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WITF Music: Dimestore Dolls

Love, trauma and recycling.

  • Joe Ulrich
l-r: Chris Whalen, James Lipka, Kelly Buchanan, Christy Engle, Mollie Swartz, Scott Frenchek, Jeanette Stillman

Joe Ulrich / WITF

l-r: Chris Whalen, James Lipka, Kelly Buchanan, Christy Engle, Mollie Swartz, Scott Frenchek, Jeanette Stillman

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Dimestore Dolls showed up to our studio with beer. Foreseeing that might not be allowed, they came prepared with soda water as a backup. And snacks.

Having the band in the studio felt like a hang-out session among friends. Food, drink and lots of laughter. But it’s a band that, in a way, came together through some hardship.

Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Kelly Buchanan had been pursuing a music career in New York City when she suffered a traumatic brain injury. She moved back to the Central PA area to recover, a process that took years.

She eventually met up with some local musicians and discovered that she really loved playing music in the Lancaster area.

Kelly Buchanan performing

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Kelly Buchanan

“It feels great,” she says. “It feels like a second lease on life. I never would have thought I can do this in Lancaster. I moved to New York City to be a rock star with the other big names. [But] I love this band. It’s so much more fun. It’s so much more cool.”

Kelly was joined by six other musicians in the studio: Christy Engel (drums), Scott Frenchek (bass, vocals), James Lipka (guitar), Mollie Swartz (vocals), Jeanette Stillman (vocals) and Chris Whalen (guitar, vocals).

Most of the members cite The Pixies as an influence and Kelly cites artists like Ani DiFranco, Sheryl Crow and P.J. Harvey among others. While in New York she was friends with and working alongside other artists like Nada Surf and Fountains of Wayne.

The songs they played in our studio were clever and funny recollections of relationships, with unique analogies, like the song “Recycle My Heart”, about her experience dating a guy with opposite political views who also entertained some conspiracy theories.

“He had this stack of beer cans behind his trash cans and plastic bottles. He [said] it just it just took up too much space in the trash can … So it was already separate, but just out of principle he would not put it in the recycling bin because he said that, you know, we were all a bunch of libtards.”

The relationship didn’t work out.

But Kelly has a positive takeaway from the experience.

“I’m still close to his parents, ironically, who are also totally on that side. But we’re able to recognize redeeming qualities. I think that was an experience where I learned to do that a lot. It’s like, they may not agree with me politically, but [might] be a great dad and put their family first and go out of their way to help each other.”

While “Recycle My Heart” is a plea to both save the planet and her heart, “Down to Mechanics” is a song that tries, in vain, to understand love by breaking it down to its component parts.

It looks so easy when you take it apart
A stroke, a touch, a kiss to wind up your heart
The bits of body simply fall into place
But there’s no love here only vacuous space

When I broke love (Down to Mechanics)
Love broke me back (I couldn’t manage it)
When I broke love (Down to Mechanics)
Love broke me back (Look at the damage)

While the music may express some frustration around bad situations, the band itself is an upbeat congregation of musicians that really enjoy each other’s company. There was plenty of laughter, bad jokes and sharing of cat pictures during our session.

“Oh we have a great time at practice,” Chris says.
“We have an awesome time,” Kelly adds. “It’s the highlight of my week.”
“Yeah, it is a highlight,” drummer Christy Engle chimes in.
Kelly mimics getting excited: “Band practice! I’m like, ‘Lemme pack up the snacks!'”

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