Music Without Borders: The Hinges
It was like something out of a Pacific Northwest thriller, a typical rainy grey evening in the parking lot outside of a cafe bakery on the far edge of town. I met a tall bearded man and then, following his instructions, got back into my car and tailed his Nissan into the woods until the road turned gravel, the forest closed darkly in around me and another car started tailing me.
And then it wasn’t Twin Peaks after all, the Nissan pulled into the driveway of a cabin, the other car passed us by, and guitar player/singer Danny Kelly got out to welcome me to the cabin he shares with his partner and fellow Hinge, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Karen Hancock.
“I was totally crushed out on her,” Danny says, remembering how as a music student at Evergreen he first met Karen. She was studying dance and creating music for her dance pieces. Years later in 2001, they met up again in New York where they’d both moved to further their musical paths. Karen called up native New Yorker Danny to see if he knew of any open mics or places to play in NYC, and he dragged her to a spot called the Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village that featured 80 musicians all signed up to play an open mic that didn’t end til the last participant left the stage.
As a couple, they next moved back to the Pacific NW. Karen played in the Seattle bands Saba, Violet Ray, Flicker and Knot Pine Box. Danny played as a solo act and with Heliotroupe in Olympia. Most recently, prior to The Hinges, the couple formed Set & Setting. “It was a big, loud, psychedelic dance band,” says Danny, who named it after a phrase from Timothy Leary.
Now with The Hinges, they return to the acoustic music that has always been a big part of each of their souls, and specifically of the subtle songwriting of Karen.
“We’re writing together…but for the most part we are plumbing (the depths of) Karen’s songs that I’ve been hearing for eleven years,” says Danny. “Karen writes in images… they’re like looking at pictures.”
The duo has a new record out, “Surprise,” a mostly acoustic disc of elegantly turned out songs that showcase Karen’s mesmerizing vocals and Danny’s fluid guitar. It opens with “Waterfall,” a number that drifts over the edge of a dream and cascades into a luscious chorus while Danny’s guitar slowly and steadily glistens along like droplets. It’s a beauty and it sets the tone for the songs that come after, like the title song “Surprise”. This is another charmer, and if comparisons are your thing, think of the slow sway of Mazzy Star with a singer who wasn’t numb but instead someone interesting like Laurie Anderson.
The third song, “Heavy Weather,” is Danny’s. He wrote it and sings it like a Cassandra warning the unheeding masses about something heavier than snow that’s coming this way.
Next is the first of two versions of Karen’s “Deep Oblivion,” a old tune from Karen’s past. It’s a bluesy stroll through limbo that they recorded in their cabin, with Danny playing a dryer drum and producer Colm Meek hitting a mic stand. It sounds like someone pickaxing their way to China, very appropriate to the deepness of the title. Colm later had second thoughts and deleted these percussion tracks, but Danny and Karen liked them, so now there’s two versions.
As calming as a warm night under the stars though the lyrics talk of a cold northern wind, the next song, “Northern Wind” is in ¾ waltz time. “That’s all I ever write is waltzes. I don’t know why because I hate waltzes,” muses Karen.
They choose to cover the Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” with a lush reverberation of added background vocals.
They also add a cover of “Dreaming My Dreams,” which they discovered in a old Nicholas Roeg movie called “Bad Timing.” They transform it into a mournful song of broken hearted love that would sound great around a burning bunkhouse.
“Born Lucky” is the most upbeat song here, perking along like some rejuvenated jug band music, but it was actually a leftover from their Set & Setting days.
The ninth and final track is “Deep Oblivion” again, this time without the coalmine percussion.
The keyboards are courtesy of Colm Meek, and Reyza added bass to “Heavy Weather”.
The future finds The Hinges working on their next record, road tripping, and playing gigs down in California, the East Coast and locally. On Solstice’s full moon, they’ll be playing at Squidstock. Additionally Karen, as Knotpinebox, will close out The Experimental Music Fest (June 28-30), and Danny will appear at the Z Kamp Phamily Reunion (June 1st at the Skokomish Grange Hall). ◙
The Hinges handmade “Surprise” CDs are available at Rainy Day records and at thehinges1.bandcamp.com.