Penny and Sparrow play Underground Sound Series concert at Vilar Center
If you go …
What: Penny and Sparrow, part of the Underground Sound Series.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
More information: Tickets are on sale at the VPAC Box Office, by calling 970-845-8497 or visiting www.vilarpac.org.
Andy Baxter met Kyle Jahnke when they were in college at the University of Texas at Austin, well before either thought of pursuing music as a vocation.
“We were on completely different career paths, neither of which involved music,” Baxter said. “Kyle got his masters in epidemiology, with a biology undergrad. I have my film and history degrees. We both started working random odd jobs at first, but we were roommates toward the end of college, and we would play sometimes, just for our buddies.”
Baxter and Jahnke lived in a house of 11 guys, a pseudo fraternity where they would learn random songs by request from their roommates. Jahnke was learning the guitar, and Baxter would sing along.
“After a couple of years of doing that just for fun, Kyle’s parents got him a recording rig, a rinky-dink, little-bitty thing for his MacBook,” Baxter said. “We plugged it in one day around Christmastime and said, ‘Why don’t we screw around and try to write something?’ This would be hilarious to see what comes out of it.”
They wrote a song called “Creature” and were shocked and amused when “people who weren’t blood related” seemed to like it. A few more songs were added, and the skeleton EP was farmed out to a friend to add violin and viola and another friend for production.
After considering and discarding The Utah Jazz as a name for the duo — “we thought we would get in trouble with copyright folks and we got scared,” Baxter said — the two borrowed the moniker Penny and Sparrow from a roommate’s blog and dropped the EP on iTunes.
“Slowly but surely, people started buying it, our non-grandparents, so that was a really exciting day for us,” Baxter said.
Starting with that first EP, Jahnke has written 99 percent of the melodies and instrumentation for Penny and Sparrow, with Baxter contributing 99 percent of the words.
“We need each other to write music, and it works out really, really well that way,” Baxter said. “In a great way, we come from different camps in terms of what inspires us.
“A lot things that I really love are word-based — books, great dialogue in movies. I’m a huge fan of Broadway. I was brought up with classic rock and old country with my dad and Broadway and singer-songwriter folk from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s from my mom.”
Having also grown up in Texas, Jahnke’s country-rock values were similar early on, but he started branching into ’90s R&B and other genres when he began drumming in middle school and high school.
“Our influences are very numerous and very different because we listen to a lot of different stuff, he and I,” Baxter said. “He doesn’t listen to Broadway, and I don’t listen to psychedelic synth-pop, that weird stuff that he goes after.”
Jahnke is a “veritable fountain” of weird, quirky harmonies and melodies, and the two have written a ton and demoed a ton for their next album, set to be released in the spring. Baxter said they have been lucky to not yet have faced the fear most musicians face at one point or another — running out of material — and their ideas for future side projects aren’t just in the singer-songwriter folk realm.
“We have ideas for musicals and totally different genres and styles of music — an R&B album, a sad bastard country album. I’d love to look back on my life and say, man, I wasn’t a one-trick pony; we’ve tried a bunch of stuff,” Baxter said.
Baxter said he has no idea what the future has in store for Penny and Sparrow, but the prolific songwriters have already cranked out two full-length albums and an EP, are deep into work on the third album and have sketches for a few more releases down the road.
“I think if we were going to do it, we were going to give it all we’ve got, so we can look at our kids someday and say, ‘When I tell you, chase your dream, I’m not just running my mouth — your old man really did it,’” he said.