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Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka CD: Buckle in the Bible Belt
Record Label: Bloodshot Records
by Kristen Winiarski
September 2008

A keen move on their part, the once Amsterband from Missouri is now known as Ha Ha Tonka. The band is made up of Brian Roberts on lead vocals and guitar, Lucas Long on bass and vocals, Brett Anderson on keyboard, guitar, and vocals and Lennon Bone on drums and vocals. This indie rock band combines religious undertones, life, love, hometown pride and rockin guitar riffs. I had the opportunity to talk with Brian Roberts about their past, present, and future projects.

When I talked to him he told me that he was laying on the beach in Santa Barbara. To my response that I was just in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he responded, “Waukesha is gorgeous though. I think Wisconsin might be the most underrated state in the nation. People are just ripping on Wisconsin and it’s gorgeous! Well, I guess [it’s bad] in the winter but other than that!” And yet, he has moved many miles since the band’s inception.

With a beginning as a college band, Ha Ha Tonka first formed in 2004. Roberts says, “When we all graduated we decided to give ourselves a couple years to see if we could make a career out of music and, luckily, we’ve had success.” It was decided to change the band name to reflect the area the members are from.  Roberts says, “[Ha Ha Tonka] is a really cool state park on the lake of the Ozarks. We wanted a different name that hadn’t been taken; something about where we’re from. Then we could tell the story about Ha Ha Tonka State Park and encourage people to make a pilgrimage there.” Not surprisingly, according to its website, the park is called “a geological wonderland: sinkholes, caves, a huge natural bridge, soaring bluffs, and Missouri’s twelfth largest spring.”

Their album “Bucket in the Bible Belt” released last year was recorded in a very unique way…with church acoustics. Roberts says, “The church was in Union, Missouri and Jason McEntyre was the producer we were working with and basically he converted a whole church into the studio. The auditorium was a big open room where we set up and then the sound booth was where the pulpit had once been. It was a really nice studio; he has since moved out of that and moved to downtown St Louis. But we were actually the last band that he recorded in that studio.” Another great perk in addition to the acoustics were the living quarters. Roberts says, “The back of the church is where the preacher and his family used to live. So bands could basically come and live there while they recorded the record so it was a really great setup.” Room, board, and a place to record, what could be better than that?  Another band helped them get in contact with McEntyre. Roberts says that their decision to go with him was, “Based on the recommendation of Tim Convy from Ludo. All the guys in the band are really good friends of ours.”

In the works is a new album, once again working with McEntyre. How soon can we expect to see a new album? Roberts says, “Well, we have some songs written. We did 10 demos with Jason and we’ll go in again and record some more. We’d like to go in with 15 or 16 songs and make another 10 song album.” They are set to record it in November or December. So look for the new album around April or May of ‘09.

They are going to be in Wisconsin a good deal during the month of September. Look for them at the Southern Comfort Music Experience Festival on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center on September 6th at 4pm. Also, watch for the tour coming with Backyard Tirefire as well. Roberts says, “I had known of the band and they were releasing a new album and I think it just worked out that we were needing to do another Midwest tour and they were willing to take us on so we’re glad to be on that tour.” Ha Ha will be in Milwaukee at The Rave on September 11th at 6pm and in Madison at the Annex September 12th at 9pm.

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