Eating fancy sauce in the idiot room
There is a long history of friendship between Tonstartssbandht, aka brothers Andy and Edwin White, and Mac DeMarco. Meeting for the first time in Canada in the late 2000s, when DeMarco was still playing with his old band Makeout Videotape, they have since lived together and toured together, with Andy eventually joining Mac’s band. So, we thought, who better to interview the White brothers about their upcoming 18th (!) album – their best record yet, which mixes experimental rock with psych, blues and boogie, krautrock and the occasional nod to Arthur Russell. Over a Zoom call from Shangri-La in Malibu (“Bob Dylan’s old crib”), Mac asked his friends about the process of making Petunia, and also, mostly, the good old days.
M: Ok, let me get professional here. We got to do the interview. Let’s start with the record, that’s easy. When was it made?
E: Last year.
M: During COVID or before?
E: Right smack dab in the middle.
A: Yeah when we were in Florida. It’s funny to think about, but I guess we hadn’t had a super-concentrated amount of time, both in the same place with time on our hands to make a record in a while.
M: So you homebrewed at the crib in Orlando, but you mixed it in…
A: In San Francisco, at Idiot Room, with my two favourite idiots Joe Santarpia and Roberto Pagano.
M: And then where was it mastered? Wait! What am I fucking saying, “Where was the record mastered?” Let’s tell them when I met you guys.
E: We met in Canada. Me and Edwin were living in Montreal at the time and I believe you passed through with Makeout Videotape
M: This is true. This would have been 2009? But I remember hearing about Tonstartssbandht before that tour. My roommate came up in the living room one day and he was like, “Whoa dude, you have a show booked with Tonstartssbandht in Montreal, and I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re cool,’” and he was like, “Yeah, dude. I’ve seen them on a lot of blogs.”
M: In those days, it was all about the blogs baby.
E: We were getting blogged about man.
M: And then we played that show at Zoo Bizarre. I remember one of you, I can’t remember which, Eddie, was it you that got like really, really drunk that night?
E: Oh, God. Yeah, that was fucked up.
M: And Andy, you were walking around like, “Who did this to my brother?! Who did this?!”
E: That might have been the most drunk I’ve ever been in my entire life.
M: Who else played, did Homosexual Xops play that show or no?
A: They played outside the venue cos they weren’t allowed to play.
M: That’s right. They pulled up in the roofless jeep! I’m trying to think of more interesting memories…
A: I guess we all used to live together.
M: This is true. In New York City, at the Meat Wallet. For the fine readers of Loud And Quiet, we lived in a warehouse. Eddie kind of had the presidential suite in there – private bathroom.
E: I had my own toilet!
M: That’s another great memory I have of the Wallet; Eddie, I remember that you used to, in your private bathroom – you know some people light matches to get rid of the smell after they use the washroom – you used to just light a BIC lighter near the toilet bowl.
A: I think I was the person who eventually explained to Edwin how that works. And it was only maybe two or three years ago. So Ed would have been 30.
M: Thinking even further back, I remember coming to your apartment when we had just moved to Montreal. And Andy, you hit up me and Kira, and you were like, “You guys should come over for dinner.” And we came over and I think you made three different kinds of boiled potatoes and ketchup.
A: My roommate had introduced me to the idea of ‘fancy sauce’, which is mayonnaise and ketchup, and the best thing to put that on is starched food. He was like dude, you can live for nothing and eat like a king. Pierogies, home fries, mashed potatoes. That was the year I got cancer. I wonder if it had anything to do with it…
E: I don’t think potatoes give you cancer.
M: You never know nowadays, with the way these farms are going. I remember we came through Montreal once when you were still really sick. And I think you came to the show but you were quite ill.
A: I had opened like a stitched up surgery wound from losing my testicles. And it’s funny because I wanted to be low key about it, and not talk about it at the time, because I felt very private and kind of ashamed and all that shit, but I was excited you guys were in town and I went to y’all’s show, and I was kind of hobbling because I was recovering from surgery. And in my head I was like, “People are gonna respect me.? And there’s some other dude at the show who had like a broken leg with a big cast on and crutches and everyone was like, “Dude, are you okay?” to that guy. And I was just like, “I want to get the fuck out of here, this sucks.”
M: What other good memories can we do? You guys toured as Tonstartssbandht with my band in Europe one time.
A: That was a very memorable tour because I recall at the time, Peter [Sagar, aka Homeshake] had announced that he wasn’t going to play in your live band anymore. And we had settled that I would replace him, but he wasn’t gonna leave for another few months.
