Category Archives: Fun Reads

Holly Bowling Interview [Full Transcript]


In June 2016, I interviewed Holly Bowling for a summer issue of Surrender to the Flow.  Only about a quarter of the information below made the final article due to length limits, but what Holly shared with me was fascinating and inspiring, and in honor of her recent successes, I thought you’d be interested in how this talented and creative musician came to be. Congrats to Holly on the successful crowd funding and forthcoming release of her newest album Better Left Unsung, which she teases at the very end of this full transcription, and her recent sit ins with Phil Lesh, American Babies, and so many others.  You can see Holly during the New Years Run in NYC pre-Phish and on her 2017 winter tour.

CS: When/what was your first Phish show?  Was there a single song/show that got you hooked on the music? How many shows have you seen since?
HB: My first Phish show was New Year’s 2002. I got into them during the hiatus and never thought I’d get to see them play, so when they announced New Year’s and the three Hampton shows, there was no question whether or not I was going. I was already really into the music, and predictably, seeing them live only furthered the obsession. I ended up seeing all but 4 shows in 2.0, I was really determined not to miss out since I had missed so much already. I put off going to school and traveled around the country seeing Phish and learned more that way than I think I would have in school at that point in my life. Made a lot of friendships too that are still a huge part of my life. I slowed down a little in 3.0 and stopped catching quite as many shows, but I still see a lot. I’ve seen around 300 to date.

What’s been your favorite time or tour in the band history musically?
Everything from 1997. Fall 2013. Summer 2015. Summer 2016 (I hope!)  I really love the thematic, focused style of improvisation that’s developed in the last few years. 

Have you gotten any reaction from the band/members to your music?
Mike Gordon showed up at one of my shows in Philadelphia. I gave him a copy of my album. He stayed and listened to the whole Tahoe Tweezer and I think he gave me a thumbs up on his way out the door.  Other than that though, I have no idea what they think of it. 

When did you start playing piano?
Age five.

What did you do before this project?
For a living? I was teaching music. I ran my own studio. I actually miss the kids I worked with a lot. Seeing kids begin to understand music and watching the concepts click for them as they discover all these experiences is really the coolest thing. 

Did you always want to be a professional musician?
Yes! Since I was a little kid. But I had kind of given up on that working out as a realistic career. Then a few years ago I dove back in and haven’t looked back.

When/how did you get the idea to reinterpret Phish songs?
It wasn’t something I sat down and decided to do one day after thinking it over and searching for an idea for a project. It just developed naturally out of my experience with the piano and my love of Phish. I play what’s in my head, and what was stuck in my head a lot of the time was Phish.  I’ve been doing that for a long time, but approached it with more focus and discipline recently and actually worked through some of the harder parts that I’d been stuck on for years when I was just casually exploring the music.

Was the Tahoe Tweezer your very first piano arrangement?
The Tahoe Tweezer was the first Phish song I worked on in depth, and the first complex piece of music I ever transcribed and arranged. Not exactly a logical choice for a “starter project”, haha! But definitely a good one to learn from. The music is so varied and covers so much ground that it taught me a lot. And I mean that both in terms of texture, what to leave out, what to keep, and varying that over time, and also in terms of how to express different sounds and timbres on the piano. Sounds that either are pretty far from the piano to begin with or sounds that don’t translate well. Like really heavy distorted crunchy stuff, or really quiet delicate drawn out ethereal passages. Or interesting percussive sounds and patterns. Long sustained sounds, either from Trey’s guitar or from Page’s organ (which can hold a note indefinitely, and the piano can’t). Sweeps on the synth that move continuously rather than having discreet pitches. All kinds of stuff. So yeah… not a great starter piece to work on, but also in another sense, the best one to work on, because it covers so much ground. I learned a ton. I know if I did it again today my process would be very different. I think the end result would sound different too since I’ve definitely changed and grown as a musician since then. It’s funny. The original is a snapshot of Phish at that moment and in that period of their improvisation. And then my arrangement is a snapshot of me in that moment, of my style as a musician. So it’s like a musical snapshot of a musical snapshot.

What has been your favorite arrangement thus far?
As far as the jam transcriptions, I think maybe the GD’s ’74 Eyes of the World. But that might just be because its the most recent complete one I did and I’m always learning from each one and trying to make the next one even better. As far as arrangements of compositions and songs, rather than jam transcriptions? I really loved the challenge of It’s Ice. It takes a lot of focus to play and I spent a ton of time figuring it out, it was a really rewarding project to tackle. But that’s a really tight technical arrangement and consequently there’s less room in it for my own musical voice (aside from the middle section, which I’ve been taking liberties with for sure) because the composition is so complex to begin with. I really like how the arrangement for Scents and Subtle Sounds came out. I did a lot of playing around with the different registers of the piano and moving the melody line around from to another, and trying to make use of all of the areas of sonic space.  Another favorite is Pebbles and Marbles. I feel like the arrangement is still settling a little. But in the right setting on a really good piano, I think a lot of emotion comes through on that one, which is what I wanted. I think it’s a really powerful song to begin with and I love the lyrics, and the build. The feeling I wanted to come through in the arrangement is there, and there’s a lot of subtle delicate stuff before it gets heavy.  Across the board, really any of the arrangements where you get to hand off a part or a melody from one hand to the other, sort of like passing a baton, or I guess ideally maybe something more graceful like a trapeze artist moving from one flying trapeze to another… any of these are physically fun to play, just the physical motions you go through as you try to keep that melody line intact as it shifts.   

What’s one of the hardest songs and/or jams to reinterpret? Easiest?
Simple songs with four chords are easy to learn. Sometimes they’re harder to make something special out of them, especially in a purely instrumental context. If there’s a lot of repetition, which is fine if there’s great lyrics over top, it can be hard to make that translate to an instrumental setting without it getting boring. So in that sense, the stuff that’s easiest to arrange can also be the hardest to do well. Then there’s stuff that’s hard just because its technical and complex. I really want to learn All Things Reconsidered but its just insane and I’m not sure how I would cover all the parts and do it justice. But really the thing I find hardest in general is arranging parts of jams where the meter becomes ambiguous and time falls apart for a while. When there’s a structure and a framework to fit the pieces into, it all makes sense, even if its really hard to figure it out. There’s an order and a right answer. When the meter disappears, its really hard to pin things down to paper. And there’s not really notation for things that are that loose, or if there is, I don’t know it. So my scores in that part end up being descriptions to jog my memory of what that section sounds like as much as exact directions of what to play. And in the case of these jam transcriptions, I’m not looking to be too free with it and just do my own thing – I do that in my improvisation, but in this case, I’m trying to recreate and re-orchestrate something, almost like making a piano reduction of a symphonic work. So I want to be as true to it as possible. It’s funny how difficult it becomes when the underlying structure becomes a question mark.

