Dallas folk duo Penny & Dime first met in the summer of 2016, through a Craigslist ad. The meeting culminated in what may be one of the best albums of 2020 with the band's eponymous debut EP.
“Because we were both transplants to Dallas, we didn’t really know where to start," Kylie Valigura, one half of the band, says of the ad. She hails from Waco, and her bandmate's from Seattle. "Both of us knew that we wanted to collaborate musically with other people. So I put out an ad on Craigslist just searching for somebody with similar taste, and Krystle answered.”
“There were some other ads that I answered, too. … Kylie was by far the least creepy,” says Krystle Wahnschaffe, the other half. “She was the only person I had the courage to meet in person. ...The details feel fuzzy… [but] it felt mostly like a gut check of, ‘Oh, this girl isn’t going to murder me.’”
Valigura chimes in, laughing, “You were still skeptical for a while after that, too, like you thought I was playing the long game or something.”
This banter is typical of their relationship. The pair speaks together, finishing each other’s thoughts without a break — like two jazz horn players riffing off each other.
“It’s actually bizarre how similar we are,” Wahnschaffe says. “We have to text each other before shows to make sure we don’t look exactly the same.”
“It’s actually a problem, we wear the same exact outfit all the time. ...mostly denim," Valigura adds. "People ask us if we’re sisters all the time.”
“That would’ve made making music easier," Wahnschaffe says. "We always say that we are jealous of sibling bands… First Aid Kit… Bailen… They got a head start. We met in our 20s.”
Late start or not, the denim-clad songbirds are in musical lockstep, and this synchronicity is the foundation of their EP. Each song resembles a conversation with either Valigura or Wahnschaffe, the Penny or the Dime, taking turns leading while the other emphasizes the performance through her own vocals, without skipping a beat — like they are both one person talking to the crowd.
This dynamism leaves the audience (and even sometimes the band) perplexed as to who’s singing when, but with certainty that what they’re hearing is a beautiful, perfect wall of melody and harmony.
Thematically, the album feels like freedom — at times even bordering on escape — and is oceanic in its depth and in feeling. Flowing from song to song, beginning to end, alpha to omega so seamlessly that the listener ceases to know that time has continued to pass — no easy feat for any album, let alone a debut.
The duo credit their producer for the album’s ethereal, boundless sound.
“We were super lucky to work with Zach Balch at Flint Creek Records," Valigura says. "When we all first got together, Krystle and I had planned on doing a mostly acoustic four-, five-track EP, but Zach pushed us to think bigger and do eight tracks with a fuller sound.”
Working in tandem with Balch’s production, Penny & Dime’s songwriting — from the heartbreaking “True is Honest” to the hopeful “Strange Happiness” — acts as the hull to the boat taking us across the ocean.
Penny & Dime is simultaneously turbulent and calm, deep but approachable: the roar of an ocean heard from a coastal clifftop.
“For sure, the story and journey are the star; we are just kind of conduits,” Wahnschaffe says.
“With every song we want to tell a story,” Valigura adds.
Wahnschaffe continues: “It’s about creating space for feelings… Writing is what helps us sort through situations, problems, events… so you try and communicate that feeling. Even if the lyrics are a story about something else, the feeling is there. How many times can I say the word feelings?”
“We have a lot of feelings,” Valigura says with a laugh.
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In the relationship between Penny & Dime — Valigura and Wahnschaffe, singer-songwriter and singer-songwriter — and their verbal ping-pong,their repartee is what shines through on this record.
“For the record…” Valigura says, “Krystle is the penny and I’m the dime. We had to decide after so many people asked. Ironically we decided by flipping a coin. We used a quarter to stay non-biased.”
Listen to Penny & Dime below: