“It was wonderful working these songs from initial ideas to final form,” says Tonstartssbandht’s Andy White when delving into the creation of their wondrous new album Petunia. “It’s a process that inspires me, frustrates me, depresses me, and gives me hope. It’s why I write music!”
Petunia will see the brothers Andy and Edwin White exploring a soundscape full of lush harmonies, sprawling psychedelia, and summery harmonies as they steer clear from the fuzzy and reverberating walls-of-sound that emanates out of their early material.
The Whites created the record in Orlando, Florida, during a productive period between April 2020 and August 2020. They were able to focus their attention on the record due to Covid’s new lockdown.
It’s an engaging journey that starts with the groove-laden opener Pass Away and ends with the magical, eight-minute-plus setpiece Falloff. Then there are the creepy, atmospheric Blues of Smilehenge.
Officially, the record is theirs, “eight” The Whites released their first studio album in 2007 after their formation. The Whites brought in Roberto Pagano from The Idiot Room San Francisco and Joseph Santarpia to assist with mixing.
“Joe and Roberto are two incredibly talented, lovely gentlemen who I knew we could rely upon,” Andy, a longtime collaborator in Mac DeMarco’s band, told Silver Screen Beat. “They were my first encounter with mixing our music.”
The White brothers’ musicianship shines throughout Petunia. Armed with little more than a 12-string guitar and drum kit, Andy and Edwin guide us along a shimmering, kaleidoscopic path that opens up new avenues with each listen, providing the escapism we’ve been longing for.
Silver Screen Beat’s Rory McKeown caught up with Andy White, who gave us the lowdown on Petunia’s creation, influences, and brotherly dynamic.
Hi guys, how can you sum up the past year or so for Tonstartssbandht? Has the period been a fruitful one? Have you encountered any challenges along the way?
“In March 2020, like the rest of the world, we hunkered down for the pandemic. We had been planning on finally recording a new album at the end of the year with some planned time off, but, with everything indefinitely halted that spring, we got to work earlier than planned, and it was a fruitful summer.
“We had it finished mixed and mastered by September, and then… we just waited around until this October for it to come out and for touring to start up again.
You’re releasing your new album, Petunia. Please tell me more about the recording and writing process. When did it get underway?
“The material on Petunia has been coming together gradually in the years since our last album Sorcerer, and both explored onstage at lives shows and home during low stakes recording sessions.
“We have a lot of exciting and cool demos and early versions of the songs that I would love to see the light of day eventually.
“In Spring 2020, when we finally had time off from work to sit down and record the album, we spent a few weeks solidifying the tunes into structures that we liked and then recorded them at home over about a month and a half.”
It was written in Orlando, Florida. What influence has Orlando had on the album’s creation? How many years have you lived elsewhere in your lifetime?
“I’m not sure if there’s anything uniquely Orlando to the songwriting on Petunia as much as the record is imbued with my sense of home and all the comforts and pains that come with your memories associated with hometowns.
“Edwin and I spent almost half of our lives living in NYC and Montreal, and I’m still sort of in-between Orlando and NYC at the moment. The people we have known, the relationships we’ve made, and the experiences we’ve shared playing music in all the places we’ve lived all serve to inspire the music we make.”
It’s your 18th or 19th album, the internet seems unsure, and it’s your second on the fantastic Mexican Summer label. How was it different from your previous releases when you worked with them as a record label?
“I see those steep double-digit estimates/quotes on our album-count bandied about pretty willy nilly on the internet! I’m not sure where the first citation traces back to but by my estimation, Petunia is our 8th ‘studio’ album, we have 5 live albums (one of which is a double album), and a generous handful of EPs, split releases, and singles.
“For what it’s worth, working with Mexican Summer has been very nice for us. Creatively they let us do what we want to, and they provide valuable assistance in artwork, distro, logistics, etc, the kind of stuff that tends to be nice when working with a label.
“Our two biggest previous experiences working with labels, Arbutus and Company Records, were also wonderful, if a little more immediately personable, because they were labels run by people that we already knew well and were close with. Mexican Summer is just a slightly bigger operation but with people who are just as lovely to work with.”
You can take us in many different directions musically with each track. How was it to see the album grow from its initial thoughts to its final form? How much time is spent in rehearsal, and how much work is done afterward?
“This feels a tad arbitrary of me, but I’m going to say it’s about 50% jamming, 40% fine-tuning, 10%. ‘Oh damn, that take was pretty cool; I like what we did there, let’s keep that.
“It was wonderful working these songs from initial ideas to final form, and it’s a process that inspires me, frustrates me, depresses me, and gives me hope. It’s why I write music! It’s such a beautiful trip, and everyone should try it.”
Musically, what records and bands were you consuming for inspiration during Petunia’s creation?
“In the year or so leading up to recording Petunia I found myself coming back over and over to Popol Vuh’s Letzte Tage – Letzte Nächte and Talk Talk’s, Laughing Stock.”
You’re brothers. What can you say about the brotherly dynamic in your creative output? Tell us a good anecdote about you two growing up – were you brothers who got on or were you constantly fighting?
“We got on very well. Sometimes we’d fight, but it was whatever. Being brothers made it easier to explore music together. Trust in each other’s new ideas, shared intuition.”
Edwin: “Andy once sat on top of a cactus.
You enlisted Roberto Pagano and Joseph Santarpia to mix the album at The Idiot Room, San Francisco. What did they bring? Are you open to bringing someone else to the mixing stage?
“Joe and Roberto are two incredibly talented, lovely gentlemen who I knew we could rely upon. I am so grateful that my first experience mixing our music with someone else was with them.
“They taught me that it was okay to trust someone else’s ears with the building and setting of your final mixes. I would be more than happy to work outside of our own band’s ears again in the mixing stage. Ideally, we do it with Joe and Berto again because of that rule.”
How do you feel Tonstartssbandht has evolved since its 2008 formation? What’s the key to that creative stamina?
“When we started the band in 2007, half of our tunes were caveman SP404 karaoke songs and Skaters-worship Jamman trips. The other half were guitar+drums, primarily buzz-saw fuzz covers, with a couple of originals.
“The more we played and wrote, the more fun we had stringing songs together, riding the high of a stage show, and then capturing that energy at home with original ideas.
“I think the trip, the transformations, and the ever-moving concept is the key to the creative stamina. It’s also helpful if your creative partner is someone you love.”
What’s next for Tonstartssbandht? Can we expect live shows soon?
“We are a week out from starting the first tour for Petunia – 23 shows in the USA and a festival in Mexico City. We should have a January Florida tour confirmed shortly, and in the spring we hope to get ourselves back across the pond to play shows for yall again.
“Finally, in spring 2022, our first three albums are being reissued on vinyl via another great NYC label, so maybe when we next play in your hallowed halls, you’ll be hearing the newest and oldest material we have.”
Tonstartssbandht’s Petunia is out now via Mexican Summer.