BAMM.TV Featured Artist: Ha Ha Tonka

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Ready for another exclusive Featured Artist? Introducing your new favorite band: Missouri’s musical sons Ha Ha Tonka


In 2001 two friends from West Plains, Missouri – Brian Roberts and Luke Long, both attending the same college – formed a group called Amsterband, soon going on to recruit drummer Robert Mueller. Mueller would be replaced by Lennon Bone in 2004, and the year before that saw the group add Brett Anderson (not the chap from Suede) to their roster. “Three of us (Lennon, Luke & myself) grew up in a small Missouri town (West Plains) together,” Brian says. “We met Brett in college at Southwest Missouri State University. Brett brings the melody. Lennon brings the talent. Luke brings the looks. And I bring up the back.”

Musical influences were present from a very young age, as Brian explains, listing “REM, Paul Simon, ’80s country & bluegrass” as the defining acts which led him to create a sound he describes as “O brother where art thou? meets indie rock.”

After a set of initial releases under the name Amsterband, 2007 saw a name change: the group now called themselves Ha Ha Tonka, after Ha Ha Tonka State Park in their native Missouri. The name change seemed to add a new momentum – they played at Lolapalooza 2008, and have also made live appearances alongside Old 97s, Murder By Death, Langhorne Slim, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, Ludo, Meat Puppets and more.

“Our one goal has always been to continually improve,” Brian says, “both as individual musicians and as a band, so hopefully we’ve accomplished that. I’d like to think we’ve also sharpened our songwriting andbecome better performers over the years. Proudest moment probably came earlier this year with the release of our 3rd album, Death of a Decade. It charted on the Billboard Top 200 and that’s something I don’t think any of us thoughtpossible for a little band from the Ozarks. In the early days, we got a lot of experience playing to empty rooms and they’d probably all rank about the same in level of weakness.”

And who do they see as their contemporaries right now? “This is a tough question, because I don’t want to act like we’re bigger than we are or put us on a level we’re not. Some of the bands I’m about to name are higher on the ladder of rock, but we’refriends with them, tour with a lot of them and look up to all of them – Big Smith, SSLYBY, Murder by Death, Old 97s, Cloud Cult, J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Langhorne Slim … just to name a few.”

Best of all? They’ve got nothing but great memories of their session.
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed both times. The set-up is amazing, the atmosphere blessedly laid-back, the ping-pong competition is fierce and there was a fireman’s pole for Luke to use. Oh, and notto mention the fact that San Francisco is one of the most amazing cities in the USA and we always look forward to playing there.”

The BAMM Questionnaire

What would be your dream gig/venue?

Madison Square Garden…not to sound overly ambitious or anything.

What event would prove to yourself that you’ve “made it”?

See the overly ambitious answer above.

Karaoke song?

Obvious choice – Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’ Back-up selection – 99 Luft Balloons

Who’s a hero of yours?

My father, Richard Roberts. He might have the best pure singing voice I’ve ever heard.

Drink of choice?

Red eye coffee.

If you had to make a pretty girl/guy laugh, what’s your joke?

I play in a band called Ha Ha Tonka.

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