Ha Ha Tonka's introspective and soulful music is rich with colors of their home near the Ozarks. The band wraps gorgeous rural images and literary allusions within heartbreaking 4-part harmonies. Sometimes the sounds are soft and respectful and at others raw and wrath-filled. The music is honest and organic, intentional yet intuitive.
This twangy American rock band released its Bloodshot Records debut, Buckle in the Bible Belt, to much acclaim in 2007, gaining praise from PASTE and Spin, and taste-making radio stations like Seattle's KEXP. Their second record, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (2009), has kept fans and critics on their heels.
I got the chance to hit up singer Brian Roberts about their upcoming Denver gig at Cervantes on April 2nd, their trip to SXSW 2010, the recent album, and the band's origins.
Aly Constine -How did the band take shape at the start?
Brian Roberts - 3 of us grew up together and we all decided to give music a shot after graduating from college. The whole process was about as organic as a compost pile.
AC -How did Ha Ha Tonka's merry name come about and what does it mean to the group?
BR -The name is borrowed from Ha Ha Tonka State Park, which is a gorgeous Missouri state park located near where we grew up. We chose the name, in part, to talk about where we're from whenever we discuss our band. Plus, band names are hard to come by.
- Ha Ha Tonka
AC -What are the intentions behind the music that you write?
BR -Simply put, to hopefully make good music. Not trying to dodge a question, it really is as simple as that. If we don't like a piece of music we're working on, we drop it like a hot potato.
AC -Your music embodies your roots. What message are you trying to share about your origins?
BR -Everyone comes from somewhere and personally I've never been to an uninteresting place. We just try to sing about what we know best, our home, the Ozarks. Hopefully, we do it in a way that can apply to almost anywhere while still retaining some of the region's uniqueness.
AC - You've shared that Novel Sounds conceptually represents the notion that people can change by recognizing their inherent goodness. Can you explain?
BR -The South has always been known for both its enormous hospitality and horrific past. With Novel Sounds we tried to recognize one by acknowledging the other. Southern culture is full of some of the best people in the world. We just tried to highlight the rationality of the majority vs. the radical few through a sepia-tinted lens.
AC -You reveal how the album incorporates the haunting sounds of a brush against a piece of wood and a chain being dropped on slats of metal within the making-of video. What other obscure sounds did you bring into the songs? How do they add to the depth of the music?
BR - There were definitely some weird instruments played in the studio. For instance, Lennon did some percussion bits on a 2-holed jug. I think Jason McEntire, Novel Sounds producer, is a master at providing texture to songs and we worked closely with him to chase down sonically crazy ideas.
AC -Ha Ha Tonka was back at SXSW again in 2010. What performance in Austin stood out as your favorite?
BR -I think the Bloodshot Records Day Party at the Yard Dog is always our favorite. It's an extremely rowdy crowd in a unique setting with lots of free beers. That's a tough combination to beat.
AC -Did you catch any good bands?
BR -Of course! Band of Horses, Frightened Rabbit, Justin Townes Earle, Dawes, Antennas Up, Via Audio, just to name a few. I also want to give a big shout out to Best Wurst on 6th, seeing as how I ate there every single day.
AC -You're back to Colorado for your 4th visit. How do Denver audiences compare to others you encounter on the road?
BR -Denver crowds are great! Plus, our tour manager is from Denver and we're friends with some great Denver acts, Meese, Ships to Shore, and Churchill, so it's always a pleasure coming to Colorado, not to mention the scenery.
AC -Murder By Death and Linfinity are joining you on your nationwide tour. Can you tell us a little about both bands?
BR -Murder by Death is an incredible group hailing from Indiana. Unfortunately, I don't know too much about Linfinity, but that's going to change over the course of the next 6 weeks! Definitely looking forward to seeing them too!
» Aly Constine tends to blog about music at Lux Illuminates.
» Read more about Ha Ha Tonka on Julio's rad music blog Cause=Time.
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