By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Fronted by the spunky vocals of Casey Hanner, Pittsburgh-based indie pop band Donora has just released an album that is bound to get anyone in the mood for warmer days ahead - the sunny but not too sweet EP "Play Nice."
Comprised of Casey on vocals and guitar, her brother, Jake Hanner, on drums and bassist Jake Churton, Donora, www.donoramusic.com, will perform Feb. 7 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago.
TeamMate and Warm Ones are also on the bill. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at www.ticketweb.com.
I had the chance to talk to the members of Donora about the new EP.
Q - I understand that you came up with the band's name after seeing a road sign for Donora, Penn. What was it like to actually play there?
We were asked to play on the Donora-Webster bridge for the 100th anniversary celebration of the bridge. That was our first experience in Donora, and we were all for it!
However, it was snowing so hard that day, that the celebrations were moved into a firehall on the Webster side of the bridge. So technically, we've never actually played in the town of Donora! Ha ha.
Q - Of course, your new EP was just released. In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?
The inspiration for this EP came from a photograph Jake H took in downtown Pittsburgh. He was walking around taking pictures and came across this amazing piece of artwork someone had created on the wall of a construction site.
The artist made this keyboard out of plywood, glued it to the wall, and spray painted the words "Play Nice" underneath. We hung this photo on the wall of the studio when we started working on the new EP.
Our goal was to make an EP that sounded like that photo. We wanted to make something really cohesive, and we kept referring back to that photo. I think we managed to achieve that.
Q - Your music has been described as "New Wave." Do you think that is an accurate description? How would you describe your sound and who are your biggest musical influences?
I think that's accurate to a certain degree. We have definitely been inspired by some 80's music like The Cars and Billy Idol, but we try not to be too derivative.
There are also other influences that creep into our music, from late 50's girl group pop (like Brenda Lee) to current pop (like Robyn) and even some old Walt Disney whimsical sounds (like the original Sleeping Beauty score).
Q - Your music has been used in various projects, including TV shows and a movie. Do you see that as just another way to get exposure for your music? How do you think your music fit into those projects?
It's definitely great exposure for us, and I think our music lends itself to these projects well.
Our music is happy and upbeat, but it's also meant to make you feel something. And I think that aspect of the music is appealing to music supervisors.
These days placements are also a great way to fund other projects. Commercial placements allow us to keep focusing on writing new material and touring.
Q - What are the pros and cons of siblings playing together in a band? Would you recommend it?
When you play with your sibling, I think you can communicate better. You both come from the same place and upbringing, so it's easy to be on the same page.
There may be annoyances or silly sibling arguments that come up, but at the end of the day, you're family. I definitely recommend it, as long as you let family be the most important thing!
Q - Your dad, Dave Hanner, has had a successful music career. What kind of influence did he have on you and what kind of advice has he given you?
We grew up around music, but our dad never pushed music on us. In fact, I think it was the opposite.
When I (Casey) wanted to learn how to play guitar, instead of teaching me himself, my dad gave me a guitar chord book and told me that if I really wanted to learn, I would learn on my own.
My brother (Jake H) learned so much from my dad about recording music. Any time we have a question for him, he's always ready to help out or give his opinion. Sometimes we ignore his advice, but he usually ends up being right in the end!
Q - What are the advantages of being signed to an independent record label? With all the resources available to musicians these days, do you think it is easier to be a musician than it has been in the past?
Working with Rostrum had been great. We personally know each employee and have a great relationship with everyone involved.
We consider the head of the label (Benjy) to be a great friend and supporter of our music. That may seem normal, but I think it's a very rare thing these days.
Making music, playing music, recording music, and promoting music has all gotten easier. However, that means there are a lot more bands out there trying to make it work.
Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Our short-term goals are to promote the new EP and get back into the studio for a follow up. I think the long-term goal for any band in our position is to be able to sustain a living by making music.
Specifically for our band, we want to make people happy with our music. We want to encourage one person dance parties all across the world!