Five years separate siblings Jake and Casey Hanner.
Growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, the older brother and younger sister had little in common, taste in music included. Their dad was a musician and ran a recording studio, but it wasn’t until they were adults and pursuing separate musical endeavors that their dad suggested they try playing together.
“It made sense right away,” Casey Hanner told The Beat. “We are both big fans of melodies, of catchy tunes, no matter the genre.”
Casey taught herself to play guitar in high school because she wanted to write songs. (“My dad gave me a chord chart and told me to figure it out.”)
After playing open-mic nights and a smattering of solo shows as a singer-songwriter, her writing took a whole new direction when she started working with her brother.
“We never played shows at first. We were just writing and recording, trying to figure out what we wanted to sound like and what we would need to get that sound when we played live.”
She said her father joined them for a few shows on keyboards, but they “kicked him out.” (We think she was joking.)
Eventually, bassist Jake Churton rounded out the trio, around the time they completed their debut CD in 2009. Casey said he won them over with the versatility of his playing (he replicated many keyboard parts on the bass) and his willingness to come to rehearsals. (We think this was said at least partially in jest as well.)
“Once we solidified the lineup, we started touring,” Casey said.
Donora released the full-length Boyfriends, Girlfriends in 2011, and, Casey said, immediately began writing new songs.
These songs make up the band’s brand-new EP, Play Nice.
“We wanted to release something cohesive that fit together and that stood alone,” Casey said.
Early inspiration was drawn from a photo her brother took at a downtown Pittsburgh construction site. The image was of a makeshift keyboard painted in bright colors on a piece of plywood, accompanied by the words “Play Nice.”
“We hung the picture on the wall of our studio,” Casey said. “We wanted the record to sound like the picture.”
Play Nice is a collection that builds on the band’s repertoire of effervescent modern pop, tunes built by “the Jakes” starting with bass and drums and highlighted by Casey’s blithesome countenance and blissful singing.
“Writing that way (bass and drums first) was a little bit different for us, an experiment,” Casey said. “We’re really excited about this record. It’s a testament to where we are as a band.”