Dawn Larsh and Marra Koren have taken Hamilton by storm. It seems like a month hasn’t gone by in the past year, without the Dundas duo on the cover of a local newspaper or magazine. They’ve played every bar, and every festival, and they’ve become a local favourite. It’s not hard to see why. Dawn and Marra have crated a great sound for themselves that combines whimsical elements of folk, pop, and indie rock. Dawn and Marra are also adorable, and they are incredibly nice. Half way through our interview I felt like I had known them for years.
I was wrong when I assumed that Dawn and Marra had known each other their entire lives. I was also wrong when I assumed they grew up next door to each other. It turns out that the two were set up by Marra’s parents after witnessing 16 year old Dawn sing at an open mic event at the West End pub. The two were brought together to jam, and the rest is Dundas history.
Q – I understand that you guys have made music since you were kids, how did you get started?
Marra: My earliest memories are of my dad being in bands. He was in a Guns and Roses tribute band, and a band called All Good Children. My mom is a singer / song writer. My brother is in a band these days too. Basically, everyone in my family is really musical. It was great growing up in that environment.
Dawn: I was in the Hamilton Children’s choir as a kid. They gave us a lot of rules on protecting our voices, avoiding citrus / dairy, and that kind of stuff. It was a great foundation for me. My whole family is involved in music. I have family members who are classically trained in piano, and guitar. My grandpa actually makes guitars. I got one and started writing and singing at a young age.
Q – Tell us about Teaspoons and Tablespoons.
Marra: It has been in the works for a while. The first release we did happened when we were so young and it was mainly made up of Dawn’s songs. We took years and wrote more, and slowly developed our own sound for this record.
Dawn: We were more prepared this time. We knew what we wanted. We wrote for a while and picked our best songs, we actually still have 20 in the vault that we haven’t used on this record.
Q – I know that you recorded this in Vancouver, what was that like?
Marra: It was a crazy experience, and totally a dream come true.
Dawn: It was our first time in Vancouver and we had a great time there.
Marra: Working with producer Howard Redekopp was huge for us. He has produced so many of our favourite bands and we dreamed about working with him. Basically, we emailed him as a long shot and didn’t really expect to hear back.
Dawn: It turns out that he saw our email and didn’t think much of it. We heard that The Reason were in his studio recording with him and they happened to mention us and say how they really liked us. Howard emailed us back, we played for him over Skype, and that was that. We got really lucky.
Q – How involved were you guys in the design of your the cover art?
Dawn: Well, we came up with the name for this album while we were recording in Vancouver. It doesn’t really mean anything, we just liked how it sounded. It was random. My boyfriend is an artist and we brainstormed imagery together. I envisioned the design we ran with, and he made it happen. It was cool because some people said pick an artist and do it like this.. or like that.. and I thought “No” we can do better.
Marra: We knew we didn’t want our faces on the cover. That was a popular thing for a while but I think that fad is gone.
Dawn: It was easy to tell my boyfriend what I liked or didn’t like for the design. It’s neat because the songs were written and performed by us, and the design is a part of us too. So, if you don’t like this record you basically don’t like us. (laughs).
Q – How has your approach to song writing changed since you started as young teenagers?
Dawn: The process to song writing is still the same, but the quality is much better. The songs I wrote before were inspired by other songs and other people’s ideas. I would listen to, say, an Alanis Morissete song and think “yeah, let’s write a song like that!” Looking back, that was an exercise. It made me think and come up with songs. Now that we have our own sound I can write a Dawn and Marra song quickly. Sometimes it takes minutes, although song writing is a mystery. It depends on so many things. It’s an art. A weird thing, really.
Q – Do you write all the time, or do you write specifically for records?
Dawn: I try to write all the time. I guess it depends on how you are emotionally or what you’re doing at the time. I try to write every few days with my guitar. Sometimes a song works right away and sometimes it doesn’t. I wrote, Helpless, and we couldn’t make it work for the longest time. We had so many instruments on it and we tried so much, but the essence of it never came across when we performed it on stage. We actually stopped playing it and it wasn’t until we got to work with Howard that the song became what it is today. He helped us strip it down and make it right.
