Two and a half years ago, Dave Pfenning and Mike Pfenning doubled down on their music to form TwinPfunk.
The Sylvania fraternal twin brothers formed the all-eras classic, alt and indie rock quintet to share their mutual appreciation for Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, and The Head and the Heart with growing Ohio and Michigan audiences.
“That’s the charm of TwinPfunk, we’re just a couple of Sylvania kids who love playing music and have a really good time with it,” said Dave Pfenning, TwinPfunk co-frontman and guitarist. “I think people really appreciate the stripped-down, authentic and organic approach we take with our music.”
That organic approach started in high school when the Pfenning brothers sang in school and church choir and learned about classic rock, alt rock and grunge from their older siblings. Dave Pfenning soon picked up the acoustic guitar while older brother Mike Pfenning (he was born three minutes earlier) gravitated toward bass.
“Our older siblings laid the foundation for what we’re playing today,” Dave Pfenning said. “They also helped us discover the beauty of four-part harmonies, and that’s a dominant part of TwinPfunk’s focus today. It sets us apart from other groups in Toledo.”
By 2016, the Pfenning brothers had three vocalists, including djembe player Steve Wherry, but needed a fourth to round out their sound. Together, they discovered veteran blues musician Mike Gramza, a Sylvania vocalist and harmonicist who plays with the Toledo-based, all-genre trio Last Born Sons.
“I play a little guitar, I play ukulele, I can get around a little bit on the keys, but I love harmonies. I just love to sing, so I think that’s one of the strengths of the band,” Gramza said. “We have some really strong vocal harmonies, and Dave is one of the best vocalists in this area that I’ve heard.”
With the Pfenning brothers at the helm, TwinPfunk quickly added a series of local, corporate and special event gigs and festivals to their growing show roster. They’ve performed at Inside the Five Brewing Company, The Sodbuster Bar and Treo in Sylvania, at the Round House Bar in Put-in-Bay and for the Columbus Blue Jackets professional hockey team.
The band’s current gig list makes it easier for members to balance their professional, personal and musical lives. TwinPfunk members work as a collective, meaning they rotate in and out for different performances depending on their schedules.
As the former frontmen of the Toledo-based alt rock quartet Empire Drift, Dave Pfenning and Mike Pfenning used to play up to 150-plus shows a year throughout their eight-year run and knew a different arrangement was needed for TwinPfunk.
“You’re living on top of each other, and you try to hold on so tightly while everyone is developing their family base, going to school and discovering other career opportunities,” Dave Pfenning said. “As TwinPfunk, we’ve found our success by just letting go of the pressure and enjoying the music.”
TwinPfunk continues to enjoy the music today and identifies ways to evolve their eclectic sound, including the addition of saxophone player Drew Ewing. Like Gramza, Ewing also plays with Last Born Sons and has established a strong local reputation for his expert woodwind skills and technique.
“Mike Gramza must have turned my name over to Dave because I got a call asking me to check them out,” said Ewing, who’s played the saxophone since high school and credits Shannon Ford with inspiring his love of the instrument. “I’m a freelance woodwind player, so any chance I have to get out there and work, I take. I’m pretty stoked – our lineup includes a lot of Dave Matthews of whom I am a huge fan.”
With a new member on board, TwinPfunk are getting ready to play their next show this Saturday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Round House Bar. In Put-in-Bay, there will be a good mix of people looking to party with locals on the island.
“We’re always trying to add new material so people don’t see the same show each time. With the locals, we will plan to add some more originals in the setlist, too, since they know us well from performing as Empire Drift,” Dave Pfenning said. “Unfortunately, Gramza and Ewing won’t be able to make this gig, but we can’t wait until the island gets to eventually hear them.”