- - Thursday, June 8, 2017

They say when you sit alone in the Ozarks, surrounded by all that natural beauty, you hear the most amazing sounds. It was that same nature that inspire Brian Roberts and his band Ha Ha Tonka. The indie band has released five solid albums of deeply original acoustic, Americana-tinged rock. The band’s latest disc, “Heart-Shaped Mountain,” may be the best thing you hear this year. (Think early REM meets the Allman Brothers.)

To support “Heart-Shaped Mountain” Ha Ha Tonka is hitting the road — a trip that brings them to DC9 Wednesday. Frontman Brian Roberts discussed the band’s somewhat odd name, the magic music of the Ozark Mountains and how touring may just be the greatest gig ever.

Question: How did the band all start, and where did the name come from?

Answer: We started the band in college. We weren’t really that serious about it. We were playing under this name Amsterband just to play parties. We weren’t touring.

We wound up getting attention in Chicago. Bloodshot Records was interested. We were this crazy college band and decided if we were gonna do it nationally and make ourselves known to the wider public that we should do something that was representative of where we are from: the Ozarks. There is a state park there called Ha Ha Tonka State Park that we all went to as kids. We thought, “That’s a crazy name, and no band has ever been called that.”

Q: How does the state park feel about the band using the name?

A: Actually, we called the state park first. We talked to them, and they were supersweet about it. We’ve been playing under that name 10 years now.

Q: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

A: We drink lots of beer. (Laughs) Other than that we don’t have many set pre-show rituals. We all sort of hang out in the dressing room with a bunch of friends.

We’ve been to all these cities a bunch of times. It’s really cool to get to see everybody again.

Q: Is one of the perks of touring that you get to try every regional beer?

A: Yes, that is one of the perks of it. Because I’m such a big baseball fan, another perk is I get to go to as many major league baseball [stadiums] as I can. That is a great way to taste the flavor and culture of the different metropolitan areas we go to.

I’ve been to 19 at present. Tops on my wish list are Fenway Park in Boston and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Q: How will you spend your downtime in D.C.?

A: We call it “drive-by tourism.” When we are in D.C. we will drive by the White House and by Congress — kinda see these things as we are driving by the club.

We don’t really get to touristy things. With my ballpark goal, if the stadium is close enough to the club, I’ll walk down at the second of third inning and get to go into the park for a few innings, then go back to the show.

A lot of people think being on tour is like being on vacation. It’s the exact opposite of that.

Q: What is the one thing you need on tour to keep you sane?

A: Nowadays I would be lying if I didn’t say it was a smartphone. Anytime somebody has lost one or had to get a new one, we’ve noticed it’s definitely a handicap. It may be shallow to say, but if we didn’t have our phones, it would definitely be tough to tour.

Q: What is the greatest change the band has seen since starting in 2007?

A: Well, we are all older. And hopefully wiser. We’re probably not that wise if we are still playing rock ‘n’ roll for a living. We really appreciate the fact that we can still do this for almost a living. We all have the Peter Pan syndrome: We are all in our mid- to late-thirties and get to go out and play music, tour all around the world and live the rock ‘n’ roll dream. We’re just thankful we can still do it.

I don’t know if you know this, but nobody is buying records. You have to be on tour. There is a whole generation that thinks music is free. I’m not complaining about it because it is the new landscape of the industry.

Q: Five albums in, how have you evolved as a singer and songwriter?

A: Our goal has always been to get better as a band, both as performers and songwriters. There has never been a moment where we “blew up.” One of the reasons for our longevity is every year we’ve gotten a little better. Every release we’ve gotten a little bigger. Things just keep progressing.

With the songwriting, the older you get, then hopefully the more life experiences you have, and that is something you can put across in your music. Hopefully that resonates with people that are going through the same stages of life.

Q: What can people expect when they come to see the band live?

A: The live show is really rowdy. We put tons of effort into our studio albums, but the live show is a bit more carefree and laid back. Anything goes.

Our bass player happens to be a relatively attractive young man who is known to take off his shirt. Get in the crowd and mix it up with the ladies.

Ha Ha Tonka plays DC9 Wednesday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 by going to Ticketfly.com. The band will make their late-night debut on “Conan” June 22.


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