How do you select songs or jams to arrange?
Lots of times, I pick because a section of a jam is stuck in my head. So I’ll pick favorites, or stuff I’m listening to a lot. Sometimes, with songs especially, I’m more picky about the criteria. Like if its really focused on a drum groove, 2001 for example, I’m not gonna do it. I don’t think it would be in service of the music really. And some stuff is just physically basically impossible on the piano, due to the constraints of the instrument. You can’t repeat notes as quickly on a piano as you can on a guitar, because the actual mechanism in the piano doesn’t work that fast. You can’t sustain notes indefinitely, or bend notes, which pretty much rules out doing one of my favorite jams ever, the Camden Chalkdust from ‘99. I’m still trying to figure out a way to do that one though. It’s so good.

How does it feel when you first perform them?
It’s always harder performing things in the very beginning. There’s something cool about stuff that’s really fresh, but I’m also often learning things at the very last minute so the music isn’t as comfortable under my fingers as it will be a few performances later. It takes more concentration and there’s less room to take chances with it or let it open up a little. That usually comes later.

What’s your relationship with The Grateful Dead?
I never got to see Jerry, I was 11 when he died. I grew up listening to the Dead because my parents did, so I’ve known a lot of the songs as long as I can remember. I fell in love with the music on my own terms later, sometime in high school. I mean I liked the music already, but there’s a difference between knowing and liking music you hear growing up versus seeking it out yourself and really diving in to it.

What was the first Dead song you reinterpreted? Hardest/Easiest?
The ’74 Eyes of the World jam transcription was the first one I transcribed and arranged. Another interesting choice as a first project, haha! Go big or go home I guess. I mean I’d played around with tons of their songs but just casually, figuring out the chord progressions and playing that way. I’d never sat down and rearranged all the puzzle pieces and tried to weave the threads together in a really deliberate way, and rearranged, and rearranged again until it seemed right. I would just play.  I actually arranged that one because JamBase wanted me to do a song for the “Songs of Their Own” series they did leading up to the Fare Thee Well shows, and no one had picked Eyes yet, and I had coincidentally been messing around with that song a few days before, playing around with the timing moving from 3 to 4 and back again. They asked me to do a jam transcription or at least include a tease of a notable jam, and I wasn’t going to, I didn’t think I had time to get it finished before the deadline. But then I listened to the Louisville Eyes and just decided I had to do it. I worked on it pretty much nonstop for several weeks. It was kind of nuts.

What has been your favorite place/venue/show to play so far?
Jam Cruise has to be one of my favorites ever. I think it has to be probably the only music festival ever where you show up to play your set and they happen to have a beautiful grand piano just sitting there waiting for you all ready to go. I mean obviously if you’re Dr. John or someone like that, you get that at every festival you play. But as an emerging artist, it’s hard to find that, much less in a festival setting. So that was pretty rad.

I also really love the Massry Center in Albany. People show up there really prepared to listen and get into the music and let it take them away, no distractions. That’s a really cool thing. There’s also an amazing piano and the acoustics of the room allow you to play completely unamplified. Another place like that is a new favorite of mine that I just played for the first time a few months ago called The Old Church. It’s in Portland OR and as you would expect, it’s an old church… but its no longer religiously-affiliated and is purely a performance space for arts and music now. The space is beautiful and the acoustics are too, and the whole vibe in there is just really special. I love spaces like that. I really like when I have the opportunity to play in spaces that are different from the usual places we’re used to going to see music.

Who have you played with that you were particularly wowed by (either because you didn’t know them at all, or because you knew (of) them very well)?
I’m grateful to have played with so many musicians who have wowed and inspired me. Obviously getting to play with both Aron [Magner] and Joel [Cummins] during my Jam Cruise set was really special. If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d share the piano with both those guys, in the same set no less, I don’t think I would have believed you.

What other bands/interpretations do you incorporate into your sets?
I’ve done a few songs and teases of songs by the Disco Biscuits. There’s some long-form compositions in their catalog I’d like to explore more. The one I’ve worked on most so far is Magellan, which has always been one of my favorites of their songs.  And then I’ve thrown in some Greensky Bluegrass teases and references. That started on Jam Cruise ‘cause Paul and Anders were there and I wanted to give a little musical shoutout to them. And then after I got to sit in with them in Eugene, which was such an honor, I snuck some GSBG references into my sets the rest of that tour. Phish and the Dead are the bread and butter of my sets right now but it’s always evolving.

How do you see yourself expanding your repertoire or performance as you grow from here?
I love the piano, and I always will, but I’m excited to expand out into other keyboard instruments as well. I’ve been having a ton of fun playing around with all the less expected sounds you can coax out of a piano and expanding the palette of sounds I have to work with, and I’d like to keep moving in that direction. I’m also working on some original music. That’s something I want to let grow in something other than a solo setting though. Maybe a trio.

What do you hope to see this project accomplish/become?
My goal is to make music that connects with people. If that nonverbal conveyance of emotion is happening, then I’m doing it right. Obviously there’s plenty of things on the creative and logistical end of things I’d love to see develop, but really, goal number one for me is connection. If I’m connecting with the music I’m playing emotionally, and someone out there listening is too, I think that’s what it all comes down to.

Anything else you want to share?
Yes! I’m making another album. It’s the music of the Grateful Dead reimagined for solo piano, and I’m unbelievably excited about how the sessions have gone so far. I can’t say any more about it just yet, but keep an eye out for it! It’s gonna be good!


Hooked: Gamehendge


In the spirit of rehashing NYE moments, I wanted to share an article I wrote a run-ly column in that run’s Surrender to the Flow. Now that it’s published, I can print this here, though I still highly encourage you to purchase a copy and/or subscription, and always look for them on lot.

