Four Minutes, Four Questions: Victor & Penny

Four Minutes, Four Questions: Victor & Penny

Victor and Penny are neither characters nor alter-egos for Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane. Rather, Victor & Penny is the name of the band the two formed when they met doing theater in Kansas City.

“The duo is known for having a full sound with only two people,” they say in an email interview. “It’s been a trademark of our performance ever since we started.”

Add the Loose Change Orchestra — upright bass, clarinet, soprano sax, trombone, accordion and glockenspiel — and you have “swing-infused folk-jazz rooted in the riff-driven Kansas City style, delivered with class, joy and soaring musical improvisation.”

Both groups will perform this week in Fayetteville, and Freling and McGrane answered these questions for What’s Up! prior to their arrival.

Q. “Victor” and “Penny” are characters, right? Why do they exist rather than just “Jeff” and “Erin”?

A. In 2010, we were doing a play together in Kansas City. Erin was producing and acting in the play. Jeff, who was living in Chicago at the time, was hired to write some of the music and lead the band who performed live onstage. His character was given the name “Victor California” by the writers. During the run of the play, Erin was hired to sing for a private party and hired Jeff to accompany her. It was the first time the duo performed together, and we knew immediately that we wanted to do more of it. We chose the name “Penny” for Erin based on a lyric from the tune “Paper Moon” (a melody played in a penny arcade). Her full name is “Penny Arcadia.” Initially, our concept was that Victor and Penny would be characters, but as we got started it seemed more genuine to just be ourselves, and Victor & Penny became the name of the band instead. We definitely wanted the name to invoke the feeling of a different era and thought Victor & Penny was more compelling than Jeff and Erin.

Q. Where is home for both of you? And how did you get together?

A. We presently live in Kansas City, Mo. We came together over our fascination with the music of the early 20th century. Erin had been singing in an acapella group performing tunes by the Mills Brothers and Boswell Sisters. Jeff had been studying the early guitarists like Charlie Christian, Eddie Lang and Django Rheinhardt. It seemed like a natural fit to piece the two elements together. When Erin was gifted with her father’s 1952 Hofner ukulele, Victor & Penny was born.

Q. Are you “together” in addition to being musical partners? And how does that answer impact your work?

A. Yes! We got married in May of 2017. We’ve been on the road almost full time since 2012. Our personal connection has definitely made us tighter and has given us the ability to finish each other’s musical sentences. One of the most important things that musicians must have onstage with one another is trust, and we have plenty of that.

Q. Explain “prohibition era” jazz versus KC jazz.

A. Prohibition era jazz is the name given to the music that was created during the period in the United States when a constitutional ban was placed on the production, importation and sale of alcohol. This lasted from 1920 until 1933. Jazz in Kansas City, in particular, flourished during this time because our crooked city boss Tom Pendergast chose not to participate in Prohibition. Musicians came from all over the country because while all the bars nationwide were closing down, Kansas City became what one journalist called “The Paris Of The Plains,” a wide-open playground for vice, art and music to thrive. The way we play is based on the hard-swinging improvisational style that came to life in Kansas City during this period.



Victor & Penny

With the Loose Change Orchestra

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14

WHERE — Faulkner Center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$20

INFO — 575-5387

Categories: Music