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Touring Europe with Ha Ha Tonka: An interview with Lennon Bone

The last time we caught up with Lennon Bone, he was getting ready to embark on Ha Ha Tonka’s first European tour (see our interview with him). Now the group has just come off its second European tour (literally—they just returned to the US today), which has proven to be successful. Ha Ha Tonka has also been busy at work on a follow-up album to its critically-acclaimed 2011 LP Death of A Decade. Read on to find out more about their travels and what they have in the works.
The Deli: Where in Europe have you toured?
Lennon Bone: We started out in Prague, went through Germany, the UK, The Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, and Sweden to go. 6 weeks total. 
The Deli: Coolest place you visited?
Bone: Prague and Dresden are the most beautiful places I've ever seen. So old and amazing. The architecture is so spectacular, it's like being in a book or something. Not to mention all the history that you hear about, but becomes so much more apparent when you actually see things like soot on buildings from where they were bombed, or gold placards on the footsteps of doors that show when a Jew was ejected from their apartment building. It's pretty intense stuff. 
Hamburg is the most fun city we've been in, I think. We saw the sun rise two days in a row and the people weren't even close to done partying. To list a few of the events we saw take place: a drunk Brit stripped down to his underwear and jumped off his party barge and had to be rescued before he drowned; someone actually died just before the show right next door to the venue we played; we saw a ton of prostitutes next to Burger King; we chased down a guy that stole some girl’s phone, and just had an absolute blast. It was a wild couple of days. 
The Deli: What's the most fun venue you've played so far?
Bone: Hmmm.... that's a tough one. The most fun venue would probably have been in London, for me. Great crowd, pretty packed and it was a Tuesday night. Over 100 different bourbons to try. Plus we got fed by some friends that work at a restaurant called River Cafe the night before. To give you an idea of how posh this place is, Elton John is doing a private event there next month and dudes like Bono and Chris Martin frequent the restaurant. 
The Deli: How have these European tours changed your perspectives as a band?
Bone: I think it's made us reevaluate our plan as a business. We see the potential in all of these new markets, and have an opportunity to break out somewhere besides the States, which can also help our draw within the States. 7 months ago we were arguing whether or not we would even be able to do a European tour, and now we've spent 3 months there in that time. 
As far as our relationships, it helps keep us all positive to do new things. We've toured the States so much in the past 8 years that we recognize gas stations from coast to coast.... it's revitalizing to see new territory and even get lost now and again. 
The Deli: What's changed and what have you learned since your first European tour?
Bone: We learned a LOT about how to save money from really screwing up on the last one. Everything from getting cheaper ferry rides to buying water at a grocery store (at a gas station it's 2 euro 60 per small bottle... You can get 8 liters for the same price at a store) and recycling the bottles (Bottles are worth .25 each). 
We've seen some markets like London and Ireland grow exponentially, which is great. We had two pre-sold out shows in Ireland. I think they were sold out almost 3 weeks in advance, one of them around 6 weeks out. So, we're seeing that things could go really well if we treat it all correctly. 
The Deli: How have crowds responded to the music? Do you plan to go back?
Bone: Crowd reception has been great! Even at the smaller shows, people seem to get rowdy and be really appreciative of us coming over here to play for them. We're already making plans to come back next year.
The Deli: There are a lot of bands that have pipe dreams about going on an overseas tour. What is your best advice to any KC band looking to do this?
Bone: My best advice would be to tour the States relentlessly before going anywhere else. We've been touring nationally for nearly 9 years now, and if we didn't have the knowledge we've learned from being on the road at home, we could have easily lost so much money being in Europe. I mean, we lost some money on the first trip anyway. It's just really expensive to make it happen. Promoters over there actually do their job as well. One of our booking agents is so committed to knowing how things are going that he's jumping in the van with us for a week. That being said, if we didn't have the tour history at home that has also brought us press that they can see, we wouldn't be having this amount of interest here… at least I don't think. If you want to tour and have it be successful, you just have to know how to tour, period. It's much cheaper to get your feet wet in the States before possibly losing your ass overseas. On the other hand, if you just want to take a vacation and play some shows, go ahead and book your tickets. Just like anywhere else, I'm sure you could find some places to play. It's really just about what your goals are. 
The Deli: Tell us a bit about the album you're currently working on. What can we expect?
Bone: The album is officially done, and we've never been so excited about something that we've made. It's still totally us, but it's like the Tonka we've always wanted to be, if that makes any sense. It was produced by Dan Molad out of Brooklyn and The Ryantist from here in Kansas City. In my opinion, two of the best producers that nobody's really heard of. Yet. I'm not saying our record is their ticket, I'm just saying that these guys were my personal first pick from day one because they're outstanding at their jobs. We've grown enough as a band that we were ready to really include the producer in the role of constructing and rethinking the songs, and Dan and The Ryantist really helped bring them to life in a way we never expected. 
We recorded the bulk of the album in Omaha where they did all the Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk records. The whole team is basically the same age, and we're used to working with producers that are older than us. For me it really felt like we were the junior high kids trying to show up the high schoolers. We just had all these mics and snare drums and shit everywhere in the room. Double-necked guitars, synths, organs, whatever... and we just had the best time making an album. We went back to recording live, so all the basics are the four of us (or sometimes the producers would just hit record and join us in the room to play other things) playing together. It just feels good to me. I can't wait for people to hear it. 
We're planning on a fall release. We’ll take off after this next US tour for a few months and get all the logistics of the new album worked out so we can start a full nationwide tour at the end of September.
The boys will be returning to the mainland and playing in Kansas City on Friday, June 14. They’ll be supporting Reverend Horton Heat at CrossroadsKC at Grinder’s. After that, they’ll head on a short US tour with Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin. Visit the band’s website to see the rest of the US tour dates.