Hooked: Gamehendge

I first got into Phish when they played a tiny little set on top of the Ed Sullivan theater building in 2004, during which they did a 2-minute version of “Wilson” that was stuck in my head for days. I was only marginally interested in the band after that, though during those years off I occasionally returned to songs like “The Lizards” or “AC/DC Bag,” but I never put them together, and I had certainly not heard of Colonol Forbin or the Famous Mockingbird.

When the band returned in 2009, I was engulfed in the excitement and began to learn the intricacies of the band that phans find so meaningful. The musical story of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, otherwise known as Gamehendge, is very important to phans, and now, to me as well.

I discovered Trey’s senior project- turned epic tale of deceit and power- at the pique of my short-story writing interest, and it was the tales’ intrigue and action that had me hooked right away.  On the original recording, Ernie gives some background, describing the beautiful area that is the land of Gamehendge and the center city of Prussia. Often during live performances, he refers to the surrounding area, “just over that hill over there,” as the location for the story- another very appealing aspect to the rare live versions of these songs. He introduces the protagonist, the evil threat, the almighty deity, and the ultimate solution. Then, with a deep and intriguing description, possibly taken from the original Tom Marshall poem “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,” we flash to a different time, in a different town. It’s the perfect set up for an exciting story.

The first musical foray, “The Lizards,” told from the perspective of Colonel Forbin, who has just passed through the door to Gamehendge, is not only a brilliant story opener, but satisfies so many Phish cravings that we have. It’s mysterious, catchy, and ventures into unknown worlds not only lyrically, but musically as well. The song also introduces other characters, and the first problem they encounter. The revolutionary knight Rutherford has sunken to the bottom of the river, but luckily, the unit-monster is there to rescue him and moments later, we learn of another mystical beast, the multi-beast, who’s rider becomes Forbin’s true love, and who’s namesake song becomes mine.

The stunning ballad that is “Tela” has become my favorite song in Gamehendge because of its lyrical wonderment and delicate musicality. Again, we find our favorite aspects of songs in this track; mystery, anticipation, and the unique, gentle side of Phish all combine to make this rare tune a phan favorite. It’s gorgeous in a way that their other ballads and love songs can’t compare to. It could be the description of beauty we hear about Tela, which is unusual for Phish songs; it could be the suspenseful build-up and release, the leftover desire for more, or the lead in to the rebellious next song.

In “Wilson,” we hear the rally of the rebellion forces and as phans, we feel united in the repetitive chant of these live versions. This song stands so strongly on its own, and applies wonderfully outside of the Gamehendge context that it’s easily a phan favorite and the band recognizes this by playing it more often than the others. “AC/DC Bag” has the same effect, but they’re both still crucial parts of the story and advance the plot to keep listeners engaged.

“Colonol Forbins Ascent” has the tale’s protagonist fighting to help the rebellion and returns to the form of narration through the music. Each note and chord gives a description of the action; it draws the picture without words and prepares the listener for the musical peak of the sage. “Fly Famous Mockingbird” is delicate, fascinating, and expressive, and in a live setting, it has the power to transport you to another place.  It’s limited lyrically, but story-wise, it brings us to the last great conflict in TMWSINY.

Enter “The Sloth” who is hired by the rebel traitor Errand Wolfe to kill evil King Wilson. This high-energy, dark song becomes a strong ending to a powerful moral story that Phish is able to tell through the collection as a whole, or via individual songs.

Other Phish tunes are associated with Gamehendge, most notably a Tom Marshall poem called “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,” “Possum,” “Punch You in the Eye,” and “Llama,” all highly respected and beloved selections. Rare, too, and I hope they stay that way- it’s an unbeatable part of their appeal. Fantastic musical adventure aside, if we heard it all the time, it wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling each time we did. Here’s to a Gamehendge in the mystical land that is NYEMSG2011!

Phish New Years Eve Review [Part 1]


Better late than never?? Some may say that, but I say in the spirit of new tour dates coming really really soon (fingers crossed), let’s take a look back on New Years Eve and what it had to offer us. All pics taken by my crappy phone.

Phish New Years Run- 12/28-31/11 Madison Square Garden, NY, NY originally published on Oh Kee Pah!

(Part 1)

Well, I’m sure by now you’ve heard all the major complaints about Phish’s New Years Eve run. They didn’t jam nearly hard enough; there were some major flubs in critical parts by all members of the band; song selections were generally not the best they’ve done before and the openers were fairly deceiving, though I’m sure that wasn’t on purpose. But who can really say they had a lousy time? Among those who attended one show or all shows, I doubt many can say it sucked or wasn’t worth the money. It was; 99% of the time it will be, and this is coming from someone who spent $100 to get in half way through first set on the least-well played night. But it’s not about how much you paid, or when you got in, it’s about being there, with your phamily, celebrating the Phish, their music, and the exuberance it provides to all of us.

While I’m all about the way they play and how they jam, we are so overly critical sometimes that you have to ask, if you were going to hate on it, why did you come? Phish aren’t gods, they’re human, they have ups and downs, good days and bad days, and peaks of interest that may not necessarily have been with the band at that moment. Trey and Mike are busy with side projects, Page and Fish with their families- it’s no wonder that NYE2011 wasn’t the highlight of the year. But let’s look at the scene, and consider the whole experience before we judge how good or bad the run really was.

Night one, set one began with the first ever “Free” opener and while it didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, the energy in that round room was so good, nothing could bring it down. We got a nearly perfect “Glide,” the first one since MSG ‘09 and before that, it was Coventry, so you could feel the tension in the room, and hear Trey slice right through it with perfect riffs and excellent dynamics. They got “Possum” out of the way nice and early with a relatively hype version that got the crowd moving, but the set was starting to feel a little flat. “Cities” was too early but the first sign of funk to come; Mike gets plenty dirty, but I remember when the jam dropped out and lost its form, and it was hugely disappointing. They brought it back with an insanely funky “Contact,” even though Rolling Stone called it the worst song ever written. To close out the set, they delivered a tight but ordinary “Bathtub Gin” that made up for a lack-luster “Stash” earlier in the set.

