If Hangout Fest had superlatives, The Tontons would probably be voted something like “Band Most Likely to Make You Feel Like You’re in a French Film from the 1960s—or the Future.” Being reminiscent of another time and place (while at the same time being distinctly modern) is a hallmark of The Tontons.
Vocalist Asli Omar spoke with the IN and revealed that the four-piece’s range of influences and willingness to try anything musically is helping them gain a reputation as an indie band to keep an eye on.
The members of The Tontons—Omar, bassist Tom Nguyen, drummer Justin Martinez and guitarist Adam Martinez—met when they were in high school in their hometown of Houston, Texas. “The first time I ever hung out with Tom, we met up solely because we wanted to form a band,” Omar said. “He said, ‘If you’re going to hang out with us, I have to give you a music quiz,” Omar remembered with a laugh, likening the encounter to a record store interview.
Omar recalls the guys listening to a lot of psychedelic music at the time—Can, Frank Zappa, King Crimson and the like—and she was listening to jazz and bossa nova. The members cross-pollinated each other’s musical knowledge despite being separated geographically for the first several years of the band’s existence.
While some members lived elsewhere while attending college, breaks from school marked the time they reconvened and wrote in person, even releasing their self-titled debut LP in 2009 and a few EPs along the way. In 2011, Omar moved back to Houston from New York, having also spent time in Savannah, Ga. While debating whether to move to New Orleans, the group decided to tour a bit and hasn’t stopped since.
“We went on tour, and it was such an amazing experience. I think we all realized through that that it was what we wanted to do, we needed to focus on it full time. We started writing right after that,” Omar said.
The foursome began developing the songs that make up “Make Out King and Other Stories of Love” while on the road. They connected with producer Dave Boyle after a member of his staff saw The Tontons perform during South by Southwest.
“It was really different this time around… we lived in the studio for two months and recorded all together,” Omar said of the experience making their second LP and their work with Boyle. “We became a family and grew to love all the people in his life and became friends outside of making music. I think it allowed us to make a really intimate album because we weren’t afraid to say things to him, we weren’t afraid to experiment with things.”
The finished product was released in February 2014. Still touring and spending a lot of time together, Omar reports that recent group playlists range from Beyonce to Japanese K-pop. “On a subconscious level, it definitely affects the music we make,” she said of their eclectic mash up of interests on their writing. “We’re not afraid to try things and we’re not afraid to have an acoustic torch song with a psychedelic song, with a heavy rock ‘n’ roll song and a pop song on the same album.”
The tour van isn’t the only venue that the group soaks up influences. Having performed at South by Southwest multiple times, Fun Fun Fun Fest and CMJ Music Marathon in New York, Hangout ranks as The Tontons favorite for connecting with other artists, according to Omar.
“It’s very unique in the setup. It’s not a pretentious festival, they don’t try to separate different levels of artists,” Omar explained. “Just getting to be onstage with artists while they’re playing and sit that close and look at their gear, to look at certain chords they use, notes or progressions—it’s completely different. It’s a music festival for the artists, and I think the artists play really well because they’re really excited to be there.”
Sunday, 5—6:15 p.m.
Red Bull Sound Select Stage