This past week, the Missouri band Ha Ha Tonka were announced as showcasing artists for SXSW 2014. The band concluded a southern run with a Saturday night show here in Austin at Stubbs, touring in support of their fourth studio album, Lessons.
Taking their name from a beautiful state park on the Lake of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka came together in college nearly a decade ago and got more serious about the business of being a band with their first release on Bloodshot Records in 2007.
Known for a stripped-down, high energy sound, Ha Ha Tonka went in a different direction on Lessons, as lead singer Brian Roberts explained to the Riverfront Times: “We used a different producer [Dan Molad and The Ryantist]. I think we wanted to make the biggest-sounding record that we could. In the past, we focused more on having anything that we put on a record being able to be performed on stage. This time, we put a little more ear candy in there.”
The band found inspiration in a series of interviews with Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terri Gross. Guitarist Brett Anderson told KDHX that Sendak’s last interview had a big effect on Lessons, that it “permeates throughout; lyrical content, feel of the record, the narrative arc. I mean it's not a concept album based off that interview but it definitely infused the stuff we were writing with an emotion."
Ha Ha Tonka are proud of their Ozarkian routes, but during the 3 months of the year when they are not on the road, one member lives in New York and one in California, while two remain in Kansas City, where the band meets up to rehearse and where they keep their gear. And it’s to Kansas City and St. Louis that the band returns for shows this holiday week, thankful for the lessons they have learned along the way.
Photo by Frank Hill