“Birds of a Feather” second set opener was fun and appropriate, and drew the still reuniting crowd back in from set break. In a unique move, they delivered a serious “Carini” that got dark and deep and went into a well-received but pretty standard rendition of “Tweezer.” Everyone flipped at the sound of the first heady jam so early in the run, but to me it meant they weren’t holding out for anything particularly amazing. I raged it, had fun with crowd, and enjoyed the “My Friend, My Friend” that came after it. “Rock n Roll” was unfortunately weak, but the New Yorkers loved it, as did I, and finally “NICU” came along to save the set. It’s not that they played it particularly well, but it was perfect for the moment and caused a whirlwind of happiness around the venue. “Harry Hood” was nothing to write home about and a poor transition into an anti-climatic “Bug” set closer didn’t do anything to help it, but the 3-song encore was somewhat of a consolation prize; the “Tube” was a little surprising, and kicked into a high-energy, party starting “Rocky Top.” And even as predictable as the “Tweezer Reprise” was, it made my heart flutter in excitement for the next few nights.

Sometimes I like the audience recordings so you can hear what the crowd thinks and still hear the band pretty well, and the crowd was pretty pumped for a opener like “The Sloth” followed by a 15+ min “You Enjoy Myself.” This was another shocker, like “Tweezer” but at this point, we had to assume that the band wasn’t going to do anything we expected, and isn’t that always kind of the case? A little stumbling here and there throughout “YEM” didn’t crush it and they picked it up at the end for a killer ending jam. “The Moma Dance” into “Funky Bitch” (The Dancing Bitch?) got really good at points, with Mike taking serious lead and getting as funkadelic as the jam would allow. It dropped into a pretty good “Maze,” and I have to say that at this point I was heartily satisfied with what Phish was serving up so far.  “Roses Are Free” was a welcome cover for the arena as the crowd sung out every word, but it seemed like filler material at the time; it was really the “Halley’s > Antelope” combination that was a particularly wonderful moment in that incredible first set.

The choice to open second set with “Crosseyed> Simple> Lifeboy” was possibly one of their best all weekend, and, though they didn’t get into any serious jamming and had a few slip ups, especially during transitions, the following sequence of “Guyute,” “Mike’s> Chalkdust> Hydrogen> Weekapaug” was pretty stunning as it was happening. There was obvious difficultly getting in and out of CDT, but once they felt comfortable, it was ragin’ pretty hard, as was the crowd. Easily the most rowdy of all night, and probably the most musically strong, it seemed like no body in that building was still for the entirety of the show. And, well, a “Show of Life” closer is just that. No better, no worse; after such a dense and interesting set list, it was nice to sit, reflect, and take the time, so I didn’t mind it and they played it well. But- surprise!- it wasn’t a closer at all, and when the boys started into “Character Zero,” it felt a bit like a tacky add-on at the last minute, but we dug it. The “Loving Cup” was just filling enough to leave the building confident for the next two days of glorious Phishdom.

The Death of the Encore?


This article was originally published on Hidden Track on 1/18/2012.

Somewhere in the back of my mind are memories of clapping fanatically, screaming toward an empty stage, waiting many long minutes for Phish’s triumphant return to the spotlight. After many a vigorous two-set show, not only by Phish but other bands as well, the audience anxiously awaits the coming encore. The lights stay dimmed while people cheer and clap until their hands turn red and their voices go horse, and then they do it some more, merely to the point of coaxing the music back on stage.

Nowadays, the second set ends and we pay hardly any mind, worrying only about the encore that is sure to come. We cheer for a few moments, then start to gather our things, prepare for the dash out or the wait in line. The noise level drops noticeably when really, it should be louder than it has been all show. That’s what got Phish back out for years, and it worked flawlessly throughout music history as an honor for musicians. Recently, however, I think that the encore has died.

For most of music’s sordid past, an encore was not to be expected after the official end of a performance. Bob Marley and the Wailers very rarely did encores. Elvis never did, as a policy of his managers, whereas Jimmy Buffet plays a mini acoustic set at the end of each show in lieu of an encore. In the classical music world, encores were strictly reserved for audiences that demanded it; when the performer did so well that the crowd wouldn’t leave the theater without one more tune, and the artist came back out, humbled, to satisfy their fans with an encore. A French word that means “again” or “some more,” the concept of the encore originated spontaneously and organically from a particularly roused up audience. Performers did and still do use it to show off their skills or mellow the crowd out to get ready to leave, and now it’s pretty much a staple at music performances.

While Phish shows without an encore have been rare throughout history, they weren’t always a guarantee, and from old audience recordings that didn’t cut out the between time, you can hear just how long they used to make us wait. Maybe it’s purely because the band members have less they want to do between those moments, or maybe they’re just anxious, but in the last two years I would say standard wait time between the end of second set and start of the encore has dropped dramatically. And like I said, this does not apply just to Phish. Everyone is waiting in the wings for their encores.

This is bad news for a few reasons: it means they aren’t putting too much thought into the encore or spending much time discussing song selection; it means they’re not resting their limbs to give a good final push and solid last showing; and, most likely, it means they’re not trying to stick around for much longer. Sure, there are venue rules and probably contractual obligations regarding encores, but since when did they start caring so much? This is not to say that Phish, or anyone else, hasn’t thrown down some fantastic encores (i.e. UIC 8/17/11), but on the whole, encores are quick, simple, average at best, and for Phish, never reaching that signature level they used to be known for.

Most bands expect and are expected to do an encore after every show. In this way, the artists walk off stage with anticipation for the last showing of the night and the audience is left with nothing to wonder about, merely to wait. This may sound very much like a complaint, but believe me, I enjoy those final moments at a show when you’re holding onto the last notes and grasping for a last glance. I would, however, like to know what happened to begging for it? Why don’t we plead like we used to? It’s never been about instant gratification before, so why now?

Maybe it’s not so much that the encore has died, but it’s certainly shriveled up and less lively than it used to be. Not only are they instantaneous, but they not gratifying and not meant to be. Let’s hope our favorite bands are using this a tactic to keep us wanting more, but if they’re not, I’d love to see some encores that come completely out of left-field, and higher energy than the entire show, and took the audience 10 minutes of clapping and screaming to earn.

And look, they gave me a little bio! “Carly Shields is a columnist at Oh Kee Pah Blog and BreakThru Radio, and an aspiring music manager. She also writes for Surrender to the Flow, Grateful Web, Live Music Blog and her own blog, Tela’s Travels. When not writing furiously, she goes to as much live music as possible from Boston to Philly and beyond, passionately supporting her up-and-coming favorites.” Woo!

