It’s another rainy afternoon on the road for Asli Omar and her fellow band members, The Tontons. Over the past three years, in the course of over 300 gigs, the lead vocalist and her accompaniment have seen their fair share of dreary freeways—as well as empty bar stools.
An exhausting lifestyle but gratifying, nonetheless. And behind every chord struck or note sung, there’s a sense of accomplishment. It’s a route in life that tends to sting deep down in the soul from time to time. It’s hard, especially when the second guessed decisions come about. An artist can’t help but wonder if their aspirations were the right ones when it comes to making a living.
Regardless, for a lucky few, it’s worthwhile. At the end of the day, that little nest of reluctance tucked away in one’s heart chirps back with what had been known all along—there’s a satisfaction of going home knowing that you’re doing what you love.
Lately, though, for Omar and The Tontons as a whole, these same dreary evenings are little less dreary. Their sound, which the lead songstress describes as “indie-pop” for the sake of convenience, seems to have a developed a sense of catchy momentum when it comes to landing on ears outside of their native Houston.
However, if it weren’t for the band’s ability to squeeze a dollar out of a penny while on tour, then their latest album, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, may have only been a figment of their imaginations.
But even now, with positive reception from some of the most renowned names in the music industry already out in the air as a result of the past year of touring—including everywhere from Hangout Fest on the shores of Alabama to Canada’s Pop Montreal—Omar can’t help but maintain those same nerves as when The Tontons first set out to make it in 2010.
“It feels good, but it’s always scary. There’s no net to fall on, so if we have a bad month then we all suffer,” she says. “And we have great months and bad months.
“You kind of put something out in the world and hope it’s received well. But you never really know what to expect.”
While recording their latest LP with Dave Boyle, (who has also worked with Black Joe Lewis, Robert Plant and more), at Church House Studios in Austin, the band practically—or, more so, literally—lived behind the microphones. The album’s lyrics, which was written over the course of the past two years while touring, is based around their own experiences of making it in the music industry, Omar says.
“The recording process was really unique, because it was kind of the first time where we were able to focus 24 hours a day, seven days a week for almost a month,” she says. “Recording something exactly the way we wanted, tweaking it, going back and even rewriting some of the songs while in the studio.”
That very process of just finishing the album was a rewarding experience in itself, she compliments. To Omar, that was the pinnacle point in the year for The Tontons, having their hard work’s finished product in hand.
But even the lead vocalist will admit that it took a bit of learned wisdom for her and her bandmates to get to this point—where festivals such as Fun Fun Fun Fest and the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the Central Time Zone are just another date on the list of gigs to come.
“I think we’re a lot wiser, more road weary, and we kind of know what to expect,” Omar says. “The music industry is an industry. And just like any industry, I think, with experience, you get a little bit more acclimated to it. You get a little bit better at how to play the game.
“We’re a lot more involved. I think believing that it’s possible to be a full-time musician, believing in your product and writing music, that kind of shows that you have a belief in yourself.
“We’re more confident.”
As for how their latest success may play into each other’s egos, Omar isn’t worried about any type of “rockstar mentality” on the rise. Because, to her, after seven years of building this family valued relationship as a band, there’s a sense of trust engrained in who they are as a single unit deemed The Tontons—there’s a dynamic not a single member will soon forget.
“I don’t think we’ll ever change as people, we’re very set in our ways,” she says. “I think that’s why we work together so well. If any of us kind of got too big for ourselves or drastically changed their personalities, then the other people would really put them in check.
“We’re always really humble and we really think that there’s something more to accomplish.”
It seems as though the road is nowhere close to ending for Omar and her bandmates—bassist Tom Nguyen, and brothers Adam and Justin Martinez on guitar and drums. The beginning chapters of the book their music will write has only just been finished. Yet, the plot thickens as their success continues to mount—and from here, the road will only become more windy and bumpier along the way. As far as they are concerned though, there’s true blood between the four of them. Their relationships to each other are strong ones, which is a stroke of pure luck in that. But the road will only tell what the overall outcome will be.
“You get to see a lot of amazing things,” Omar concludes. “You get to meet a lot of great people and have experiences that are completely outside of the norm.
“Were a little bit road weary—but it’s worth it.”
The Tontons’ new album, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, is out now. Check out the official music video for the song “Veida” below.