An old trick to get a room's attention is not to yell, but to speak quietly. Penny & Sparrow singer Andy Baxter and guitarist Kyle Jahnke put that maxim to the test every time they hit the stage with their intimate Americana folk music. "I wish it worked all the time," the affable Baxter joked to New Times just after receiving a haircut. "I think an audience's give-a-damn meter goes up when they see you're performing out of a labor of love. We give a damn about every melody and lyric. We also try to make it light up there and do our best to be our dumb, goofy selves. Even if you think the music sucks, hopefully you laugh a little."
The band formed when Baxter found himself without a place to call home. "I was in college, and I needed a place to crash. My wife, my girlfriend at the time, introduced me to Kyle. I moved into his home with ten other guys in a shitty old house in Austin, Texas."
The two found themselves playing music together, inspired by other bands with ampersands in their name like Simon & Garfunkel and Iron & Wine. For years, music was just a hobby. Baxter says for a long time they didn't even have a name. "We chose different names for every gig. We'd call ourselves 'We are the Dallas Cowboys' or 'We are the Utah Jazz.' Then one night, we used the name of our writer roommate's blog, Penny & Sparrow. We borrowed that name and never gave it back."
Eventually, their combination of quiet, earnest music and louder comedic patter found an audience. The pair released their third album, Let a Lover Drown You, earlier this year and recorded a Christmas album this past July, which Baxter describes as "a smattering of covers of public domain Christmas songs and original unexpected music."
In this age of constant distraction, it stands out that an act expects to keep an audience with nothing but two voices and a guitar. This is a challenge Baxter embraces. "We only tour with the two of us, so people do find it jarring. Through the process of writing the songs, we've sung them together hundreds of times. I know his strum pattern, his voice. We give you our word: We will sing our asses off and do our best at music."
The Oh Hellos with Penny & Sparrow. 8 p.m. Friday, September 16, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 plus fees; 954-564-1074; cultureroom.net.
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