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Victor & Penny, On Writing A Perfect Line And Connecting To The Audience

Paul Andrews Photography
Victor & Penny, aka Erin McGrane and Jeff Freling.

For the past six years, Victor & Penny — aka Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane — have traveled the country performing original music, as well as jazz and pop standards. Starting as a duo, playing tight harmonies on guitar and ukulele, they’re now backed by their Loose Change Orchestra.

Fish Fry host Chuck Haddix talked to Victor & Penny about their latest album, Electricity, and the creative process:

On creating their own kind of sound

"It's kind of a  '20s sort of a prohibition-era band with a New Orleans horn section," says Freling. "And a jazz underbelly," adds McGrane.

"From early on, Jeff really talked a lot about how the sounds sounded together. How the sound of his vintage guitar and my vintage ukulele sounded together. So I think that was kind of by design," says McGrane. "We thought it sounded somehow both familiar and unusual — the sound of those 10 strings, my four strings and his six together. And that was kind of the basis of the whole thing and then we kind of built it from there."

On the synergy of working as a creative duo

"It works in many ways," says Freling. "Just from a pure songwriting standpoint, the main method that seems to work for us is: I'll come up with some music, and Erin will put some great words to it. Or, she'll come up with some great words and I'll put music to it. Sometimes I'll come up with a few words, sometimes she'll come up with a little musical phrase, and we mix and match. That's kind of the way it's worked for us." 

"It's turned out to be a great songwriting team," says McGrane. "This is the first time, on a long-term basis, I've co-written tunes with someone else. And it's really been a pleasure. I find for myself that if I get stuck, and I just hit a roadblock, it's great to be able to have Jeff to say 'Listen to this thing.' And sometimes, he'll just come up that perfect line." 

On theater backgrounds informing musical performances

"I've been doing music all along theater ever since I was a little kid," says McGrane. "I feel like when we perform, I'm always thinking about the audience, I'm thinking about what we're doing on stage all the time. I really approach shows as entertainment for the audience." 

"We're all always thinking about it as a theater performance ... without the fourth wall," says Freling. "It's more than just musical entertainment, it's a real show."  

"The first time I stood on the stage and sang a song that had my own words in it, directly to the audience, and watched that song affect the audience, and watched that intensity come back to me, I was hooked," says McGrane. "It's inevitable that I moved more into music because that feeling of connecting was intoxicating. Still is." 

Listen to the extended interview, including musical excerpts, in the Fish Fry Archives

You can catch Victor & Penny and their Loose Change Orchestra, with Kyle Reid, on Wednesday, May 25, at 7 p.m. at Knuckleheads Saloon, 2715 Rochester St., Kansas City, Missouri. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 816-483-1456. 

In 1984, Chuck Haddix aka Chuck Haddock joined the staff of KCUR as a jazz producer. The next year, he began producing the Fish Fry.
Laura Spencer writes about arts and culture for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @lauraspencer.