Photo from Facebook @pennyandsparrow.
Lake Highlands alumnus Kyle Jahnke found his musical counterpart in Andy Baxter when they shared a one bedroom with a third roommate at the University of Texas. They started as a cover duo, providing free entertainment for their college friends and organizations. At each event, they’d dub themselves whatever sports team they could think of, going by the “Dallas Cowboys” or “Utah Jazz.”
“Eventually, we played one that was a little more official, and our friend was like: ‘No you have to come up with an actual band name because you can’t embarrass me,’” Jahnke says.
Their third roommate wrote under the pen name Penny & Sparrow, so they took that on as the official band title.
Both Jahnke and Baxter treated playing and writing music as a college pastime. Jahnke had played in a punk band during his years at Lake Highlands High School, but he didn’t start experimenting seriously with sound and songwriting until he roomed with Baxter.
“It just snowballed from there,” Jahnke says.
As Penny & Sparrow, they first went on the road for a national tour in two Prius cars, wives in tow. They made their way through New Mexico and all the way to Washington state, sometimes playing for crowds as small as five. And it didn’t deter them.
They say they were determined, or maybe just dumb. “Jury’s still out,” Jahnke says.
Since their college days of living together are behind them, Jahnke and Baxter have learned a new way of writing music. States apart, they share ideas and edits through voice memos and text, sending new versions back and forth until songs come together.
“We just collaborate back and forth, sending each other text messages and slowly writing songs that way, which works kind of as a slow, foreign way of cowriting,” Jahnke says.
The group now has eight albums out and is anticipating dropping another next year. Their recently released single, Adeline, will be featured on the upcoming album.
“We’ve got a lot of different sounds for us personally that I’m excited for people to hear,” Jahnke says.
He and Baxter also produced this album themselves. Their recording sessions were held in any space they could fit a microphone, including their bedrooms and friends’ living rooms.
“It’s a very grassroots album, which is really fun. It felt about as true to form to me and Andy that we could get,” Jahnke says. “This is like just truly who we are. I mean, producing our own stuff and working with our friends will get you there.”
Just this month, the duo rented a space to start working on new songs and are looking to the future for touring opportunities.
Since their first tour, they’ve played at star-studded venues such as the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Paramount Theater in Austin. Their dream is to land a European tour, but first, the two want to reschedule a canceled national tour from more than a year ago.
“The last couple of years, we’ve just essentially put our heads down and kept making music,” he says.
Jahnke says he’s cautiously optimistic for a spring return to touring. With a master’s degree in public health, he has a straightforward outlook on the pandemic.
“We’re just trying to be on the cautious side. I’d studied epidemiology and worked in epidemiology before doing music, so it definitely has been helpful with the prediction of what’s going to happen throughout this pandemic,” Janke says.
When the tour finally happens, he looks forward to seeing some Lake Highlands residents in the Penny & Sparrow crowd.
“I get to see them out in the crowd while we’re playing,” Jahnke says. “It’s a pretty fun thing to see that and to feel support, even from some people I haven’t seen in years.”