Pittsburgh electropop trio Donora percolates on new EP

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If you live in Pittsburgh and pay attention to music, you've probably encountered the bubbly electropop trio Donora.

Failing that, you've likely gotten a small taste of Donora via a Nationwide insurance commercial where the sleepy dad eats breakfast at a half-table and leaves for work half dressed. It uses the twinkling piano track from the Donora song "I Think I Like You."

"It's really surreal to hear that come on the TV," says drummer/keyboardist Jake Hanner, "because I recorded that track on my piano one night, in my little bedroom maybe five or so years ago, never thinking anyone would hear it. I can hear the sound of my bedroom every time it comes on."

"It's cool that so many people recognize it," adds his sister Casey Hanner, who fronts the band as singer-guitarist. "A few months back, we had a song in a Chase Bank ad that ran nationally. It was so buried in the background of the commercial though, that no one really heard it. So we really didn't know what to expect with the Nationwide commercial. It was really cool to hear the ad running during all of the NFL playoff games."

Donora has had some luck with licensing, with songs placed in Fox's "Glee," ABC's "Switched at Birth" and MTV's "Cribs," among others. The next step is to get the band's radio-friendly songs onto the radio.

The next shot at that is "Play Nice," a new five-song EP that follows Donora's second full-length album, "Boyfriends, Girlfriends."

"We started writing for the next album as soon as we were finished with 'Boyfriends, Girlfriends,' " says Casey. "And we came up with a lot of material. We really wanted to release something that was cohesive though, and something that captured where we are as a band right now. We felt like these five songs made the most sense for that reason."

True to the "Play Nice" title, Donora is not the place to go for dark or angst-ridden indie-rock. In fact, on the title track, Casey happily sings, "I smile, I can't help it" and "play nice, it won't hurt." Rather than genre hop, as Donora did to some extent on the last album, the EP nods to '80s New Wave bands like Missing Persons with big dreamy, dance-pop.

"I had taken a picture while walking around Downtown Pittsburgh of this piece of artwork someone made and stuck to the side of a building down a dingy alley," Jake says. "It was this keyboard made out of plywood, painted a bright electric blue, with the words 'play nice' spray painted underneath it.

"That picture always reminded me of our band, so I hung it in the studio and we decided to write an EP that sounded like that picture looked. We've been experimenting for years with creating our own synth-type sounds using acoustic instruments and effects, so I thought that homemade wooden keyboard fit that idea really well. I also thought it was fun to put a synth on the cover of an album that didn't actually have any 'real' synths on it."

The band, which also features a second Jake (Churton) on bass, is on a national tour that started with a private acoustic show at Club Cafe and now swings back around at the Brillobox.

"It's going really well," Casey says. "We're on the road with TeamMate, and they are great friends of ours. This is our fourth tour together, so we don't hold anything back. If you have to be stuck with the same few people for days straight, it's nice when you actually enjoy each other's company."


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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