Indie rock with Ozark charm

The Maneater will present Ha Ha Tonka on Saturday at Mojo's.

By Pierce Courchaine | April 29, 2011

Tags: Concerts Music


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Although Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes might get all the attention, the folk revival is flourishing in Missouri. Springfield-native Ha Ha Tonka has been quietly tinkering on a successful career and touring the country with its folk and country-infused indie rock.

Critics around the States have lauded the band’s newest album, Death of a Decade, and you can see the band perform Saturday at Mojo’s.

“I think everything in the music industry is cyclical,” lead singer Brian Roberts said. “I think in the '70s, this style of music was more common.”

But the folk revival is a part of this century. The success of Ha Ha Tonka shouldn’t come as a surprise either.

“It’s never completely gone away,” Roberts said. “The fact that it’s kind of becoming more of a force in the alternative charts is a great thing.”

Death of a Decade manages to bring together sounds of country and pop rock with melodic harmonies and small-town charm. It was recorded in, of all places, a barn in New York state, which is the same barn Titus Andronicus recorded its 2010 epic, The Monitor in. The album is the third full-length under the name Ha Ha Tonka and is helping the band achieve more success than ever before.

In March, Travel Channel aired an episode of “No Reservations” where host Anthony Bourdain visited the Ozarks of Missouri and hung out with the band for a day.

“It was awesome,” Roberts said. “I mean, he’s a super sweet guy in person.”

As Roberts put it, the day consisted of shooting guns, drinking beer and eating food – perhaps reflecting the day in the life of a southern Missourian. Although hailing from Missouri has given the band certain opportunities, it isn’t all peachy.

“I think that it takes longer to be noticed honestly,” Roberts said. “However, I don’t think that there’s anything detrimental because it’s such a unique area.”

Columbia rounds out a tour that had the band traversing the country. After this tour, the group will play at Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival in Ozark, Ark. The festival crowd isn’t new to Ha Ha Tonka (the group played Lollapalooza) but it is different than the club scene.

“You’re definitely playing in front of a foreign audience,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to keep that in the back of your head.”

Still, the large and eclectic audience provides Ha Ha Tonka with an opportunity to reach out to new fans, Roberts said.

As the band’s popularity continues to grow, it doesn’t plan on forgetting its roots. The group actively pursues its fans and interacts with them. Even Ha Ha Tonka’s Twitter is an excellent place to connect with the group.

Roberts said he didn’t want to sound cheesy, but connecting with fans is something the group appreciates.

“We enjoy what we do so much and the fact that people come up (to us), talking to them is the least we can do,” Roberts said.

Whether Ha Ha Tonka becomes the next Mumford & Sons remains to be seen, but for now it seems the group is happy where it is. And Roberts is particularly looking forward to Saturday.

“We love playing in Columbia, Mo.,” Robert said with a hint of child-like excitement.

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