Analogue Music | Penny & Sparrow

Penny & Sparrow

By Matt Conner

The most amazing thing about their chemistry is the trajectory.

With a back catalog of six studio albums, the chemistry between Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter should be readily apparent. Together as Penny & Sparrow, the songwriting duo have found a way to unlock myriad layers of beauty on each new release. That's certainly true of their latest, Olly Olly.

These days, even after several years of making music together, what's so notable about the band's present position is just how inspired they are by the other. These aren't artists who've settled into a familiar (or even familial) groove. Nor are they ready for some outside influence. Rather, each new album is motivated by the duo's deep respect and admiration for one another's talents.

On the verge of the release of Olly Olly, we asked both Kyle and Andy to tell us about their creative process, the joys of producing their own works the creative chemistry that's growing at greater spee

Analogue: As you're coming away from Finch into another cycle, I'd love to know what informed the idea of moving away from your acoustic roots?

Kyle Jahnke: I think it started with Finch and continued with this album and definitely looking forward to the stuff we’re already working on now, I think me and Andy [Baxter] have been working together for quite some time now. So my main goal, based on the roles we’ve created, is to come up with stuff that would inspire Andy.

It’s such an endorphin release to hear Andy excited about writing along with something I’ve made. I think Andy does the same thing back from when he gets it, he tries to impress me. So we’ve just got this cycle of trying to fire each other and keep each other interested—not just ourselves.

"It’s such an endorphin release to hear Andy excited about writing along with something I’ve made." -Kyle Jahnke

I like writing stuff that is impressive enough and challenging enough to Andy that he immediately wants to go sit down and write. That’s such a success in my opinion. Because of that, it pushes me to make the most unique stuff because that’s what makes Andy excited.

Andy Baxter: I agree with Kyle. The inherent desire that we both have to compete with ourselves and to impress ourselves is a really cool engine for making stuff. Before anybody hears it, if I love the thing and if Kyle loves the thing, then you can go to sleep knowing you’re incredibly proud of it regardless of anyone else’s opinion. The objective truth is that you like it and you’re proud of it. If that’s intact from the outset, it’s an incredibly freeing thing that you’re not waiting for validation on release day.

Analogue: I love this engine you’re describing. With as much experience and chemistry you have, do you feel like you have a great read on what is going to excite and inspire the other? And how much are you still surprised?

Kyle: When I feel confident, I feel really confident about the stuff I send to Andy. I have a lot of terrible things that I make, but those don’t get through the filter to Andy. Those stay with me and me only. The stuff I send to Andy is the stuff that, at this point, I think there’s some weird gut tuning fork that goes off when you know it’s right. I’m really in tune with that, whatever that is, that makes me feel it’s ready to go to Andy. That’s what I’m most in tune with.

But still every time I send it off, I get so excited to see what Andy thinks about it. Right now, we’re doing everything online or through text messages. I’ll send a voice mail of what I’m thinking and then I have to wait in suspense for an hour not knowing what he’ll think. It’s really fun.

Andy: Again, I echo that. If it’s going to make it into the text message, then I’m already going to think it’s the shit and feel pumped about it. It might be like wet cement where some of it’s not quite done or some of it I know could be better, but the basic idea or the gist of it is there.

You asked about a surprise. I’m rarely surprised by him liking something and pretty rarely surprised by him not liking something. It pretty much only confirms a suspicion I already had in that we know each other really, really well at this point. I didn’t talk to Kyle for 2 days out of the last 40. I think on average I’m at 350 days a year that I talk to Kyle in some capacity and that’s a really solid average to really watch someone micro evolve in front of you. So our interests are pretty up to date with what we’re into.

I will say there are times he sends me a melodic idea and I’ll be surprised not that I like it but I’ll wonder, ‘Where the fuck did he come up with that idea?’

Kyle: Yes! That’s where the surprise is and that’s super fun.

Andy: I don’t know he does what he does. I know how I do what I do and I know the type of food I have to put into my brain and stomach to do what I do, but I have no idea how he does what he does. It’s alchemy of the highest order. I’m confused by his ability and I’m certainly glad to hitch my wagon to his horse.

Kyle: Basically what you’re going to get in this interview is Andy and me just complementing each other back and forth.

Andy: It’s just a conference call circle jerk.

All: [Laughs]

"We are constantly curating the museum that is our own brain that becomes the stuff that we make." -Andy Baxter

Analogue: When you spend so much time with someone, you become one mind, so let me lean into this further. Do you have practices or intentional ways in which you keep things fresh and new to the group?

Kyle: I feel like me and Andy are very close but we couldn’t be farther away from identical. We’re a fraternal group here. Not identical. [Laughs] His interests are so vastly different from mine that our overlap is this very small sliver of a Venn diagram that is badass for both of us. He’s bringing his interests very separately from me and what he takes in and the way his brain works is pretty much always surprising to me.

The way we process life is similar and the way that we talk is similar. The same is true of arguing. I think we argue really well but it’s always evolving. The stuff that Andy’s been into has never been what I’ve really been into. What I think we’ve both realized is when we’re both interested in something then it’s worth pursuing head-on.

Andy: Because of how Kyle and I work together and how we write music, we each bring such a unique tool set to what we’re doing—his focus being predominantly melody and my focus being predominantly lyrics. The way in which we put different art in is a natural process. We are constantly curating the museum that is our own brain that becomes the stuff that we make.

Kyle already said our interests are so varied and the pieces of the puzzle for our songs are naturally symbiotic. He has to exist and I have to exist to make these records. We both are really good at our individual camps and we both make the other one better through editing. There’s an inherent desire in Kyle and me to never grow stagnant in the type of art we eat. So because we have that continued ethic in place for ourselves, it helps what we’re making constantly change and evolve and grow and get better.

Analogue: You guys chose to self-produce this time around. Was that a vulnerable decision to maintain control at all?

Kyle: I haven’t thought about it as vulnerable at all.

Andy: The only vulnerable part that I can remember would be on the front end when we have huge, tumultuous, insecure conversations of ‘We can do this, right?’ Once we got started then it was like, ‘Oh, we can do this and we can do this really well.’ It’s inadvertently realizing you’ve been training for a sport for a decade without ever having touched a racket. Then you pick it up and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, I’m pretty good at this. This is pretty cool.’

Kyle: I think it was also the start of when we fully realized … We’ve never really fully produced something on our own. There were times when I was like, ‘Is this good? I don’t know if this is good because I don’t have anybody else but you and me to check in on.’

It made me have to be confident in it where I was like, ‘I like this a lot. I don’t know what others will think about it, but I am obsessed with what we’ve made.’ I think because of that, it’s the proudest I’ve ever been of a record. It’s my favorite thing we’ve never done because it’s forced me to be in love with every little detail.

VISIT: Penny & Sparrow

Photo Credit: Jake Dapper