Dawn and Marra have grown up in the public eye over the last five years and have blossomed into one serious musical force but the germs of their genius could easily be seen in the two young girls even at an early age.
Singer/songwriter Kim Koren and guitarist extraordinaire Frank Koren had long hosted a west end open mic night but when a young Dawn Larsh came out to perform they immediately thought of introducing her to their own musical offspring Marrakesh. The two girls were only 16 and 14 respectively and immediately formed a bond as friends and musicians. Together they complimented and completed each other and the music they would create would be delicate, darling and demonstrative of bigger things to come. Now 21 and soon to be 19, Dawn and Marra are women on a musical mission and developing a wealth of attention for their newest recording, Teaspoons and Tablespoons.
“Music had always been a big part of my life so I think it was just a natural process making it something I could work towards being my career,” recalls Larsh. “Things academically never really came easily to me so when I started writing songs it was a huge point of pride for me because I’d never felt like I could complete something like that on my own.
“I’ve sort of known my whole life that music is what I wanted to do,” adds Koren. “I was raised in a very musical family so it’s always been what I’ve loved and what I’ve been able to connect with people on. But before I met Dawn, I really hadn’t put much thought into what I wanted to do musically, I just knew that is was something I needed to do so it was a huge life changing experience for me, to meet someone I connected with on such a staple part of my life.
“I had definitely been fishing around for a musical partner and nobody really clicked,” continues Larsh. “When we started to play together it just felt like a good thing. We knew we had to grow and learn together and I think that was kind of exciting for both of us. We have both changed a lot. When you start something at such a young age you grow up together.”
The spark of something special, honest and exciting was there from the start of Dawn and Marra coming together and over the years they’ve become better because of the other one in all facets, particularly an early case of stage jitters.
“Standing in front of a room full of people with your friend is a million times better than standing up there alone,” confides Larsh. “As time goes on of course it gets easier. But I think we’re both very grateful to have the other one up there when we forget the name of the venue we’re playing or screw up the name of the town we’re in.”
“Getting up on stage and singing and playing for people is what we love and long to do,” interjects Koren. “I think we’re becoming more comfortable with ourselves on stage as we grow into young women and are just having a great time. We have grown so much individually and as a band.”
“We like people to get to know us and like us or not at our shows,” adds Larsh. “We don’t really put on an act we just play our music for people. I think we just are who we are and that’s what we portray on stage.”
That unassuming honesty is at the crux of the beauty that is Dawn and Marra, even though Koren admits, “we’re lucky that we both inherited good genes.” Whether it was acoustic guitar and bass, two ukuleles, or some clapping hands, Larsh would write the brunt of the songs and then together, Dawn and Marra would flesh out the harmonies and presentation on what seemed the best instrumentation. When the pair won the Hamilton Music Awards Rising Star contest with a prize of recording time at Grant Avenue Studio, they fashioned their debut release, “Never Ask Me Why”.
“The first album was an amazing learning experience for us,” notes Larsh. “We were able to learn how the studio works but in all honestly had no idea how we wanted our music to sound.”
“We had only been playing music together for about a year,” recounts Koren. “I was 14, going on 15, trying to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer buy kids jeans and fan-girling like crazy over Paramore. It was a very young age to be thrown into a professional studio and asked your production opinion. I’m glad we went in that early so that now we have a much better grasp on how the studio works and how we want our production to sound. I think we have just learned better how to compliment a song with good production. We owe it to my parents for bring us together in the first place. They were and still are amazingly supportive and helped us out hugely when we were just starting out. As they’ve watched us grow into adults, they have obviously given us our space and let us control most of our own musical and business decisions.”
They scoured CD credits looking for producers they might like and on a whim emailed Howard Redekop (Tegan and Sara, Said the Whale, Paper Lions) who was then recording with Hamilton’s the Reason and that band happened to be telling him about this amazing local duo. Serendipity seemed in place. An audition via Skype sealed the deal and Dawn and Marra found the producer that could help document the songs the way they heard them in their heads.
“Nailing down a sound or vibe of a band I think is key in making a good album,” reasons Larsh. “Howard was a vital part of this process. Though we were sure of the sound we wanted to achieve, how exactly to get this across was still somewhat of a mystery. Howard had us banging furnace doors and hitting suitcases, all to create the tapestry of sounds we were looking for. We are so grateful to have found such a talented producer willing to bring our vision to life. We stayed up at night imagining what we could do to make the song better and we were mature enough to voice our opinions. Where the last album sort of felt like a cool ride we were on and at the end we were handed a disc; this one we were the masterminds and that has left us with a real sense of accomplishment — that it mostly came out sounding how we wanted.”
Larsh has long since been enamoured with the likes of Ingrid Michaelson and KT Tunstall, and her prolific songwriting takes inspiration but is always flawlessly original and inventive. Add in Koren’s harmonies and whimsy and the duo become a delight to watch on stage, capturing hearts with their unpretentious but impeccable presentation. It has folk elements but even when they’re stomping their feet and plucking ukuleles, their pop sensibilities shine through and the songs they create are masterful, even at this tender young age.
“When someone asks me what we are I just make a little list; indie, pop, folk, rock etc,” says Larsh. “We hope that people of every age and style can enjoy our music. We love our little fans, big little and in-between. It’s always exciting to connect with someone and have them come up to you and say, “oh, I don’t normally like this sort of folk pop but you guys are amazing’. When we do a show, there is a good mix of people in the audience and that is really a rewarding feeling.”
While they won’t give away their plans, Dawn and Marra hope to offer a special show for their CD release party that continues with the family affair theme and includes Marra’s brother Jordan and the debut of his band Good Anya. They’re not sisters but Dawn and Marra share a deep musical bond and that may be the greatest thing about their musical journey so far.
“The best part of being a part of Dawn and Marra so far is gaining a friend and being able to share the same goals,” smiles Larsh. “On the good and bad days, we are friends and will stay that way no matter what.”
“For me, probably the best thing is just having an amazing and supportive friend to share my love for music, movies, sushi, cottaging, shopping, crafting, partying — moderately, dancing and being ridiculous with,” beams Koren. “Not only is she my musical and business partner in crime, but also one of my best friends, and it’s amazing that we get to share this dream.” V
Dawn and Marra play Thursday August 22 at the Casbah with Good Anya, The Bandicoots and The Conservation Authority. Tickets are $10 and CDs are $15 http://dawnandmarra.com