Indie-folk group Kuinka tries to pull double duty as your new favorite '90s cover band

click to enlarge The colorful world of Kuinka (Nathan Hamer in overalls).
The colorful world of Kuinka (Nathan Hamer in overalls).

Kuinka has never really gone about things in the most traditional or straightforward way.

The Seattle indie-folk outfit started off with a unique instrumentation arrangement: Miranda Zickler sang and played banjo and synthesizer, Jillian Walker played cello, Nathan Hamer manned the mandolin and ukulele, and Zach Hamer was responsible for guitar and a lot of the live percussion. It gave the group a distinct lane to stand out from the overcrowded Northwest indie-folk scene.

With all four members providing bright harmonies for their soft indie-pop-leaning arrangements, they carved out their own niche. But for their latest album, 2021's Shiny Little Corners, the band expanded things both literally and metaphorically.

"I think that album is just sort of a fun next exploration for us as a band. That was our first album with our new drummer, Michelle Nuño. And so that was our first time writing with percussion and drums built into the foundation of the songs," Nathan says. "We started more into the folk vibe musically, and so adding the drums allowed us to sort of explore that alt-rock kind of angle to things with tunes like 'Get It' and 'NY, LA.'"

Nuño's addition certainly results in Shiny Little Corners feeling more like a rock record than a folk one, but the band's core upbeat exuberance doesn't lose a beat with a slightly edgier — if only by self-comparison — tone. Shiny Little Corners is the type of album that you'd throw on for a backyard hang where everyone is adorned in cheap neon sunglasses and blissfully soaking up the sun.

Having already toured once in support of Shiny Little Corners, Kuinka decided to make this tour something a little different — a "Kuinka '90s Throwback Party." The band will perform two sets of tunes on the night: a selection of originals and then a full collection of memorable '90s hits.

This won't be Kuinka's first '90s rodeo, as the group toured with a similar tribute set a few years back. While some bands might shy away from so actively being a part-time cover band — many musicians dislike the feeling of playing live and covers getting far better responses and bigger cheers than their original songs — Kuinka embraces the retro style. The band feel like it's a way of offering a fresh — if nostalgic — experience while also being a blast for themselves.

"Honestly, it's sort of refreshing for us to dive into songs that aren't written by us," Nathan says. "It was just a lot of fun to sort of do our take on the songs that we grew up listening to. We're obviously putting our own spin on the songs; there's not a lot of ukulele or mandolin on these Third Eye Blind songs or that kind of stuff."

One of the hardest parts of playing the '90s sets for Kuinka is figuring out what to play. There are so many hits that each member enjoys and brings to the table to try out, so they have to engage in some serious band democracy when whittling down the lot to the final 10 to 12 songs.

"We're playing 'Dreams' by the Cranberries, which has always been a favorite song of mine, and I've always wanted us to cover that," Nathan says. "Also 'Believe' by Cher. I remember as a kid being at Blockbuster, and hearing that song come on the sort of little corner TV and just really being like, 'Man, this song slaps.'"

Nathan doesn't want to give away the full set list, because the band revels in watching people light up when starting a new song and the audience slowly realizing which old fave is being played. It's a way for Kuinka to connect with a new audience that might not be familiar with their originals. It also can fuel back into creativity when writing future Kuinka songs, as figuring out how these hits translate to the group's atypical five-piece arrangement often leads to fresh melodic, tempo and emotional explorations.

But really, Kuinka's goal at the moment is simply to throw a retro musical bash where everyone's invited.

"Come on out, dressed in the most '90s clothes that you can scrounge together! It's going to be a party," Nathan says. "Come prepared to dance and sing along and have a good time." ♦

Kuinka • Fri, May 20 at 8 pm • $15 • 21+ • Lucky You Lounge • 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. • • 509-474-0511

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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...