Q&A: Before Tampa show, Florida dream-pop fave Tonstartssbandht talks 'Petunia,' COVID and more

Brother Cephus and Alien House open the show at Hooch and Hivethis weekend.

click to enlarge Tonstartssbandht, which plays Hooch & Hive in Tampa, Florida on April 9, 2022. - Tonstartssbandht
Tonstartssbandht, which plays Hooch & Hive in Tampa, Florida on April 9, 2022.
Tonstartssbandht, the dream-pop project of Orlandoan siblings Andy and Edwin White, have had a strange few months (just like every other band everywhere, it seems).

There have been amazing highs — new album Petunia out on Mexican Summer, vinyl reissues forthcoming on Fire Talk Records — and disappointing lows — tours delayed, delayed again and even scuttled.

But, as we type these very words, the band is set for a six-date Florida tour starting later this week, complete with this Tampa show featuring a rare live set from one of Tampa’s most dynamic indie-rock outfits, Brother Cephus, and a resurgent production duo, Alien House.

Orlando Weekly chatted with Andy and Edwin White of Tonstartssbandht (pronounced “tahn-starts-bandit”) by telephone to catch up on a very eventful couple of years.
How are you both doing?

AW: I just recovered from a bout of the novel coronavirus. I've been asymptomatic now for like 10 days and I've been testing negative for the last four. So I'm feeling normal and good as opposed to like a week ago,

That must have been just such a heartbreaker having to sort of curtail those dates, especially sharing bills with Ryley Walker …

AW: It was a crushing disappointment. But when we started this recent U.S. leg, we drove to Nashville on the first day because the first show was in Nashville and that evening, after driving from Orlando all day, Edwin was starting to feel like he had a cold or something. And the next morning, he took a test and he's like, "Fuck, I'm positive."

So we had to cancel a buttload of shows in the beginning. And I consistently tested negative, and we just kept testing every day to make sure that I hadn't contracted it. And Edwin and I isolated as best we could, which meant like driving with all the windows down, me in the front of the van and Edwin in the back. Masks on. This was in the Midwest, in early March so it was freezing. Yeah. And we had to pay for separate hotel rooms and I would get Ed his dinner and Gatorade and cold medicine and stuff. I did a couple shows solo.

It was our first time dealing with what a lot of bands are dealing with right now. What to do with COVID effects your tour? How do you isolate from the person that has it? Does everyone have it? … We want to be transparent about who's positive, how many days they've been positive for, who's negative, testing every day, all that stuff. It was exhausting. And then I eventually ended up just getting it.

You're going ahead with your planned Florida shows, it's been a while since people have seen y'all play live here.

EW: This is the most thorough Florida tour that we've ever done as Tonstartssbandht or at least in a long time. We've never played Jacksonville, which is kind of crazy. And we haven't played Tallahassee in like, I don't know, off the top of my head it would be 9 or 10 years. And then we'll be hitting Gainesville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa, which usually almost all of those we tour through when we do an album cycle. So it'll be nice to get back,

AW: As we get older and we have like different work and relationship and geographic commitments, it's nice … I think it's nice that we can get [all the Florida cities] done in two weekends. Because we just have to plan further ahead. It's like we got a little Florida roadtrip figured out. We'll be busy playing shows obviously, but I like the idea of visiting the bigger metro areas all in Florida over the course of 10 days.

What was behind the idea to go full-force and play certain cities that you haven't played before or in awhile, like Jacksonville and Tallahassee? They often get skipped over …

AW: Florida does tend to get skipped and overlooked on a lot of national tours and national tours circuit. An enormous amount of artists of a certain level will usually just skip Florida if they're not from the Southeast, you know where it's just depending on the genre. … A lot of bands will skip it. And I've always been curious about that because there's so many people here and especially a lot of young people and music fans. … It's not like second nature, I think, for booking agents to think that there's a bunch of different markets in Florida or that it's worth the gas or travel time to dip down into the peninsula and back up. But because Orlando is like our home base, it makes sense for us and we're happy to play any number of cities in Florida. So we figured we'd do the US tour in the fall [of 2021], and then focus on all the Florida dates. I mean, originally they were supposed to be January, but then Omicron happened. So now we're doing them in in April.

Is there anything planned beyond beyond this string of Florida dates for you?

EW: We'll probably be having a break. And then we're trying to plan a European tour in July. So we'll see how that works out. And then probably do more shows in the states in the fall. We will try to make up as many of the shows that got canceled this month as we can.

Would you all talk a little bit about the reissues that are coming out on Fire Talk?

EW: Yeah, those come out in July, and it's three of our albums from the late 2000s — I think it's like a span of 2009-2011. They're their albums that we self-released when we were first starting out. But they were ones that captured people's attention and helped us get noticed. So I think for old fans, they're old favorites. They haven't really been reissued outside of small runs of see CDs or tapes, sometimes for tours. Well, An When was reissued on vinyl in 2017. But aside from that, Hymn and Dick Knights … there hasn't been physical versions of them in many years. Our friend at Fire Talk, Trevor, who we've known since the late 2000s … he just hit us up and was like, "Have you guys seen the reissues I did with Pure X?" And those are also friends of ours. And he was like, "You guys get interested in doing that with your stuff?" It was a match made in heaven.

