“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.” —Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone
There’s a certain wisdom that exists in the hills of the Ozarks. It’s a wisdom that spits out of the mouths of Woodrell’s characters; it’s a wisdom that is found in the lyrics by Woodrell’s fellow West Plains, Missouri natives, Ha Ha Tonka; and it’s a wisdom that’s found on the band’s new full-length LP, Death of a Decade.
“They say that if you don’t change where you’re going / you’re gonna end up right where you’re headed.” —Ha Ha Tonka, “Made Example Of”
Recorded in a 200 year old barn in scenic New Paltz, NY with producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, The Felice Brothers, The Walkmen), Death of a Decade began as a stripped down record, rich with warm tones that could only be captured under a 30 foot roof of a barn. “We wanted to make sure we left in all the imperfections of the barn such as the chairs squeaking and the boards creaking”, explains lead singer Brian Roberts. After tracking the songs in this rough hewn setting, the files were shipped to hAUs Studio in Kansas City, MO where The Ryantist mixed and manipulated synthetic sonic threads into this organic tapestry. Death of a Decade is where authentic meets synthetic, acoustic meets electronic, and tradition meets innovation.
Thematically, Death of a Decade is less “story-based” than Ha Ha Tonka’s previous work (which pulled heavily from Missouri history and folklore for its lyrics), with the band now focusing on the transition into manhood—something that doesn’t automatically come once you pass a certain age: “I realize that youth is wasted on the young,” Roberts sings on “Westward Bound,” “Oh, I know that now my wasting days are done.”
However, Roberts says, Death of a Decade is not meant to be a requiem for lost youth, but rather an embrace of the notion that the passage of time is better than the alternative. There you have it again: the wisdom of the Ozarks.
Even if the album’s songs aren’t specifically of the Ozarks, the sound is—still present is the traditional instrumentation (just listen to guitarist Brett Anderson’s arpeggio mandolin lines on “Usual Suspects” and “Made Example Of”), with bassist Lucas Long and drummer Lennon Bone rounding out the rhythm section to stampeding affect. Still present are the spine-tingling four-part gospel harmonies, a signature sound that sets Ha Ha Tonka apart from every other indie band-cum-Southern rock group that seems to be shambling out of the suburban woods these days.
Ultimately, what makes the Ha Ha Tonka brand of Southern rock so special is that it’s authentic, it’s effortless, and it never comes across as forced. They are masters at bringing together the traditional and the modern. They sit at the crossroads of Americana and indie, where Alabama meets Arcade Fire – shakes their hand and takes them out for a drink.
So, back to Woodrell’s Ozarkian wisdom from “Winter’s Bone,” being considered one of the best bands you’ll discover (or rediscover) in 2011 isn’t something Ha Ha Tonka ought need to ask for—it will be offered.
More about HHT: Named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park in their native Missouri, the group’s relentless touring has seen them become one of the most buzzed about young bands in America, appearing at Lollapalooza, Sundance Film Fest, SXSW, CMJ while touring nationally as a headlining act, as well as supporting many great bands such as Old 97s, Murder By Death, Langhorne Slim, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, Ludo, Meat Puppets and more.
“Death of a Decade sounds more like the birth of an important band.” -Austin Chronicle, Jim Caligiuri, 3/22/11
“A couple of rootsy, passionate, scruffy groups such as Mumford & Sons did their thing at the Grammy Awards this year, exposing their music to a relatively vast audience in one fell swoop. Mumford’s music is fine, but it’s a shame that Ha Ha Tonka couldn’t have taken that group’s spot. The Missouri quartet is not only authentically scruffy, it tears at the heart of American roots music with every chord like Mumford only pretends to, and its new record, Death of a Decade, basically oozes passion for the craft.” –Washington Post, Patrick Foster, 4/4/11
“Their third album…is a fortifying rock ‘n’ roots concoction. Enriched by exceptional four-part harmonies, it also features Anderson’s spirited mandolin and guitar playing, Long’s thumping bass, Bone’s thunderous drum fills and the powerful soprano of Roberts, whose boy-next-door-makes-good appeal is an added attraction…From the opening chords and playful mandolin in the rip-roaring “Usual Suspects,” Death of a Decade immediately connects.” –Huffington Post, Michael Bialas, 4/4/11
“The music is so creative, and so infectious, that it deserves a wider audience.” –Blurt online, Steve Pick, 4/5/11
“Ha Ha Tonka are emphasizing their Southern musical heritage while sounding smart and thoroughly contemporary…if you’re looking for music that’s smart, ambitious, literate, and fun at the same time, Death of a Decade could well be your introduction to your new favorite band.” –AllMusic.com, Mark Deming, 4/5/11
“This Springfield, MO band’s third album is an excellent set of soulful, roots-infused indie-rock, featuring a dynamic sound blending a variety of acoustic and electric instrumentation with the band’s stunning four-part harmonies.” –KEXP blog, Don Yates, 3/15/11
“Ha Ha Tonka is truly one of the best young bands in America.” -PopMatters.com
“Novel Sounds … is violent, literate, unapologetic Southern rock: With its angelic organ and snarling guitars, ‘The Outpouring’ conjures the Allmans, ‘Hold My Feet to the Fire’ drops gospel harmonies over a boogie-woogie backbeat, and the fingerpicked ‘Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart’ builds from tender to raging without a false note.” -Spin.com
“Ha Ha Tonka take the rudimentary things of great roots music – the full bodied feel of The Band, a splash of Tom Petty’s widescreen storytelling, the graceful arcs of Wilco—and inject them with young man hunger and back-to-basics bar band aesthetics.” -Jambase
“What’s perhaps most amazing about Ha Ha Tonka is that [Novel Sounds …] is so full of confidence that you would think it came from a band that has been around for many years. This is the kind of concept album that can give the idea a good name. Of all the young bands worth watching these days, Springfield, MO’s Ha Ha Tonka is at the top of my list.” -Popdose.com
“A precocious, stammering rock record that bridges sweet-water gospel folk with sweltering Southern rock.” -CMJ Essentials