Ha Ha Tonka (Brian Reynolds) interview and photo by Brian DeSpain
Ha Ha Tonka recently played a show at the Outland Ballroom in Missouri. Our review of that show is here: https://americanahighways.org/2022/01/11/show-review-ha-ha-tonka-at-the-outland-ballroom/
After the show, Americana Highways sat down in the green room for a brief interview with Ha Ha Tonka frontman Brian Reynolds. Enjoy the topics that came up.
American Highways: The new songs you are playing from the next album, where do you draw your inspiration?
Brian Reynolds: Over the passage of time this will be the longest stretch between albums we’ve had, 4 1/2 years, and we’re self-producing this record too. More DIY. Also with the demise of Bloodshot Records (under new ownership the label is only managing back catalogues currently), this made us more self-reflective, more who we are in our career and in our musical journey and I think that we’re very cognizant of that fact and how we have approached these songs. I think that it will be the most Tonka record that we have ever made.
AH: How did Tonksgiving start?
BR: That’s a good question! I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I think it was 2010 or 2011. It’s ten years with Death of a Decade. So let’s just say it’s the tenth year of Tonksgiving, roughly. It might be eleven.
AH: Adjusting to the lockdown, how did you channel your creativity?
BR: It’s been tough. I think the lockdown was tough for me, both personally and creatively. I tend to find I’m more creative whenever we’re touring and in motion. I really like to write whenever we are driving. Me and Smash [tour manager] we’ll be sitting up in front of the van. we have a whole windshield, it’s like a movie screen as the landscape goes by. And there’s an energy of the night, a show that just happened. There’s just a constant energy.
I think it was harder in lockdown to write and produce songs. Although we did. We had already got a big head start on the record. We already did a big studio session at the end of 2019 in Kansas City and got a lot of the framework down for six or seven songs. So we were already working on those before the lockdown occurred.
AH: Where did you track the session?
BR: Our piano player James has a studio outside of Philly. Then we also did two sessions in West Plains (Missouri), just kind of makeshift studios. One was in Luke’s parents’ garage and then one in my dad’s basement.
AH: I’ve already got the tutorial from Joel King (The Wild Feathers) about the technology where you have pre-amps built into some of these recording programs now, so you don’t need to have a top shelf studio.
BR: No. Well, I mean it helps. It is better. It’s always better to have a studio with all the tweaks and sounds amazing but for bands like us who can’t just go into a studio and say we’ve booked a couple weeks and we’re going to do some self-exploration. When we go into studio it’s very focused. We really use every moment that we’re in there. We’re ready to record. The songs are at a point where the creative process has occurred. I mean there’s still more creative stuff that happens in the studio. But like, it’s more “we’re ready to record.”
AH: Secret weapon question: how has it felt to have your tour manager Smash with you this week?
BR: Dude, it’s been amazing. He is our secret weapon. And he makes the show a lot better because he’s kind of like another musician off stage. He’s also a very accomplished bass player. He’s a great musician. In a pinch, he could step on stage and play with us. No questions asked.
AH: But he’s not gonna take off his shirt at shows like Luke Long (the band bassist)?
BR: He would. (laughter)
He’s a big part of the show because he really knows a lot of our songs are vocal, like four part harmony-driven. He really highlights those moments. He also broke up a couple of fights tonight. He’s a good dude to have on tour.
Brian Reynolds also confirmed the band is with a new record label. Earlier in the evening Americana Highways spoke with the label representative who flew in for the show. The record label will manage Ha Ha Tonka’s back catalogue and plans a new album release in 2022. With some remaining formalities that need to take place, it was premature for the band and record label to make a public announcement.