AW: With Fire Talk reissuing all three of those records at once, it helps me remember how they are all three stylistically different from each other. And they came out in such a short — all three of them — in a relatively short period. of time. It's just cool, looking back, thinking about how our practice and our recording process and our creative process was changing over the course of just two years.

EW: Some of the music on them was recorded as far back as 2006 and 2008. I think So there's like real ancient, teenaged Tonstartss stuff on there. That's where it all began.

It's interesting. Usually when you think about reissues, you think about like maybe it's an older artist, but I consider the two of you a very young band …

AW: First I have to say that I'm really flattered that you say that we're young, it makes me feel young … It's like, the signifier of a reissue usually means it's an old release from artists with a legacy and they're bringing it back or something. But on the other hand, especially in a DIY self-release community, when someone says they want to reissue something it also means they want to get greater distribution for it, you know? And I think it's a little bit of both in this case. Because, yeah, we're still I think strapping young men. (laughs) We're comfortably into our thirties now, and when we made those records I was … we started working on this shit when I was like 18. And to me, it feels like a lifetime. It's literally is a lifetime. I don't even necessarily want people to see these albums being reissued and think that we're elder statesman or that we're deserving of an intense essay about our legacy or something like that. But 13 years have passed since the record came out and that's a long time for me.

EW: All three of those records have quality songwriting and song-crafting and a lot of real, crazy exploration across them. I think the Dick Nights one is … all the songs are so different from each other, just on that one alone. We're proud of those albums, and we're still very proud of the songs we made. And it's good to see they're just reissuing it so old fans can get their hands on something maybe they never grabbed when it came out, but it also just gives a chance to people that only recently discovered us to see a completely different side of this band, and where it all kind of came from and the beginnings of what shaped the musicians that we are today. It all started with those albums when we were in our late teens, early 20s.
I'd like to shift over to Petunia. It's, I think, your most Orlando-rooted album. What are your impressions and memories of making that one while locked down in Orlando?

AW: Wake up every day. Check the phone and read bad news especially during the first few months, when COVID became a reality for everyone. Then try and focus on the record, because it's something that we … I mean, it was an escape in some sense, but also it was something that we had been wanting and meaning to do for a while. So we were very lucky in that we had a project that we could immediately focus our energy and our mental and emotional crap into.

The record had such a dreamlike, ethereal feel for being made during such urgent times …

AW: I know what you mean. I have no fucking idea. It's crazy. If I think about the level of heightened anxiety, and like, also the rush that I felt like I needed to get this done … because I'm between New York and Orlando. And I was trying to finish the record before I could get back to New York because I was trying to take care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. But I don't know. I don't know. I know what you mean. The actual process of making it was at times very stressful just because life was incredibly stressful at that time. No one knew when like checks were gonna start coming from the government. No one was making any money. Florida unemployment, we could rite a fucking book about that. It is crazy the amount of ambient dread and doom that was surrounding our heads all day long. And then you do something banal. Like, at the time I was still drinking, I would get wasted and watch whatever the fuck was on TV at night just to try and decompress before going to bed and getting up the next day and then doing the same thing: working as hard as I could, until I was exhausted.

To release an album during that time became a Herculean feat in and of itself. What went through your mind when you had the finished artifact in hand finally?

AW: "I wonder if we'll ever tour ever again?" I thought that many times between spring 2020 and fall 2021. … I've always loved touring so much. Every time we've done it, it's always been such a special thing. It's a thing that I look forward to for months. And when you get on the road, it feels like nothing else in the world. But it's crazy to say, I take it even less for granted now. Because it's so much more precarious.
Tell me about the making of the "What Has Happened" music video. Was it at all indicative of any of the daily stuff y'all were doing as far as just taking walks, skateboarding …

AW: During the making of Petunia, we'd go into the home studio for two hours a day. But then the rest of the day, you weren't supposed to go anywhere because of COVID. So we would just go for bike rides, go for walks, go skateboarding. We love Orlando. I love the cityscape, I love the parks, I love everything about it. So you don't have to twist my arm to get me to get out of the house during a pandemic or when I've been working all day. I'm happy to do that. And then the director of that music video, Case Mahan, was going to be in Central Florida.

EW: He's amazing photographer, always taking film photos … And he was just like, "Yeah take me wherever you want to go." We wanted to make it look like the hidden jungle-y Orlando that locals know. Not like "secret" spots, but places that people that aren't from here almost never see. … I also just like that it was all shot around downtown Orlando. And it's like could go to the springs or you could go to really nice places in the greater metro area. We didn't even have to, to fill up the video. It's a beautiful town.

AW: He rolled up from Melbourne at sunrise and then he hit the road to drive back to Lexington at sunset. He was here for like 14 hours.

It was like a series of Easter eggs for Orlando residents …

AW: For real when the video was released, the only feedback that I was hoping to see hoping to see was people from Orlando being like "Hell yeah, I know that spot." Any any scan of the comments on that video, I'm always looking for people being like, "That's my favorite skate spot." Or like, "I know that spot." There are kids who were like "Mead Garden! I used to go there in high school!" It's kind of like our chance to do a love letter to Orlando, you know, but with our very talented friend behind the camera.

This post originally appeared at our sibling publication Orlando weekly.
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