What Dance Really Means to Music


What does dance have to do with music? Dance is a response, an accompaniment to the melodies and more often than not, a crucial part of music itself. Americans wouldn’t normally think that; in the Western world, most bands and music makers are separated from their dancers by a stage or a barrier and by a cultural standard that doesn’t let the two mix.

However, there are other cultures in which dance is an integral part of their musical history.

Egyptians had dancers at dinner parties, public celebrations and gatherings, to accompany the band and to please the kings. Their philosophers were perplexed at the Greek culture which didn’t use dance as heavily as the Egyptians. Malaysia had many dances born out of necessity; they used drum beats to spread important messages and the dance that evolved to accompany the beats became an integral part of the message itself.

Silat is one type of Malaysian dance form that originated as a deadly self-defense practice. Sarawak is another form of dance that developed as story-telling display that was often performed in the culture. In South Africa, music and dance are inseparable because of their strong roots in individual communities.

Dance developed as an integral part of music in other countries. However, in America it’s been a different story. There’s been the Polka, Square Dance, Jazz tapping and other types of dance, but no form where the band needed the dancer as a critical part of the music. Tilly and the Wall is a new breed of band, one that fills this need for a greater intersection of music and dance in America. Like most other bands, they have a percussionist but in this instance, she is a tap dancer.

“She actually pioneered a new style of dancing, not to mention a new percussive element,” says singer and bassist Kianna Alarid. “She literally invented brand new steps that had never, to our knowledge, existed in classical dance or elsewhere.”

Tilly and the Wall hadn’t originally planned for this to be their percussive section, but tapper Jaime, who had done this in other bands before, volunteered to “do it for now” when the band at first had no drummer. Apparently it worked out really well, especially for the sound they were trying to achieve and she stuck with it. It’s worked out so well in fact, that the Tilly girls all dance during live shows, completely eliminating the border between dance and music.

“One of our only preconceived ideas for the band was that we wanted to focus on our live performance, making sure it would be entertaining,” Kianna said. “We set out to incorporate visual elements into the show and the girls love to include choreographed and synchronized dance moves as a part of that.”

It was an uphill battle for a band trying adamantly to break the cultural norm of separation between music and dance. The singer, and recent new mother, characterized their progression as going from “that gimmick band with a tap dancer” to “that weird band, the one with the tap dancer.” But they are gaining popularity and making waves on the underground music scene with their big performances. Why does she think American music is so separate from dance?

“‘Cause people here tend to give a shit. It’s a real shame, people in this country, musically and otherwise, are a little… tight.”

There is one band that’s trying to get back to the roots of all of this. Beats Antique, a tribal dance-tronica trio that takes the dance element to new heights. While she doesn’t particularly create a musical line as she dances, Zoe is an integral part of Beats Antique’s music and without her the music wouldn’t exist. True, she is a percussionist and producer for the band, but she’s also the belly dancer.

The concept for the group came about because of their World Music label. It was largely focused on dance music, and as a dancer for most of her life and a producer, Zoe was able to hear where the two other guys needed to make some space. The dance was such a critical part of the writing and development process that when they took the act live, she had no choice but to dance along with it. In fact, the music wouldn’t be remotely the same with out it.

“When we’re performing on, stage we’re a unit. We’re locked in and one force. I represent the more visual part of the force, and it would change them to not have me. They wouldn’t be at all the same performers without the dance. And it’s something we really crave, so moving forward we want more of it.”

The band does some improvisation on stage, and even then, they play off each other and the dance is seamlessly integrated into the beat, like a perfect part of a musical equation. Zoe explained how she could tell when a musician has not played with a dancer before, describing it as being slapped on the cake instead of the icing gracefully coating it. Working with musicians, she’s discovered a symbiotic relationship that automatically fits. And it baffles her as well, why dance and music don’t come together more often.

“For some reason, dance and live music in this country aren’t presented together in a cohesive whole that often to the general public. In big theaters, we see all these dances and dancers but maybe if they’re lucky they have a band, and then you see live music and they don’t have dancers which is totally ridiculous,” Zoe says. “I just love that Beats Antique has a chance to do this, especially for people who aren’t going to watch a modern dance performance, maybe that’s not even their sphere. So I’m hoping to be a gateway drug to inspire more of this in the US.”

For Tilly and the Wall and Beats Antique, dance and music are inseparable forces. The interplay between them is stellar, and hopefully this trend reaches the mainstream music scene.

Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga!


Originally published on Oh Kee Pah blog.

“What else would you call a Phish yoga class?” asks Chris Calarco, creator and instructor of Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga, who has been on an East Coast tour since around Halloween.

The room giggled at his rhetorical question, and I knew this wouldn’t be like an ordinary yoga class. Well, there we countless other hints before that, and not one of them made me yearn for the standard Vinyasa flow class. First of all, Chris had been posting the “set lists” of each class, including show dates, and they were all pretty killer. He did Makisupa>Night Nurse>Makisupa 10/23/10 followed by Tweezer > Mist 7/10/99 in New Haven, CT, and the Mike’s > Hydrogren > Weekapaugh 11/22/97 before that, so I trusted the man’s taste.

Secondly, it was the most welcoming yoga room I’ve ever been in- filled with phriends, and you know who phriends are. They smile at everyone, talk and laugh with one another; they have an automatically strong bond because of their passion for Phish, which translated flawlessly to the yoga studio.

As we settled into our mats, Chris described how he wanted to bring the joy of seeing Phish live into his life everyday, and discovered how through his yoga practice. He started the set with “Buffalo Bill > NICU” from 1997 as we began to control our breathing and sung an ‘ohm’ together, which someone later suggested could have been a ‘kung.’ We moved through sun salutations and back bends, forward folds and half-lifts, and we cheered when the transition came in, as Chris encouraged us to do whatever we felt. So when the epic Ghost from 11/17/1997 came on, which was also the date of the class this year, people started bouncing in their down dogs and clapping to relieve the tension of chair pose (picture it. Tough, right?), Chris seemed elated, and the room felt full of joy.

