“This young Seattle band’s second album is an impressive set of well-crafted indie-pop steeped in the music of ‘60s girl groups and British bands, with a variety of impeccably arranged songs featuring reverb guitars, organ, gorgeous harmonies, and catchy pop melodies.” –KEXP
“A charming stage presence, playful pop songs, and impressive musical skills. … they know how to put a show together, and one day soon, they’ll be at the top of festival bills. Go see them in the intimate venues while you can.” –The Stranger
“Telling you Tomten is one of the best young bands in Seattle is old news. These kids are Brit-pop aficionados … unassuming, gangly, adorable, and nothing short of pros. I could feel my jaded layers peeling with every perfectly executed harmony.” –Sound On The Sound
“With a supremely catchy, well-paced set that already sounds like a greatest hits collection, Tomten has the songcraft worthy of their chosen tradition.” –Seattle Weekly
The songs on Tomten’s 2012 releases, the Ta Ta Dana EP (due in April) and album Wednesday’s Children (June) feature a keen sense of assured swing with a suavely subversive passion. Fans of dream pop factories like Papercuts, dark maestros like early solo John Cale, or chanteuse-chasers like Serge Gainsbourg will happily sip the band’s musical “Brandy like it’s candy” (to borrow a line from their delicately lusty, intoxicating “Lofty” on the full-length).
Singer/keyboardist Brian Noyeswatkins grew up in lovely Carmel, California and you can feel the distant sun on a cool fall day in his songs, and hear the swell of an emotional ocean in the briny waves of baroque pop he creates with his band. He met fellow singer/songwriter-bassist Lena Simon on orientation day at a multi-arts college in Seattle, where drummer Jake Brady was enlisted as well. The speed of their coming together to play songs, borrowing gear and rehearsal space from the academy, and causing sweet commotion at local venues was stolen-race-car fast.
They do know how to play, but that’s not really the point. Tomten has gotten a lot of praise for Brian’s finesse on Rhodes, Mellotron, Hammond, and piano; Lena also plays bass in buzzed trance-choral band Pollens; and Jake nimbly sets all that gorgeousness up. But contrary to some generous but misdirected reports, the sublime pleasures of the group come from their private and passionate investigations for deep cuts on LPs across several decades, with a shared love for all things Big Star, Elliott Smith’s XO and Either/Or, Bowie’s Hunky Dory, T. Rex’s Electric Warrior, John Cale’s Vintage Violence and Paris 1919–and, yes, The Beatles (there, someone said it).
Tomten has played many much-praised live shows at various Pacific Northwest venues and even a set at Bumbershoot 2011, capping off a dazzling previous year of getting airplay and praise before signing to new label Flat Field Records. Upon winning the biggest local battle of the bands competition in Seattle they were invited to play Menningarnott in Reykjavik, Iceland, on a bill for a culture night, and played several shows over a week there.
The debut 10” vinyl EP Ta Ta Dana from Flat Field Records is part of a double A-side with the title track and “So So So,” along with two B-sides, “Thwarting The Young” and “It Won’t Escape Me.” The former is their most snarling track, and the emotional inspiration came when Brian wanted to blow up Value Village when he worked there. The narrative describes “a 1950’s Angry Young Man-type, slave to his bloated millipede-like higher-ups, [who] loses a bit of his being each day as he boards the tram. He eventually obliterates himself and the chrome tower in which he works.”
Listening over and over to Wednesday’s Children reveals new meanings and sonically sensual pleasures within the playfully bittersweet melodies and brilliantly subversive lyrics. Wednesday’s Children reveals a big bouquet of pert yet shaggy blossoms of mod pop posies sweetly poking you with brandy-tipped thorns. The full length is sequenced marvelously, beginning with the Smile-like gem “Anyone’s Guess,” the tart trying-to-break-your-heart goodbye anthem “Ta Ta Dana,” and the dead-end street foggy notions of the title track.
That’s just the first three songs, and don’t think about stopping before you get to Lena’s darling, droll, cosmopolitan self-mythology on “So So So” halfway through Side Two. The final flow of the album has the spiritual expansiveness of the third Velvet Underground LP or the end of a brittle portrait of an emotional Dorian Gray, as the glistening self-jibes of anthem “Jujube” and the stately, ruminative, near six minutes of final track “Rhododendron” finish the listener off.
Wednesday’s Children sequence (street date late June 2012):
1. Anyone’s Guess
2. Ta Ta Dana
3. Wednesday’s Children
4. Bertolt Brecht
5. Springtime In Tangier
6. Salamander Jack
8. So So So
10. Rhododendron Rd.
An interview with Brian by Chris Estey, Seattle-based music writer:
Here are some important questions I had to ask Brian about his lyrics and the vision for his band, the night after he utterly vanquished me in a drink competition that had me 86’d from the cafe we were trying to write this bio in (very true, sad story):
What do you mean by the line on the opening track, “the dawn of the new day is here”?
That cruel and debauched night of unspeakable terror is at an end!!!!!! Or some vague fill-in-the-blank kind of line that came to me and was pleasing because of its meaningless hallmark potential.
How were you trained musically? Official lessons, etc.
I took piano lessons from a wonderful old church organist man, Edward Soberanes, for about ten years. I started lessons at age eight. I wasn’t very studious — I would often work on my own little tunes and play them for him on lesson days. He would usually get back at me by pulling some psychological prank that left me frightened, but in a good way. I played standup bass in Orchestra throughout middle school and high school; I loved mooning the other bassist from behind my bass so the teacher couldn’t see. I took some low-key weekly guitar lessons from a man named Steve Moseley for a few years as well. Back then I had this janky Costco Starcaster that sounded like dogshit, but it was fun playing Nirvana songs on.
How did you achieve such an encyclopedic knowledge of music?
I think having Baby Boomer parents was great. My dad got me really into Donovan and T.Rex. My mom got me into Brook Benton and Patsy Cline. They had a healthy stack of records and CDs, they liked to accumulate things. There’s an old home video somewhere of me as a baby, wailing my head off in a laundry basket with Roy Orbison drowning me out on the stereo and my dad chuckling behind the camera.
Is there an actual “Dana”? (“Ta Ta Dana,” first single from the LP, lead track on EP)
No, I was just watching a lot of X-files when I wrote that song. I had a power-suit crush on Gillian Anderson and couldn’t stand the idea of her walking out on me. It had to be the other way around or I would surely die.
Do you write these songs with the band? Or bring most of them to them?
I’ll write all of the lyrics and all my parts on my own, I’ll take it to the band when I think it’s close to finished, sometimes they change it around and we add some new bits, things usually fall together nicely though. Sometimes a song just won’t work and I’ll scrap it or it’ll come together much later and surprise us all. No song has been a bigger pain in the ass for us than “Anyone’s Guess;” it was demoed at least 5 times since 2008. I’m glad it’s finally on this album and I can bury its stinking hide in the cold, cold ground.
What was the single that soul-kissed you?
My roommate has an old 78 of Louis Armstrong singing “That Lucky Old Sun.” That single has soul-kissed me recently. As a kid, the first album I got that was actually mine was Rubber Soul, and this song wasn’t a single but “You Won’t See Me” was always one of my favorites, especially for its soothing ooh la la la’s.
What was the album that took your virginity?
Music Virginity? Or Real Virginity? I’ll answer both I guess… Abbey Road took my music virginity, and I think Disintegration by the Cure took my real virginity.
What album would you get out and play if someone broke your heart tonight?
Ray Charles, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. No Question, and then I would PINE! If I ever found love again, I would put on Astral Weeks and venture through the viaducts of your dream and get caught one more time on “Cypress Avenue.”
How do you think you will die?
Maybe a nice heat stroke in the south of France in my 70’s when I’m going through my leathery Belmondo-faced phase surrounded by beauties and colorful cocktails. Or maybe I’ll go out like Tennessee Williams choking on something mundane like an eye-drop bottle-cap.