Penny & Sparrow
Add to Calendar
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 on 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 sonically diverse & ambitious album yet. Rejoined by Chris Jacobie (producer and engineer of their albums Creature, Tenboom, Struggle Pretty & Christmas Songs) Penny & Sparrow delve into numerous new and eclectic soundscapes throughout Wendigo, without sacrificing the sharp and deep reaching honesty that’s accompanied their body of work 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 Penny and Sparrow have again expanded their musical palette. 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 transitions marking the tracks from “A Kind of Hunger” to “Let Me Be Crucial”, Jahnke arranged a six song musical terrain that is both complex in its varied offerings and impressive in its execution.
Trademark witticism and playfulness stitch together a Penny and Sparrow live experience. Baxter and Jahnke possess the unique ability to make a large venue, such as a recent opening slot at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, feel as intimate as a cozy listening room. The enthusiastic standing ovation the duo received that night exhibits the connection Penny and Sparrow make, even with a new audience. This is due, in no small part, to the aforementioned levity they bring to stage each night. As it turns out, the juxtaposition of introspective lyrics with comedic asides in between has proven a winning cocktail. Listeners find themselves vacillating between thought provoking consideration and well earned laughter at any Penny and Sparrow performance. When asked why this flow accompanies their live performance, the duo nonchalantly replies, “Because that’s honest. Life is not all simple ease or heavy gloom. To laugh and cry back and forth is pretty true assessment of how this life goes.” Both Baxter and Jahnke know the value of cathartic music, yet, with seeming ease they read a room and know when it’s time to speak joy and lead an audience to laughter.
Arriving a year and a half after Let a Lover Drown You, their Muscle Shoals recorded, John Paul White produced 2015 album, Wendigo was born from healing and heat. Having moved to Florence, Alabama 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. 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, all of us 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.
Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz create candid music with deep emotional and personal resonance. The sisters, who record under the moniker Lily & Madeleine, boldly explore what it means to be women in the 21st century, and aren't afraid to use their music to call out injustices or double standards. This fearless approach has permeated their three albums, which are full of insightful lyrics and thoughtful indie-pop.
But with their fourth studio album, Canterbury Girls—named after Canterbury Park, located in their hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana—the sisters are coming into their own as women and musicians. "This is the first record Lily and I have ever done where we have full control over all of the songwriting," says Madeleine. "We did co-write with some people that we really love. But everything on this record is completely ours. I feel like I have full ownership over it, and that makes me feel very strong and independent."
That assertiveness reflects new geographic and professional realities. For starters, Lily and Madeleine—who are now 21, 23 respectively—moved to New York City in early 2018. And instead of recording Canterbury Girls in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where they recorded their previous efforts, the pair headed to Nashville to write and work with producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. "I feel like it was time for us to leave the nest and move on and try to make a record our own way," Madeleine says. "We decided to work with some new people, and it turned out to be the best decision, because we finally figured out how to voice exactly what we wanted in the studio."
Using an eclectic playlist of songs as sonic inspirations—soul tunes and waltzes, as well as cuts from Midlake, ABBA and Nancy Wilson—Lily & Madeleine worked quickly, recording Canterbury Girls in just 10 days. They spent the first half of the studio sessions working out the framework of the songs with Tashian and Fitchuk, and the rest of the time fleshing out the music with additional instrumentation, harmonies and other arrangement details. "By the end, I felt like the songs had their own life; they had their own energy," Madeleine says. "It was incredible to see them blossom so quickly."
Although Canterbury Girls contains plenty of Lily & Madeleine's usual ornate music—including the languid "Analog Love," on which twangy guitars curl around like a kite twisting in the wind—the album also finds the siblings exploring new sonic vistas. "Supernatural Sadness" is an irresistible slice of bubbly, easygoing disco-pop; the urgent "Pachinko Song" hews toward interstellar synth-pop with driving rhythms; and "Can't Help The Way I Feel" is an effervescent, Motown-inflected number. Vocally, the sisters also take giant leaps forward. The dreamy waltz "Self Care" is a rich, piano-heavy track on which their voices intertwine for soulful harmonies, while the meticulous "Just Do It" has a throwback, '70s R&B vibe.
