This Tonstartss(Band)ht Will Change Your Life
This band of brothers burned Silent Barn to the ground (with sick jams) so we interviewed the drummer about DMT and their dad.
Andy, left, and Edwin White, right. Photos by Tom Keelan.
Ask anyone who caught Tonstartssbandht’s sold-out record release show at Silent Barn a few weeks ago: Orlando, FL-born brothers Andy and Edwin White sent the bitch up. Edwin’s percussive assault, Andy’s tectonic riffs on his Danelectro, and their telepathic sibling jam instincts turned the packed room into a shaking jello mold of sweaty flesh.
I first heard Tonstartssbandht when my friend booked them at our college in 2011. I listened to “Black Country” on repeat for weeks beforehand. On the night of the show anticipation got the best of me; I pre-gamed, and then some. I mostly remember their incredible set, I barely remember Andy joking about how I should drive their tour van home afterwards, and I honestly don't remember screaming “I’m gonna kill myself and transfer to Bard” in response before stumbling away, but I did. Water under the bridge. I've seen them several times since, and each time they've blown me away with sprawling improvisation anchored by taut musicianship. See for yourself on Overseas, a live album they recorded on tour in Europe and released two weeks ago on Montreal stalwart Arbutus Records. If you associate the phrase “live album” with your uncle’s handheld camera footage of Woodstock ’99, don't trip: Overseas offers a beautifully recorded glimpse into how this band operates, pastoral vocal harmonies unfurling around knotty psych-rock burners.
Tonstartssbandht are one of the most unique bands out. How’d they get that way? A few weeks ago I sat down with Edwin (Andy couldn’t make it) to find out more about their genesis. Here's my hot take: a glowing psychedelic Venn diagram made of fluctuating shapes, each containing a single phrase: noise music, DMT, upside down guitar-playing dad. In the middle, jamming down Babylon: Tonstartssbandht.
Tell me about the most life-changing live show you’ve ever seen.
I was at the Soft House, part of the Copy Cat building in Baltimore. It’s completely covered with afghan rugs on the walls, so it’s soft. It was Twig and Carly from [legendary noise pioneers] Nautical Almanac. For their performance, they put up a long folding table, put up chairs on top of them and faced the audience and said, “So, whats up. What do you want to talk about?” Everyone was just like, “What?” People were yelling shit and they were like, “Lets talk about that!” They started swatting at words and twisting it. It was this crazy performance art dialogue where everything was broken down and language was lost. I can’t even remember what we talked about. It was so quick and spontaneous and completely awkward and weird. It was out of this world, indescribable—nothing else like it. It showed the spirit and the mind of those people. That’s the kind of thing that gets me off. It wasn’t like, “That rock band has the sickest sound.” A lot of what inspires me comes from the noise scene. I like what’s real and what’s raw, and a lot of those people can do that better than straight-up rock instrumentation stuff. That’s the best performance I’ve ever seen.
Noisey: Can you pinpoint a Tonstartssbandht show where you feel like it all came together?
Edwin White: The first time we played Cool Fest in Montreal, which was 2009 or 2008. It was four in the morning and 20 bands have played, there’s no one left. We were like, “Fuck it,” and we took off our pants and played in our underwear. We were wearing headset mics and we started off the show with me sitting on Andy’s shoulders and he was standing up. We were just singing and doing crazy live looping, boy choir vocals. A lot of people didn’t know us then and they were like, “Who the fuck are these guys in their underwear?”
Your song "5FT7" is on the soundtrack for that new James Franco movie, Palo Alto. How did that happen?
Edwin White: They approached us, but we’re a little bit acquainted with the director Gia Coppola—met her a few years ago through friends. So yeah, they approached us and we were flattered. It was awesome. It’s a great soundtrack, Jason Schwartzman and Devonté Hynes have stuff on it. Mac [DeMarco], who we live with, has songs on it too. We were each being emailed by the movie people and we live across the hall from each other, so I’d be like “Mac are you getting these emails?” “Yeah it’s sick! Are you doing it?” And we were like “Cool, cool. We’ll do it too.” It was a real family affair.
Tell me about the song you chose.
