Their album Lessons is just a year old, but Missouri's Ha Ha Tonka's sound is a hellava lot older. They're deeply indebted to the "regional storytelling traditions" they cite their love for, leading to those riffed-out Ozark rock tracks imbued with Plains' state folklore. They're a remarkably consistent band, releasing album after album of unfailing solid rock and roll.
I spoke with Brian Roberts after the group released Lessons. They'll play at Radio Radio on Friday with Bloomington's Charlie Patton's War.
NUVO: The last time I saw you in Indiana, it was a crazy night for baseball. The Braves –
Brian Roberts: Oh yeah! I remember that night. It was the last night of the regular season!
NUVO: It was such a good show, and I remember you guys getting and giving live updates from the side of the stage while you were playing.
Roberts: We figured we just wanted to be ESPN SportsCenter hosts, so we were auditioning that night.
NUVO: You've said Lessons is inspired by Maurice Sendak. Can you expand on how Lessons was inspired by his work?
Roberts: The genesis for this entire album came from this interview that Terry Gross did with Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air. I heard this interview and it was ... you break down in tears listening to it. It's simultaneously the most hopeful thing you've ever heard and the saddest, because it's one of the last interviews he did. He was very reflective, and his outlook on life was just mesmerizing. I found it terribly inspiring and we wrote a bunch of songs about it.
NUVO: What's been a surprising song to develop live as you've toured this album?
Roberts: I think the title track "Lessons" is really fun in a strange way to play live. It's kind of a mantra, it just repeats over and over and over again. You see the crowd shift into a different headspace for a minute, which is nice. Because a lot of our stuff is either really, really, really aggressive country rock and roll or the dramatic shift of "Hangman," where it's just a ccapella. This is a new space that we haven't operated a lot in in the live show. I don't want to say it's tantric or anything, but it's a cool vibe that I've been enjoying onstage.