When you have Texas rap legend Bun B as one of you biggest fans, you know you’re doing something right. So spotting Bun at one of Houston indie-rock band the Tontons’ shows—a not so uncommon occurrence—should be the first signal that you are about to experience something very special. “Its always a pleasant surprise to see Bun at our shows,” says Tontons bassist Tom Nguyen. “He’s told us that he’s a fan our new EP Golden, which is pretty awesome to hear from such a legend in the business.”
Since 2008, the Tontons have been garnering a reputation in Texas for their genre-mixing sound. Comprised of members who vary in musical taste “from jazz to doom metal to psychedelic rock to top-40 pop,” the band has perfected a recipe of strong vocal wails and raw jazz and blues-driven indie rock. It’s almost become laughable how much people struggle to categorize the band’s sound, leaving the members curious to hear what fans and critics think. “It’s a favorite past time to read reviews and see how real music critics classify our sound,” Nguyen says. “We sorta just let people tell us what they think we sound like.”
But even the band itself can’t come up with a good comparison. “We get asked this a lot and still haven’t come up with a good answer,” Nguyen says. “Otherwise, our answers consist of, ‘It’s like this, but not like that, but sort of like this.’”
The band formed in 2008 when Nguyen and guitarist Adam Martinez were playing in another local act and became interested in singer Asli Omar’s vocal style. They got in contact with her right as she was leaving for college, meaning that much of the band’s early history was spent spread across the map. “We were a long distance band for a long time while Asli attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah and the Pratt Institute in New York,” Nguyen says. “We just made it work.”
Starting out as the Prowlers before moving on to its current Star Wars-inspired name name, the group released the grungy and bluesy EP Sea and Stars in 2008, followed by its self-title full release in 2009. However, it’s the band’s latest release, the pop-friendly 2011 EP Golden, that’s been turning heads, especially at home—the EP was recognized on several top-10 of 2011 lists from Houston media publications.
For now the band is staying busy with frequent shows, mostly around Texas, but sometimes straying away for festivals and short tours. The group has often been told that it would flourish in a better scene like Brooklyn’s, but it resists with the belief that Houston is developing into a great scene in its own right. “There is definitely something happening in our music scene and we have a lot people here supporting that,” Nguyen says. “We’ve made a lot of progress as a band in the last year and it seems possible to ‘make it’ without moving now.” With that being said, it makes you wonder if maybe one day the Tontons will serve as a Bun B-like figure to someone else: a successful hometown band supporting the growth of another up-and-coming artist.
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