On Friday night, the Philly-based band The Lunar Year will warm up The Shrunken Head (251 W. 5th Ave) with their inviting classical-based indie rock. There’s a lot of depth in the six songs on the band’s debut release, Mon Ange Alice, which came out this past summer and you can hear how artists like The Beatles, Radiohead, and Beirut have influenced the songwriting.
I recently had the opportunity to ask The Lunar Year’s singer/keyboardist Katie Burke a few questions.
Can you give some background on how the band came together? You mentioned that some of you are from – or lived in – Columbus. Were you doing anything musically in Columbus before moving to Philly or was it the move that inspired you to start the band?
Well I am from the Philadelphia area and lived in Columbus for about a year and a half. My bass player Zach McCaw grew up in Columbus. Zach and I have been friends since we were teenagers and started playing together a bit when I moved to Ohio. When I moved back to Philadelphia a few years ago, I started writing on my own. He’s got a great ear for music, so we collaborated long distance for a while and he eventually moved to Philadelphia to go to school for audio engineering. I wrote alot of solo pieces at the start and played with some friends here in Philly, but it wasn’t until he moved that we really started seeing a vision for the music. Then we found Steve Heine, our guitarist, and our drummer Kevin Walker. It was really something to see how our musical backgrounds blended so well. I write all of the music and then we come together and see what parts should go where and where we want to take the song. I feel grateful to have found such excellent musicians who understand the music I write and share the same passion for it.
As a father of two teenage daughters (and an 11-year-old), as much as I’ve tried to influence their music listening, they each have their own unique tastes just as I did when I was their age. I think we all have favorite bands that we discovered when we were young and impressionable that will forever be our favorite bands, but we also refine our tastes as we grow older. What bands/artists spoke to you as a teenager that you still hold onto and was there a turning point in either listening to music or writing music that led you to the music that speaks to you as an adult?
Growing up, my Dad got me into The Beatles who are still my greatest influence. (I know it’s very cliche as a musician to say that but you just can’t get away from it! I listen to Abbey Road on vinyl probably once a week!) As a teenager, I’d have to say my three favorites were Iron and Wine, Beirut and Damien Rice. Iron and Wine’s album “Our Endless Numbered Days” is breathtaking in a subdued way and I still go back to it when I feel lost in my writing. I have always loved how Beirut blends different genres and styles of music to create songs that I can only explain as a romantic experience. I try to do the same with my music. I am writing a new record right now and I hope that the same qualities will be reflected in the songs.
From your experiences, is Philly a good place to live as a musician? I know members of the Columbus band All Dogs have moved to Philly within the last year or so, I believe because they think Philly’s got a good and supportive scene and it’s close to New York which offers a lot more opportunities than Columbus might. Are there particular bands/musicians that you tend to gravitate to when playing – or going to see – shows or are you constantly exploring new and different talent?
There are up sides and down sides to being a musician in Philadelphia. You have very close knit groups of people that will support you, but the city is so large that it’s sometimes hard to find the right place to fall into. I have played with bands that I’ve really loved and ones that are not so great. To me, I think the most important thing is to be supportive. I try to do that with the local musicians that I’m friends with here and ones who are travelling through. Even if you don’t play the same type of music, it’s still really important to be a friend because we’re all trying to do the same thing. My biggest pet peeve is when indie artists think that they are above that. In smaller cities like Columbus you see that support system a lot more, and I think it’s mainly due to size. I love living on the east coast though. Even with its down sides, it pulls you in!
Where are you in terms of being an “established” Philly band? Can you book and headline shows or do you typically try to open for other bands? Have you had any opportunities to open for touring bands and, if not, is that any sort of goal or is that not something you even worry/think about?
I don’t know if I’ll ever think that I am an “established” musician, but I tend to be very insecure! We try to play out at least once a month, usually not more than twice because you can get a larger crowd the less you play (people can anticipate the show that way!) We’ve shared the bill with locals and some touring bands who are more established than us or on about our level. I hope that our music will reach whoever it lends itself to and eventually play with some of my favorite big names.
What are your views on the different avenues that you have to release music? Physical copies of music are becoming rare, CDs going the way of cassettes. Digital seems to be the way to go but there are so many different options – from Soundcloud and Bandcamp to iTunes and Spotify. As you were writing and recording Mon Ange Alice, did you already have an idea of how you’d make it available for people to listen to or did that come after you finished the recording?
It can be somewhat tough to reach an intended audience these days. I put our music on Spotify, Soundcloud, Itunes, all of those. We always intended to make it available everywhere when we wrote Mon Ange Alice. I think it’s great that music is available anywhere and to pretty much anyone, but there are down sides.
How much work do you put into getting the word out about The Lunar Year and getting people to check out a song or two (or the whole album)? And, have you had any “happy accidents” where somebody has discovered the music on their own and either written a review or even just tweeted or posted on Facebook that they are listening to – and liking – the stuff?
I am constantly marketing our music. Every day I go to work and any free time I have it spent sending emails, setting up shows and creating promotional material. When I get home, I spend a good chunk of time writing or doing more emailing. I don’t mind it usually! We did have some surprise success with our single “As Your Own.” Last year we had a horrible blizzard and were stuck in the house for three days completely snowed in. We decided to make use of our time and write and record some songs. We had limited equipment so we ended up using things like a soup ladel instead of a mallet to play the drum part I came up with. We recorded wind, came up with ways to make a tambourine sound like wind chimes, and all of a sudden we had our “Blizzard Sessions.” We thought nothing would come of it, but we were randomly discovered by an online video blog based in London and now we have close to 11k listens. We’ve had the most success from that venture.
Is your Columbus show part of a tour you’re doing or did you book the show so you could come back and play for friends, family, fans? When it comes to touring, is that something that interests you or is it something that’s not possible due to other job commitments or financial reasons,etc?
We have alot of family, friends and fans in Ohio so we intentionally planned this somewhat homecoming show. As most struggling musicians we all have day jobs so it can be tough to plan things but spreading our music is very important to us and luckily all of our employers are pretty understanding of that!
And, finally, what can you me about the other bands playing at Shrunken Head with you (if you know anything about them)?
I am really pumped to share the bill with the bands playing with us. Chris Laster is such a good guy (and musician) and was incredibly helpful in helping us plan this show. Typewriter John and The Blue Strings are fantastic musicians as well. It should be a memorable night.