“I feel like we’re creating an entirely new dimension,” Jeron Braxton says to his roommates. They’re sitting together on the front porch of the house they share in Bloomington, discussing the final details of their band’s upcoming East Coast tour. “The stuff we’re doing is so crazy, it’s like we’re augmenting reality, man,” he says.
Their group, Jeron Braxton + the Tomogotchis, shaped their experimental sound across Bloomington basements for the past year, but brought their music aboveground this summer on their debut album, released by Indianapolis label Warm Ratio. An eponymous, eight-track demo tape, the album is a testament to the group’s musical diversity.
Braxton is the infectiously joyous frontman with the catchy melodies. Trevor Moore is the punk kid with a chest tattoos and punchy bass lines. Dave Segedy is the cat-loving drummer with the technical precision of a seasoned garage band vet and Reilly Shanahan is the boy-next-door guitar player cranking out sunny, pop-oriented riffs.
Together, the foursome crafts hip-hop with a dash soul-infused garage rock, cooking up that other-wordly vibe Braxton talks about.
“I feel like the thing that sets you apart and makes your art special is your style – or the flavor you put on it,” he says. “I feel like just by creating the stuff that I would want to see and hear, naturally I create my own style.”
The Tomogotchis accompanied their Warm Ratio release with a supporting tour all along the East Coast, dubbed the Missed Call Tour. The quartet packed up their cars for a two-week road trip up to New York City and back, playing shows, recording music and exploring the cities.
But before they left, the Tomogotchis kicked off the tour with a performance at Joyful Noise.
ON THE ROAD
Before Braxton makes his way to the stage, the Tomogotchis open with an instrumental jazz track. Local fans and wandering First Friday patrons slowly begin to fill the venue. The band stands in uniform black against the stark white walls and curtains of the venue. A massive, hollowed, white cube sits center stage.
The charismatic Braxton twists and shuffles his way around the stage, his electrified dancing leaves him hanging off the stage during their track “Umm.” Shanahan uses a nearby beer can to make a crunchy slide as he and Braxton wail into the mic: “Closer to the, closer to the, closer to the edge.” Braxton’s homemade visuals flash on the screen behind them.
These kind of local performances do well with keeping local music thriving in Indianapolis, especially with the support of the local nonprofit Musical Family Tree.
“The shows are a way to plant a flag in our home town and push for people to be more into original music in Indy,” says Joyful Noise booking agent Rob Peoni. “We try to bring in the kind of acts that aren’t getting booked in other venues through here.”
Thanks to recent lineup changes, the Tomogotchis double as the backing band to Segedy’s popular garage rock outfit Sleeping Bag. While this provides a good opportunity for both bands to promote their music across the country, it meant a majority of the guys were playing two separate shows a night, for two very different bands. There are no buses for their equipment; there are no fancy hotel stays, just the trunks of their cars and whatever friendly floor they can find to crash on.
“You’re out of your comfort zone a little bit, but you just have to go with the flow,” Segedy says. “I love performing every night and meeting new people, and that’s reason enough for me.”
It may not always be comfortable, but each city offers a unique experience and a chance to share their music with a fresh group of people.
“We go straight to these cool little pockets of the city,” Braxton says. “I like how we come and connect with the community in a really intimate way.”
On the Northside of Cincinnati, the group loads their gear in to the Comet, a small bar nestled on the top of a hill on Hamilton Avenue.
It’s a Saturday night, and the Tomogotchis and Sleeping Bag are playing with two Cincinnati-based bands, Swoops and Season Sleep. In a vintage-styled dining room, a dozen people sit absently in the booths -– silently staring forward while Braxton dances around at the front of the room.
Having played on more than a dozen DIY. tours in his career as a musician, Segedy says these kind of numbers can be common, but aren’t discouraging.
“You just have to be grateful to the people that are there,” he says. “Just because there’s not a lot of people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play your best.”
In Pittsburgh, the Tomogotchis play to a full house in the basement of City Grows, an organic garden shop. They load their equipment in among scattered piles of empty plant pots and bags of Miracle-Gro. During their performance, Braxton hangs from the wooden railing of the basement staircase for the chorus of their set’s closer: “Missed Call.”
