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Ha Ha Tonka roots down in KC after a European jaunt

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Fresh off their first European tour, localish roots-rockers Ha Ha Tonka set up at RecordBar for a homecoming show the night before Thanksgiving. The Pitch recently engaged in a trans-Atlantic correspondence with drummer Lennon Bone in anticipation of the gig.

The Pitch: It seems like rootsy Americana bands from the United States go over really well in Europe. Are you finding that to be true?

Lennon Bone: I think so. It seems that Europeans are just really into music, so I'm not sure it matters if it's Americana. All I've really seen is that people over here are much more open to checking new bands out on a whim, something we don't seem to have the luxury of in America. 

Have you guys toured Europe before? What do your audiences look like over there?

We've never been to Europe before this tour unless it's for vacation or something. I've never been at all until now. The crowds have all been so welcoming. There have, of course, been some sporadic smaller audiences, but nothing less than 30 people. I think our biggest crowd was close to 150 with quite a few gigs just under that. To give you an example of how people just come out because they want to try something new, we played a café at 4 p.m. on a Sunday and over 50 people came. We do pretty well in certain markets of the States, and we'd probably never get that kind of crowd out at that time. It's also different in that, minus a few shows, we've been the only band on the bill. There's not a lot of supporting artists over here in smaller venues.

How do you think people in Europe even find out about Ha Ha Tonka? 

Promoters over here seem to take great care of bands and actually promote the hell out of the shows. In Madrid, for instance, so many people came up to me and said they either read about it in a local publication or got a flier at another show or something. It's not that the promotion seems any different physically from the States; it just seems that there's more care put into it, more work done, if that makes any sense. And people seem to respond to that. We've had some people that stumbled across something online, and some that have been fans for a few years even. One gal in Germany drove 300 kilometers to see the gig. That's a pretty trippy thing when you're thousands of miles away from home in a town you've never been.

Any good road stories?

There have been so many amazing experiences, honestly. One of my favorites was here in Ireland a couple of days ago. We stopped at this lighthouse in Hook Head. It's the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Brian was signing the guest book, and they asked where we were from and why we were there. When he told them, they immediately looked up one of our music videos on YouTube and played it over the television. I have a picture of the whole room crowded around and watching. They seemed to dig it and gave us a private tour of the lighthouse, made us all cappuccino for the road. It's just remarkable how sweet and appreciative people seem to be for us trying to bring our music over here. Ireland and Spain especially. We've also been lucky to play some really historic venues over here. Last night's pub has an annual gig for Hendrix's bass player, who played his last gig ever there. People like McCartney and Neil Young have also graced that tiny stage. Crazy to think about.

Who of the four of you is the least suited for life abroad?

I'd say we've all adapted pretty well on all counts, minus the higher alcohol content in the beers. Especially in Belgium. That ain't no PBR they're giving bands over there. Only the best and as many as you want. That'll sneak up on you quicklike.

Were people over there talking a lot about the election?

Everybody is. It seemed so weighed for Obama as well. Everybody wanted him to win, and they were talking about how the results would affect them as well. Ireland has an open gambling law. I guess it was 8-to-1 odds that Obama would win. The country stood to lose so much money that they paid out early.

Now that Mumford & Sons is, like, the biggest band in the world, are you getting compared with them a lot? And how annoying is that? Also, I would imagine it's probably pretty good for business, right?

You know, over here, I only heard the Mumford reference a couple of times. We seemed to get more Fleet Foxes comparisons, which is awesome. People obviously talk about Mumford, though. The States seem to hold them at a higher standard than what I've discussed with people over here. Here it feels more like a local band got huge, and they're super-proud of them. Plus, I think when you see our live show as your first taste of us, you don't necessarily get the same vibe as Mumford. I feel like we're more rock and roll. Maybe I'm wrong. We have songs that could couple well with their style, but hopefully it expands to something that's still just us as well. As far as being good for business, I guess it's good. But we're not the Lumineers or something, who I think hug the Mumford corner a bit closer and also have a huge hit. A huge hit would be better for business. Haha. 

Do you ever want to punk on Mumford & Sons because they're from fancy London and you guys are from real-deal Ozark country?

Ha! Well, let's get them to take us on the road first, then we'll see what kind of punking we can come up with. 

What's the plan for this Thanksgiving show and beyond?

We, of course, have our big Thanksgiving shows in Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago. We will do one brand-new tune that we've been road-testing for a bit. We're trying to work up a couple of tunes off of Death of a Decade that we don't usually play live as well. I think the show is going to be a blast. We're trying to make these Midwest Thanksgiving gigs an annual thing, and this will be the second-annual. Then we're going to hibernate for a while and try to work on a new record.

Are you all going to Springfield after the holidays or staying here, or what?

Nobody lives in Springfield anymore. I'd say KC is more home base now. Brett and I both live here, and we write and rehearse at my house. Brian is in Santa Barbara, California, the little bit that we're home, and Luke bounces between a few places during the off time. We'll have a big dinner with close friends at my place to celebrate the holiday.

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