When illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak, best known for his book “Where the Wild Things Are,” did his last interview prior to his death in 2012 with NPR Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in September 2011, listeners were moved and fascinated by Sendak’s words.
Fast forward to September 2013, Ha Ha Tonka, a band founded in West Plains, Mo., released its fourth studio album, “Lessons,” which is greatly influenced by the conversation Sendak had with Gross on NPR’s airwaves.
“We sing about the things, stories and people we know. With this album specifically, there is an overarching theme of things that we’ve done in our lives,” said Lennon Bone, drummer of Ha Ha Tonka. “He (Sendak) was eight months away from passing away and was just so pleased with life and what he was able to do. It was very inspiring.”
The band is scheduled to perform its “biggest show” in Columbus Friday at 9 p.m. at the Rumba Café, said Todd Dugan, managing partner of Rumba Café.
“This is their fourth show here at Rumba,” Dugan said. “We sold 140 tickets when they played here last year, and it’s going to be a big show this year. This is probably the best album they’ve come out with.”
With “Lessons,” the band members feel like they have managed to achieve a storytelling arc where the listeners can enhance their music-listening experience from the varying inflections and voices in each individual song on the album, Bone said.
“It’s the band that we always wanted to perceive ourselves as in an album. It feels like the songs always took the shape of the song, and not take the shape of the album, and this album just fell into place,” Bone said. “I remember there were moments that we were like, ‘How in the world are we going to fit this together to make it coherent or feel like an ebb and flow?’ because some of the songs have a different vibe to them, and we didn’t concern ourselves with that. We just said we want our songs to have (their) own personality.”
Since Ha Ha Tonka formed in 2004, and started recording music in 2007, the life experiences its members have gained performing and touring as a band continue to motivate them to pursue a musical career despite meager earnings from this musical endeavor. Instead, the band members count themselves fortunate to be able to tour outside their hometown, and still be able to keep their part-time jobs.
“There is a point in your life where you have to figure out how to make money because that’s just part of it, and when you invest yourself in something as deeply as we have where you’re out so much, we’re actually very lucky to have jobs that will keep us and let us do that,” Bone said. “Some bands aren’t so fortunate to do that, so we just keep plugging away in hopes that we can break the barrier on that and be able to make a living out of it.”
Other members of the band include vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist Brett Anderson, bassist Lucas Long and guitarist Brian Roberts. Anderson, who grew up just outside Kansas City, has a lake house on the Lake of the Ozarks, where the Ha Ha Tonka State Park is located. When searching for a band name, the band members settled for Ha Ha Tonka because of their strong ties to the area.
“We wanted something that was unique, that other people wouldn’t already have, which was a difficult task,” Bone said. “We wanted something that was memorable, and Ha Ha Tonka was on the list, and then when we paired that with just the fact that it was a part of the Ozarks and something that we could when we have interviews talk about where we’re from and use that to tie ourselves to our home.”
Dugan said the Rumba Café has become known for Americana music, which is coincidentally how critics have come to classify Ha Ha Tonka’s music, even though Bone himself does not describe its music that way.
“I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and even now, I’m really influenced by a lot of minimal music or a lot of repeating patterns and simplified elements,” Bone said. “I also like pop music, and so I think we all just pick and choose our own influences individually and bring them to the song when we’re writing it.”
Kelsi Schwall, a second-year graduate student in occupational therapy, took a liking to Ha Ha Tonka when she first listened to its song, “Usual Suspects.”
“I actually like a lot of music. I like rock, punk rock, ‘90s rock,” Schwall said. “I would pay $10 or $15 to see their show.”
Rumba Café is located at 2507 Summit St. Tickets are available for $12 through the venue’s website or the venue itself. Samantha Crain is set to open.