In Hamtramck, Michigan, the bands play a couple extended sets at the diver bar Kelly’s. The bartender -– the leather-clad video director named Jimmy Doom – gives them the run of the place for the evening. What starts as a nonchalant practice set turns in to a communal jam session, featuring the local record store workers’ band and a passing classical Irish folk singer.
“Smaller towns can surprise you,” Segedy says. “People get excited when you go out of your way to come to their town. They’ll listen to you and read stuff online; sometimes they’ll even know the words.”
After a week of trekking across the Midwest, the boys pack up for their next weekend destination: the Big Apple.
In addition to playing shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Tomogotchis are set to perform at Braxton’s pop-up art installation in the East Village on Saturday night.
Already an established animator and designer at the age of 22, Braxton has been creating animations, video games and augmented reality applications for years. His unique brand of pop-surrealism has been featured in notable pop culture mediums like Adult Swim, The Creators Project and PizzaSlime.
By Saturday night, the Open Gallery Space is decked out in Braxton’s multifaceted creations. His animations flicker on the walls of the hallway. One of his video games is pulled up on an old, boxy computer monitor for people to play. His 3D printed bracelets are tucked into hidden corners, and a giant plush replica of his head sits firmly in the front window. Later in the night, Braxton’s guests pack in to the backroom for a sneak peak of his short film Glucose and a performance from the Tomogotchis.
“It all happened so fast, but it was like a dream come true,” Braxton says. “I felt very in my element, and I felt like there was a lot of good energy surrounding that space.”
The exhibit also acted as the launch of the new Artist Partner Project from the NYC based music company Sounds Good Studio. The studio helps artists orient themselves in the business world and push for a more interactive relationship, instead of a strict management style.
“We’re trying to create more of an entrepreneurship environment for artists,” says Sounds Good associate Sijie Liu. “We want to help artists build their careers. So for this launch party we’re really trying to promote Jeron and his art.”
In addition to marketing Braxton’s art in New York, the Artist Partner Project also hopes to take him and the Tomogotchis overseas. They’re currently working to release his material and book the Tomogotchis for shows and festivals in China in the near future.
After a successful weekend and a seven hour drive out of New York, the last big happening on the Tomogotchis’ tour is a stop in Cleveland to do some recording for their album.
BRINGING IT HOME
High above Downtown Cleveland in a spacious loft, the guys sink into seats at Crushtone Studios. They’re listening carefully to the new tracks they’ve just spent the afternoon recording with local producer/engineer Jim Stewart.
Since recording the demo material for their release back in March, new material and stronger production needs brought the boys back to the studio. In addition to rerecording some of the tracks from their first release, the band brought five fresh songs to add to their catalog.
With some help from TJ Maclin – lead singer of the Cleveland soul group Thaddeus Anna Greene and Braxton’s cousin – the guys hope the higher quality recordings will make their tunes more radio-friendly.
On Aug. 20, the Tomogotchis and Sleeping Bag end their tour with a homecoming performance at the Blockhouse in Bloomington. It’s welcome week for the Indiana University campus, and a majority of the town is spending their Saturday night at some of the heavier trafficked bars and nightclubs. It’s an intimate performance with only a few spectators, but it’s a welcome home the guys wouldn’t trade for anything.
“It’s good to be back in Bloomington,” Segedy says to the crowd during their Sleeping Bag performance. “Thanks for coming out; we love you guys.”
They may not always play to the biggest groups of people, but for the Tomogotchis it’s not about the money or the fame. They play because they love playing, and they love sharing their music with new people. That sincerity makes their music genuine and joyous. Listeners love what they’re doing, because the band loves what they’re doing.
“I hope people feel something from my art,” Braxton says. “I hope it reminds them of the beauty of being alive and all the wonderful things that surround us. We’re all connected, and we should really relish in that and love one another.”
If you go:
Jeron Braxton and The Tomogotchis
Thursday at the Back Door
Tuesday at The Bishop Bar