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Victor & Penny to turn bank lobby into a songwriting lab

The guitar-ukulele duo are the Artists in Residence at the Crossroads branch of Missouri Bank. They’ll spend three days in the bank's lobby, writing songs from scratch, taking ideas from customers and visitors and from fans online.

Victor & Penny will keep banker’s hours this week, but the only deposits they’ll be accepting are music and songwriting ideas.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, the guitar-ukelele duo (Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane) is participating in the Artist in Residence series at Missouri Bank, 125 Southwest Blvd. The two will establish a “interactive lab” in the bank’s lobby, where they will exhibit their songwriting process.

“Jeff and I will set up a mock living room, sort of like our apartment, in the corner of the lobby for three days, writing songs and lyrics,” McGrane said. “We will have a projector we will be using to put up lyrics and ideas as we work so folks can see what we’re doing.”

They will also solicit ideas from fans and customers both in the lobby and online. Visitors to the bank can submit ideas on slips of paper. Fans can do the same via Twitter at #VPsongLab. Lyrics, titles and general songwriting ideas of 140 characters or fewer, and one-line musical motifs will be accepted.

“We will be tacking up the slips of paper submissions on a wall, like magnetic poetry, to look at and move around. There will be a manned table set up in the lobby that explains everything and where people can get the pieces of paper for submissions,” McGrane said.

“(The papers) will be put into a large fishbowl, and we’ll come get them regularly. The Twitter feed will be monitored constantly, and the submissions will be transcribed to us regularly.”

The purpose of the project is twofold, McGrane said: to generate material for their next album, which they hope to release in 2016; and to connect more deeply with their fans as they compose songs from scratch.

“We are writing material for what will be our first studio album of mostly original work … and working on a stage show incorporating our music,” McGrane said.

While doing business with Missouri Bank, McGrane and Freling met Julie Nelson Meers, the bank’s senior vice president, who invited them to participate in the series.

The idea of using the public as “a random phrase generator” came to mind while viewing the retrospective “David Bowie Is” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last year, McGrane said. Bowie used technology as a tool to combat writer’s block and inspire new thoughts, she said.

“There was a portion of the exhibit where you could see some of his lyrics and the way that he arranged them. It mentioned his work on the ‘Verbalizer’ (an Apple program). That got me really interested in it, and I did some research.

“We’ve combined several of those ideas — technology, random-phrase generation, writing and crowd-sourcing — to create this live, interactive songwriting lab.”

Freling and McGrane started Victor & Penny in 2011 as a duo whose music harkens back to the pop sounds of the early 20th century. They have toured the United States extensively. They have released three recordings: “Antique Pop,” a term that defines their initial sound; “Side by Side”; and “Live at the Living Room,” recorded with their Loose Change Orchestra, which comprises Rick Willoughby on bass and James Isaac on clarinet.

Previous participants in the bank’s Artists in Residence series have included Charlie Mylie, who created hand-illustrated cards for Valentine’s Day, and photographer Tom Strykowicz.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Victor & Penny will create an interactive songwriting lab from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday in the lobby of the Missouri Bank, 125 Southwest Blvd. The project is part of the bank’s Artist in Residence series. The duo will be accepting phrases and ideas of 140 characters or fewer from visitors to the bank and from fans via Twitter at #VPsongLab.


Victor & Penny perform Friday night at the Buffalo Room, 817 Westport Road. Danielle Ate the Sandwich is also on the bill. Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is $18.