A Word with Casey and Jake Hanner

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Another installment of my “A Word With…” series featured on BreakThru Radio! This week, I talk to sibling bandmates Casey and Jake Hanner from Donora.

Pennsylvanian indie rock trio Donora, featuring (from left to right) siblings Jake and Casey Hanner as well as bassist Jake Churton. Photo courtesy of Donora.

Siblings who work together are fairly common. Whether you see ads for for Smith Brothers Auto or McCarthy and McCarthy Law Firm, you know it’s a sibling team working in a business partnership, and this adds a level of pressure to their relationship. Even in music, there are countless sibling groups and bands that have built fame around family. Take Jackson 5, Hanson, Heart, Van Halen, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers Band, Radiohead, or Kings of Leon as examples of successful (but certainly not stress-free) sibling partnerships. Consider Donora another in that category.

Potentially Casey and the Jakes, Donora is 3-piece indie-pop-rock outfit featuring Jake Churton on bass as well as sibling duo Jake and Casey Hanner on drums and guitar/vocals, respectively. Though working together has brought them closer as siblings as well as taken their music to a whole new level, they got started the same way most siblings working together do: their daddy made them do it.

Maybe not as much made as he suggested they should start a band, but the duo went with it and (though their official bio says that brother Jake cried when he first met Casey because he was sad she was a girl) it seems like they get along pretty well within the music.

BreakThruRadio: How did you guys decide to start a band together?

Casey Hanner: Jake’s my older brother and we weren’t very close growing up, but we were exposed to music because my dad is a musician and ran a recording studio out of our house.  We were both independently playing music and he actually suggested we try playing together.

Jake Hanner: We hadn’t been real close through our teen years because there was a five-year age gap, so I guess we never thought about playing music together until then.

BTR: Were you both musical growing up?

Jake: My first instrument was the drums and I was actually pretty awful until my early twenties when I decided to start taking it seriously, around the same time Casey and I started playing.  Although ,I played a pretty mean sax in middle school. Neither of us were actually in a band that played in front of people until we started Donora, even though Casey had been doing solo acoustic shows.

Casey: I took piano lessons when I was 7 or 8.  I have always been interested in singing too. I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 15 and even before I learned to play the guitar, I was always writing little melodies.

BTR: Was there ever any sibling rivalry between you?

Casey: We’ve always had very different interests growing up, even when it came to music, so there wasn’t ever really any sibling rivalry. And within the band, we each play our own roles. So, no, not really.

Jake: I’d say probably more that we push each other in a supportive way.  There has never been any competition, but since I produce and record the band, she probably gets annoyed some when I push her for a better take.

BTR: When did you first become friends?

Casey: Music really was the thing that brought us together (as cheesy as that sounds).  Writing music together sort of broke down the barriers and forced us to learn how to work closely together. Our friendship has definitely grown out of that.

Jake: Long road trips, laughing at the same stories over and over will do that.

BTR: Apparently, siblings are supposed to harmonize perfectly. Can you attest to that at all? Do you guys sing together?

Jake: We do sing together, Casey is a much better singer than me though.  We sing in unison a lot of the time in order to get a “chanty” vocal sound and sometimes it’s hard to tell whose voice is who’s in the monitors.

BTR: Would you say your relationship has gotten easier over the years, or more challenging as more pressure builds up?

Casey: It’s definitely gotten easier. We’ve really learned how to communicate with each other. And we understand how the other person works best.

BTR: What do you think being famous might do to your relationship?

Casey: I can’t imagine much would change!

Jake: I hope Casey can become really really famous and I can linger in the background trying not to get noticed.

BTR: And how would it work out if you didn’t want to play together any more?

Jake: Well, I feel like Donora will always exist, weather we happen to be working on it at the moment or working on another project.

Casey: I think that would be something we’d both be on the same page about. We’re both very supportive of each other and each other’s lives. We’re family first, band members second.

Check out the videos Casey directed for their past singles and the new selections coming off of the freshly released Boyfriends, Girlfriends. See Donora live in Morgantown, WV 10/28 or 11/19 in their hometown, Pittsburgh, PA.

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