Tag Archives: interviews

Karl Denson’s Big Plans for his Tiny Universe


Originally published on Appalachain Jamwhich 9/26/13


Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe comes to Pittsburgh at Mr. Smalls on Saturday 9.28, and we got to have a quick word with Karl D. himself about playing with Mike Dillion, the Tiny Universe’s “New Ammo” due out in January, and playing the West Coast.


AJ: How do you like Pittsburgh? Excited to play Mr. Small’s again?

KD: I love Mr. Small’s, it’s a great room. Probably gonna cook dinner for the guys, they have a kitchen there.


I saw you were looking for veggie sandwiches the other day, are you vegetarian?

I am generally vegetarian, yeah. I love meat but I’m getting too old to eat it so I try to make it count when I do.


Sure, that’s a good way to stay healthy. So Mike Dillion’s on the tour, how did that happen?

We frequent the same places and it was on the heels of him doing some recording for me on the new record that we decided to do a little run together. We did a day of percussion-ing, some of everything, except we didn’t get him on vibes [viberaphone], which was kind of a drag. But I got him on pretty much all his other toys.


Well that’s cool, he does have a lot of fun toys to play with. So the tour with him has been going well?

Yes, it’s going awesome. They crowds have been having fun, I’ve got a new drummer so I’ve been breaking him in but it’s been really easy and it’s getting really musical.


Who’s your new drummer?

Max MacVeedy. He started this tour, a week and a half ago. He’s fitting in great, it’s really awesome.


That’s always cool when you add a new member to the band and they just sort of melt right into everyone else’s vibe.

Yeah, it’s really nice.


So I guess he wasn’t on the new album, but how’s that going? All done and ready to go?

Yeah, it’s done, middle of January is the release date, it’s called “New Ammo.”


I like that, how’d you get to that name?

It’s one of the songs we included and we just decided to go with it to create an image of war and peace kind of thing.


Do you think you and the band have changed a lot since your last album in 2009?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, the band is very different now and I think we’re settling into a cool place right now. It was kind of a struggle figuring out exactly what we wanted to do with the band in the last couple years, but I think we’ve kind of gotten there now and the new record is kind of the first phase of what we’re doing now.


Cool, you feel like it’s much more defining now than it was before?

Yes, I feel like it’s much closer to what we are live.


Did you keep that great R&B feel or is it a completely new sound on this record?

No, I think it’s got a nice little bit of the R&B sound and little more of like a 60’s/70’s soundtrack vibe and I think we’re actually pointed more in a real soul, R&B direction right now, so I think it’s gonna be a good complement. I’m aiming at getting another record out really soon behind this one just to kind of codify where we’re going. 

Definitely good to follow up with something just as strong. I saw that it will be released on Slightly Stoopid Records, were you in Slightly Stoopid or how did that relationship begin?

We’re both from San Diego and I’ve been a part of the band for the last 3 years, and they just kind of adopted me so, I run around with them when I’m not doing my thing.


That’s sort of been the same time that Tiny Universe has been kind of on the rise, how’s that been balancing two big projects?

Well it’s allowed me to take some time out of these markets, like we haven’t really done a big run like we’re doing this fall in a couple of years so it was a good kind of respite to gather our thoughts and get the new record ready and now we’ve got more focus and more energy to do the Tiny Universe. So that’s gonna be really the main focus for the next year.

Yeah, and there’s a ton coming up, you’ll be playing Mustang Music Festival in NC on October 11, and then Joshua Tree Music Festival in CA the next day, and a lot of California shows on the tour, do you see a difference at all in the music scenes between the east and west coast?

No, not really, it’s just a chance to go and see your friends, see who comes out. Have a nice party- it’s party season as we call it. There’s always a strange flux that you see when you do it as much as I do, but I find that it has a lot more to do with how we feel and how the audience feels, so we just try to stay positive and enjoy what we’re doing and hope it translates well.


Do you have a favorite venue in California or out west that you particularly love to play at?

Ya know, I really like the Fillmore in San Francisco, and the Belly Up in San Diego, it’s nice playing at home.


Cool, great choices, I love the Fillmore. So now out on the west coast you have Zach Deputy who’s great and The Cosmic Horns, which sounds like it should be a lot of fun. How did that come about? Are you excited for it?

Well we did this at Jazz Fest this past year, so it was kind of something we had so much fun with, we decided to revisit it and so it’s gonna be a blast.


“The Ray Charles Boogaloo Party?”

Yea, I discovered that Zach had a penchant for Ray Charles so I kind of made a big issue out of it and now we’re gonna see how far we can go with it.


That’s fun sounds like it’s gonna be really cool, and you sound excited. Think it’s gonna take off?

Yeah it’s gonna be really fun. Ya know normally we do these novelty little things, we only do a couple shows so you never get a chance to really settle into it where now we have 2 months of this thing with Zach so I’m really excited about actually doing 15-20 gigs and getting it tight and having it be something cool.


Totally, sounds like it’s gonna be really cool. I never really thought of the combination until I saw your tour schedule and the sound matches perfectly and the Ray Charles thing- you are totally right, it’s gonna be great. The couple times I’ve seen Zach it’s just been dance party beach vibe and I’m sure you guys will just turn the heat up.

Yeah, it’s gonna be fun.


And then you’re gonna be on Jam Cruise in January, you must be excited. You’ve been on most of the Jam Cruises, right?

I’ve been on ALL the Jam Cruises! It’s always super fun, my January vacation. I mean, we only have 2 shows in 6 days, so it’s a lot of chilling and hanging out with friends. I’m kind of a creature of the moment, but I’m really excited to see Bootsy.

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.

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.