Fluffhead came on and was most unfortunately turned down, which Chris apologized for, “but I’ve got to teach something during this class!” As an elusive photographer clicked away, he and his agile helper demonstrated how to reach a full handstand and suggested we pair up and try it ourselves. In a more rigid yoga class, I would be timid asking for a partner, but here, it felt only natural to grab the girl in the faded Dead tee next to me and let her hoist my leg into the air as I pulled the other one up. Awkward? Is hugging the random guy in the crowd because of the killer jam going down awkward?

Solo practice continued, though getting the chatter to slow down only worked when the “2001” was turned up, and kept at a simmer since everyone was that much more comfortable. We moved onto a series of leg and hip stretches towards our next goal of a full split as Chris and his helper walked around gently adjusting our postures and doing the pose along side us. One of the first ever “Light”s was a perfect selection for yoga, considering the lyrics and seemed to ring true to everyone as we sank into more difficult poses.

It was feeling a bit like a real show would, energy dying a little but still wanting to carry on and loving it. After the instructional for the full split, we began a slow wind down that would end with a handful of finals poses to “Harry Hood,” response cheer and all. It was a perfectly planned out set closer and when we laid on our mats for corpse pose (again, picture it. The best, in my opinion.), an encore-worthy “Shine a Light” ran through the speakers to close what had been a challenging, but fulfilling yoga class.

Chris was absolutely right in the beginning of the class. That elated feeling when the boys come on stage, and even when they walk off, can be accomplished through a yoga practice, and you don’t even need to be a seasoned vet. One of the participants asked a young guy who admitted to never having done yoga before how his first class was. “It was great, if they played Phish all the time, I’d probably do it again!” And they wonder why people go on Phish tour…. Ha!

Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga will be back in NYC for the New Years Run, but consider pre-paying when he announces the date if attendance at last Thursday’s class was any indication of interest. It was packed, so big thanks to Yoga Vida on Bond St. for hosting us and to Chris for inspiring us through the magic of Phish!

Try it for yourself!

Buffalo Bill > NICU 8/17/97
Bathtub Gin 9/4/11
Ghost 11/17/97
Fluffhead 6/3/11- first instructional for headstand
2001 6/14/00
Light 8/7/09
The Lizards 8/13/96
Mellow Mood 8/9/11- instructional for splits
Rocket Man 8/9/11
Harry Hood 8/9/11
Shine a Light 6/25/10

The Musical Costumes of Phish


Halloween has become so much more than the Day of the Dead. True, long ago, we Americans killed that notion upon adoption of the holiday, but still it has transformed into a nation-wide event, a hot-button news topic, a huge marketing campaign, and a chance for everyone to be someone different. Not only are little kids and cautious parents dressing up but musicians are no exception to this tradition and certainly weren’t in this past Halloween.
Some bands go the more traditional route, wearing matching outfits or a group costume. Bluegrass band Poor Man’s Whiskey, for example, dressed as the Wizard of Oz crew while performing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and they chose to extend this prank throughout the year. Some bands like to do particularly shocking and special covers, like Widespread Panic’s versions of “Werewolves of London,” by Warren Zevon or “L.A. Woman” by The Doors. Others take on their favorite musicians stage persona, like at Death by Audio where the Permanent Wave ladies organized a Halloween cover show featuring “Springsteen,” “Salt-N-Pepa,” and “Blondie.”

While all these jokesters come close, the ultimate Halloween band is Phish. While they’ve performed on the holiday only a handful of times, Phish is fairly well known for donning a different musical costume every year they play on Halloween night. Since the tradition began in 1994, Phish has played six 3-set shows on 10/31, and one surprise show on November 2nd, 1998, with the second set featuring an entire album from another artist, usually one very influential on the band itself. These shows have become very special to fans and are typically indicative of new songs joining the Phish rotation.

For the first year of this skillful joke, Phish opened the selection up to fan votes, not provoking much participation, but ending up with The Beatles’ White Album by a landslide. In a classic ‘trick or treat’move, the sound technician played “Speak to Me,” making the audience think the Pink Floyd album was coming up. In an instant, he switched to a recording of Ed Sullivan introducing The Beatles and the band jumped right into “Back in the USSR”. For another treat (or trick?), drummer Jon Fishman did in fact undress when “Revolution 9” called for it. This show also included a costume contest during the encore in which fans were called on stage and a winner was selected by the band.

In the historic spirit of pleasing their fans, Phish tried again in 1995 to conduct a voting system for their Halloween cover, but the top choice was in fact not a real option for the band, as they discovered after learning about half of it. Found to be too effects heavy and moderately offensive, Frank Zappa’s Joe Garagehad to be replaced with the runner-up, The Who’s Quadrophenia. In an effort to truly embody The Who, after their “My Generation” encore (not on the album, but a cover-worthy song nonetheless), they smashed their instruments and threw their stuff around before storming offstage. Second set also included a highly respected, 40-minute “You Enjoy Myself” that some say has yet to be matched.

They took on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light with drummer Karl Perazzo from Santana’s band and a full horn section, as they did for Quadrophenia, in 1996. Two years later, they chose The Velvet Underground’sLoaded to perform on their second night in Las Vegas, where they revealed the fan-favorite and jammed out “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Two days later they were off to Utah and found to their dismay, a fairly empty venue. In smiting those who didn’t make the trek out there, the band performed rarities like “Tube”, “Drowned” fromQuardophenia, “Driver”, and “Bittersweet Motel”, the ladder two with acoustic guitar, and in the middle of the legendary “Harpua”, Phish started playing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. They also encored the show with a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”. For an unknown reason, this hugely circulated show was never released on a Live Phish volume like the rest of their cover sets.

It seemed that the tradition had ended when the band ended all together, but hope was not lost when, in 2008, they announced their reunion and again a year later when they announced their Halloween festival, Festival 8. In anticipation for the extravaganza, hosted a creepy countdown of album cover possibilities, with one album axed or stabbed every day until October 31st. When the blood match was settled,  The Rolling Stones’ double album Exile on Main Street reigned supreme. In its company (and potentials for the future) included David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland. Fortunately, nothing was lost in their selection as they brought on a fantastic horn section accompanied by the stunning vocalist Sharon Jones to assist them in bringing Exile to the stage. All the special guests joined the band for a “Suzy Greenberg” closer that blew every other “Suzy” out of the water.