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli Magazine - Kansas City, and also holds down half the rhythm section in Drew Black & Dirty Electric and Dolls on Fire. Her?

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Album review: A Light Within - Preface (EP)

There are millions upon millions of songs that celebrate happiness: “I’m in love!” “She said yes!” “It’s a great day to be alive!” All valid emotions to be sure, and hooray for those who get to experience life in those circumstances … but what about when the feelings you’re feeling are along the lines of “It’s cloudy outside” or “Why won’t she talk to me” or “I can’t take this anymore”? These are also valid emotions which deserve musical voice, and in their debut three-track EP Preface, A Light Within delivers on the desire to hear the darker side of the psyche being celebrated in bombastic, beautiful anguish—doing so not only with thunderous power, but with a deft touch as well.
The titles of the three songs are page numbers that reference the concept of the album: the writings of a man reflecting upon his life, from beginning to end.  The words, in concert with the music, reveal a life lived in doubt and anguish, as the protagonist struggles to reconcile his time on this planet before the last grain of sand falls through the hourglass.  Lyrics such as “These open eyes are closing down / I’m too tired to sleep through life alone / This gallant heart is a fairy tale grown old” (“Page 32”) and “Whoever feels irrelevant has become as one with death to the living / Whoever claims innocent is blinded by a sun that can't be seen” (“Page 18”) offer a window into a soul that is indeed lurking among the shadows rather than relaxing in the warmth of the sun.  These are places where many would rather not tread, but we all find ourselves battling our own army of demons at some point in our lives (whether they originate from external sources or are self-inflicted)—and even in the more sinister realm, there is a beauty to be found that may end up saving one’s sanity if one clings to it tightly enough.  The beauty of these tracks lies in the arrangements that somehow manage to be musically uplifting and inspiring … even though the words and emotions may not be.
When dealing with the harder, more somber edges of post-rock, the easy path to follow is to overwhelm the listener with volume, both from an instrumental and a vocal standpoint. “We’re angry, we’re pissed, we’re going to bludgeon you over the head with our seismic swagger”. A Light Within knows well enough to rein in this urge when properly called for, but is unafraid to let the reins loose as needed. Preface shows the raw power and melodic maturity of a band that, even though it may be in its infancy, has a lot to say—and, more importantly, knows how to say it for maximum effect. 
Here’s to the next chapter that this preface is leading us into.
--Michael Byars

Michael Byars is desperately trying to reunite the legendary 70s Welsh hip-hop band Honey Black Dolphins for his next birthday party. He's also thinking about reinventing himself as a busker in England. They need to know the time and temperature over there too, right?


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Album review: The Electric Lungs - Simplified and Civilized

Every person that picks up a guitar for the first time does it with at least some amount of notion that it will make them a rock star. After all, any musician who tells you that they never wanted to be Brian May circa 1976 is a goddamn liar. But there comes a time in almost every musician’s life where he or she realizes that dream is just not in the cards. Not for lack of trying or talent, but sometimes that lightning just doesn’t strike. So, what to do? Some go hang up the amplifiers, squirt out four kids, and buy a split level and a Kia. Some go the dreaded, dreaded, dreaded, dreaded cover band route. But the lucky ones are able to realize that there’s so much more to the making and celebration of original music than being uber popular for it. The Electric Lungs are in this wonderful place. They play THEIR music, THEIR expression, stripped of any notion of what it’s “supposed” to sound like. With Simplified and Civilized, they play the role of trendsetters, not trend followers.

