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The Tontons: Behind the Scenes at SXSW 2014

Reshma Kirpalani

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 29, 2014

The Tontons arrived at SXSW 2014 with burgeoning success hitched to their gear. In their seventh year playing at the festival, this four-member band from Houston had released a new album titled Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, climbed Billboard charts, and appeared in The New York Times with positive reviews. They performed at six venues this year, with lead female vocalist Asli Omar crooning over dreamy, guitar-infused soundscapes. The band, rounded out by Tom Nguyen on bass, Justin Martinez on drums and Adam Martinez on guitar, was greeted by full houses and fans who sang off-key versions of their smokey tunes. “I think I write a lot of this stuff feeling like I’m alone,” said Omar. “But then you see somebody who’s like, ‘no, I get it.’ It means a lot. It’s the most gratifying thing.”

During their week-long stint at the music portion of SXSW, they hauled their gear around Austin, shuffling between interviews and performances while battling bone-weary exhaustion. All throughout, the young members maintained a cautious relationship to their own growing fame. “We can pay our bills more now than we used to. But I don’t think we have any goals to win Grammies,” said Nguyen. “Just being able to sustain a living would be success.”

Two weeks after the pop-up stages were dismantled, the wristbands fell off and the dust settled, Austin 360 offers a retrospective of the grit behind the SXSW 2014 glam: an inside look at one, local band as they remain grounded by their home-away-from-home friendships and enjoy the perks of being almost famous.