2010 brought Phish performing Little Feat’s live album Waiting for Columbus and my very first Phishbill. In the tradition of Broadway playbills, Phish publishes a ‘Phishbill’ that gets handed out upon entrance to the show and explains the relationship between the band and the album. It also features jokes from the band to the fan that some people take very seriously (i.e. changing the title “The Divided Sky” to just “Divided Sky” due to lack of the word “the” in the lyrics).

Halloween 2011 was a Phish-less event, only making the previous six that much more special. For an in-depth look at the Phish Halloween tradition, The Barn has put together comprehensive graphs detailing each show and the songs featured throughout its tenure. These profound events are what make Halloween particularly special for Phish fans, and to be transformed by their power, you may just have to listen for yourself.
Originally published on BreakThru Radio, 11/4/2011

Social Media for Musicians


Sometimes, all musicians want to do is play. They want to focus on their music, their practices, their shows, and let someone else deal with the other stuff. Nowadays, that other stuff heavily involves social media management and this scares musicians. Rightfully so, as some tend to be a little introverted and much more focused on their music. So spending the kind of time that a band might need to on their social networks might seem ridiculous to a person who would rather be strumming a guitar and writing lyrics.

There’s also the general fear of the unknown, and to a new-comer, the prospect of social networking seems wildly difficult. The world of social media is dense and intricate, but not so complex that it’s impossible to navigate.

However for musicians and bands especially, understanding and utilizing these platforms is critical. A new start-up band may not have the resources to hire an outsider to take care of it, but they should not fear.

There are a few critical platforms that any musician should be familiar with in order to establish a strong online presence. The obvious ones, Facebook and Twitter, are useful because their most basic function is to help musicians connect with fans. This should be at the core of any band’s promotional strategy, which is essentially what a social media campaign is.  Facebook helps a band build a fan base, allows them to have direct access to each of those fans, and now they can share more than ever through this one platform. Twitter, on the other hand, is a space where musicians can be real with their fans. They can–and should–share real-time updates, personal sentiments, pose questions to their fans, etc. Using the hash tag or tagging feature on either of these platforms will eventually become second nature and will get any user the attention they seek.

Sites that can host an electronic press kit, or EPK, are also incredibly essential to a musician’s social network arsenal, and they usually come with a plug-in or application that can be added to the Facebook page. These are platforms like SoundCloudReverbNationBandCampSonicbids, and FanBridge, and they can help condense all the important information into one delightful package.

The problem with the other seemingly obvious platform, Myspace, it that it has lost its charm and thus, many users.  Myspace has become an unappealing platform for multiple reasons, but no matter what they are, it will come up as a top result in a Google search for a band, and a sloppy profile will reflect poorly on them.

Bandmark is a company that helps bands centralize their social media efforts and use these platforms to their greatest advantage. Antonello Di Domenico is a consultant with Bandmark who specializes in bridging the gap between content creators and consumers. When it comes to musicians using social media, he is the ultimate guru.

BreakThru Radio: What do you think is the most effective platform for music promotion?

Antonello Di Domenic: Facebook just has so many built in users, I think it has taken over Mysapce, but what’s more important is to use Facebook analytics to find fans. If you start with 1,000 likes, you can find out where they are from, their age and demographics, complete insight as far as who’s listening. You gotta go where people are.

BTR: How do you feel about Twitter?

ADD: With Twitter, you want to keep it light but have something relevant to say, and I personally think that you should keep your messages regular and don’t fill up their inbox, but there too, take the time to understand your insights. It’s not different than a record company putting your record in stores, getting a single on the radio, and analyzing the markets to discover your fan base. You can also ask your fans, and they’ll give information in exchange for content. “Give me your email, I’ll give you a free song,” that sort of thing.

BTR: What do you think about Myspace?

ADD: I think it can still be a great music discovery platform. It’s gotten a bit messier to use, especially since they moved to the user interface, any old custom profiles got completely screwed up in the formatting. A lot of bands have abandoned their pages, and it’s important to keep that up otherwise it will reflect poorly on you. It’s important to keep it active, because it still gets traffic. Just make it clean and efficient.

BTR: What do you think is the next great music platform?

ADD: I like ReverbNation, they do some pretty cool things and they were the first ones who did the little widget to embed. For Faceboo, though, I like the plugin from FanBridge, they can create a whole EPK right there- the song that you’re giving away for free, additional downloads for liking page, etc. The integration is so beautiful, it’s a great platform and it’s free. There are some limitations, but then BandPage is also quite good too, you can use Youtube videos as your audio, without the video playing. They both offer similar layout, similar tools and it comes down to a question of preference, you can use both but not at the same time.

BTR: How do you feel about offering your music for free via social media platforms?

ADD: I think starting humbly at home and giving your music away is not a bad idea. For one band, we gave away a free song and the fans picked the show they wanted to see for free, and the idea was to get them to pay for the last in a series of shows. We got 500 new fans in a month, and the people who came to the last one got a free cd. It’s about customizing to the consumer. Physical music needs to be attached to the band some way; I won’t buy music unless I feel some connection to the band.  But you can’t give away to just get it out there- collect some data, build your fan base by starting with an email address. There are so many free tools out there that allow you to do this, you don’t need to spend much money, just need the time. Make a graphic, a newsletter, automated email response, send out tracks, think about how can you continue the conversation and give fans more incentives. Ultimately, it’s your live performance that matters, if you can’t play then you don’t have much hope because this is where the connection happens, that’s the one on one.

BTR: What’s the most important thing you find that musicians are missing?

ADD: They’re missing a sense of understand about it works, they expect it all to be set up for them and for it to take care of itself. But I can give you the most advanced racing car in the world, and if you don’t know how to drive it you can’t take it on the road. You need to understand how this communication works. We respond to emails quickly, so why not comments and tweets? Understanding the basics is the most important so that you can move forward and learn. It’s okay to start small but making an effort is the most important thing.

BTR: Lastly, what would you say to a musician who just wants to play music and not do any of this stuff?