Marra: We had people hitting symbols on it. There was a lot going on.
Q – Do you write about your personal lives?
Dawn: Yeah. One time when I was younger I wrote about a friend’s terrible relationship. It was awkward when she figured it out. The song was called ‘Alone Again’. (laughs)
Marra: I remember us being at a song writers circle and you were explaining a song and I remember standing there and realizing this is written about me and a bad relationship I was in. It was a strange, but cool realization. It was good.
Q – Marra, has your approach to playing music changed over the past few years?
Marra: Well, I still don’t really write songs. I’ve tried a few times but I am too critical of myself. It is hard for me. Musically, I used to only play bass and I never sang. Now I play all kinds of percussion instruments, ukulele, keyboard, banjo. Maybe even beatboxing soon?
We did a Seven Sundays show at Gage Park a few weeks ago and some guys came up to us before our set and said ‘we heard you play accordions, and we are all professional accordion players’.
Dawn: I thought “Oh my god. Leave right now”. We don’t really play, I mean, we play the two or three notes we need for one song. Anyway, our accordion died during out set that night. Slowly, and with a very sad squeek. I was scared to look in the direction of the professional accordion players during this. Oh, man. We had it stripped down and repaired after that, and now it sounds great.
Q – A lot of people label you guys as Folk artists. I’ve never really understood the ‘folk’ label because it is applied to so many different performers. How do you guys feel about this?
Marra: Folk is a style of song writing rather than a sound, I think. I’d say we write pop songs because our songs have standard structure and catchy melodic vocals. Folk songs can be more abstract. We have an element of that, I guess, although we have indie rock elements too.
Dawn: I don’t really like genre. With song writing, sometimes I feel like writing a pop song and sometimes I feel like writing a punk song. Why is that not allowed? We went through a folk phase a few years ago, I guess, where we were labeled as folk all the time.
Folk festivals are tough, to get in you have to be hardcore folk. If you go and are poppy or a bit different the crowd will hate you. People used to ask us, ‘what are you doing here?’. Eventually I realized that we shouldn’t be called folk, we just didn’t fit.
Q – What do you guys listen to?
Dawn: We love Said The Whale, and we were really excited to meet them and work with them.
Marra: We met them a few times, and even played for them after one of their shows at This Ain’t Hollywood. We bomarded them with ukeleles. It was unreal to eventually get to work with them.
Dawn: We also love Paper Lions, Alanis Morisette, Ingrid Michaelson. I really love Ingrid.
Marra: Also Fleet Foxes, Beatles, Rolling Stones. My boyfriend got me into the Rolling Stones and now I love them.
Q – Who do you guys listen to, locally?
Marra: New Hands are really tight. Their last show for the year was really great. I also really love The Dirty Nil, and not just because my boyfriend is in that band.
Dawn: We love Kori Pop! She’s awesome.
Marra: She has amazing range, it actually makes me sad to sing with her because of her sheer talent.
Q – What are you guys doing for the rest of the year, musically?
Marra: We have a lot of shows coming up. We’d like to promote this album and hopefully we can do a music video soon.
Q – Where would you like to be a year from now?
Dawn: We want this to be our career one day, something to live off. That’s the main goal. Last year the goal was to record an album and to work with Howard. We got that!
Marra: We always want constant movement. I don’t want to sit with nothing, you know? Our goal is to always be writing, playing shows, and to always be moving up the ranks. We would love to get on a tour soon where we open for someone. Right now it would be tough to do a cross Canada tour because a lot of people wouldn’t know about us. It would be a huge opportunity for us to support someone cool on tour.
Dawn: I guess our ultimate goal is to be career musicians. We are both very musical people and even if it is a fantasy to turn this into a full time career, it is what we are aiming for. We love music.
Marra: Even if we become session ukelele players, I’d be happy.