Cool Dads Everywhere Unite With Hearken

Ironically, I met the band trying to change dad rock through my dad.

I know not everyone’s dad is as cool as mine. He’s a punk rock drummer and my go-to source for underground music. So when Hearken drummer Greg Brunner texted me saying he got my number from my dad, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

Brunner played a show on my dad’s drum set at the art exhibit Non-Punk in Pittsburgh. He told my dad they were heading to Brooklyn, my current home, for a show.

Hearken is a punk rock duo comprised of Pittsburghers Donny Donovan (guitar/lead vocals) and Brunner (drums/vocals). “There’s a lot of dad rock,” Donovan tells me about the current Steel City music scene. “We’re trying to change that though—we’re professional and DIY, but not so cheesy [like dad rock].”

Donovan and Brunner first started out in a full-band, but when only Donovan and Brunner were prepared to fully commit to band life, they pared down to a duo. Hearken mixes grunge and punk with drum beats and samples along with Courtney Love-style vocals to create a catchy but messy sound.

They played Brooklyn’s Alphaville on June 19 with local NYC bands Desert Sharks, A Deer A Horse and Low Anxiety. I, of course, was there and it was just as I expected—a really awesome show. Lots of shout-a-longs that got the crowd roaring, bouncing around and an all-around friendly atmosphere.

Thanks, dad.

I couldn’t leave without chatting with the two rockers. They both perfectly embodied the grittiness and genuinely nice manners of Pittsburgh. Read the entire interview below.

BTRtoday (BTR): How did Hearken form?

Greg Brunner (GB): We met at a coffee show about three years ago now. Just randomly met and got to be friends. Donny asked me to play bass at first. I went and practiced with her and the drummer at the time and it went terribly. Luckily, the drummer quit the next day. So then Donny was like, “you used to play drums! Play drums now!”

Donny Donovan (DD): We were in that band for maybe three years. Then six months ago we started this two-piece. We wrote all new songs and kind of let go of that [other] band because it wasn’t going anywhere.

GB: Yeah, we [Donny and I] wanted to get out and tour more and play more. It was just a harder time for other members to commit to the band at the time.

BTR: What are some inspirations that inspire Hearken?

DD: Well, being sad is my inspiration. [Laughs] Probably like Brand New, Tegan And Sara and Courtney Love. Diet Cig especially, because they’re also a two-piece and I got to open for them before, and that’s when I was like, “ I can fucking do a two piece too!” Cause I wasn’t sure at first, but she just kills it.

BTR: Did you always like this indie and pop punk kind of music?

DD: Well, I grew up on pop punk—like Blink-182. When I really started listening to music in high school it was more like Brand New and Tegan And Sara and those kinds of bands.

One of the bands we’ve been able to open for that I really like is Screaming Females—they’re like kind of my thing too. Minus the solos though… We’re trying to be like grunge meets drum pads, with some sampling.

GB: I kind of grew up in the ‘90s so I love grunge and punk. That’s what I tend to want to play. Queens of The Stone Age is my favorite band—I love them. Also like, Nirvana and Soundgarden. As far as how I play drums, those guys are the stuff I really like and pull from.

Photo by Josh Richey

BTR: When I was growing up in Pittsburgh the hardcore punk scene was pretty big. What’s it like for you guys now?

GB: It’s okay. It gets a little cliquey sometimes, which can be tough. People aren’t necessarily as supportive of other bands as they should be or at least how I’d like them to be, but it’s cool. We have friends in bands there and it’s great, they’re great people. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s a bad place to play or something.

DD: There’s a lot of dad rock. We’re trying to change that though. We’re professional and DIY, but not so cheesy.

BTR: What’s your recording process like?

DD: We’ve only recorded an EP and we did it pretty professionally. I think the next time though I want to be able to explore a little bit more and experiment in the studio. This time we paid for it and we didn’t really [produce] it ourselves because we really wanted to put something good out there.

I think we did a good job doing that, but we are going to do a whole album this winter. We’re going to be more experimental with it and understand whatever happens live doesn’t necessarily have to be on the recording, because we are a two-piece and we’re very limited. It’s hard to get over that barrier, but the more and more we play shows and have to promote, the more and more I realize just how good the record has to be.

There are so many avenues for our music to be played and heard these days, rather than just shows and touring and playing a million local shows (and not wanting to all the time). I just want to do a really good album, so that’s the next stage.

BTR: What’s something you want to tell the music scene?

DD: I’m not a hater.

GB: Donny’s definitely a hater. [Laughs]