Victor and Penny release album and make plans for 2015.

In spending time with Victor and Penny, whose real names are Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane, there is a depth to their music that harkens to tougher and darker times of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. “It’s rich material that we look at and perform,” McGrane says. Perceptions of their “antique pop” music sounds lie more in the realm of cuteness and light. While the two are somewhat comfortable about a few of these sweeter judgments, they strive to make a different impact.

With the new recording, Live at The Living Room Theatre, the two are hoping that their music continues to head toward whatever mountaintop that might be in their future. The two have worked in other career fields, but their joint adventure just started about four years ago. The duo will hold a release party for the new compact disc Jan. 10. They started selling the CD before Christmas, but waited until after the New Year to make a big splash. Their hoopla will continue as one of the showcase artists at the Folk Alliance Conference Feb. 18-22.

“We recorded 20 to 25 songs and looked at what translates well to form a cohesive CD,” Freling says. The CD has 12 songs. McGrane’s favorite tunes are Day Off Boogie which they wrote. “It’s the joy of rediscovering the little things after 18 months on the road,” she says. The other is titled Salt. It was given to us by a songwriter from California.” Freling enjoys A Smile Will Go A Long, Long Way. “It’s just Erin and me. There is a raw energy to this. The other is a Duke Ellington instrumental called the East Saint Louis ToodleOo.

The new album recalls older days and is recorded with two other artists, James Isaac, reeds and Rick Willoughby, upright bass. “We like what it sounds like. It really encapsulates what we’ve been doing and how we are growing,” she says. “I expect 2015 will be a challenging year, but one full of great growth.” They will also be artists in residence at Missouri Bank during the first three days of April. “We are looking at what sort of performance art we can offer. Essentially we will be an installation in the bank.” The two won’t go back on tour until May.

Freling and McGrane are reminiscent of many famous musical duos, but they might also rank up there with a few superhero duos. They do it all. If McGrane is handling more of the social media, Freling may find himself immersed in booking tours and handling technical needs. Then McGrane takes over with the tour logistics and finding lodging. “We share communication responsibilities,” McGrane says. “Really, we often function as one.” Freling explains that they understand the partnerships and sharing tasks. To be more effective, the two are even an LLC now. Their work is their art. “It’s a joyful project,” McGrane says.

The two come from theatrical backgrounds. They met in 2010 at the Living Room Theatre when Freling came in to aid with sound. They were almost inseparable after that. “Success is a bit different for us,” Freling says. “We know we still have a steep learning curve.”

They want a sustainable, lifelong career. “We are proud of what we have accomplished,” McGrane says. “We want to create an artistically fulfilling career. Of course, that fulfillment comes in the form of health, security and stability.” The two have been a couple for four years. “We have a really great job. I just want to play my guitar, write songs and produce art that matters to me,” Freling says. “We are writing more original music and writing together.”

The two have been gaining new mentors through the various regional Folk Alliance conventions, including a recent trip to the Northeast Folk Alliance where Freling and McGrane spent time with mentors, discussing the music scene, songwriting and music creation. “We talked about the importance of entertainment and treating music as a business.”

Before McGrane’s mother passed away in 2002, McGrane spent time with her mother. “She told me to stop waiting to do what I want to do. I took my mother’s words to heart. I knew I had to find that path and make that decision to be happy. I don’t want to be in a box. I want to be a work in progress and find joy.” Freling appreciates the old adage that it is not the destination, but enjoying the ride. “The remainder of that joy is taking the audience along for the ride. We enjoy creating for ourselves. Making these decisions is a little like jumping in the frying pan,” Freling says. While Victor and Penny stay busy, the two do enjoy a bit of downtime, playing video games and enjoying their quaint downtown apartment.

Along with the instrumentation and the lyrics, the two have a charming way of dress. It’s a little bit retro to the 1940s, but professional. “Our physical presentation shows respect for the audience. We want to make a connection and want the audience to relax with us. Whether we are a duo or a quartet, there is no artifice,” McGrane explains. “There is no pretense. That is where the joy lives when there is a genuine excitement that crackles between us and them.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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