The band provides us with ten tracks of energetic, punk-tinged, keyboard rock. Tripp Kirby fronts the bursting arrangements with the overzealous spasticity of a carnival barker. His voice is perfect for these songs, his moments of tenderness and sincerity in songs like “Every Ending” and “Eternal Smile” equally as effective as his red throated scream-singing in “Illium Works” and “(It’s not the) Bones That You Break.” The rhythm section of Marc Bollinger and Eric Jones does more than just lay the foundation. Together they shape and manipulate the dynamics of these songs, building and breaking them down to great effectiveness. The wildcard is the final gloss applied by Jason Ulanet’s keyboard work. Whether synth, horn, or a just simple piano, he further propels these songs into another category. In the end, you end up with something punky, something rockabilly, something proggy, sort of like Yes and Black Flag sharing a Bloody Mary at Brian Setzer’s wine mixer.
“Catching Up” is their take on the good old murder ballad. With equal parts psychopath and bubble gum, The Electric Lungs would like to remind us that under every serial killer there is a sweet little boy. Or something like that.
“Every Ending” is such a beautifully orchestrated song, cleverly organized and woven together perfectly. It is a funky little breath of fresh air in the middle of a wolf pack of punk songs.
“The Shit that I Eat” bursts at the seams, kind of like Sum-41 slave-driving an old-timey jazz band. The sullied horns and old-timey piano provide a wonderful counterpoint to the otherwise straight-forward and shit-kicking punk song beneath.
The album closes with one of the best efforts “Away to Stay (Hey)”. With all cylinders firing at the brink of explosion, this two-and-half-minute song is the perfect amount full of pounding drums, driving bass lines, fierce guitars, howling synths, and group-shouted “heys.”
This is a super strong record from the first strain to the last. The band has managed to take a group of very familiar rock music elements and spin them into something most decidedly new, something most decidedly themselves, something most decidedly The Electric Lungs.
The Electric Lungs will be playing tonight at Coda, after Dolls on Fire and The Hillary Watts Riot. Show starts at 9:30 p.m. All ages, $5. Facebook event page. If you can't make it tonight, they'll be at The Riot Room on Friday, June 7.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Lawrence Field Day Fest: An interview with founder Cameron Hawk

Lawrence Field Day Fest was born out of Cameron Hawk’s frustration with the attention that local and regional acts weren’t getting—to highlight their talents, to be different from other festivals that bring in national acts and sprinkle in local acts here and there.
“I honestly didn’t think people in Lawrence would care that much. It’s not like we were doing anything new.” Hawk told me. “I just wanted to show people the great talent we had in Lawrence. Plus, it was a way to fill a couple days in The Bottleneck’s calendar.” It went so well in its inaugural year that July 11, 12, and 13 this year will see the return of the fest. “I guess what people were waiting for was for someone to step up and just do it.”
Kansas City’s recent Middle of the Map Fest was incredible, with bands like Joy Formidable, Grizzly Bear and locals including Soft Reeds, Cowboy Indian Bear, Thee Water Moccasins, Hawk’s own band The Dead Girls, and others, but it just wasn’t the festival he had in mind.
“Middle of the Map, where they matched up local and regional acts was a cool idea, but I wanted to do something for the Lawrence bands and some area acts to make them feel special, to give them something that was just theirs for once,” said Hawk.
Were there ever moments of doubt? When did the calls of people wanting the fest made Hawk nervous? Did he doubt the creature he began constructing? “Oh yeah, man. I had never tried to do something like this so there were a lot of moments when I wondered if I could actually pull it off. It was kind of a Wayne’s World 2 scenario. Let’s do it. Oh shit, now we have to do it.”
Hawk, guitarist for The Dead Girls, Many Moods of Dad, and the punk thunderbolt that is Stiff Middle Fingers, and drummer for Hidden Pictures, says this year LFDF is completely local or regional acts. This is different from last year, where alt-country greats Drag the River and punk rock legend Stephen Egerton—guitarist for The Descendents—took the stage at the Jackpot.
“Having Drag the River and Stephen (Egerton) last year just kind of happened. It was awesome, but this year, I wanted to keep it to just the great bands of the area. People haven’t been going out as much, whether its money, kids, work, or just getting older. I want people to see what’s been going on, what they’re missing.” 
This year’s lineup will lean even heavier on the crop of local talent to build a roster that should pack The Bottleneck for three straight days. The ominous quake of Bloodbirds, Many Moods of Dad, Going To Hell in a Leather Jacket, the hardcore-influenced Black on Black, Radkey, Scruffy and the Janitors, sleaze warriors Pale Hearts, JOCKS, BaioWolf, Man Bear, Millions of Boys, and several others, will descend upon The Bottleneck, showing everyone that the Midwest is more than capable of cranking out great rock ‘n roll. 
“I hope people see the whole point of this,” Hawk said. “It’s not about bringing in national acts and getting the local acts to support them. This is about the local bands playing and showing support for each other. Let’s quit worrying so much about which bill will draw the best, having the same bands playing together all the time, all the competition. There are people that work really hard and never get thrown a bone for whatever reason; maybe it’s a situation where if more people saw them they’d get a better chance. That’s all I want to do with this. Let’s just play and have some balls.”
Lawrence Field Day Fest runs from Thursday, July 11 to Saturday, July 13 at The Bottleneck. A full lineup and ticket info will be available soon at The Bottleneck’s website. Facebook event page.
--Danny R. Phillips

Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the national circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 

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Album review: Tiny Horse - Darkly Sparkly (EP)

(Photo by Todd Zimmer) 

One horse. Very small. Packs a wallop.
Chris Meck and Abigail Henderson have given way more than their lion’s share to the Kansas City music scene. Whether through past efforts like The Gaslights or Atlantic Fadeout or being some of the driving forces behind the Midwest Music Foundation, Apocalypse Meow, and MidCoast Takeover, they should receive the deep admiration of anyone that sets foot on a stage in this town. Their latest musical endeavor, Tiny Horse, is no exception. Darkly Sparkly is a gorgeous collection of songs.
In the simplest of descriptions, the duo plays dark Americana. Ticklers of atmospheric instrumentation, provided by Meck, gambol upon the background, occasionally throwing the ball over the fence to take the melody reins or mingle with Henderson’s haunting vocals, but are quick to slink back to further delighting the sonic landscape.
But as everyone’s mother will tell you, life is not simple. Tiny Horse is the unfortunate poster band for this sentiment. You probably know the back story, but in case not, here is a link to an article from late 2012 by Timothy Finn over at The Kansas City Star that paints the picture.
Especially in that light, there are next to no words I can come up with to adequately describe the impact provided by the vocal performance. Henderson is able to speak from a place that few of us have ever been and she seemingly welcomes the opportunity to embrace these experiences and provide the listener with a small bathroom window into what it all has come to mean for her. Her voice is so beautifully imperfect—an ideal combination of coying, sweet and sassy as worked upon by the old rusty wood rasp from your grandfather’s tool shed.
Her lyrics say it best:
(Reviewer’s note: these are the best transcriptions these old damaged musician ears can figure out)
From “Ride”:
“There’s no one left to ask, pictures of the past just sit in boxes underneath the bed
Money’s just a noose, the old excuse that fooled you into what you did instead.
Ride with me tonight. Let’s remember what it means to chase a little something.”
From “Ghost”:
“Why do you need me? Why do you want me? Cause I’m not done here. Leave me alone.
Take your old songs. Take your old singers. Leave me to write. The only world I’ve known.”
From “Nashville Parthenon”: (Editor's Note: "Nashville Parthenon" is a cover by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone)
“It’s been so dark since you left Nashville. I’ve read the same books again and again.
Makes me wish I wasn’t bashful when it comes to other men.
But if I could have my way, darling, you’d come home.”
“Softly We Fall” is a tender ballad reminiscent of the final song of a junior high school barn dance somewhere in dusty West Texas circa 1958. Meck doesn’t offer his voice up too often on these tracks, but they are used to great effectiveness here. His mimicking vocals follow along on the chorus, “Softly we fall into each other’s arms. It was your fault when we kissed,” further adding to the nostalgic remembrances of adolescent courting. His guitar work also particularly stands out on this track, beautifully crafted and culminating with a simple yet scathing solo to carry the song home.
All in all, the music presented by Tiny Horse is just simply triumphant, the work of carefully seasoned (and hardened) musicians, also including multi-instrumentalist Cody Wyoming, bassist Zach Phillips, and drummer Matt Richey. It is sorrow meant to be remembered, celebrated, and enjoyed. The EP’s title, Darkly Sparkly, seems most appropriate. The KC music scene would be a much darker and less sparkly place without the efforts of Meck and Henderson.
The next time you can catch Tiny Horse will be at The Brick on Wednesday, June 5. The group will be supporting out-of-towners Michael Dean Damron and Matt Woods.
--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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