Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Tonos Triad

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Tonos TriadYou know, I don’t remember how I was first introduced to these guys. Who cares, their music is great. I did a little bit of research before I met with them, and when I got the chance to hear their stories unfold… the interview turned from questions about them to stories about their careers as musicians. The guys all met me at Golf 365, located on Indy’s north side. They have a sweet conference room that was perfect for the interview. We met, talked, and shared laughs for nearly two hours. It was everything I want these interviews to be. When the band left, they handed me a couple of their albums, and I haven’t been able to put it down since. The sound is incredible, and not something you would expect to come from the Circle City. I truly enjoy it, and their personalities just made it that much better. It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Tonos Triad. (Don’t worry, we talk about what that name means in the interview!)

What in the world does your name mean?

(Rod) The name came from a need for a name. (Laughs) We got booked for a gig, and we had been going back and forth; nothing stuck. We got booked, and needed something. That was the one we were on. Tonos is an ancient Greek musical concept that has to do with different scales at different pitches. It’s a complicated thing. Triad is a three-note chord. All chords are triads.

(Aaron) For the record, I was impartial to the band name. I didn’t like it. All I can remember is not liking that name.

Those are not typical instruments I see there… Is that standup bass?

(Aaron) Yev is the only one that played his instrument of choice before Tonos Triad.

(Yevgeny) I actually studied classic guitar in college. I wanted to get a performance degree, but then I decided that was a silly idea.

Tell me a little bit more about Typewriters & Tarantulas. I love that name, by the way.

(Rod) The day that I decided I wanted a band like Tonos Triad, we were at Wheeler Art Building in Fountain Square. It was  a First Friday or an open house… I wasn’t familiar with the scene at the time. There were a ton of artists hanging out, and I get to this room… and the guy had a few hundred typewriters hanging around in there. He collects them, and thinks they are awesome… old ones too. Nothing newer than 1940… he has some of the first typewriters ever made.

His name is William Lawson. I ended up talking to this guy, we hit it off, and we were talking about art, and music… ended up doing a guitar lesson for art trade, and he turned out to be a good friend. He collects typewriters and tarantulas. I thought it would be homage to him as a friend an artist to force him to do a self-portrait without painting himself.

(Yevgeny) The idea of having a local artist was nice too. We like to support local bands at a local bar in our local town…

(Aaron) It also happened to work out that our band name has two Ts in it.

So that is your second recording… what was your first? Are you working on a third?

(Rod) First album was recorded at my house. More of a “live sort of organic performance” record/album kind of thing. The second album was more of a studio album. We had individual rooms for that one.

(Yevgeny) By live, we mean that we played together at the same time… in the same room. Everything that you hear on the record is what you hear on stage.

(Rod) We are going to make a third record. We already have a few songs that will be on there. There is no reason to rush the album, and there is no hurry to start it right now. It’s only been seven months since the last release. We had a good year between the first and second one. It wouldn’t be fun to rush an album.

(Aaron) We are pretty self sufficient, as far as that goes. We don’t have to feel like we have to hurry to make an album.

(Yev) We do like to play new stuff though. We have been playing some new songs since the album release.

What’s the deal with the suitcase… it seems to be a reoccurring theme here.

(Rod) I teach guitar for a living, and as much as I love that instrument… after teaching forty-five kids a week, and doing more guitar on the weekends made me want to change it up. When we first started, we had a percussionist. The guy that did the album cover for the first record was in the band for a minute. He was going to be all percussion. I thought it was cool having all percussion in the band… so I did accordion and drums… I saw a live concert where a dude was playing a suitcase as a drum. I went to Goodwill, picked up a suitcase, and started banging on it with ladles to see if it had the right sound. The cardboard box was an after thought. I didn’t know what I was going to use…

(Yevgeny) He goes through shoeboxes… we can’t find another base drum. The suitcase is an interesting combination. Every time I see a thrift store, I stop in and see if they have the next suitcase… just in case.

I have been playing BS percussion since I was five years old. When I was a kid, before I even knew what a drumkit was, I had one with cardboard boxes and coffee cans. I would set it all around me and bang on all this stuff. My mom said, “Pick this stuff up!” I just moved it to the corner. I was a couch drummer in college. (Laughs) You can get a lot of good sounds out of a couch.

You guys did a photo shoot in a graveyard. What was the significance of that?

(Aaron) That graveyard was in the middle of nowhere. It was between Franklin and Edinburgh. There are only about six last names in there. I don’t think anyone had been buried there in 100 years!

(Rod) They told us to. (Laughs) There are some dark overtones to a couple of our songs. We have a tune called Devil’s Pinwheel… there’s a little bit of darkness behind the titles. Persoanlly, I didn’t think shooting a graveyard goes against at least what a slice of our sound is.

(Yevgeny) We had fun though.

