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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Monday 15th December, 2014 2:56PM

Tonstartssbandht (pronounced tahn-starts-bandit) is Florida-born Brooklyn-based brothers Andy and Edwin White, who together forge incredible lo-fi experimental jams that are underpinned by an influence of Creedence Clearwater-esque classic rock. Growing up in a household with a father who was a guitar master that would literally play back-to-front and upside down had an influence on the two siblings, who are prolific in their own musical output. Aside from their combined project, Andy and his 12-string Danelecto play with Mac DeMarco's band and Edwin (who plays percussion for Tonstartssbandht) has his own solo project, Eola. However, they make the time to traverse the globe performing together, crafting their long-form cuts live in front of the audience and self-recording the sets for future release. With the twosome heading over to New Zealand in the new year as part of their Large Baby Tour through Asia and Australia, UnderTheRadar caught up with the pair for a chat about large babies, brotherhood and growing up in the eccentric Sunshine State...

Andy: (answers phone) Hello Danielle!

UTR: Hi! Is that Andy?

A: This is Andy, and I’m also with my brother Edwin, who is next to me.

E: Hello!

Oh hi! So you guys are living in New York at the moment?

A: Edwin has been living in New York for nine years now, and he’s been living in Bushwick for about two years. And I moved in with Edwin more-or-less permanently about a year ago.

So when you started Tonstartssbandht you were not living in the same city…

A: No, we started Tonstartssbandht when we were both temporarily in Orlando, both home visiting our parent from our respective new cities where we were. Ed was living in New York, and I was living in Montreal, where I lived for about six years.

Is Montreal where you met Mac DeMarco?

A: Yes it is.

Now you guys are flatting with Mac, right? Is he a good flatmate?

A: He’s been a good flatmate, but he actually just moved into a new place in Rockaway, but he was here for about a year and it was nice living with him, but now he lives across town.

So when you and Edwin started Tonstartssbandht… was it just jamming together?

Around the time we decided we were starting a band together the two of us had been jamming a lot for fun, strictly for fun. I think when we really decided to start the band was when we were focussing on a recording project together and we’d set out to re-record the Beach Boys album Smiley Smile/Wild Honey track-for-track, just for kicks. And spending time in our little home studio working on that we realised we had a lot of fun ideas, so we just kind of dropped it and started working on our original music and we called it Tonstartssbandht.

The name is a bit challenging for some people… would you choose it again?

I have no regrets, or desires to change anything that have done or will ever do in my life. As far as the name is concerned, I love that name. It means nothing, it’s air, it’s fire. It’s fucking cool, man.

Some people comment that you seem to have a sibling psychic connection when playing live… is that a thing?

A: There is some level of connection that exists when we are playing, for sure. It also has a lot to do with just trusting someone and also relaxing. It’s simply that we are happy to embarrass ourselves in front of each other and kind of just fearlessly try things, and relax. And once you relax things have a tendency to work themselves out. I feel like we are channelling a level of confidence and devil-may-care kind of vibe.

Do you argue much at all?

A: Not really. There is two years between us in age and the same level of sibling bickering and getting on each other’s nerves as probably anyone else. These days, we’ve grown and we’ve emotionally matured to the level where we don’t really fight with that many people at all in our lives, much less each other.

E: Peace and love!

What do you miss about your hometown in Orlando, Florida?

A: Um, just riding your bike around at night when it’s really quiet and just kind of like cool, wet, humid and, I don’t know... to say you miss something is in a sense saying that part of you is empty because it’s not there anymore, but it’s more like: “what do I like remembering about Orlando?”. The magical moments of growing up there… and learning to grow and love and all those things. Our family and a lot of our friends are still down there, those are the things that mean a lot to me. It’s a nice place to grow up.

Oh that's a nice way to think about it. I wanted to ask about your recording methods. A number of your albums have been recorded on your travels through places like Russia and Europe, why do you like to release like that?

As of late we’ve become more of a live band, when the project started we were doing more electronic stuff, singing over samples and looping a lot more, it was a creative project where Ed and I were recording a lot at our respective homes in different cities, because we lived apart for many years. Now that we’ve living together we are playing live shows so often and our songs are being crafted in front of audiences, and also I love recording. So it’s like, we are playing all the time, instead of working on music for hours like drudgery at home, we open it up in a live setting and capture something unique, and also working within the constraints and challenges that come with live recording. There is something really crisp and exciting about that, I find.

Does that mean that the songs are largely improvised, with a floating framework that you have been building up over time?

A: Yeah, that’s a very good way of putting it. The specifics of our music, especially live, are very freeform, and the framework is slowly developed over time. Our songwriting process over the last few years has largely been in a live setting, we change things, we like certain things, and we’ll try different things. One thing we improvise one night sound cool, so we’ll go “oh yea let’s do that again and that can be part of the song”.

I notice the songs on 
the albums are recorded at different venues, rather than putting out a tape from one show. Do you just go in to each venue beforehand and set up some mics around the room, or plug into the desk...

A: On the Europe tour specifically, it was a pretty long tour we did so we brought a lot of stuff, because it was my first time doing a tour with a bunch of recording gear, so I bought my old clunky laptop and a soundcard interface and a bunch of cables and microphones, and depending on the venue it really varied. It was one of the tours we set up ourselves so depending on the city it could be in a club with a nice soundboard, or it could be in a squat or something. So sometimes I was pulling different channels off the board, some nights I was mic-ing everything with my mics and borrowing mics off people, and yeah. I think that’s why the record has a nice movement of time… because, you know, I’m not a professional when it comes to recording, neither am I a professional when it comes to mixing, but the spaces of the different rooms and the different vibe comes out in the recording because it was different every night. It was very fun.

It works well with the experimental nature of your music. Will the Large Baby Tour be recorded?

A: Um, I think it might, I just picked up a new case… we are trying to figure out how much we can pack for it. There’s a lot of travelling over about a month-and-a-half and we are trying to pack light, but I’m experimenting with some new ideas and new gear to hopefully record as much as we can. I would put money on the fact that we will probably be recording a lot of the shows in Asia and Australia.

I was trying to work out why it was called the Large Baby tour, and I thought maybe there was some forethought to call a subsequent album that…

E: Ho ho… no, now that you put it that way, if we recorded the Large Baby Tour it would have to be called the Large Baby Tour LP… or something like that.

A: That’s a really good call.

E: But honestly, it didn’t have that kind of origin. We were just on tour…

A: We were just on tour in the van in the States and I took a call on my phone from the woman who help us set up the tour… and she said “what should we call the tour?”. And I looked over at Ed and I said “what shall we call the tour”, and he was all bored and sleepy and he said “oh let’s call it the Large Baby Tour”, and that was it.

E: Sometime Andy will, in a loving way, tease me and call me his big baby brother. Because I’m older…

A: Edwin has the fantastic infinite wisdom of a beautiful soul, I think. That’s why babies are kind of beautiful you know… and then a large baby, who doesn’t like big things. And a large baby has a big heart and it’s so pure.

E: I think I was just like “okay I'll accept it, everybody thinks I’m a large baby”, so that’s where it came from...

A: You’re embracing yourself and the wisdom of an infinite untarnished soul

All I can picture now is a large smiling zen-baby.

A: Well, just wait 'til you meet my brother.

Tonstartssbandht are playing at Chronophonium festival in the new year, as well as headline shows in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. Head over here for more details and for tickets.


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