To both Lily and Madeleine, Tashian and Fitchuk, who also co-produced Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour, were the perfect collaborators to lead them forward. "They were really receptive to our ideas; they didn't push anything on us," Lily says. "But they also had their own ideas, and they could execute what we couldn't." Adds Madeleine: "I'm super excited about how groovy the record is, and I honestly owe that to Ian and Daniel. They are truly incredible, just the most talented musicians, and have such a good vibe. They added so much to the record. I'm super grateful that Lily and I had them to help us."
Despite Canterbury Girls' poppy veneer, the album boasts some of Lily & Madeline's densest and most intense lyrics to date. With the exception of the sweet romantic plea "Analog Love," the bulk of the album's songs are burdened by personal angst and the weight of expectations. Lyrics provide vivid emotional analysis of relationships going sour and what it feels like to navigate power imbalances. "Pachinko Song" details being unable to escape a pernicious person, even while halfway across the world in Tokyo; the protagonist of "Self Care" feels guilty about dragging out a relationship that's no longer reciprocal; and the narrator of "Supernatural Sadness" refuses to be dragged down by someone's toxic negativity and misery.
"I think the album is about emotional baggage," Lily says. "When you have negative experiences, you can't just make them disappear. But the album is about overcoming negative experiences and continuing to carry that baggage with you and accepting that that's a part of who you are. I don't want it to be depressing, but you have to acknowledge the feelings."
As usual, the sisters worked separately on musical ideas, and then came together to piece together the album's songs, a process that allowed each of their individual styles to shine. "Lily's always been an incredible songwriter, and her approach is very different from me, which is super cool," Madeleine says. "She always surprises me. Whenever she sends a little song clip to me I'm like, 'How did you come up with this?' It feels so cool to know that I get to work with such a brilliant partner."
However, once Lily & Madeleine linked up to finish Canterbury Girls, the pair discovered things they didn't know about each other. "That made the songwriting more interesting," Lily says. "because Madeleine would come to me with a song that she had fully finished, and I didn't really know what she was talking about, because I wasn't a part of that."
One of the fully Madeleine-penned songs is the sparse "Circles." The restless waltz, which conveys dissatisfaction about a stagnant relationship, foreshadowed Madeleine's eventual split with an ex-boyfriend. Lily also ended up writing the song "Bruises," which boasts pulsing rhythmic programming and melancholy piano, completely without Madeleine. The song expresses deep frustration with the ways emotional scars color how she perceives and reacts to future relationships—and features a stunning, haunting lead vocal.
"Both of those songs are really heavy, low points on the record, and they both encapsulate exactly what we were going through at the time," Madeleine explains. "In the past couple years, we both have experienced some trauma—and that's a heavy word, but I guess that's the only way I can put it—through romantic experiences and, like, unwanted experiences, mostly with men."
Still, Madeleine expresses awe that she and Lily wrote this pair of songs, which she dubs the "most vulnerable and meaningful tracks on the record," separately. "It means that we are each our own artist, and each have a voice in our experiences. And yet when we come together, it's even more powerful, and we are on the same page." Indeed, Canterbury Girls' overarching message is that vocalizing burdens, frustrations and anxieties helps people see they're not alone, which can then facilitate growth and healing.
In the last few years, Lily & Madeleine have amassed a supportive global community of fans and peers. They've toured as a headlining act, opened for everyone from Dawes to Rodriguez and in summer 2017, were invited to be backup singers on John Mellencamp's Sad Clowns and Hillbillies Tour, on which they harmonized on hits such as "Cherry Bomb" and performed Carter Family songs with opener Carlene Carter. Unsurprisingly, diving right into making Canterbury Girls also helped the sisters learn a lot about themselves.
"Writing this record definitely made me realize I've never worked on myself physically or emotionally, and so I'm definitely trying to do that more now," Lily says, while Madeleine adds, "I am always self-conscious about my art. I often think, 'Who cares? Who wants to listen to this?' But I was forced to assert myself and be independent, and say exactly what I wanted, and it just made me feel more powerful. I feel like I'm getting closer to feeling more like, 'This is who I am.'"
With this growing self-confidence and musical poise, it's clear that Lily & Madeleine are positioned for even greater things going forward. "I feel like I finally found my voice in this record, which makes me feel really vulnerable and a little nervous for people to hear it," Madeleine says. "But, most of all, I'm just really excited to get to express myself fully. And we're only going to get more vocal about things. I really appreciate it when artists have an opinion about things, when they use their platform and their voice to talk about things that matter. Lily and I want to be loud—and we want to be heard."
3017 SE Milwaukie Ave.
Portland, OR, 97202