It’s an old song. It’s off the album An When from 2009. The title of the album is named after a friend of ours named An When, who we really love and, by coincidence, that specific song is a song I wrote about her. I’m just sort of asking her what’s up. We grew up with her in Florida and she moved to LA after graduating. I don’t know how tall she is, maybe she’s 5’7”, a little buttercup. I was like, “Dear An, wish that I was tan, wish I was in LA.” The song is pretty much like, “How’s LA, how’s life—we miss you.” It’s got a hip-hoppy kind of beat so it was good for a party scene in the movie. It’s a good song, I’m proud of it.
Tell me about the European tours you recorded for Overseas. How did those come about?
It all started in 2011. We were emailed by people in Russia and they wanted to bring us over DIY. We played St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. We’d never been to western Europe and only played two shows in Ukraine and it was crazy. The guy who brought us was the same age as Andy, so about 22 at the time. He was not a promoter or a booking agent, just an art school kid. The reason they contacted us was because the year before someone booked a fake show without contacting us. Everyone was there waiting for us. The promoter was like, “I’m on the phone with them, they missed their flight layover in Berlin because they were drunk.” Meanwhile we never knew anything about this show. Anyway, the kids that opened that show and actually played a set emailed us and were like, “Sorry about that, we want to bring you.” So, it was crazy shit. After we got our foot in the door with Russia, they brought us back the next year and we played a lot more shows. Andy recorded every single show. We culled the tracks on Overseas from about 15-18 shows. We ended up with 13 hours of show music and we sifted through it all winter. We picked the best of the best for each track and that was it.
Did you guys fight a lot when you were kids?
Yeah, off and on. We were friends and then I’d be the stupid, adolescent, older brother and beat on him and stuff. But now we’re best friends.
What’s your earliest memory of your brother?
He was probably three, I was probably five. Until he was in middle school, Andy had this style. I always wore jean shorts and XL sized t-shirts, dress size. Andy liked to wear above-the-knee checkered shorts, safari African hat, flat and circular. That was his style. So mom would buy him what he liked and for me, she’d just buy big shirts.
What is a quintessential Orlando memory for you?
Just like insane humidity and thunderstorms every day in the afternoon in the summer. You’d play some Frisbee, ride your bike, skateboard, and then the thunderstorms roll in and it pours like a monsoon for two hours and it goes away. That’s Orlando. Apparently it’s the lightening capital in the world besides this area in the Congo, because the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream weather patterns collide right over it.
What was a weekend like for you in high school?
I went to a lot of shows and hung out, skateboarded, went to house parties. I didn’t really drink that much. I smoked weed. I went to a lot of shows. I was a good medium guy. I was like a circle floater. I’d chill with everyone.
Your dad is a musician, right?
He’s an amazing musician who plays guitar, sings, drums, anything. He plays backwards, upside-down guitar like Jimi Hendrix. He flips it and plays left-handed. He’s self-taught. He can play anything under the sun. He played every night at bars in Orlando for like 20 years. He’s been sober since before I was born. So, he would play these bar gigs without having a drop to drink, and never came home smelling of smoke. That was the family business. He’d kiss us goodnight when he was getting ready to go to work. We’d see him at five AM and we’d see him when we came home from school. An amazing guy, and amazing musician.
Did he teach you guys at all?
In fourth grade, he bought us nylon string acoustic guitars, but he couldn’t teach us because of the way he plays. We couldn’t follow what he was doing. He exclusively plays backwards and upside down. He’s self-taught. He plays like Jimi Hendrix. It’s insane. He can just pick up my guitar and flip it and play anything under the sun. We sang in choir, and we learned a lot of good musical vibes from him, not actually the instruments themselves.
What is the most transformative spiritual moment you’ve ever had?
It’s when I smoked DMT.
My friend had it. We had to go to a bunch of stores to build the machine to smoke it. It’s like a special kind of pipe. We tried it and weren’t doing it right. They say even if you feel a little bit, you have to wait an hour to do it again, so I waited, packed it up again, and I hit it. Third eye opened and reality went out of here. I shot to outer space and I was in this hypersphere realm. It was so amazing and intuitive. It was like, this is everything, this is life. I was just happy. The minute that it hits it’s scary, because you think you broke your brain. But once you’re there, you’re like, “This is beautiful.” You know that it lasts ten or fifteen minutes, so you know you’re coming back. I just kept saying “Hello” because I thought I was seeing something I could talk to. I was high on life for about two weeks after that. It’s completely spiritual. It makes you love and believe in the world and consciousness and reality. It’s fucking crazy. I recommend it to anyone.
Ezra Marcus killed himself and transferred to Twitter—@ezra_marc