everyone from Josh Ritter and Johnnyswim to Drew Holcomb and Delta Rae.

“We toured really hard for a long time, and when we finally decided to take a break, it felt like a chance for the dust to settle and for us to process the evolution we’d been through,” explains Baxter. “It was our first opportunity to experience life in a new skin and explore what happens to your relationship with the people you love when change is introduced.”

Writing the songs that would become ‘Finch,’ Baxter and Jahnke often found themselves grappling with simultaneous feelings of discovery and loss, strength and weakness, birth and death.

“It was difficult to realize that what you grew up believing doesn’t have anything concrete to back it up,” Baxter continues, “but on the other hand, there’s this sense of peace that comes from finding something to believe in that feels genuinely solid in your chest. I’ve learned to love myself more than ever before because of it, and that’s in turn made me a better person to myself and to my wife and my community.”

For the first time in their career, the band decided to write and record the new album remotely in order to spend as much time with their families as possible. Jahnke, who lives in Austin, would capture melodic and harmonic ideas in voice memos and send them off for lyrics to Baxter, who now resides in Florence, AL. When it came time to record, Jahnke laid down his instrumental work in San Antonio with frequent production collaborator Chris Jacobie, while Baxter cut his main vocals at a studio just a mile down the road from his house.

“It was a totally freeing way to make an album,” says Jahnke. “It allowed us to take our time and work when we felt most comfortable, and it also made it easier to trust our instincts. We were each hearing everything the other recorded with fresh ears and no preconceptions, so there wasn’t any second-guessing or deferring to other people in the room. We knew instantly when we got it right and when a song was finished.”

The record opens with the stunning “Long Gone,” a heavyhearted, melancholic gem that the band actually reverse engineered, recording the vocals first and writing a musical bed to go underneath it after. As unusual as the approach was, it exemplified the duo’s willingness to take chances on the album and their desire to push themselves to places they hadn’t yet explored. The waltzing “Bishop,” for instance, finds Baxter pulling lyrical influence equally from Shakespeare and Ray Bradbury, while the stirring “Eloise” doesn’t introduce a single instrument until nearly a minute into the song.

“We weren’t in a rush writing this music, and I think that sense carried over into our willingness to try new things in the studio,” says Jahnke. “At the end of the sessions, we got together in San Antonio to put the finishing touches on everything, and we ended up recording the vocals for that song totally a capella with just a room mic.”

Adventurous as it may be, ‘Finch’ still nails many of the quirky, playful trademarks Penny & Sparrow have come to be loved for. The infectious “Don’t Wanna Be Without Ya” imagines reincarnation as a way to make romance last forever, while the sultry “Recuerda” uses learning a language as a metaphor for falling in love, and the stirring “Gumshoe” aims to see life with the analytical mind of a detective and the childlike wonder of a magician. Perhaps it’s the dreamy “Stockholm,” though, that best captures the heart and soul of the record.

“That song to me feels like the first challenging conversation you have with someone very different than you,” says Baxter. “It’s about recognizing the systems of thought that can trap you and being open to self examination and change.”

In the end, that’s what music offered for Penny & Sparrow, a chance to see things from a new perspective, a chance to open their eyes and their minds and their hearts, a chance to put themselves in the shoes of others and walk through this world with more love and acceptance than they’d ever thought possible. They titled the album ‘Finch’ as a nod to Charles Darwin, who developed his theory of evolution in part by studying the changes that manifested over time in groups of birds that moved to different islands across the Galapagos, and it’s easy to see the connection.

“We changed islands,” reflects Baxter, “and that in turn changed us and our relationships with the people we care about most in some truly beautiful ways.”

 

There are things that we ought to be afraid of.  Things that, rightfully, send cold sweat nightmares.  For kids it can be anything from the darkness under a bed, or strangers, or crossing a busy street.  For adults it might change face a bit and become things like sickness, job security, or heartbreak.  And sometimes, when you point the flashlight right at the thing you’re terrified of, you declaw it.  You take its mask off and it returns to being an empty, boring closet with nothing inside to harm you.  Or maybe the light shows an unexpected beauty in the place of what you thought was horrific. Other times, though, you aim the beam straight into the pitch black and the thing that you prayed wasn’t real, the one with all the teeth, is right there smiling at you.

 

Texas born duo Penny and Sparrow know these things, and in their 2017 release Wendigo they turn the lights off on purpose and hunt for what’s really there in the dark.  With a musical maturity that has been honed over half a decade and hundreds of live shows, Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter are presenting their most ambitious album yet.  Rejoined by Chris Jacobie (producer and engineer of Creature, Tenboom, Struggle Pretty & Christmas Songs) Penny & Sparrow delve into numerous new and diverse sound landscapes throughout Wendigo, without sacrificing the sharp honesty that’s accompanied their career thus far.

 

From the quarter kick laden “Salome and Saint Procula”, to the pitched-down vibe of “Kin” and all the way to the hypnotically instrumental portion of “There’s a lot of us in here”, it’s obvious that Wendigo is unafraid to be sonically experimental.  Thematically, Baxter’s word bank reaches further than on previous albums.  From the trilogy of songs humanizing the Grim Reaper (“Visiting” “Smitten” “Moniker”) and cascading down to the Urban Legend love song “Wendigo”, the intersection of daily grit and supernatural fable is analyzed in depth.  On the back half of the record, Jahnke’s melodic leadership extends even deeper into beauty and surprise.  With seamless track fusion from  “A kind of Hunger” to “Let me be Crucial”, Jahnke has invented a 6 song musical terrain that is both complex in its varied offerings and impressive in its execution.

 

Arriving a year and a half after Let a Lover Drown You, their Muscle Shoals recorded, John Paul White produced last album, Wendigo was born from healing and heat.  Having moved to Florence to record in the Single Lock studio, Baxter and Jahnke found themselves with time off in their first boiling Alabama summer. Exhausted from touring and life-weary in general, the duo turned to songwriting for catharsis.  A makeshift recording rig was set up in the living room of their shared home and the duo began workshopping song after song.  Over the course of that summer, while their wives (and a dog named Gator) bustled around the microphone during sessions, the bones of the record were set.  The original plan was to listen to the rough tracks and eventually redo everything cleaner.  That desire changed though as they fell in love with the honest sounds of cooking, old door hinges, silverware clinking, and the rest of their Alabama home noise.  As affection for the demo’s grew, Baxter and Jahnke realized that they wanted to keep as much of them as possible. Thus, listening to Wendigo is hearing the honest soundtrack for a real season in the life of two families.  The footsteps, the creaking and the din of supper prep heard throughout the songs all reinforce the sense of integrity that has long been a staple of the band.  Releasing on August 25, 2017, Wendigo will be Penny and Sparrow’s 5th full-length album.  Beginning as therapeutic demos in northern Alabama and ending as a fully realized project at Jacobie’s home studio in San Antonio, TX, this record leaves the duo smirking and feeling accomplished.

 

The creature with which this album shares its name is a shape shifter.  One moment it looks completely normal and the next it’s all fangs and gore.  In an instant it can slip it’s skin and go back and forth from ominous and ugly to hope and lovely.  Life can be like that. Hell, we can be like that.  Knowing this, Penny and Sparrow offer Wendigo as the flashlight you can arm yourself with.  Use it to see what’s worth fearing and what was actually beautiful all along.  Shine it into whatever patch of darkness scares you.  For better or worse, at least you’ll know what’s there.