Interview with Ha Ha Tonkas Lennon
Missouris Southern Rock revivalists Ha Ha Tonkas
first release on Bloodshot Records, 2007s Buckle In The Bible
Belt, gave one the distinct feeling that the group is more than
simply a Southern rock flavored band with an unusual name. This years
Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South proves beyond a shadow of
a doubt that they are in fact far more then just another rock band
named after a state park. Come to think of it, how many bands are
there named after state parks?
Much has been made of the perfection and greatness of Kings Of
Leon; they are said to be a return to rock in its truest, dirtiest
form. A buzz band worthy of the hype thrust upon them.
Thats all well and good but please, allows me to say this: forget
Kings Of Leon
. Ha Ha Tonka is 2009s version of The
Band and I talked to their Levon Helm, one Lennon Bone.
I talked with Bone, Ha Ha Tonka drummer and vocalist, shortly after
they finished unloading equipment for a show in Philadelphia. Apparently,
they arent superstars enough to have cronies do the heavy lifting
for them but within another year or so the whole rock universe will
know the name Ha Ha Tonka, then Lennon will never have to lift a floor
The greatness of Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South is a moving
slice of imagination and a refreshing take on Americana, a genre that
can easily grow repetitive and tired. But the songs contained within
Novel... are powerful enough to blow away mediocrity and make
this Missouri boy proud to hail from the same Heartland soil as Ha
Hybrid Magazine:So Lennon, how long has Tonka been together?
Lennon Bone: Weve been together five years this coming
HM: Five years and two really great albums.
LB: Well, thank you very much. That means a lot.
HM: I know how I would answer this but what is the best part
about being from the Midwest?
LB: The best part about being from the Midwest? Man
well, after touring and stuff I think part of it is its more
simplistic, we (the band members) all come from great families, everybody
seems to be very down to earth. You know, in general there are just
a lot of good people in the Midwest.
HM: Ok, lets get down to it. Theres a lot of different
musical styles on Novel. Like the song Put My Feet To
The Fire sounds like Graceland-era Paul Simon
LB: You know, weve actually been hearing that a lot
as a matter of fact.
HM: What music influenced you when you were growing up?
LB: Well as an individual, I always listened to stuff like
that, like Graceland. Very rhythmic; I liked a lot of the Motown
stuff, groovier, funkier types of things. Then as a band, we listen
to a lot of different stuff, be it the Old 97s, Kings Of Leon,
Coldplay. We really try to stay current as far as the new up
and coming music that is coming out and you know, we like to think
about what bands we would like to tour with. Theres a ton of
different influences. Everybody like different things from Pixies
to Starship. Its all over the board.
HM: I was listening to 96.5 The Buzz (Kansas Citys Alternative
Rock station) the other day when the Morning Show was interviewing
you. Let me know if I heard this right but did you say you played
with Thom Yorke, lead man for Radiohead?
LB: (laughs) Oh no we didnt. I made that up
HM: Well, the morning show people sounded like they were totally
buying it and I was thinking Is this guy just jerking them
LB: We were just playing around but oh man, it would be enormous
if he wanted to play with us but Im sure Radiohead doesnt
have the slightest clue who the hell we even are.
HM: Well, I know for a fact youve played at least one
Lollapalooza in Chicagos Grant Park. Whats it like playing
a gig like that?
LB: Lollapalooza was probably the biggest highlight, as far
as shows go, that weve ever had. If for nothing else, the status
behind the event is enormous, so it feels
well, it makes you
realize that you are much bigger than what youre actually doing
as far as the musical community that you have around you in the industry.
As far as the crowd, a crowd is a crowd
you get to play in front
of a lot of people and its obviously awesome but its about
having a good time and feeding off their energy. Weve had great
times in front of 20 people and great times in front of a crowd like
that. You should definitely go. It is an amazing experience; you have
to be organized and decide who you want to see but once you get that
figured out, its really cool.
HM: How is Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South different
than Buckle In the Bible Belt?
.. I really dont know. We seem to be getting
really mixed signals on how it is different. I feel like its more
focused than Buckle, I think. I think we were able to spend
a lot more time with it. With touring a lot behind Buckle,
we learned a lot about each other and how to communicate so the writing
process become more of an open forum and things just got cooler. We
got to take the material in and demo it with a producer and hear his
input on certain things. Overall though, I think theres a lot
of similarities but I think maybe its a bit of a fuller sound.
We were able to put more time into it.
HM: Is the songwriting in Ha Ha Tonka more a collaborative
effort or is it basically one guy bringing ideas in?
LB: yeah, its a very collaborative effort; usually,
everything starts with a musical idea so that may be somebody coming
in with just a few cords or a groove pattern and things get worked
out until we feel like its where it needs to be. Yeah, its just whatever
comes up that sorta sounds cool then we try to elaborate on it with
everybodys ideas. Thats what works for us. Brian
(Roberts) does most of the lyrical work, well, Brett
(Anderson) as well but you know, if you get too many cooks
in the kitchen it can get kinda hectic musically.
HM: Speaking of lyrics, there a quite a few references to
historical figures like The Pendergast Machine and General Sherman.
Are there some history nuts in the your midst?
LB: yeah. I mean were all fascinated by the history
of the South in general. Brian (Roberts) really took a lot of time
to work those ideas into the lyrical content. I think it makes for
very interesting stories.
HM: How did you get the attention of Bloodshot Records?
LB: Actually through a friend of ours thats in a band
named Treaty Of Paris. His name is Phil Kosch. He somehow
had a connection with them and they were able to set up a showcase,
I think we sent them a demo actually. Apparently they seldom
respond but in this case they did. We did a couple showcases for them
and wound up signing with them after they saw us a few times. I dont
know how it all fits together but we definitely thank Phil for it,
hes absolutely responsible for making it happen.
HM: Whats the hopes for this record? Do you want to
dominate the world?
LB: (laughs) No, well I mean our overall outlook is that obviously
were going to tour hard on it and push it as much as we can.
Really, were trying to take the slow and steady, not TOO slow,
approach to building a sustainable career. It would be nice to be
huge but I dont think thats ever anybodys first
thought. We just want to make a career out of it and have a good time
and try to be creative in what we do.
HM: How does Missouri effect your music?
LB: Mostly because it's where we all grew up. All of us spent
time in the church when we were kids and I think we learned a lot
about harmony through singing in church and as we grew older we developed
a interest in the roots of that style of country music. I think that
really influences us be we try not to overkill it, ya know what I
HM:How the tour so far and whats the response been to
the new record?
LB: Tour is going good; we had a show in Chicago and we were
lucky enough to have it be our first sold out show which was great.
We just met up with Via Audio to do some shows. It seems like
were making progress which is both exciting and encouraging.
As for the record, the reviews have been very kind and were
ecstatic about what people seem to be saying, so its good. Weve
sorta been sitting on our hands waiting for all of this to happen;
weve had a few friends that have heard it but overall, we didnt
have much feedback so it was becoming a bit nerve-racking wondering
what people might think of the record. Well wait and see with
Bone and his compatriots need not fear the quality or validity of
Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South. The record is a superb slice
of American music; it soars with the power of old-timey gospel greatness
and has a dark intensity around it like Sherman must have had as he
burned Atlanta to the ground. I cant wait for them to return
to the Show-Me State. When they do Ill be in the audience. You
. Their Novel Sounds await.
-Danny R. Phillip
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