Click on the “play” button for the music video above. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Did you find yourself bobbing your head along to the infectiously catchy tune? Maybe you smiled as the chanteuse cutely crooned “I’d go for Thai with you, if you asked me to.” There’s just something about that song (and its accompanying music video) that makes you feel kind of… well, happy!
So, who’s the voice behind such a sweet song? I’d like to introduce you to Casey Hanner…
The tale of Donora goes like this:
Jake H. met Casey a few hours after she was born. He was disappointed that she was a girl and cried. Eighteen years later, he got over it, and they started a band. A few years after that, they suckered another kid named Jake into playing bass. After shooting down Casey’s idea to name the band “Casey and the Jakes,” they became Donora.
Cute. Concise. Candid. It’s a great band bio. “Thanks!” Casey said with a smile when I told her just that. “I actually wrote it myself.”
As I sat chatting with Casey Hanner at a Pittsburgh bakery, I discovered that she is not only the lead vocalist for Donora, but also writes most of the lyrics, directed their most recent music video (for “Shh” which you’ve probably heard – it’s the track in PostSecret’s Valentine’s video), and… there’s something I’m forgetting. Oh, yeah – she’s currently writing her Master’s thesis for Transportation Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s a real, live renaissance woman.
So, let’s talk about the band. Despite the lovely legend Casey penned above, Donora’s name came about in a fairly random fashion. “We were trying to come up with a name that was one word. My brother’s wife walks on the trails in North Park, and the pavilions are named for different towns. ‘Donora’ was one of them, so she suggested it, and we thought it sounded nice. When we brought it up to our bassist, Jake, he was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to name a band that!’” she laughed. Apparently, Churton used to pass a highway exit sign for the small Southwestern PA town on his way to practice with a former band. And thus, they became Donora.
As the the female lead, and one-third of the trio, I wondered if Casey ever felt pressured to look or act a certain way. She took a moment to reflect, then said, “I’m definitely more aware of my image. I want to be taken seriously [as a musician], but I’m a girl, and I love fashion, so I try to find a balance. I wear sneakers and jeans on stage, because I’m conscious of things like not rolling an ankle while I’m jumping around, or flashing the crowd. It’s tough sometimes when I see photos of myself and think, ‘Oh my god! I’m sweaty and I have a double chin [in that shot]!’ But, ultimately, I just want it to be about the music, not what I look like.”
However, in her off-time, Casey Hanner is not always in the Converse kicks and skinnies that she dons on stage. “In my day-to-day, I’m much girlier,” she said, “I love dresses and boots!” (Swoon – a girl after my own heart!) Topping Casey’s current list of ModCloth favorites: The Brilliant Blossom Dress, Drumline Jacket, and Lipstick in Centrifuchsia.
When you listen to Donora (on a sidenote: their self-titled debut album is the only CD I’ve ever been able to listen to the whole way through without skipping songs), one thing you’ll notice is the absence of negativity. There’s no unnecessary swearing, no lackluster lyrics, no melancholy melodies. Casey said, “Music for me is fun and positive. We’d never swear just to be cool, and I think sometimes indie bands try too hard to be edgy. We’re writing indie pop, and we’re not trying to pretend that it’s something it’s not.”
Casey manages to infuse even lyrics like, “Say goodbye to the life you want/And sing the chorus of the broken-hearted,” with such genuine emotion that you’re always left feeling uplifted. I read a review somewhere that said if Casey had sang Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” it would have come off as sweet instead of smarmy. I’d have to agree.
How do the songs that’ll make you smile happen? “We write all of them ourselves. My brother does a lot with samples and sounds – a sort of musical montage – and Jake [Churton] comes up with most of the melodies on his bass, so the lyrics, which I write most of, are usually last. They just kind of go along with how the music feels and sounds,” Casey explained.
Wondering what Donora is up to now? “Writing for the new album!” Casey exclaimed. “It should be released at the end of Summer or beginning of Fall, and we’re currently sending a bunch of CD’s to indie and college radio stations.” Expect to hear them on your favorite one soon!
When I asked if they had plans to tour, Casey said, “Well, my brother and his wife are having a baby soon, so probably not! That might change things. It’s weird – we’re all kind of in different stages right now: I’m in grad school, Jake [Churton] is just finishing his undergrad, and my brother is about to have a baby. If it weren’t for music, we might not all hang out, but it brings us together.”
Casey had a final piece of parting advice: “I think it’s important in any career, or any life, to have lots of different interests. It balances you.” That seems to sum up how she steadies herself in her sea of various talents and passions. While we may not all be equipped for singing, writing, directing, and matriculating a Master’s degree in Engineering, it sure is inspiring to know that it can be done – and all by one gal.
I think Casey Hanner is pretty awesome. How about you?