You guys have a lot of random photos now that I think of it. Was that just one photo shoot, or a culmination of several?

(Aaron) The most recent photo shoot we did was with a team of photographers. They call themselves Lucky Willow Photography.

(Yevgeny) Those are all from the same shoot.

I won’t even begin to pronounce it… but where in the world does a name like Yevgeny Baburin come from? (Don’t you dare say Indiana!)

(Yevgeny) I am from Moscow, Russia.

Like I said, your sound is quite unique. But I love it… where do you guys find inspiration for new tracks?

(Aaron) Most of my music comes from anxiety and depression and not knowing how to deal with it… and not being medicated properly.

(Rod) I have a stereo in my head that next shuts off. There is not one genre I rule out anymore. When I was younger, I was more apt to rule out a genre. Musically, I am very spread across the board. I have a hard drive with just… too many gigabytes worth of music on it. I decided that I wanted to to listen to at least one album from every band. I am going from Slayer to Coltrane to Mississippi John Hurt.

The fun thing about it I can compare anything I want; any genre. The instruments in the band make it a Tonos Triad song. There are some things we are working on now that were pretty heavy before. It’s pretty hard, heavy funk rock thing. It’s the same tune, it still has drive and energy, but you couldn’t play it on X103. It was just a song that we left lying around for ten years. I can write whatever style of genre I want, when the band gets to it, it turns into… whatever you want to call us.

(Yevgeny) Between the three of us, we really listen to every single genre. We find gems in all walks of music. I think a lot of it comes from there. We also like fidelity of the sound is really important. We find that neat, listening to how good things sound. We look for those kinds of things, and those are inspiring.

What are you listening to right now? What is on your iPod?

(Aaron) I don’t have an iPod. Never have had an MP3 player of any sort.

(Rod) I listened to Mars Volta. Then I was listening to all that stuff I have been writing.

(Yevgeny) I have a twenty-eight gigabyte iPod; I listen on random. Today I got some Queen, Norah Jones, Talking Heads, and some Outkast. Check out John Zorn.

It’s been called “jazzpop/Eurofolk”. What exactly does that mean?

(Rod) It’s an elevator pitch that we are supposed to have. I hate when I ask someone about their band, and they say, “We don’t want to sound like anything. We’re totally original.” That’s crap, you sound like something. I also don’t like that people who give you a ten-paragraph explanation. That sort of takes the core elements and slams them into a single phrase.

So you guys had a CD release party last fall at Radio Radio, and in your band there is an accordion. The band The Accordions opened up for you. Please tell me that was planned!

(Rod) They actually had to borrow my accordion. They asked me if they could use my accordion. My accordion is called Carnegie Head-cutter.

(Yevgeny) We felt that they were a good local band. We had an illusionist; Ryan Siebert. We toyed with the idea of making it more than just a concert. If we were all made out of money, we would find a way to make it completely visual and audio. In a lot of ways, we are a fun band to watch because we play well and it’s interesting what we are doing… beating on weird stuff. Also, on the other hand, we are not the most interesting band to watch. Maybe for musicians it’s cool… the chops are there. But for the audience, we are not visually stimulating.

Do you guys have jobs outside of music?

(Aaron) I work at Carmel Music Center. I teach guitar lessons and do instrument repair.

(Rod) I teach guitar. I have my own studio in Noblesville. It’s called the Schindler School of Music. Between the two of us, we have eighty students a week.

(Yevgeny) I used to be a guitar teacher, but I was a student while I was a guitar teacher. I’m a technical writer now. I actually enjoy it. I get to do more than just write. I get to do some Excel programming, and stuff like that. It’s the technology end of Microsoft Office.

Do you guys play out very often? I would love to see you perform.

(Rod) Summer is slowing down a bit. We were busy until… up until now. I welcome the break so we can get back to songwriting. We have some symphony gigs to wrap up, and some private gigs.

We have done some pretty big gigs. We played at the WOW weekend… John Mellencamp opened up for us. We also do a lot with the symphony. After the show we are hanging in the lobby after. We have been booked for a lot of high profile gigs. It’s not like we are playing at a sleazy bar for twenty people. We take our craft serious enough where people know we’re not screwing around. It keeps us floating. We have never had a booking agent, and except from the very beginning… beg for gigs.

(Yevgeny) In general, we expect to play once every weekend at least. But we do have down time. Last year we didn’t have to book anything. We were contacted for every single gig.

(Aaron) I think we just decided to see if we didn’t book any gigs. We ended up getting enough phone calls and emails; it filled out our scheduled to be comfortable.

This music sounds like it would go great both in film and on television shows. Have you ever had your music featured on the big screen or on TV?

(Rod) It’s about getting the right person to hear it that has credentials. I agree, our stuff is very cinematic.

