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Band Notes: Donora
Before the Pennsylvania indie-pop group’s show at Rock & Roll Hotel Wednesday, lead singer Casey Hanner talks writing songs, their new EP, and Googling herself. By Tanya Pai
Jake Hanner, Casey Hanner, and Jake Churton of Donora. Photograph by Jake Marsico.
Comments () | Published June 26, 2012

Some bands make music that’s dense and difficult, so cerebral it practically requires an encyclopedia to appreciate. And some bands make music that’s just plain fun to listen to. The Pennsylvania-based indie-pop outfit Donora falls firmly and unabashedly into the latter category: Their airy, retro-tinged tunes, carried along by lead singer Casey Hanner’s spun-sugar voice, bring to mind roller discos and sleepovers and the innocent joy of dancing around solo in your bedroom. The three-piece band—Hanner, her brother and guitarist, Jake Hanner, and bassist Jake Churton—perform at the Rock & Roll Hotel tomorrow, June 27. Casey, 27, was in town a couple of weeks ago, and we chatted with her about songwriting, opening for the Ting-Tings, and playing the tourist in Washington.

So what have you been doing since you’ve been in town?

I went to a few museums; I’ve never really had a chance to do that. I don’t get to see too much usually. I went to the Holocaust Museum—it was really moving. I spent a lot of time there, and it was such a good experience.

And where were you before you got here?

I was at home in Pittsburgh. We had some time off; we just finished production on our new EP. We don’t have a release date or a title yet, but we’re really excited about it.

You’re in the band with your brother, Jake. Do you guys get along well?

We do get along. He’s my older brother and I’m his annoying little sister, but it helps with being able to communicate. We have a very similar style, and it means arguments aren’t the end of the world.

Your bassist is also named Jake. How did he join the group?

He was playing bass, recording at my dad’s studio, and he heard some stuff we were doing and told us, “Hey, if you ever need a bass player, let me know.”

Speaking of your dad (Dave Hanner)—he’s a country musician and music producer. What was it like growing up around so much music?

I guess I didn’t think it was anything different. My best friend’s dad was also a musician, and my bedroom was right above the studio, so I was always hanging around—and I can sleep through anything now!

Your band name comes from a town near Pittsburgh. What made you choose it?

There’s no exciting story, really. We just liked how the word sounded, and we knew we wanted a one-word name. I think we’re still figuring out what kind of band we want to be, so we wanted something that was a little more general. Some bands—like there’s a band called Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.—when you hear their name you know exactly what you’re getting.

Do people ever confuse it for your first name?

Yeah, sometimes people will come up to me on the street and say, “Oh, hey, Donora!” I guess it does kind of sound like a girl’s name.

So what will we be getting with the new EP?

The past two albums have kind of been development; the EP is the first one that’s really cohesive as a unit [whereas] Boyfriends, Girlfriends had a few different styles. My favorite track is “Play Nice”—it’s just a happy song. It’s probably going to be the title of the EP. We had some friends over while we were making it and recorded some group singing.

Can you tell me about your writing process?

My brother and I write together. He starts with the track and comes up with a drum loop, and then we write the melodies.

When did you first start writing songs?

I started when I was little; I was probably in fourth grade, and I had this little notebook and would write songs in it. Then I started playing the guitar around the age of 13 or 14—I was a freshman in high school. I was shy about my own songs at first, but it was easier than learning someone else’s songs. Then one day my dad came into my room and said, “What are you playing? You’re writing songs?” So he started taking me to open mike nights.

What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?

I listen to a lot of pop radio—I love seeing what trends are happening and keeping up with that stuff. I love Robyn, Blondie, the Bangles, and late ’50s and early ’60s girl pop, like Brenda Lee.

Confession time: Do you ever Google yourself?

Yeah, I mean, it’s exciting! But I don’t think I’ve gotten to that point where . . . I don’t know how much [reading about myself] affects what I do. But I’m definitely guilty of Googling myself.

You’ve opened for some major bands, including the Ting-Tings and Tokyo Police Club. Do you find there’s more pressure when you’re opening for a big band like that then when you’re performing your own show?

There’s more pressure in a way, but there’s less pressure because the crowd doesn’t really expect as much from an opening band. It’s cool doing the show and then seeing that we really won them over. But being onstage—that’s ultimately why we do this. We just try to make our shows as fun as possible.

Donora perform at Rock & Roll Hotel Wednesday, June 27, at 8 PM. Tickets ($10) are available online.

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Posted at 01:50 PM/ET, 06/26/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs