Five years after their eponymous debut album put them on the musical map, the Tontons are back on tour in support of a brand-new record, one that showcases a group having truly hit its stride. It's atmospheric, comfortable, infectious and soulful.
The Houston-born quartet will perform at Warehouse Live this Saturday, touting Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, which has already received rave reviews from the likes of the Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Spin magazine.
But homecoming shows, as sweet as they may be, aren't any less intimidating than traveling dates. In fact, vocalist Asli Omar thinks they may even be more so.
"It's a bit more nerve-racking to to play shows in Houston," she says. "When you're on the road, the expectations from your shows aren't as high. You get in a kind of groove, and it's more about convincing people that they should listen to your music than convincing them that what you're doing is worthwhile."
Coming back home is another story for the Tontons, who are rounded out by guitarist Adam Martinez, drummer Justin Martinez and bassist Tom Nguyen, especially since so many longtime fans, friends and family members will be in attendance.
"Most of our friends and family try to make it out to the shows we play here, especially since we don't get the opportunity to play in Houston that often anymore," Omar says. "We are gone a lot, so it's always an excuse to catch up."
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Disappointing their fans is an unlikely outcome, though. The band has a reputation for stellar live performances, and their sound has developed a lot since their 2009 debut album while maintaining a unique and eclectic feel. Omar attributes the fine-tuning of Make Out King to being together during the recording process, the individual growth of each band member and the hard work (and good ear) of producer David Boyle.
"I was going to school in New York when we recorded our last album, so it wasn't as cohesive," she says. "Also our lives have become a lot more hectic, but in a good way. Traveling so much and meeting so many people gives us a much wider pool to draw from. There's a little bit of every experience we have had over the past few years in each song."
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As the Tontons' stock continues to rise, the group hasn't forgotten where it's from or how this city has benefited them as musicians. Omar says that Houston keeps the band grounded.
"I think, more than anything, Houston gives you a strong backbone and a humility that most cities don't arm you with," Omar says. "Houston is very good at reminding you that you are never too big to get brought down. But that's good that we don't expect anything to be handed to us.
"We don't mind working hard," she adds. "In the long run, the music industry is made to take you in, reject you and spit you out. Having a tough skin is an asset."
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