Jake Hanner met the future lead singer of his band a few hours after she was born. He was disappointed she was a girl and cried. Eighteen years later, Jake got over it, and he and sister Casey had their first practice as a band. “We didn’t really know how to interact with each other that way,” explains Casey. “So
that first practice was definitely a little awkward.” Quickly, however, the duo realized their shared upbringing could translate to solid pop tunes, and Donora was formed. A few years later, they suckered another kid named Jake into playing bass. “Essentially we stole him from another band,” clarifies Casey, when Churton was recording at the Hanners’ father’s studio. After shooting down Casey’s idea to name the band “Casey and the Jakes,” they named their band after a neighboring town. “We were looking for a simple one-word sound, because we weren’t really sure what we’d sound like. We didn’t want anything that sounded like a genre.”
The band was wise to choose a name free from any genre, as the music they make merges the best of a few together. On their sophomore follow-up Boyfriends, Girlfriends, the band blends ‘80s slick-pop with ‘50s girl-group-bop, a combination that when layered under the band’s upbeat lyrics, produces something Casey has coined the “Walt Disney” effect: “There’s a whimsy that makes the songs playful and fun.” Jake Hanner plays drums, triggers samples from his octapad, and sings backup. Jake C, the only studied musician of the group, plays bass, while Casey sings and plays an old black and white Silvertone. “When I first started playing guitar, I definitely used it as a tool to write songs,” explains Hanner of the songs she wrote as a teen that Jake would embellish with samples and loops, and would ultimately lead to Donora’s pop fusion.
That system has stuck with the band ever since. The brother/sister team of Jake and Casey write most of the group’s songs together, and for Boyfriends, Girlfriends, the band wrote and recorded in the family studio. The result is a purity in the songs, a perfectly calibrated sonic exploration on love. “I’ve been fascinated by the idea of love and different people’s versions of love, and how each relationship differs so much,” says Casey of her inspiration for the songs on this record. The two years spent in the studio led to the occasional sibling flare-up, but no permanent damage could ever be sustained. “It’s never the end of the world, because we always have to be family at the end of the day,” says Casey matter-of-factly. “We’re always on the same page, without having to talk about it too much.”
The recording process has always been a family affair for Donora, with Churton an honorary member. The Hanners were raised in a musical household, living over the recording studio their father runs. It was their father who suggested the duo even play together in the first place. Casey’s bedroom was directly above the studio’s control room, and she attributes her ability to sleep through anything to this fact. Jake grew up watching his father in the studio and happened to pick up a thing or two. Father and son now share a studio space with Jake H engineering, producing, and mixing Boyfriends, Girlfriends.
The effect is a band working at critical mass. First single “The World Is Ours” is a jangle-pop anthem, a point-counterpoint tune that chugs through the elation of love with Casey’s gauzy vocals, as Jake’s provide a shot of realism. “It’s the idea that, in a relationship, someone’s always going to be feeling more strongly than the other. There’s always an uneven balance.” “And Then The Girls” is the best song the ‘80s never produced, equal parts synth chilliness and dance-pop warmth, chronicling the predisposition most have to wait on an idealized version of love. “Mancini’s Dance Hall” – based on the tales a local plumber has spun about his youth — whirls open in sepia tones before turning into a full-on dancefloor strut.
Central to the album — and to the band’s sound — is the balance between serious and fun, upbeat and important. “The music is fun, but there’s also serious undertones,” says Casey. “I think it’s hard to write happy music with happy lyrics. Lots of times it comes off as not having any substance. It’s hard to get that right mix of a fun song that’s positive and happy, without being complete fluff,” says Casey. Lucky for fans, with Boyfriends, Girlfriends Donora strikes this perfect balance.