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Donora turns serious talent into fun music

| Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008

Donora's music recalls the carefree sounds that used to blare from transistor radios in the 1960s. Music that has its roots in the Beach Boys mantra "She'll have fun, fun, fun ...," but doesn't sound anything like the surf or California.

"I think when we write songs, we're thinking about playing them out in a bar on the weekend for our friends," singer and guitarist Casey Hanner says in advance of Donora's self-titled CD release party Friday at the Rex Theatre, South Side. "We want to be able to enjoy it when we play, and we want our friends to enjoy it, to sing along."

The trio -- which features Hanner's brother, Jake, on drums and vocals, and Jake Churton on bass -- is the antithesis of heavy. Joyful might be a better expression, but in no way is this light and fluffy material.

Donora takes the framework of guitar, bass and drums and adds samples that Jake Hanner creates from original guitar and organ and "anything that was lying around the house," Casey Hanner says, laughing. "He's got a really unique talent for taking ordinary instruments and making them sound real interesting. He started doing that, and we started writing based off that."

"And then a real musician showed up," Jake Hanner says, referring to Churton.

"We decided we needed someone who actually knew what they were doing," Casey Hanner adds.

The Hanners downplay their inherent abilities -- they are the offspring of Dave Hanner, the estimable songwriter and musician who is legendary in local country music circles for the bands Gravel and Corbin-Hanner -- but Churton's contribution is not to be minimized. Instead of merely keeping time, his melodic approach to bass allows Casey Hanner to concentrate on rhythm guitar and her engagingly pleasant vocals.

"Jake plays the bass, but he's almost like the lead guitar player," Jake Hanner says. "He's the one coming up with all the licks."

"We didn't have a lot of the elements we do until he came along," Casey Hanner says.

Churton met the Hanners when he was recording music with another band at Dave Hanner's studio in Gibsonia. When that venture didn't work out, he was quickly added to Donora's lineup.

"I had checked out Casey and what she was doing with her voice," Churton says. "And then I realized what Jake was doing with the samples. ... I just needed to come up with the bass lines."

Dave Hanner also contributed to "Donora," co-producing with Jake, who admits a few family-oriented disagreements occurred while mixing the CD. But when the Hanner siblings were growing up, the elder Hanner was mostly hands-off when it came to music. When Casey Hanner expressed an interest in learning to play guitar, her father gave her a book and told her to learn the chords on her own.

"He never wanted us to go into music," Casey Hanner says. "But growing up, it became part of our lives."

The Hanner siblings' style of music is decidedly different from their father's, even though he used to perform with the band at live gigs. While Dave Hanner's songs have been recorded by artists including Mel Tillis, Don Williams, the Oak Ridge Boys and Lee Ann Womack, Donora's sound is more akin to Velocity Girl or Belly by way of the Throwing Muses.

"I would call us a pop band, but fun," Casey Hanner says. "We try to make music that's fun, but with the samples, there's a serious undertone. In general, it's about having a good time."

"And generating catchy melodies," Jake Hanner adds.

Additional Information:

Donora CD release party

With: Lohio, Meeting of Important People, Br'er Fox

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

Admission: $5

Where: Rex Theatre , South Side

Details: 412-381-6811

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