Noise Pop: Ha Ha Tonka breaks from expectations yet again

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Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco on March 24, 2017. Photo: Alessio Neri

Brian Roberts is lead singer of Ha Ha Tonka, a southern rock-infused band from the Ozarks named after a state park in Missouri. One would assume, based on stereotypes, that between tours we would find him fishing or ranching or something similarly rustic.

Ha Ha Tonka
Wildling, Dagmar, Banzai Cliff

8 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 21
Bottom of the Hill
Tickets: $12-$15.

Roberts, however, is not a stereotype. We spoke to him by phone from Berlin. The one in Germany.

“I’ve been working over here doing social media for Mercedes-Benz when we’re not on tour,” he said. “It’s 30 degrees and a shade of gray that only exists in Germany. Like the cover of that Cormac McCarthy novel The Road, that gray. I think they got that gray from here.”

That hard turn from expectations is symbolic of Ha Ha Tonka as a band. Their genre is listed as everything from indie rock to Southern rock to Americana, but doesn’t seem to exactly fit in any of those. There are songs on the group’s latest album, 2017’s Heart-Shaped Mountain, that are reminiscent of The Shins and Tom Petty at the same time.

Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco on March 24, 2017.

“I think we’re a rock and roll band that comes from the Ozarks,” Roberts said of their sound. “It’s been a filter that our style of rock goes through. We like to play rock and roll music. We do lots of four-part harmonies. Brett [Anderson], our guitar player, is a good mandolin player. We have the best rock and roll piano player in the world, who can play the lights out of anything.”

Back to being in Berlin: While it would be challenging to workflow as well as expectations, it’s not something necessarily new to the band.

Roberts explained, “After the first record, a couple guys lived in New York, some still lived in Missouri, I was in [Santa Barbara], California. So we do a good job of scheduling rehearsals and writing sessions, and when we’re making a record we go to the recording studio. So it’s not as crazy as it seems.

Ha Ha Tonka

Courtesy: Jason Gonulson

“I can’t say enough how often I use my smartphone to send demos and how amazing it is; how much it’s helped songwriting,” he said. “We’ll make a demo, 60 seconds, 90 seconds, basic chord structure and melody; send that around. Sometimes it’s fun to come back to something a month later.”

They’ll be back together soon, though, for a West Coast tour from the Southwest up to Washington State, including a stop at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill on Feb. 21 as part of the Noise Pop festival. And at least one member of the band will probably be enjoying the blue skies a little more than usual.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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