ABOVE: TONSTARTSSBANDHT, BROTHERS EDWIN (RIGHT) AND ANDY WHITE
Meet Tonstartssbandht (pronounced tone-starts-band-hut): two brothers from Florida with a passion for psychedelic pop and something they like to call “boogie rock.” Signed to indie label Arbutus Records along with Grimes, the part country, part jam band, part Of Montreal synth-pop group Tonstartssbandht have quietly been gathering a loyal following since 2008. While their more experimental records are perhaps a bit too esoteric to ensure Tonstartssbandht mainstream success (as is their initially discombobulating name), the band has secured a spot on many a music blogger’s “best of list.” Indeed, Tonstartssbandht’s vocal-pop drum-heavy single, “Black Country,” lingered at the top of The Hype Machine‘s “Most Popular” chart for the better part of 2010. The brothers have played a few festivals in the past, most notably CMJ and Pop Montreal, but this year they are stepping it up with a slot at Austin’s South by Southwest. We caught the brothers together—a rare occasion, as Andy lives in Montreal and Edwin lives in Brooklyn—to talk about their sound, their sibling connection and the direction in which they would most like to time travel.
AGE: 24 (Edwin), 22 (Andy)
HOMETOWN: Orlando, FL
SOUNDS LIKE: [Edwin:] Our style of music definitely goes all over. When we sit down with a drum kit and a guitar, we like to do psychedelic boogie rock. When we’re composing songs in the studio or something, rather than our bedrooms, we tend more towards the Brian Wilson vocal-pop stuff. Psychedelic boogie rock and experimental pop . . . those are the two core loves of ours.
BROTHERLY LOVE: [Edwin:] When we first started playing music, we didn’t really play with each other, we weren’t as friendly. We’re two years apart, so when you’re young kids you don’t really hang out with your brother. We probably became friends when we were 15 and 17, it was right before I was going to leave and go to school. You just kind of realize that this person that you clash with sometimes on a stupid ego level is this person that you love and cherish and who you actually have this really great bond to, we both woke up and realized that at the same time and we wouldn’t let go. I guess some moment happened in that year where we were like, “Wow, what are we wasting our time for? Let’s play music and bounce ideas off each other. This is a great connection that you don’t find too easily in life.” We started Tonstartssbandht when we were 18 and 20.
BEHIND THE BAND NAME: [Edwin:] Tonstartssbandht is a word collage that I made cutting up letters and words and I pasted it down and I loved how it looked. Because it’s made up, it confused people, people get thrown off by consonants, they take one look at it and sometimes they’re disgusted, they’re like “That’s not a word anyone could pronounce!” But it’s totally pronounceable; it depends on how open-minded you are. A couple of people suggested [that we change our name] a couple of years ago, all of a sudden I got really self-conscious about it and worried and I was like, “God, I think we really do need to change this.” Then I realized that there’s nothing better than the word “tonstartssbandht.” It’s the best band name ever.
ADMIRABLE HISTORICAL FIGURES: [Edwin:] Andy says “Gandhi” right away. Shit. I admire so many historical figures I can’t even think of one off the top. Anyone that has got a good moral compass and is true is cool by me.
WRITING MUSIC: [Andy:] The way I write songs, I will sometimes just sit down and let some technical aspect of my set-up, like a certain effect or a sort of reaction I’m getting from the route of my signal, I’ll let that inspire something spontaneous. Other times I’ll carry around ideas for a while and I’ll be playing with them; I think that results in the same themes, including lyrics line for line, sort of recurring in a lot of our songs, because I like turn them around and I like to combine them all together. Sometimes people will be like, “You used the same line! The same melody is repeated.” [But] I think it adds to a larger cohesion, some sort of massive plan going over everything, but for the most part I have an idea and I keep trying to use it over and over, or I combine it in different ways.
[Edwin:] I’m not so much of a “walk around with a recorder in his pocket” kind of guy, where you get an idea, save it, and this beautiful thing blossoms; I definitely have those moments during the day, but I don’t try and capitalize on saving them. For me it’s almost a schedule; on the day that I decide to create, I sit down at my desk where all my stuff is, I set it up, and I set it up in different ways every time, and I just start to riff on it. I try to create textures or themes or melodies or harmonies or rhythms. I do it until one of them inspires me, and from there it just explodes and you don’t know where it’s going to go. On certain days I’ll do exactly the same thing, I’ll do it for hours, and just one after the other they’ll be these failures and these bombs. I have to sit myself down and play and play until something comes out and I can riff on it.
TEETOTALLING: [Edwin:] [laughs] The New Year’s resolution is no more drinking, no more smoking. Totally sober. At least for a month, we’ll see how far we can go. I’m four days in and it feels… healthy. It’ll be cool because we won’t have to rely on that kind of stuff to find the cosmic plane and search for musical ideas, so to speak. It’ll be a very sober realization and those can be great. Since we’re about to go on the road for a while, I want to be in really good, peak physical condition. If you can survive [playing a show every other night] sober, you’ve really improved your mental stamina.
IF PRESENTED WITH A TIME MACHINE…: [Edwin:] Holy shit. I’d go to the future. I wouldn’t want to go too far, I’d either go three hundred years or three million years. It just seems so unfathomable.
CLOSING REMARKS: [Edwin:] Andy just wants to plug his favorite album, it’s from the ’70s. I don’t really have a thought of closure.