Seattle’s Kuinka — which earned praise from NPR — will make a joyful noise Friday in Olympia.
The quirky Americana quartet, whose name means “how” in Finnish, plays with percussion for a new take on tradition.
“We love rhythm and playing around with different types of percussion and different types of rhythms,” lead guitarist Zach Hamer said in a recent phone interview. “We don’t have a designated drummer. We have percussion paraphernalia spread out across the stage, and each member participates in the rhythm.”
That playfulness can be seen in the video for “Gold,” Kuinka’s entry into NPR’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, which gives indie bands the chance to win a high-profile online concert. The video, shot in an antiques store, featured Hamer playing instruments including two typewriters and vocalist Miranda Zickler adding rhythm by opening and closing a wooden box.
Typical live concerts feature more traditional drums — kick and snare — plus a drum pad connected to pedals for each member of the quartet. All that is layered on top of Americana, folk and bluegrass sounds.
While the quartet didn’t win, Kuinka did get noticed. In a July 26 feature, Bob Boilen praised the band’s “joyous organic sound.”
Joy is a word that pops up in most descriptions of the band, which got together in 2013 and has been touring nationally since 2014.
Why so much happiness?
The rhythms are part of it, Hamer said. “The upbeatness helps influence that joyous sound,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that all of our songs are happy songs, but we tend to choose melodies and words that are more uplifting than negative.”
Indeed, some songs sound joyous at first listen but have hidden and serious depths — and yes, the state of the world does influence the tunes.
The lyrics of “Warsaw,” from the new EP “Stay Up Late,” leave room for interpretation, but the video, featured on NPR’s website, tells the multi-layered and timely story of a character filled with hate. Hamer and younger brother Nathan Hamer, half of Kuinka, also made the video, which features sci-fi elements inspired by Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.
On a more personal note, Hamer said, “We have tons of breakup songs.”
All four of the band members write songs, both separately and together. And all four are multi-instrumentalists, even aside from their contributions to percussion — Hamer also sings and plays harmonica; younger brother Nathan Hamer sings and plays ukulele and mandolin; Jillian Walker plays cello and sings; and Zickler plays synthesizer, banjo and rhythm guitar.
The band’s roots are in Skagit County, where the Hamers grew up on a farm near Mount Vernon, and in New York City: They met Zickler there, though they didn’t start the band till all three returned to Washington.
Kuinka’s Finnish connection is a little more distant.
“When we were first starting as a band, we were playing in Bellingham,” Zach Hamer said. “That was the closest music scene to where we grew up. One of Miranda’s childhood friends was Finnish from Finland and lived in Bellingham, and we spent lots of nights crashing on her floor after playing shows.”
That did influence the name, needed after the band got involved in a trademark dispute with its original name, Rabbit Wilde.
“We were looking for something unique,” Hamer said. “We started to look at Finnish words. We came upon Kuinka, which means how in Finnish — like ‘how will we ever come up with a unique band name?’ We liked the word. … It checked all the boxes that we were looking for in a good band name.”
The Seattle-based quirky Americana quartet will make a joyful noise in Olympia.
When: Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Friday; Joe Capoccia of The Pine Hearts plays at 9:20 p.m., Cedar Teeth at 10:10 p.m. and Kuinka at 11:20 p.m.
Where: Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia
More information: 360-705-0760, kuinkatheband.com
Watch and listen: “Gold,” which the band submitted to this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest, is at youtube.com/watch?v=9wqqK8xELh4, and “Warsaw” was featured by NPR at npr.org/event/music/538081811/kuinka-asks-where-is-this-anger-coming-from.