M: You guys were opening for us at Webster Hall in New York, and before we played, Peter and I were in the green room, and it has a window out to the stage and I think you were playing a cover of ‘Picture Book’ by The Kinks. And Peter was like, “I’m not gonna play in the band anymore.” And I was like, “Okay, fuck, I gotta find a new guitar player,” and then I just looked out the window and was like, “Okay, yeah, cool. No problem.” But you guys also opened for us on that tour we did in the South.
A: Yeah, we did like Atlanta, Nashville and some of the Eastern Seaboard.
M: Yeah, and we went to that festival, in Gulf Shores.
E: Oh, where we watched Weezer play!
M: We watched Weezer play. We also went to that deep fried seafood restaurant like four times.
E: Oh my God, I got cooked like a lobster. I was so red it was insane. I also remember that show you played in Forest Hills, Queens.
M: At Raoul’s house. That was the first night I ever met Michael Collins [Drugdealer, Silk Rhodes].
A: I recall watching Michael enter the room and meet you guys, and everyone’s faces lighting up. It was really cool.
M: Yeah it was fun. We were also all doing poppers a lot that night, so that was really… interesting. On that same tour, we played that afternoon show at that bar in Brooklyn, which absolutely no one came to.
E: That was our big break.
A: I remember playing that show and being like, if we don’t play, there isn’t a show. There’s nobody here, we could just go.
M: It just didn’t really matter.
A: Every time another band would go on, I’d be like, who’s making us do this?
M: We were. But that was the tail end of a tour where most of our shows had been like that as well. So it’s like, “Well, we might as well just do it.” But Raoul’s house, that was pretty bumpin’. But that’s a lot of stories, let’s talk about the new record for these people. It’s a little bit of a different direcsh, I guess?
A: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we were able to just sit down and focus on it. It’s the first record we’ve ever done in one sitting, even if it took us a couple months. So all the songs kind of feel like they fit together in a way, and it’s not based off of hitting record and jamming, and then splicing stuff together, like we’ve done on some previous records. Like, when I was getting set up in the studio, and I would call you being like, ‘does this make sense if I put a mic here.’ It was very deliberate – we took our time to get it set up and then do a bunch of takes. So I guess, stylistically, I think it sounds like Tonstartssbandht but…
M: I think so too yeah, but it does sound a little more precise in a way. But what’s the consensus on the vibe, because before you guys were kind of like try this, plug this in, get this amp going. Maybe not thrown together, but more spur of the moment. How was the new vibe, how did it feel?
E: I mean, it felt good but because it was so focused and so like trying to do it right. It was harder at first because we had done it so casually before. So it was more challenging, especially for me because you know, I don’t practice the drums unless I’m supposed to play em, so I was like, damn, these are hard songs.
M: I think you got it.
E: I nailed it, don’t get me wrong, but it was more challenging.
A: On breaks between Tonstartss and Mac tours in the last like, four years or whatever, we would set up a little bit and try and do these songs – cos most of these are old songs – more spur of the moment like you were saying Mac. But there were so many recordings where I was like, this sounds like garbage. For some reason, these songs, the way I’ve been writing them, I guess, nothing’s clicking, nothing’s sparkling, nothing feels right about working like this. I was like, I think we will get this right if we take our time, to make sure that we focus on it. And setting aside time was hard to do until the pandemic.
M: Yeah, thank God for that global pandemic, hey?
A: I’m very grateful not to have been writing music during the pandemic, because it was more of a functional thing – we had to stay home for a week and finally do the things we’d been meaning to do, whether it was retiling the bathroom or recording the album.
M: Yeah, exactly. I think that was kind of the vibe, I’ll talk to other people that aren’t necessarily musicians, and they’re like, “Have you been doing anything?” and it’s like, “No!” I don’t think anybody felt like being creative, necessarily. But, that’s the same thing I had – it was like, “Ok, I’m just gonna fix everything in the garage, and I’ll rewire everything, but like, I didn’t really want to write a song.” I felt kind of bleak, you know?
A: Everything felt so stupid. I usually don’t get a good escape from my current reality by writing music, I get it from playing music. So recording helped to forget how fucking stupid everything was. Mac, Roberto told me when I saw him a couple weeks ago that during the pandemic you became a bit of a car guy.
M: I did for a little bit yeah. I got an old Toyota Land Cruiser; we did a suspension lift in Mike Collins’ driveway. We put all the dumb stuff in, so I have this insane apocalypse car that I don’t ever use any of the shit on. I mean, I drive this car every day, but I don’t need all the crap on it. The gas mileage on it is already bad enough.
E: Do you still have that yellow Volvo? What’s your main whip?
M: No it’s this Toyota. All the Volvos are gone.
E: I have a Toyota too, and so does he. You know, we all have Toyotas!
M: Yeah, they’re good cars. What can I say?
E: This is not a paid ad.
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