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FFF Fest interview: The Tontons on indie pop, brawling and ice

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published November 8, 2013

Dreamy Houston indie pop quintet The Tontons has been around for almost five years, but it’s only in the last two that the band has begun to catch fire. After being separated geographically while various band members attended college, they’ve finally come together with sharp focus and an excellent sound. They’ve been on the road for the better part of this year and just finished recording an album and Church House Studios in Austin. The new album is due out in February and the band has big SXSW plans in the works. Vocalist Asli Omar describes it as “a real concept album. The first time we’ve been able to sit down and write an album together instead of just a song.”

We caught up with vocalist Omar along with bassist Tom Nguyen backstage at Fun Fun Fun Fest.

American-Statesman: Your band has a very unique sound, how would you describe it?

Asli Omar: We just describe ourselves as indie pop, but it’s kind of beachy, kind of surfy. It’s jazzy with my vocals. There are psychedelic elements. There are torch songs. We’re really all over the place. We don’t have any concept of who we are so we just make music that we like to hear. So if one song is a shoegaze song and the next is a pop anthem, we don’t care. It’s fun for us.

You’ve been touring a lot this year. Any good road stories?

I almost got in a fight with somebody in Montreal. He had different political views than I did and we were talking to each other, but in French, so I don’t know that [my bandmates] knew what was happening. He was actually being very antagonistic. It kind of ended and we were like, ok we disagree, but we’re going to leave it alone. But then I look out the window and he’s peeing on our van. He’s completely dropped his pants and he’s peeing on our van. So I just ran across the street, didn’t even look either way, and [my bandmates] had to pull me off of him. And I never fight. He had it coming. A real jerk.

How did you learn French?

My parents spoke it when I was growing up. My mom’s from Indiana and my dad’s from Somalia.

What was it like growing up part Somali in Houston?

I had a lot of family from Somalia and they’re first generation. [Everyone in the band] is from super ethnic households. I don’t think that all of my family knows that I’m doing this for a living. I don’t know how happy they’d be.

Would they be uncomfortable because you’re a woman?

Probably being a woman is a factor, and it’s just so modern. Where my family is from, being a musician, it’s just like, ‘This isn’t practical, Asli. No, go to college, then get married.’

You have such a beautiful way of moving when you’re on stage. Do you have any kind of dance background?

Nope, I have zero experience with dance. I took ice skating when I was younger.

How did you end up ice skating in Houston?

I was a weird kid and my mom was just like ‘you need to go do something.’ And I was really good at it. I really loved it.

There were a lot of sequins, huh?

(Laughs) Yes! I think that’s why I never wear sequins and I never want to wear any sort of stage costume because I spent so much of my adolescence wearing feather boas and stretchy skirts on ice.

What can people expect from the new record?

Nguyen: It’s going to sound more full. A lot of layers and textures. Guitar and vocal driven.

Omar: Lyrically it has a lot to do with touring, my experiences on the road. People I came across, different situation and how they affected me. It has to do with growing up and this lifestyle which is very different. Being a part of that, almost some of the more disturbing elements of it, the excess. When you’re living it, you see all the pitfalls of it, and you’re a part of it as well.