Kansas City’s Anvil Chorus forges ahead as Lights & Siren.

By Any Other Name 

Kansas City’s Anvil Chorus forges ahead as Lights & Siren.

"Animal” by Lights & Siren:


This is the story of a band you've never heard of.

Of course, that's a bit disingenuous. No one's going to read, let alone write, a story about a complete unknown, especially when that complete unknown has released only one song and still hasn't played a live show.

But that is the résumé of Lights & Siren, a band that — at least on paper — is an absolute newcomer to the Kansas City music stage.

What sets this local foursome apart isn't who they are but who several of them were. Specifically, the band is three-fourths of the now-defunct Anvil Chorus — the moody, experimental rising star that, prior to its dismantling earlier this year, was fronted by sultry-voiced keyboard player Anna Cole.

But despite the obvious shot in the arm that Anvil Chorus gives L&S in terms of name recognition, Cole is quite happy to distance her new band from the one she parted ways with just a few months ago. In fact, she'd just as soon pretend that they're starting from scratch.

"It's amazing how much more intense and serious we were trying to be with the music as Anvil Chorus," says Cole, who's joined by her three bandmates — guitarist Andy Kirk, bassist and vocalist Jenny Carr, and drummer Ryan Booher — in a sticky upstairs booth at Buzzard Beach in Westport.

Carr joined Anvil Chorus for the last two local shows after the band decided to break up at the South by Southwest Music Festival in March. (Booher, a St. Louis import, had signed on about six months earlier.) She says she wasn't even sure how to act at first.

"When I first came onboard with Anvil Chorus, I had to ask them, 'Is it OK if I smile onstage?'" Carr says. "Everyone was just so serious."

If rumors tend to fly when it comes to band breakups, Anvil Chorus might as well have been an airport, with word of fights between members and problems with recording and releasing an album making the rounds. But Cole says the split was amicable. If anything, she says, her bandmates first came to terms with where the group had ended up after three years of playing together.

The original lineup was drawn out of a hat. At a Band Scramble in 2004, Cole and Kirk were tossed together with ex-Onward Crispin Glover frontman Byron Huhmann on bass and Brad Wicklander on drums. Forging a dark, lurching sound, that quartet stuck together through a performance at the 2006 Pitch Music Awards, then fell apart shortly after.

"I didn't want to quit, but everyone else felt it was stagnant," Cole says. "I got caught up in it, and I wasn't willing to admit that they were correct. It's sort of like your first love — it's great, but in all practicality, it can't last forever."

Cole's desire to hang on may also have had something to do with the fact that her time with Anvil Chorus was marked by two painful losses — first, the death of her mother from a heart attack in 2004 and, near the end, the death of her father from a heart condition in September 2006.

"I think, in a way, I'm just tired of being sad," she says. "I'm not trying to sound all warm and fuzzy, but I think you'll hear that in our first show. It's a new era."

Cole says the new band has given her a real chance to start over musically.

"This is our chance to change the way we sound and the way we play — it's the opportunity to wipe the slate and try something new, come up with something different," she says.

"But still, it's not a totally different ballpark," Kirk, the only other founding member of Anvil Chorus who's still around, adds.

With only one song, "Animal," available at the moment, it's hard to know whether Cole or Kirk is more prescient. Whereas Anvil Chorus suggested Björk and Portishead, the new band seems to be headed down a similar, yet decidedly more Karen O-ish yellow brick road.

The chance to start over has been a blessing, but Cole says there is a duality to it. Many of the new group's fans — at least at first — are likely to be Anvil Chorus fans who may not like the new sound.

"I'm sure we'll lose some, but I know we'll gain more than we lose," she says. "I'm not really worried about it, but it is going to be a surprise at the first show."

First show. It's still sinking in for Cole, three years after her original band arrived on the scene and began making a name for itself and, almost in reverse, then began to disappear.

"Anvil Chorus was promised so many things — label interest, production, managers — and now here I am, starting all over again," she says. "But I've rediscovered why it's fun. That's why, after all the promises and nothing coming to fruition, I still want to do this all again."

Lights & Siren, with the Republic Tigers and Actors & Actresses. Saturday, July 7, at the Record Bar.

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