Ha Ha Tonka
“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.” —Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone
There’s a certain wisdom that exists in the hills of the Ozarks. It’s a wisdom that spits out of the mouths of Woodrell’s characters; it’s a wisdom that is found in the lyrics by Woodrell’s fellow West Plains, Missouri natives, Ha Ha Tonka; and it’s a wisdom that’s found on the band’s new full-length LP, Death of a Decade.
“They say that if you don’t change where you’re going / you’re gonna end up right where you’re headed.” —Ha Ha Tonka, “Made Example Of”
Recorded in a 200 year old barn in scenic New Paltz, NY with producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, The Felice Brothers, The Walkmen), Death of a Decade began as a stripped down record, rich with warm tones that could only be captured under a 30 foot roof of a barn. “We wanted to make sure we left in all the imperfections of the barn such as the chairs squeaking and the boards creaking”, explains lead singer Brian Roberts. After tracking the songs in this rough hewn setting, the files were shipped to hAUs Studio in Kansas City, MO where The Ryantist mixed and manipulated synthetic sonic threads into this organic tapestry. Death of a Decade is where authentic meets synthetic, acoustic meets electronic, and tradition meets innovation.
Thematically, Death of a Decade is less “story-based” than Ha Ha Tonka’s previous work (which pulled heavily from Missouri history and folklore for its lyrics), with the band now focusing on the transition into manhood—something that doesn’t automatically come once you pass a certain age: “I realize that youth is wasted on the young,” Roberts sings on “Westward Bound,” “Oh, I know that now my wasting days are done.”
However, Roberts says, Death of a Decade is not meant to be a requiem for lost youth, but rather an embrace of the notion that the passage of time is better than the alternative. There you have it again: the wisdom of the Ozarks.
Even if the album’s songs aren’t specifically of the Ozarks, the sound is—still present is the traditional instrumentation (just listen to guitarist Brett Anderson’s arpeggio mandolin lines on “Usual Suspects” and “Made Example Of”), with bassist Lucas Long and drummer Lennon Bone rounding out the rhythm section to stampeding affect. Still present are the spine-tingling four-part gospel harmonies, a signature sound that sets Ha Ha Tonka apart from every other indie band-cum-Southern rock group that seems to be shambling out of the suburban woods these days.
Ultimately, what makes the Ha Ha Tonka brand of Southern rock so special is that it’s authentic, it’s effortless, and it never comes across as forced. They are masters at bringing together the traditional and the modern. They sit at the crossroads of Americana and indie, where Alabama meets Arcade Fire – shakes their hand and takes them out for a drink.
So, back to Woodrell’s Ozarkian wisdom from “Winter’s Bone,” being considered one of the best bands you’ll discover (or rediscover) in 2011 isn’t something Ha Ha Tonka ought need to ask for—it will be offered.
More about HHT: Named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park in their native Missouri, the group’s relentless touring has seen them become one of the most buzzed about young bands in America, appearing at Lollapalooza, Sundance Film Fest, SXSW, CMJ while touring nationally as a headlining act, as well as supporting many great bands such as Old 97s, Murder By Death, Langhorne Slim, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, Ludo, Meat Puppets and more.
Hoots & Hellmouth
Philadelphia’s Hoots & Hellmouth blend the twisted roots of American music in a fierce and fiery alchemy. Soulful three-part harmonies comingle with stringed things and foot stomps to build a synergy that bursts from both stage and speaker with aural aplomb. It’s city and country. It’s rock and soul. It's bleeding, sweating, crying, rejoicing…It’s alive! Ask anyone who’s seen them perform, from Portland, ME to Portland, OR, and they’ll tell you the same
Tall Tall Trees
TALL TALL TREES is the assemblege of four musicians on a journey into the irregular. Hailing from four corners of the globe and brought together
by the downtown music scene in NYC, the band formed in 2008 to realize the music of jazz bassist turned banjo-playing songwriter, Mike Savino. The following year saw the release of a self-titled debut record on their own Good Neighbor Records. Recorded in the home studios of Savino, guitarist Kyle Sanna, and percussionist Mathias Kunzli, the twelve tracks on Tall Tall Trees are eclectic, touching on surf rock, indie folk, sentimental balladry, and afrobeat. The album met with critical success climbing the CMJ radio charts and receiving placements on MTV, History Channel, Animal Planet, and Lifetime. The addition of bassist Benjamin Campbell filled out the performing line-up and the band began to tour in support of the record.
Two years, many shows, and one highly successful Kickstarter campaign later, Tall Tall Trees is putting the finishing touches on its sophomore effort.
December 2010: The band began recording its second album on the night of a lunar eclipse, in a church nestled in the sticks of Woodstock, NY, and emerged two weeks later with a testament to the evolution in their electric banjo-driven sound. The result, Moment, is a departure from the quirky bounce of their self-titled debut and a journey into darker territory as songwriter Mike Savino explores more serious and personal matters in this set of lyrically driven songs. Produced entirely by the band, the album is a snapshot of musicians in peak creative form, crafting album as art in a one-off mp3 world.
Originally sparked by a camping trip into the Alaskan wilderness, the album tells the tale of a man searching for connection with his environment and the people around him. On the final night of their trip, exhausted and beaten nearly mute by the elements, the Tall Tall Trees sat around a campfire in a rocky, dried-out riverbed when the clouds parted, revealing the biggest moon they'd ever seen. One word was uttered.