Lennon Bone

On The Beat with Lennon Bone

(Photo by Redwall Photography)

This week's On The Beat features Lennon Bone of Ha Ha Tonka, a band born in the Ozarks that has gained considerable buzz around the nation. Lennon tells us about his touring schedule in the US and soon, Europe, as well as his solo career and his KC record label Sharp County Records. Catch the beat right here!

On The Beat is typically brought to you by Sergio Moreno, but has been overtaken this week by drummer and The Deli - Kansas City editor-in-chief Michelle Bacon. This weekly interview features some of the many talented drummers in the area.

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On The Beat with Lennon Bone




On The Beat with Lennon Bone


Though he's half of the rhythm section in one of the most successful bands to come out of the Midwest in recent years, Lennon Bone is also one of the most laid-back and humble characters you'll meet. He's also one of the hardest working musicians in Kansas City. Today we get to sit down with the Ha Ha Tonka drummer and talk about all of the projects he's juggling.

The Deli: How did the drums find you?

Lennon Bone: Well, I was a trumpet player in school. I remember when I chose my instrument in 6th grade they told me I wouldn't want to play drums because I would only be learning technique on the concert snare. They were probably right. I feel very lucky to have played the trumpet because I think I learned much more about melody and harmony, and how to use my ears. But the day came in my church... the place where anyone can be anything (as long as you're not sinning while doing it). I must have been in 9th grade when I sat down behind the church drum kit for the first time. I just started to figure it out playing simple rock tunes. I was awful until after I graduated high school, but the congregation was so supportive I had no idea... so I kept going. Now I do it basically for a living. Crazy.

The Deli: How long have you been a part of Ha Ha Tonka, and how has playing full-time in that band shaped your approach to drumming?

Lennon: I've played with Tonka for 8 years now. We were called something else when I joined, but once I came in we started writing the tunes that became the first Ha Ha Tonka album. That band has played a HUGE part in shaping the way I approach the drums. I used to always be into musicians' musicians... the kind of guys that play a ton of notes and can just go on for days. Because of the style of music Tonka plays, I've developed an enormous appreciation for the guys that could play more, but don't. I'm also a huge fan of the kinds of players that are able to fit unique parts into something that might seem more traditional. That's always how I try to approach playing... fitting interesting rhythmic patterns into more traditional formats. The bum deal about being the drummer is that the great ones go unnoticed unless it's by other drummers or musicians. It's our job to accompany the rest of the band and still drive it simultaneously without anyone realizing that's our role. I'm still learning how to do that and keep my ego in check. I'm very insecure, so it's easy for me to want to be praised, but I also have to remember my role and realize that often times no news is good news. I'm not playing drums in church anymore, so I can't expect every grandmother and music minister to tell me how great I did. :)

The Deli: Speaking of Ha Ha Tonka, you guys have been touring around the country for quite awhile, so you've gotten a chance to see a lot of other seasoned drummers with their craft. Have you picked up techniques from any of them? 

Lennon: Absolutely. Honestly, aside from a select few drummers I've followed for years, I learn so much more from my peers than anyone else. It's those guys that you can sit down with and pick their brain on how they approach things. I have a lot of friends that just blow me away behind the kit, and I feel really lucky for that. It keeps pushing me to want to try and approach writing parts in new ways and keep things fresh. I want each album that I'm on to feel different, but still feel great, and maybe even feel like me. Hopefully that's coming across in the Tonka records as well as the other stuff I've recorded. I've always fancied myself more of a "musician" than a drummer... but I do play drums more than any other instrument, so I try hard to be good at my craft and take what I can from whoever I can.

The Deli: What are your favorite venues to play around the country?

Lennon: It's really hard to pick just one. The Blue Note in Columbia is one of my favorites. It always consistently sounds good on stage and out front, and I've seen a lot of musicians that I really look up to play there. The Bowery Ballroom in NYC and the Troubadour in LA are amazing spaces. So much history in those spots that it just feels magical every time we get to perform there.

The Deli: What type of kits do you use?

Lennon: Here's where I embarrass myself. I'm not really a gear head. I just want things to sound good... so I'd be happy with whatever as long as it works. Right now I tour with a Pearl kit with birch shells. It was made at a point in the 90's where they didn't really have a "name" attached to it. I also keep a little Export kit in my basement for rehearsals and private practice.

The Deli: Obligatory question: favorite drummers?

Lennon: As far as my friends are concerned, The Ryantist from Antennas Up is by far one of my favorite players. He's got such a great feel and sense of time... plus he thinks about melodies and how the drums relate to that. I feel like that's where we connect, except that he's just a far better drummer than me. I'm fine with that though. :)

Nationally Glenn Kotche of Wilco is a favorite. I got to meet him briefly when we played Lollapalooza in 2008. He's a very humble guy, which I always respect just as much as talent. His approach to parts is so cool. He somehow fits things in there that you don't notice unless you're looking for them, and is a bad ass at making a "hook" out of a drum part. I love that. However, my favorite drummer of all time is Dave King. Dave is a Minneapolis-based guy who plays with a jazz trio called The Bad Plus. I've never seen a more unique player in my life. He has a ton of different bands (which is something I've always aspired to do) and each one has his signature while still sounding completely different. He can seamlessly go from jazz to pop to rock to electronic genres. It's amazing. I got to tell him to his face that he's my hero once. That was a heavy moment for me. Like Glenn, he was incredibly humble. All I remember him saying is "Thank you so much" and that he "liked my tattoo"... that was enough for me.

