There’s a certain beauty in watching the chaotic choreography of six bandmates interact with each other on a small stage – almost a dance of anarchic instrumentation.
For the members of Ton-Taun – the Lancaster-based indie rock band that got its start in 2009 – the stage is where they thrive, careening around like maniacs, falling to the floor to tweak distortion pedals and passing guitars to each other to capture a sound reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s psychedelia.
Made up of Jordan Capizzi on guitar and vocals, Doug Hynes and Aaron Binder on guitar, Rob Nye on bass, John Spurlock on keyboards and Sean Burke on drums, Ton-Taun has solidified its core lineup for the first time in years, bringing together a half-dozen local musicians who have not only demonstrated their musical abilities in other projects, but also have coalesced with the new lineup.
“This incarnation of the band is just as much a juggernaut playing shows as when we’re practicing,” Hynes says. “There are six people who are fun to play with.”
That sense of musical camaraderie on stage also allowed them to embark more than a year ago on an ambitious project – their newest release, You’re Not Doing it Right, which debuts on August 22 at Lancaster’s Chameleon Club. Made up of 18 tracks featuring intricate layers of sound, You’re Not Doing it Right carries the legacy and a nod to classic double albums from the past – titles like Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, Tusk by Fleetwood Mac and Being There by Wilco.
“We definitely wanted to make some kind of rock epic – that was hanging over this album,” Capizzi says.
DOING IT RIGHT
The genesis for You’re Not Doing it Right began more than three years ago when Capizzi and Hynes – the original members of Ton-Taun – were approached by their friend, Nick Wright, to score the soundtrack to his film, Wartime. The title track, “You’re Not Doing it Right,” was originally an instrumental song for the soundtrack before the members of Ton-Taun started adding layers and lyrics to it when they finally went into the studio at Right Coast Recordings in Columbia in March of 2014.
Ton-Taun had been spurred to enter the studio that January when Burke formally joined the band on drums and started learning their songs.
Capizzi says half the songs were written by March, including the piano-driven “Small Victories” and the epic “Reasons” – a song that had been played by previous incarnations of Ton-Taun. It’s the band’s first album that prominently features Binder’s songwriting in the mix, utilizing more of a collaborative writing process than just relying heavily on Capizzi’s songs.
The rest of the music took shape during the recording process, which stretched on for 15 months. Previously, the longest Ton-Taun spent working on an album was three months, but Capizzi says the band didn’t want to cut the recording process short.
“It was the first time we really took advantage of what a studio has to offer,” Capizzi says.
Ton-Taun hit a bit of a snag when former bassist Donna Volles decided to leave the band at the beginning of recording. Capizzi approached Nye, with whom he had played in the Lancaster band Mean Reds, and by July he had taken over bass responsibilities. Capizzi called Nye “the last piece of the puzzle” to complete Ton-Taun’s sound.
The addition of the new bassist paid immediate dividends as Burke and Nye – the two newest members of Ton-Taun – were able to work well together in the rhythm section, allowing the band to do more live tracking for their songs like “Perfect,” “Lucky Guy” and “Mercury in Retrograde.” Capizzi sat in a vocal booth as the rest of the band was in the studio in separate rooms, all dialed in and playing at the same time.
“I was able to lock in with Rob in a way that I feel like I’ve never been able to lock in with a bassist,” Burke says. “And the ability to live track was awesome. We were really able to simulate the practice environment in a very comfortable way for us.”
For Burke and Binder, it was the first time they recorded in a professional studio, which they say was a bit intimidating at first. The studio experience was also unique for Ton-Taun as a band, as their first album – 2009’s Circus Court – was recorded in a basement in Philadelphia and their follow-up – 2012’s Get Well – was recorded in a barn.
The band members say the recording experience was made easier by their producer – well-known local musician Bobby Gentilo, who serves as the guitarist for the soul band Shrimpboat and who has been producing albums for decades.
<< WATCH: Since April, Ton-Taun has been teasing the new album in the form of a regular stream of music videos. And they are awesome. Stream them all here. >>
“Bobby’s just a shaker in the music scene,” Spurlock says. “He knows a lot of people, and he’s so wise. In a way, he almost took us under his wing – not just as a producer or engineer.”
Recording at Right Coast Recordings also had a major influence on the sound of the album as the band utilized the hundreds of instruments laying around the studio – everything from Hammond and Wurlitzer organs to a grand piano and synthesizers. In fact, one of the synths the band used in the studio is now used in their live show.
Another element that added layers to Ton-Taun’s sound on You’re Not Doing it Right was numerous guest appearances, including Jake Lewis & The Clergy drummer Kate Seifarth (who also performs with the band at some of their live shows). Gentilo added his own instrumentation, playing vibraphone on “Small Victories,” cowbell on “Mercury in Retrograde” and the Wurlitzer on “Crazy Horse.”
“Bobby pushed us the whole time,” Nye says. “He said, ‘You guys have got something special here, so you need to make this right.’”
While the sound and lyrics of Ton-Taun are based in the present, the band says they’re not afraid to pay homage to the past and their favorite bands. Nowhere is this more evident than in the song “Jeff Tweedy,” a tribute to the lead singer of Wilco. Capizzi says he’s been obsessed with Wilco for years, going out of his way to tattoo two of Tweedy’s favorite bands – The Kinks and Big Star – on his right forearm and making an annual pilgrimage to Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival in Massachusetts.
“Jeff Tweedy” chronicles Capizzi’s devotion to the Wilco frontman, listing all of the locales he’s seen him play and his thoughts on the man and musician. He says he wanted to create a similar song to early Wilco recordings that paid tribute to Neil Young.
“I think the tribute song is a funny, quasi-tradition among rock and rollers,” Capizzi laughs. “We had talked about [the song] a lot, and it started out as kind of a joke. But if you’re going to put out an album with 18 songs on it, it should run the gamut of emotions.”
Besides the songs, Ton-Taun also looked to the past for the artistic aesthetic of the album. They put a photo of the classic ’70s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game on the cover of the new album, and their video for the song “Perfect” includes creative animation and imagery from a Super Mario Bros. videogame world of the ’80s.
Perhaps the biggest retro (or current, depending on your outlook) move by Ton-Taun was to make a limited edition version of 100 colored vinyl albums. In the past, they had approached friends and fans, asking what they’d like to see the band do in the future, and the overwhelming response was to press their album to vinyl.
Capizzi says there was slight nervousness as to how the album’s recording would transfer to vinyl, but once the test pressings came in a few months ago, he says he experienced a “dangerous amount of a self-satisfaction” for a few weeks after he heard the sound.
“For the same reason we made a double album, we were like, ‘We’re doing it, so let’s do it right,’” Capizzi says. “This is the album where we allowed ourselves to do everything.”
Ton-Taun plays Friday, August 7, in the lobby of the Ware Center (42 N. Prince St., Lancaster) as part of the Epic Movie Music event. The band returns to the Chameleon Club (223 N. Water St., Lancaster) on Saturday, August 22, for the You’re Not Doing it Right release show. 7pm. $10. All ages.