Andy and Edwin M. White are two brothers who grew up in Florida and began making a name for themselves in the Montreal loft show scene of the late 2000s. Playing as Tonstartssbandht, the brothers are known for their prolific output and legendary live shows. In addition to their work together, the brothers each have solo projects (Andy Boay and Eola); Andy also is the touring guitarist for Mac DeMarco. They bring that energy to the stages of China this fall in a joint tour with 工工工 (Joshua Frank and Tom Ng).
Where does the name Tonstartssbandht come from?
Edwin: It’ s a word I made up. Some 10+ years ago I collaged words from a newspaper headline onto a CD-r cover. We used to play in big fun free-rock noise bands as teenagers. Sometimes we would make individual collage covers for the 25 CD-rs we burned to bring to shows. I liked how the word looked and suggested to Andy that we should call ourselves that if we ever started our own duo. The next year, we finally did start making music as a duo and something we took the name. People pronounce it as TAHN-starts-band or TAHN-starts-bandit. We are the proud creators of a beautiful new word.
Right now, what is the process of making music for the two of you?
Edwin: Over the past 12 months it’s mostly been recording live takes of us on guitar and drums, maybe with scratch vocals too. We’ll set up mics going to a digital interface, and a separate zoom recorder. Using Logic, we add vocals and mix. Andy brings in riffs and chord progressions and we just play them too develop the structure and feel. I’d consider this all to be a very common, or straightforward approach to making music like ours. Individually, I know Andy plays a lot of guitar on his own, whereas I’ve been playing a lot of piano and sometimes messing around with looping vocals.
Throughout your releases, there seem to be many musical influences and styles that run through the albums and cassettes. When you set out to make these recordings, do you have in mind what it’s going to sound like? Or is the process of creating a release more organic and shaped throughout the creative process?
Edwin: Speaking solely for myself, I think we just make it up as we go, just trying to capture those powerful moments when inspiration hits. For me they’re too fleeting to be planned well. I tend to fixate on an idea that grabs me, then spend a long time trying to make sense of it, develop it, sit on it, throw it away, return. Sometimes songs just need to age like cheese for you to enjoy the taste. When we put together a release we look at what’s new, and we look at unfinished or old demos and we compile stuff that works together. If it sounds cohesive to us, it’s done. No matter how short or how long, we should feel comfortable with that grouping of sounds.
I like putting together releases. It consistently motivates us both in a very pure way. There can be moments along the way where you have to stop because something isn’t working, but ultimately by the end it’s really the best feeling.
What would you say are some of the major differences making music on your own, playing together as Tonstartssbandht, and playing as part of the band for another musician?
Edwin: For me it can be as simple as which instruments I’m using. In Tonstartssbandht I plays drums and I sing — sometimes lead, sometimes backing. Often we sing unison lead vocals (my favorite) and it starts to fall apart along the line as we both cross in and out of harmony. When I record solo music (as Eola) I build songs using my voice, a looping pedal, reverb and a harmonizer or chorus pedal. My goal is to make it sound like a choir. Lately, I’ve been playing much more piano while I have access to it again. That’s it, I just switch instruments I guess.
Andy: I think the difference between my solo work (Andy Boay) is mostly material in nature; it has tended to be a different gear set-up the last few years, sometimes with me playing some of the same material that we also play in Tonstartssbandht. I also play guitar in Mac DeMarco’s touring backing band, and with that, I feel I tend to focus on playing his music as accurately or groovily as I can with the other guys in the band, and my personal nuances tend to shine more through my stage persona, more as a “hired entertainer” (with Mac) than “a nice simple man playing music with his best friend and brother” (as with Tonstartssbandht).
You’ve been praised in particular for your live shows and recordings. How do you capture that energy and musicality of the live gigs on some of your live recording albums, such as Overseas?
Edwin: The songs on Overseas are all from live shows. We just picked the best songs and versions, then Andy mixed them. We spent weeks just listening to all the shows over and over, taking detailed notes on what made certain shows, or songs, so special. To answer your question, first we just record ever single show. From there we hunker down and just try and make sure we are sharing the best possible captured version with everyone that we can. Sometimes the recording turns out to be unlistenable or batteries run out or we were too rushed to properly set up the recording stuff, etc. If the energy and spirit is able to shine through to the people listening, then we can be only grateful that that essential aspect came through to listeners. Even with all the mixing and mindful curation there’s only so much we can do. The rest is out of our hands.
How does the sibling relationship affect the musical relationship between the two of you?
Edwin: I assume it only helps. We are very close friends, of course old friends, and we have very similar taste in music, both in what we listened to and in what we strive to create. I love creating new music with Andy. I also love listening to music with Andy because we both get stoked on a lot of the same kind of stuff.
How do you account for the prolificness of Tonstartssbandht’s output? Is there are any element of editing that goes into the various releases?
Edwin: We seem to have periods of productivity and quiet years as well. Sometimes the focus will shift over to solo projects or side projects. Again, for me, I always want to be making music that I’m proud of, but sometimes it’s happening and sometimes it’s just not. I try to focus attention and energy on it, but ultimately I let it happen. For me it’s like making sense of coffee grounds. Drink the brew, look down at your mess, react to what’s now there, and then pour the next cup.
As for editing, I think some songs just sit for a few years because we can’t tell if it’s done or we stop liking it and then like it again. So if it fits we might add it to a later release of newer recordings. Ye unto you I say, I say ... this is the truth, and behold: Holly Baba Locus Bellarum.
What brought you to Asia, and what are you most looking forward to on this tour?
Edwin: Tom Ng, Josh Frank, and Simon Frank set up this tour, so without them we would not be coming over to play in Asia.
Our connection to these guys began when Andy lived in Montreal at the same time as Josh from 工工工. I believe they were both attending the same university. He and Simon were doing Hot & Cold whenever Simon could visit, or vice versa, and similarly I would visit Andy to play and record as Tonstartssbandht. When they both respectively moved back to Asia we realized it would be a good opportunity to do a tour in China with them, which we’ve all wanted to do for a while. Josh and Tom (from The Offset Spectacles) are very active with 工工工 now in Beijing and we will accompany them for the entire tour. Simon joins us for the shows in Taiwan, as he now lives in Taipei.
We are definitely excited to see all these new cities. Among our shared interests as brothers is definitely city and urban statistical stuff (it goes hand in hand with history and geography). We are always excited to take in a new city of any size and in any place. It will be a privilege to get to see so many different and gigantic cities on this trip (Classic Asia Tour). We both feel extremely grateful to be able to go on a tour like this.
I love playing music with my brother and these days it’s not something we are able to do as often as a few years ago. So, I hope to get stoked on new places and recharge our minds and spirits with some holy music-sharing among new friends, alongside old friends, to learn new things from the people and situations that we encounter on this month long journey. Magic is as real as what can be about to unfold, and when I remember that all I feel is easy joy.
Tonstartssbandht + 工工工 China Tour:
9/16 - Hong Kong at Running Horse Lantern
9/17 - Shenzhen at B-10
9/18 - Guangzhou at T:UNION
9/20 - Chengdu at Little Bar
9/22 - Chongqing at Nuts Club
9/23 - Shanghai at Harley's (with GOOOOOSE)
9/30 - Beijing at Yugong Yishan (with Chui Wan)
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