“Today we’re going to focus on action, dynamics and knowing your parts,” Matt Donnelly clarifies to his Striking Copper bandmates. It’s about 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, and it’s mic check before practice. Not long after, a haunting and familiar lullaby begins:
Come little children I’ll take thee away, into a land of enchantment…
“Come Little Children,” from Disney’s 1993 flick “Hocus Pocus,” isn’t the band’s typical warm-up of choice. Usually, they start with the national anthem. But the spellbinding cover is a special Halloween treat for Striking Copper’s upcoming performance at Satellite Bar and Lounge (120 Greenfield St.) on Friday, Oct. 30.
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Matt Donnelly (vocals, guitar), his wife Allie Donnelly (vocals) and her twin sister Jacquie Lee (vocals), moved to North Carolina together two years ago. Matt has family in the Hampstead area, but it wasn’t until they attended a bluegrass festival with their old band Everything Grey that they decided to make a permanent move South.
“We thought we were going to move down here and find a band just like that,” he admits. “But it turned out to be really hard.”
Once Striking Copper picked up Frank Cacciutto (drums), John Stewart (bass) and Dan Bennett (electric guitar), everything changed. Not unlike chameleons, the group has adapted and evolved. They feed off the energy and talents from their collective influences in rock, folk, blues, and Americana.
“I think the lead guitarist actually tends to be the driving force of who we are,” Allie says of Dan. “He’s a little Southern rock and bluesy, and that’s where we’ve kinda gone with him.”
Striking Copper began officially playing around town in March of 2015. Since, they’ve been regulars at Satellite, The Whiskey, Sea Witch in Carolina Beach and ¾ Time Tavern, to name a few. “It feels longer though—in a good way!” Allie says. “I feel like I’ve known these guys forever.”
The band unanimously agrees the two sisters—red-headed twins with alabaster skin, who are clearly the “copper” heads of the group—are the nucleus. Or more apropos, they’re the ruling matriarchs who run the show.
“My sister and I will give them ‘looks’ when we hear something wrong,” Allie says, “and they hate us for it, but thank goodness they’re all just kind of …”
“Forgiving,” Matt interjects.
“Not just forgiving, but they all kind of roll with the punches—except for my husband, he can be a little hot-headed,” Allie jokes.
The band’s dynamic as a whole is not unlike a new marriage or budding relationship. There’s a level of comfort achieved—the ability to be unconditionally supportive, as well as brutally honest.
“But that’s normal with any band,” Allie continues. “People get frustrated, and it’s not usually for each other. It’s if something doesn’t sound right or if they aren’t happy with themselves.”
Though the band thrives on playing music, each member has a day job: Jacquie Lee is a paralegal. Allie works for an interior design company. Matt’s a carpenter; John is a graphic designer. Frank works at a local montessori school. Dan, an electrician and “sound guy” for various local bands, is also the worship leader at the church where Striking Copper holds full band practices.
They’re currently preparing to go into the studio for their first record as Striking Copper in November. Working with Worth Weaver at his Red Room Recording studio (120 Bridle Way SE) in Leland, they’ve continued to pinpoint where the band wants to adjust and improve.
Matt, Allie and Jacquie have been through the recording process once before with a previous band. Though they brought in songs recorded six years ago, including “Sweet Love,” “Siren Song” and “Burn,” it’s been important for them to re-approach them as Striking Copper. Many of the new songs were written and developed collectively—enough for a full-length album.
“Sometimes [writing songs] just happens here [in practice],” Allie adds. “Someone’s just jamming and it becomes a song. It can be that easy, or, it can be the exact opposite.”
One of the new songs, “Guilty Man,” written by Jacquie, is based on an online film series called “One For Ten.” Produced and broadcast over five weeks in 2013, the series highlights the fact that since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, for every 10 people executed, one person has been exonerated after spending an average of 10 years in isolation.
“Initially it was a capella, but then we added a little bit of guitar and realized maybe we should make it a full band,” Jacquie tells.
Matt sets the tone with his guitar intro and is quickly joined by vocal harmonies as the story unfolds of a “forever guilty man,” a chosen fate and unseen truth. Three- and four-part harmony is a major aspect of Striking Copper. Allie and Jacquie excel and thrive in this contribution.
“I play melody a lot and if I can’t find the harmony, [Allie and Jacquie] find it for me,” Matt says. “It’s just natural for them and it’s awesome.”
As captivating as the girls’ voices are, it’s Dan’s electric guitar solo that walks “Guilty Man” down the green mile, so to speak. It makes the song a little more complex and reminiscent of Delta Blues.
Nowadays Striking Copper is trying to perfect songs they’ve collected. They stand alone individually, as some bask in clear electric and rock leads, while others illuminate with acoustic folk harmonies. It’s a collection they hope paints a portrait of their influences and continuous growth across multiple genres.
“I think we are more prepared [to record] this time around,” Allies says. “I feel like we really know what direction we want to go in and really make the album sound more like a story rather than just a couple of songs put together.”
Striking Copper hopes to have their first album out within six months. This weekend, however, they’ll be in Halloween garb, along with Neil Cribbs, at Satellite Bar and Lounge on Friday, October 30, at 10 p.m.
For more on Striking Copper, follow them on Facebook or at www.reverbnation.com/strikingcopper