An emerging band full of familiar faces prepares for its first album.
When Little Earthquakes played at this summer’s AtwoodFest, the audience received a brief yet warm introduction to the lush musical palette of a budding indie project. Guided by lead singer Annie Kubena’s ethereal vocals, the band moved fluidly between infectious, groove-heavy dance numbers, haunting melodies, downtempo interludes, and propulsive neo-psychedelic rock.
In addition to Kubena, Little Earthquakes’ lineup consists of Mark Marsh (drums), Brett Farrey (bass), Mark Siegenthaler (keys), and Shanan Galligan (guitar). Marsh, Farrey, Seigenthaler, and Galligan previously played together in the band Smokin’ With Superman, a genre-melting hybrid of jazz, funk, and hip-hop. After the band dissolved, the four musicians pursued other projects. Smokin’ With Superman reunited about 10 years later for a benefit concert. Kubena, who had formerly sung with Smokin’ With Superman vocalist Joy Dragland in the Mad Cabaret musical variety show, was asked to sing backup for the band. At the time, they were writing new material and looking for a singer.
Kubena had been in the Prince tribute band Purple Veins and Deadbeat Club, a B-52s cover band. Although she had never been a lead singer or in a band creating original music, she was excited to start something new.
Kubena and Galligan caught up with Tone Madison ahead of Little Earthquakes’ show with Brahmulus at the High Noon Saloon on September 22. We talked about the origins of the band, their DIY approach to making music, how the pandemic shaped the evolution of their sound, and the collective spirit of artistic freedom that fuels Little Earthquakes.
The members of the band started getting together casually in 2019 just to see what kind of “beautiful noise” they could create. Marsh, Farrey, Siegenthaler, and Galligan sent sketches of tracks to Kubena, who then wrote melodies and lyrics to flesh out the material. “Digital Cowboy”—the band’s first single, released in May—is hard evidence that the band has latched onto an unexpected genre-mesh that works. An introductory Ennio Morricone-style guitar riff, dreamy 80’s synth-pop lines, and a driving bassline that’s punctuated by a punchy drum part create a sense of grandeur. Effective and oddly affecting, “Digital Cowboy” is a strong step forward for the band.
When COVID-19 interrupted Little Earthquakes’ early routine, they had to discover creative ways to continue getting together. Marsh owns a farm in the village of Cambridge that served as a home base over the course of the pandemic. At first, the band practiced in a barn so that they could be outside (somewhat).
Galligan explains that Marsh had built something like a “Dexter room”—basically a corner of the barn covered in sheets of plastic, warmed during the winter months with one of those torpedo heaters that emits a deep bass roar.
“It was like the creepiest place we could have invited her,” Galligan says, laughing. “‘Come to this farm in the middle of nowhere. By the way, there’s this plastic-filled room.'” Kubena wasn’t phased. Little Earthquakes gradually cultivated its sound in the improvised rehearsal space of their idyllic agricultural refuge. As Galligan recalls, the musicians spent a lot of time figuring out how to “shape the clay”—what the band should sound like and how broad its sonic palette should be.
After a fruitful period of auditory exploration, the band members converted a chicken coop into a recording studio and practice space, where the band has been conducting all of its activities. “It’s pretty bougie for a chicken coop,” Kubena says. Galligan agrees, adding: “It’s such a retreat from… everything. It’s so bucolic, so pretty. Chickens running around, two dogs, it’s just everything you want. It’s quiet.”
However, making music on a farm presents its own unique challenges. For example, sometimes the cows are too loud for recording music. Kubena tells an anecdote about the first time the band recorded in the barn, before the chicken coop was ready. She attempted to track some vocals in a makeshift vocal booth built out of haystacks. As it started getting late, the crickets and cicadas became loud enough to compromise the recording. Suddenly, Kubena recalls, “the microphone picked up this super guttural cow moo that sounded like a demon.”
When the pandemic arrived, Little Earthquakes were able to find a thin silver lining. “I feel like [the pandemic brought] the perfect conditions for creating enough time and space for creativity,” Kubena says. “We all have pretty busy schedules and lots going on and it felt like everything just slowed way down. And that was just an amazing thing for me creatively.”
Galligan feels similarly: “I think it changed the way that we approached the band. Had it been a simple, more standard world, I think we would have focused on writing enough material to get a set together to start playing out on the regular. We would have spent less time just letting it mature and find its path.”
While I initially assumed the band’s name was a deliberate reference to Little Earthquakes, the debut solo album by American singer-songwriter Tori Amos, Kubena insists it was completely unintentional. “One of the first songs we wrote I named ‘Little Earthquakes,'” Kubena says. “It’s a song about just having this anxiety of doing something you’re scared to do.” When the members were trying to come up with band names, all of the ideas they liked were already taken. Finally, Farrey suggested that they just call the band Little Earthquakes. “Everybody was sort of in agreement about that,” Kubena recalls. “And then we searched and realized it was a Tori Amos album, but since it wasn’t a band name that was taken, we thought, Let’s roll with it.”
The working relationship between the band members seems stimulating, harmonious, and conducive to experimentation. “I hit the jackpot pretty much,” Kubena says, laughing. “Like, these amazing musicians that are down to make music with me.” While she does not necessarily seek out the spotlight, growing into her role as lead vocalist was something Kubena had to discover in herself. “It’s been a journey,” she says. Galligan, for his part, enthusiastically praises the singer: “Talk about [the] jackpot,” he says. “The lyrical content is very thoughtful, and melodically, she goes places where I just wouldn’t expect. For me, that’s what I love about writing in a band—you give each other space to create music. It’s basically, you do your thing and we’ll figure out how to weave it together. Surprise me. Do something else.”
Kubena adds, “It’s really great! We all just let each other do what we want to do.There’s no ego and no one’s pulling for power ever or anything like that. We all just kind of make it work somehow.”
“It’s trust,” Galligan says. “I mean, that’s the thing, the rhythm section of the band—the four of us—have played together so long that we learned to give each other space a decade ago.” He says it was time for something new, something that changed the way they approach the music.
Little Earthquakes is close to completing its debut album, which the band hopes to self-release in October. At the time of our conversation, the band was also planning its first music video. Kubena says that process has been inspiring to her in terms of ideas and possibilities for their live stage shows. The band has no formal plans to tour yet, but right now the members are focused on “building infrastructure,” in Galligan’s words.
“I mean, at this point, we don’t have a label. We don’t have a representative agent or manager or anything. So everything we’re doing is very bootstrapped and DIY. If we’re gonna do a tour, let’s make it fun. Let’s go somewhere for ourselves,” says Galligan.
So what’s next for Little Earthquakes? “I’m just open,” Kubena says. “Every step of the way is new for me anyway. And I’m really open to whatever comes. We’re writing this music and we all feel really proud of what we’ve come up with. And if other people like it, that’s so exciting and cool. I’m excited to write more music and continue to evolve our sound. We all give each other so much freedom to explore. I just want to keep experimenting and trying new things.”