Lib at Large: Karmen Buttler and the Lady Crooners working the family vibe

From the Marin IJ

The up-and-coming singer-songwriters Karmen Buttler and Nadia Krilanovich, who will be sharing a bill at Slim’s in San Francisco on March 15, move in the same Bay Area musical circles and knew of each other by reputation, but they hadn’t met face-to-face until one afternoon this week at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios in San Rafael.

They soon discovered that they’re the same age, 34, and have a lot in common musically and as women in a male-dominated business. They hit it off right away.

“We’re both honest in our music and autobiographical in our songs,” Krilanovich says, explaining why she invited Buttler to open the Slim’s show. “We thought Karmen would be a good fit.”

Krilanovich is the lead singer and primary songwriter in the Lady Crooners, which bills itself as a “folk-pop-almost-country band,” and includes her older brother, Joseph, a guitarist and singer, and her younger sister, Megan, a singer and dancer.

“We grew up in Santa Cruz in a family of five kids,” she says, sitting across from Buttler in a TRI conference room. “My father and his brothers were always in bands. They grew up incredibly musical and that passed on to our generation.”

Buttler, who lives in San Anselmo, nodded in recognition. Her father, Dan Buttler, plays guitar on her latest album, “Daze of Love,” recorded last year at TRI. A video of her and her dad playing the Grateful Dead’s “Stella Blue” is part of the TRI video gallery.

“I’m an only child, but I thought having parents who come from musical families was the normal way of growing up,” she says. “You don’t realize that’s not the norm.”

No, but it sure seems that way, especially in Marin County and Northern California. A case in point: At Slim’s, the headliner is another family band, the Coffis Brothers, fronted by a pair of songwriting brothers, Jamie and Kellen Coffis, whose rootsy rock was influenced by the Tom Petty, Neil Young and Beatles albums they listened to growing up in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

And, on March 26, Krilanovich and the Lady Crooners, also featuring guitarist Kevin Conness, bassist Jason Braatz and drummer John Smart, make their Mill Valley debut at Sweetwater Music Hall, with the T Sisters — Erika, Rachel and Chloe Tietjen, songwriting siblings from Oakland whose mother is a dancer and father is a musician.

“We’re definitely working a family vibe,” Krilanovich says with a wide smile.

After spending the first decade of her career on the East Coast, Buttler moved to San Francisco several years ago, fell in love with someone living in Marin, married and bought a house in San Anselmo. While she focuses on songwriting and recording, she works a day job as a hairdresser in San Francisco.

“I started from scratch out here,” she says. “I really had no professional presence at all.”

With “Daze of Love,” her third album, and the exposure she’s getting through the musical family around Bob Weir and TRI, she’s beginning to make a name for herself on the West Coast. But, as a woman singer-songwriter performing solo, that hasn’t always been an easy thing to do.

“Ten or 15 years ago, there was an over-saturation moment when it seemed like every girl in her 20s had an acoustic guitar,” she says. “And now I feel that because of that, you’re a notch down, you’re always starting at a deficit when you’re introducing yourself to a venue as a solo female singer-songwriter. You’re not taken as seriously.”

Krilanovich can relate.

“Oftentimes I’ll go to venues and they’ll think I’m a groupie and not part of the band,” she says. “All the guys go right in, but I’ll be carrying some equipment and they’ll stop me, saying only the band can come in. I’ll say, ‘Without me, this band isn’t going to happen.’ And I’ve had other interviewers question whether I really am the songwriter for the group. But I’d like to think that’s changing.”

The Lady Crooners are now writing songs for their third album. One of them, “Alive,” was inspired by a hike through the pungent dampness of a Marin County redwood forest. Until the band can be a full-time job, Krilanovich works as a production manager for a San Francisco company that makes fashion sunglasses.

“We’re in that funny transition phase when everyone still needs to have a second job to support the music,” she says. “But, hopefully, the scales are tipping more toward the music.”