ADD: You have to have a little presence online, especially for Google and search optimization. Most results are the Myspace hit the band probably started 8 years ago and it’ll index better than their own website, so that will come up as their first search result, they could forward their domain to their Myspace which is a no-no. The real hurdle seems to be ‘How do I get it done?’ and of course there’s the money problem as well, but you can do a lot of this for free. Ultimately, I really think, don’t be afraid to try different things with your fans and don’t be afraid to get to know them personally. If you have 300 or 3,000 friends on Facebook, find out who they are, make sure you have an audio player and a video player, and learn about the activity that goes on with your fans online experience.

Jason Hann Interview!


Here it is folks! My interview with Jason Hann of EOTO and the String Cheese Incident, transcribed for your reading pleasure. WARNING: It is NOT transcribed in full. These are partial answers to partial questions that I could type as we had a regular speed conversation. For the FULL LENGTH INTERVIEW, check back tomorrow under The Weekend Trip tag and I’ll have it up for you, PLUS a few great bands for you to check out and new tracks from your favorite artists. ENJOII

Jason Hann behind his kit and congas. 

When did you start playing drums?

I started playing about 30 years ago and my dad is a musician too from Miami. He got a gig 5 days a week starting at 3 pm at a marina, so I could come home from school and go check it out. I did some choir and piano lessons, but it wasn’t to be a musician, but I just had access to it. When my dad started playing close to me that’s when I started thinking I would want to be like these famous musicians he was playing with. I had my first conga drums when I was 11 and about a year later I had learned all his songs and his drummer was out so he asked me to do it. He wasn’t sure if I could do it but I was, so I went for it and it was pretty amazing. That became my summer job for junior high and high school, which in Miami at the time probably wasn’t the best influence, ya know Miami in the 80’s.

Who did you first play with professionally?

Some of the more high profile name, Herbie Hancock is one of the most amazing musicians of all time, another singer Vinx I heard of when I was in high school, he did a lot of concerts just voice and drums and he did two years opening for Sting and being in Stings band and when I moved to LA I ran across him and he had me play at his concerts, that was huge for me because I listened to him a lot. I met a lot of players when I moved to LA which was awesome, if its one off shoot gig, or in the studio.

For a full explanation of artists that Jason has worked with, listen to the interview.

When did your interest turn to house and live electronic beats?

As far as groups that I was in or wanted to be in, I never leaned towards electronic beats. I got my first drum machine at 13 and a guy in Miami who produced many great records learned how to program a Limb drum machine. It sounded so realistic that a lot of drummers lost their studio gigs. He was a good friend of my dads before he made that jump and when he did a session with my dad I was blown away with how to program these drum beats, and then later on I was playing with professionals, DJs would ask me to play on records for them, more house music and hip hop, I would be hired to play live percussion but at that time I was into traditional percussion I wanted to travel the world and learn, but EOTO was the first group where I really ventured to do dance music.

The music in traditional settings is not separated from the ceremony or the lyrics or the singing or the dancing, so I learned a lot of songs when I learned the drumming of those cultures. Not necessarily the language but doing it so I could participate and not sound out of place, and now in EOTO there’s enough syllable and rhythmic ideas that I can make my own language and people are intrigued, that’s been fun. And then in general playing electronic dance music is not really the opposite of traditional drum music. Mostly you’re setting up a style of music that is sort of in the same vein, sort of trance-y vibes, and in an indigenous setting it’s the same thing, just a different way. As far as playing wise, I definitely draw from that and watching the dancers move, I get influenced by watching body language and getting people going, not necessarily the intensity of the tradition. Watching people and asking how can I make you dance harder?

How long have you been working with Michael Travis on EOTO?

We’re both in the String Cheese Incident, which I joined in 2004. I sat in with them in 1994 and again in 1996, then he called me out of the blue in 2004 and asked me if I wanted to possibly join the band so I tried that and it worked out. All these guys worked out in Colorado, so when I went out there, I stayed with him and during those times is when we set up and just played around with stuff, and during down time we would listen to internet radio and heard down tempo, fun stuff that we wanted to replicate, all around 2005 and ’06. During that period we got our own set up together and in the beginning of 2006 was the first time something was going to happen, and we were asked to basically open for SCI at one of their shows. We did that few times and it took off from there.

Jason Hann, Michael Travis, and the String Cheese Indicent

How would you describe your partnership?

Well, when we first started we had hand signals, and we could mouth things to one another trying to figure out how to communicate, but as the years have gone by- and we’ve probably played over 700 shows, we’ve just gotten comfortable in the groove. We barely look at each other, and now you can hear when something needs to change or slows down. But if it doesn’t happen naturally, we’re both in such a mode that it just works.

It’s been a mixed thing, we have so many dates, and when we originally started we were so ambitious and people didn’t really think it was a serious project but we wanted to go for it. It took a couple years to get our own crowd and people who didn’t necessarily know who SCI was and were just going for an electronic show and we were doing this right at the time when this whole thing was growing, so we were hungry to keep going and at the time, SCI was broken up as well, so now that SCI is back together and doing more shows, we’re not gonna have time to practice, but like this tour is only 6 weeks, then Halloween no days off, but we have a good solid thing going and we want to see where it takes us.

Why do you think your sound resonates with the jam band scene and has so many crossovers with the jam band fans?

Believe me, there was a time when we didn’t think we could do it. Then all of a sudden you see a few DJs at festivals, like Bassnectar or STS9 and bringing other DJs to showcase late night, now it feels like more of a bridge and there’s all sorts of kids who have never been to a Cheese show, but have been to 12 EOTO shows. Now it feels like it’s come full circle, we have al sorts of new faces and people coming out to the show.

Does EOTO mean anything?

Sure, originally the name was End Of Time Observatory, but we came up with 20 other names that didn’t really work, we were excited about that being our name and a name that long gets shortened always, so our fans actually starting calling it EOTO, and then some Japanese kids came up and told us EOTO means “good sound” in Japanese, in the Philippine language it means good love or something like that, so that feels right, that feels like destiny.


For someone who has never seen your live show, what would you tell them to expect?

Well we’re live musicians playing electronic dance music and its gonna have a DJ set feel where the music never stops and we’ll take you on a journey, we keep the vibe going, it’s a full on dance party. You’re gonna hear house, you’re gonna hear jam but its all about getting down as hard as you can and if you watch us, all the music every sound you hear comes from us, its sounds prerecorded it sounds like one guy with records but its just us two, we want a fully realized live electronic set and that’s what were hoping to deliver.

A Word with Casey and Jake Hanner


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.