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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Overcast
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The Tiny Band enchants with wee instruments
Small wonders
Marine and Ziemer: Big smiles, tiny instruments.
Marine and Ziemer: Big smiles, tiny instruments.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

Size matters to the Tiny Band, a local ensemble that includes Lisa Marine and Julia Ziemer of garage-waltz purveyors the Pointy Birds, Matt Appleby of klezmer outfit Yid Vicious, and Dan Hobson of proto-grunge trailblazers Killdozer. They play rock 'n' roll on the smallest instruments they can find.

The band features soprano and baritone ukuleles, a miniature drum set and a Mandobird. Stephen Burke adds a melodica and two tiny harmonicas at some shows, and Tim Beach Sullivan shares soprano-uke duties with Appleby.

Though the instruments are petite, they pack a mighty punch. Hobson's cymbals are the size of silver-dollar pancakes, and his drums aren't much bigger than hats, but they thunder and crash with gusto. Marine wails on her Mandobird, which looks like a baby Thunderbird guitar with a sparkly gold finish. When paired with the right mikes and pickups, even the ukes can melt faces - well, almost.

Marine says these instruments sound "cooler and prettier" than the electric guitars and full-size drums of a typical rock band.

"We can do rock songs, but they have this lovely sound to them," she explains. "I had an idea of what the band would sound like before we started it, and the cool thing was that it ended up sounding just like I thought it would."

Marine and Ziemer founded the Tiny Band about a year ago, after an instrument sale at the High Noon Saloon.

"This friend of mine brought a Mandobird to the sale. I traded him a bunch of 15mm movies for it," she says. "I'm a bass player, and [the Mandobird] has four strings like a bass, so I tuned it like a bass at first. I can play it pretty much the same way as a bass, but it sounds like a mandolin."

Around the same time, Ziemer received a baritone uke for her birthday. Before long, she and Marine decided their tiny instruments should get to know each other. They'd been bandmates for two years and friends for more than 10, so it just made sense.

"First we were like, 'We should sing and learn some songs on our tiny instruments,' and then we were like, 'Let's get Dan to play a tiny drum, then get some gigs,'" says Marine.

Since then, the Tiny Band has played venues such as the Dragonfly Lounge and the High Noon Saloon.

Though the group play original tunes, their set lists often include covers by Calexico and the Velvet Underground. A recent addition is Robyn Hitchcock's "She Doesn't Exist," a song about the one that got away.

Luckily, no one's escaping the Tiny Band - not yet, anyhow. The group plan to record some demos this winter. They might also recruit a new member or two.

"We have a friend who's a cellist but knows how to play a violin as though it's a cello, so the violin would be our tiny cello," says Marine.

As long as it's not the world's smallest violin playing the world's saddest song, the band's future looks harmonious indeed.

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