Photography by Niraj Mehdiratta
Bands, in large part, reflect the scenes from which they come. This sentiment rings true for indie band The Tontons, who helped to open this weekend’s Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas with a pair of sets opening for Kurt Vile on Thursday night and another on Friday, as well as dropping their new video “Veida” on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog. The trip to Texas’ capital for the 8th annual music, comedy and action sports fest wasn’t a long one for the four-piece act from Houston, although it was the first time playing the three day end to festival season.
Together for nearly eight years now, The Tontons are indicative of a slow-moving yet supportive Houston music scene where dues are paid before garnering the city’s full support. To hear Asli and the gang describe it, breaking through to the next level in their hometown is a little different than other places in the country. The Tontons, a hodgepodge of styles, interests and musical abilities, are hard to put a finger on, precisely, but that’s how they like it. Their music could most closely be described as indie pop, but they have a co-sign from Houston hip-hop legend Bun B, who introduces them at shows and they’re toying with the idea of adding some metal components to some songs after hanging around FFF’s Black stage Saturday.
Things are really coming together for The Tontons as they prepare to release their next album in the spring and ready for a wild 2014. Having been around for awhile and earned their stripes in their hometown though, they are ready to make things happen on their own terms. I had a chance to catch the group backstage at Fun Fun Fun and sat down for a quick chat, read what they had to say about playing the festival for the first time, being different and drinking too much Red Bull.
Jake: You guys have made quite a splash here at Fun Fun Fun Fest, kicking things off with the premier of you video and the Thursday set with Kurt Vile, what’s the experience been like so far?
Asli: It’s been really great. We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this , it’s out first Fun Fun Fun and everyone’s been really receptive, just hustling really hard on our behalf which is really nice, you know, you work it by yourself for so long and then you get a team of people around you that really care-it makes it all the better.
Jake: You all have also been working with Red Bull Sound Select as well, which has been a great resource for a lot of acts, how has that connection been for you?
Tom: Yeah, they put on a lot of good shows so they really help out the bands that are on there and they keep everyone bulled up pretty hard. But I think what they’re doing is great, they always have really fun after parties at all the festivals and stuff, keep everybody out til like 6 in the morning. They keep us fueled with that Red Bull fuel so it’s good fun, and my heart hasn’t stopped just yet (laughs).
Jake: So, my flight unfortunately got in late last night and I wasn’t able to catch the show, what was the reception in your opnion?
Justin: Yesterday there was a lot more people than I guess I was expecting, a lot of people showed up really early, so it wasa pretty good crowd.
Asli: I think everyone was a little more excited yesterday, I think everybody’s a little hungover today. Yeah, I think everyone went a little too hard last night.
Jake: So our photographer, Rasha, is from Houston, the same place as you all. You’ve got Bun B endorsing and announcing you at shows-what’s coming out of that scene been like?
Asli: It’s been really cool, everybody in Houston has been really supportive of us, which blows my mind. When we first started this band I was like 17 and I’m 24 now, Justin was like 14, he’s 22. We were like babies, I don’t think any of us thought that we’d be at a Fun Fun Fun Fest, I think the most we thought was that we were going to play some shows for some friends, you know? And then it’s kinda crazy when you have like Bun B supporting our music or professional athletes bringing their entire team out to come to our show, it just blows your mind.
Jake: Well and like you all said, you’ve been doing this for awhile. What’s it like to be at this point where things are really starting to come together?
Asli: I think we just feel old more than anything (laughs). We meet so many bands and we’re like ‘oh my God you guys are so great, how long have you been together?’ and a lot of times its like ‘ah man we were just in our basement last week and decided to make a band and now here we are playing Jimmy Kimmel-its crazy. If anything I think its given us an appreciation and I think its given us a will to persevere. I mean our friend Fat Tony, he’s been doing this shit for ten years. That’s what Houston is, its slow, so if you’re a band, you’ve been a band for like seven years and every other city that’s not the case-it’s slow to start in Houston but once you get there they really rep you.
Jake: So nobody can seem to describe your music easily, how would you all go about classifying the kind of music you make?
Adam: I think we’re all influenced by different things and we’re always changing what we’re listening to and we just derive ourselves from everything we take in. We just take it all in and then try to make something out of it, you know? We do it our own way, but we’re definitely influenced by a lot of things too. Its always changing, we try to do what makes us happy really.
Jake: So what’s the songwriting process like then?
Tom: We all write together. Every song is kind of different, sometimes one of us will bring a song to the table or write a song from scratch, it just varies from song to song.
Jake: Is there a certain aesthetic you try to instill with your music at all?
Tom: No, we don’t really try to go and like verse out, everything kind of just happens naturally from what we were influenced by at the time or where we were at, its a sort of still conscious sound.
Asli: Our song is as random as our look. Like, you look at us and people usually don’t know what to expect or what we’re going to sound like, I think we like to keep people on their toes.
Adam: I think the fun part is just being able to do whatever we want because no one can really describe what we’re doing anyways. It’s not like we’re stuck in one thing so we can just keep changing it. If we were just stuck on one thing and changed it then people would be like ‘why did they do that’. So its really cool.
Asli: We were watching these metal bands earlier and I was thinking it would be really tight to have some metal parts in some of our songs and we could do that-we probably would and it would be like why not?
Jake: So you guys are primed here for a pretty big year heading into 2014-what can we expect from the Tontons moving forward from FFF Fest?
Asli: Man, I mean we’re dropping this album in the Spring time and after that we’re probably not going to have any lives to ourselves for awhile. But, we get liek a month an a half off and we haven’t had more than like a week or two off in a row almost this entire year. So that’s a huge stretch of time, I can’t even see beyond that man. I’m gonna like, go home and try on all my clothes so hard-it’s going to be great. I’m going to wear something different everyday, it’s going to be awesome. I’m going to eat all the food that didn’t come out of a Wendy’s bag-it’s going to be so wonderful. I’m going to watch movies when they come out in theaters, not afterwards that’s what I’m looking forward to-the simple things.
Justin: I mean I’m ready to start writing some new music already-I think we need to work on some stuff but it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a good year.
Adam: I’m excited because, myself personally, I think we can always do better and we’re sort of critical about what we’re doing. I don’t like to overthink but sometimes we do and I think that each of us thinks the other one sucks so we’re like trying to prove it to each other that we’re better (laughs).
Asli: (laughing) Really though, that’s the truth, that’s the driving fire, we all think the other one sucks and we all love each other after all these years.