The Deli: You also have a solo act, and you just won the Pitch Music Award for best male singer/songwriter. Tell us about that. And do you plan on incorporating percussion into your live show?

Lennon: I do! I'm very humbled by the Pitch award. Thank you so much to everyone that voted, and to the Pitch for nominating me. Pretty awesome.

My solo work is still sort of finding its place. It took me a long time to get the guts to put it out there, so I feel like I'm just now finding my sound. The album I just put out is a mix of acoustic songs and more key and groove heavy tunes. The stuff I'm working on right now is a good blend of the two, I think. I've incorporated percussion into the project before, but the new tunes are going to need a drummer when I do them live. The acoustic thing just isn't going to work for them. I'm very nervous about trying to put a band together for my songs, but it's also really exciting. Hopefully I can find musicians that believe in the tunes enough to play with me now and again when I have the chance to do something on my own.

The Deli: In addition to your busy Tonka and solo schedules, you also run Sharp County Records, a local record label. Why did you decide to start doing this, and what do you have coming up?

Lennon: The hard truth is that I can't sit still. I've always got to be doing something, and Sharp County is sort of my way of finding my spot in the scene. Creating a label forced me to get out there and meet people in Kansas City and see where I could fit in. It's like when you want a job but can't find one, you just have to create your own position and hope it works out. It's slowly giving me a chance to use the contacts and knowledge that I've gotten touring with Tonka and give something back to bands and artists that I believe in. Honestly, I'm looking for more bands that are wanting to tour more often. I feel like that's my strong point when it comes to the industry, and if I can give advice to people that are trying to get out there, and I believe in their music, I'd love to help. 

As for things coming up, we've just released a couple of projects. Clay Hughes put out his album Four. Sons of Great Dane released a new EP titled You Can't Lose It All, All At Once, and we also rereleased their first album Why Ramble? as bonus material. I've got a couple more things in the works. All of them are labors of love. Even if the projects don't end up touring, I just want to have a collection of people around me that always have the need to create... and that's something we definitely have in Sharp County. I feel very grateful that it's survived this long, and hope it continues to grow.

The Deli: What local musicians are you into at the moment?

Lennon: I'm a huge fan of The ACB's. Their last record is one of my favorites from KC. I love Antennas Up, and HIGHLY recommend their new album The Awkward Phase. It's so good! Not to mention The Ryantist was one of the producers for the last Tonka album. I dig Hidden Pictures a lot too. Richard [Gintowt] and I have become friends as of late, and we click on a lot of levels. He's a great songwriter and a super funny dude.

The Deli: What advice do you have for bands looking to start touring around the country?

Lennon: Build your local market, then quit playing it every week. Make each local show an event. Your market is your bread and butter, and will HELP you get shows out of town. Do the regional thing first. The truth is you'll have to play shitty venues and shitty shows when you get into a market for the first time... but use those experiences to learn how to deal with promoters, then try to move your way into a better room. Even if there aren't a lot of people at the show you're playing, it's very important that you get to know everyone at the club. Make friends and find out what they think your next move should be in that town. Ask them what bands you should hook up with, then meet the bands that draw in their market and do show trades. If you can get them in front of people in your hometown, and they can get you in front of people in theirs... everybody wins. This obviously doesn't always go smoothly... but making good music and working hard to be friendly will get you much farther than you think.

The Deli: What else is coming up for you?

Lennon: Ha Ha Tonka is doing our first European tour in October. We'll spend a full month over there. I've never been, so I'm really excited. After that we'll do some Thanksgiving weekend shows... I think we'll be at recordBar the Wednesday before Turkey Day. Then we'll take time off to write and record our next album. It's been an amazing year for us, but I can't wait to get the next thing out there so we can start doing some more headlining runs.

As for me, I'm about to release a project with my friend Scott Brackett of Murder by Death. (Formerly in Shearwater and Okkervil River) We just did a 2-month tour with Murder, so Scotty and I used most of our free moments to write and record a 4-song EP. We did the whole thing in dressing rooms, hotels, vans, etc. It's a sort of indie/electropop project. I'm very, very excited about it. Aside from that, I'm working on my next release on my own as well. I have a bunch of beds for songs recorded... I just have to iron out melodies and such. That's all easier said than done when I have so many irons in the fire... but I'll find time. If not, I'll make some. :)

Since you probably won't have a chance to catch Ha Ha Tonka on its European tour, you'll have to wait until the boys play recordBar on Wednesday, November 21. In the meantime, check out all of the great artists on Sharp County Records.

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor-in-chief of The Deli - Kansas City. She also has a weekly column with The Kansas City Star and reviews music for Ink. She plays with Deco AutoDrew Black and Dirty Electric, and Dolls on Fire. Her favorite TV show is Arrested Development. Do these pants effectively hide her thunder?

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