(Yevgeny) We wish, and we want to break into that so bad. We did do a couple of things where we had to empathize a sound track.

Let’s say that I wanted to book you guys for a private party. What’s that process like and what do you guys charge?

(Aaron) You can do that via You can also go to our website; there’s a link on there to contact us. Our rates depend on a few variables. We are relatively affordable… is what I like to think. We are rarely turned down because of price.

(Rod) One time we were selling CDs 1 for $15 and 2 for $10!

(Yevgeny) Shoot us an email… We are very open to doing house parties and house concerts.

What’s the biggest crowd you have ever played for?

(Aaron) How do you count at the Broad Ripple Art Fair?

(Yevgeny) There have been some big ones. I guess our two release parties…

What about the smallest?

(Rod) (Laughs) Two! Do we count the people who were supposed to put the show on? Then it’s 0! It turned around to be an interesting story.

So we try to get some gigs out of town, and we get booked at the Brick House, basically a community center for kids to hang out after school. It was cold… We had this gig and it turns out that it was being run by two crazy ladies. They were really nice, but they were weird. I bet they had a lot of cats. So we show up, there is no heat… barely any electrify. We setup anyway, and even though we are feeling grim… nobody shows. There wasn’t even a note on the door. We just played for these crazy ladies, and a couple of these kids. They realize, as a band, we are totally dialed in. They realized that we were not screwing around.

One of the ladies gets on the phone, and sees if they could squeeze another act in that night. They found this place for it. There were three old guys playing Jimmy Buffet and Neil Young… old guy rock. They decided that it would be cool if we did a guerrilla style set and play in their set break.

(Yevgeny) We setup really quick… played, and the crowd went wild. Rod ran to the car, and grabbed his accordion. We made our gas money back. And pizza!

So you guys don’t use lyrics… does that ever get boring?

(Aaron) Lyrics are always the last thing that I listen to in a tune, anyway. I will shut a song down after the intro. I won’t even give that lead sing a chance to start. Music without lyrics is more expressive than the lyrics. With all of our tunes, you don’t have “this song is about love” or “this song is about breaking up with your girlfriend”. We don’t slap you in the face with a chorus every thirty seconds.

(Rod) No, to me it’s really refreshing as a guitar player. I never played melody. I am just strumming chords, and the singer is singing… and not being the guitar player, and writing the material I get to play the melody. It’s fresh, and an exciting thing to me. It’s a real challenge to write a song that is memorable that doesn’t have a lyric. Those things to me are real satisfying. I would like to be more lyrically savvy… but for me, it’s all about the sounds more than the message.

(Yevgeny) I come from a classical music background, so instrumental music comes natural to me.

Where did you three originally meet?

(Rod) Aaron and me applied for the same job. I guess, I will give you the real story. Aaron and I, when I moved down here, my first real job was to be an art cop. We were applying for the same job, and they were applying for the same job. They waned us to “tell us about ourselves”. So I told them where I was from, that I played guitar… and Aaron was next. He said, “Pretty much everything that guy said, but I’m from Indiana.” Aaron and I should be related. I got him a job working at Meridian Music. That’s how we met Yev.

(Yevgeny) They restrung my guitar.

Where do you see the band in say, five years?

(Rod) Sitting somewhere… on top of the world. Five years from now… I would like to be in the movies, like we were talking about. Not acting, but applying movie soundtracks. It would be sweet if more significant part of my income came from Tonos Triad. Record deal… I don’t know if I care about that or not. More money, cooler gigs, and some travel. Mayeb a couple more records.

(Yevgeny) I feel like lately we have kind of evened out as far as our ambitions go. We are comfy doing what we are doing, playing gigs around here, and writing music. When something cooler comes up, and it will… we have figured out that we are not marketing geniuses, we just like making music.

(Rod) Fifteen years ago, if you asked me that… I am not some jaded musician that think everything sucks. I really don’t have any secret hopes that Tonos Triad makes it big. It’s a long shot. If I expect that, and we don’t get there… then I would hate this. And I don’t want to hate this. I’d be happy to just let it takes it’s own course. There is a lot of stuff that could be focused elsewhere… and it turns into hype. I don’t want to be a hype group. We see this stuff on Craig’s List all the time. You have all the hype, but you don’t have the band. It’s about good music… good art.

What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done? What’s the Tonos Triad legacy?

(Rod) I would like to be remembered for being an innovative group.

(Yevgeny) A super kickass record is a special thing. We might have already done it, but I hope that one of our records is special to a group of people. I have a ton of records that have made my life that much more compelling.

In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

(Yevgeny) It should be our website… our email, and that we would like to do your party. Your corporate event… we want to sell ourselves as hard we can and hope that everyone buys it. We are also trying to do house concerts regionally.

(Aaron) I would rather play for 15 people that listen than 3,500 that don’t listen.