Tomahawk Arrive to Chop It Up Once Again
Tim Moss Ah, sweet, sweet uniorn love
Tomahawk deserve to have their own Bat Signal or non-copyright-violating equivalent. Once every few years, Duane Denison (the Jesus Lizard), Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) and John Stanier (Battles, Helmet) converge and produce a sudden flurry of activity--specifically, a new record and touring. Tomahawk's self-titled debut hit in 2001, followed by Mit Gas in 2003, Anonymous in 2007 and, now, Oddfellows on Jan. 29, 2013 (which brings Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle and Melvins Lite into the fold). These are men who should glimpse a logo projected onto the clouds and sprint to the nearest airport. If they need ideas for an insignia, their band name should provide plenty of inspiration.
The truth of how Tomahawk come together is more pragmatic. Denison--the super-group's guitarist and lead architect--assembles and whittles down concepts, then passes his demos around. Tomahawk have existed long enough to see jumps in media technology--Denison started with cassettes, then CDs and now digital files--but his process remains the same. "Even [with] my basic recording gear, I've still got a really simple, old, multitrack workstation," he says. "I try to come up with things I can play consistently without any editing--stuff I can play pretty fluidly 90 times out of 100 or even more. Keepin' it real, yo, in real time."
Soon, everyone begins exchanging carbon-copied emails, dismantling their schedules. When everything progresses swimmingly, Stanier and Dunn leave New York, and Patton leaves California. They meet in Nashville, Denison's hometown, which provides a central location, solace and distance, plus an at-home rehearsal space. When not rehearsing or recording, the group do some eating, too. They recorded Oddfellows at Easy Eye Sound, a studio owned by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach that provided them access to ample southern food. They ate shrimp, grits and barbecue.
Anonymous was driven by a knockout of a concept: Denison found Native American songbooks dating to the Teddy Roosevelt era, and the band covered and tinkered with the transcriptions. Oddfellows--a burly rock record resuming the ways of Mit Gas--doesn't have such an unorthodox origin. After the reunited Jesus Lizard began touring in 2008, Denison started enjoying the excitement and rawness of the noise-rock trailblazers' shows. At the time, he was also playing with the country-punk/rockabilly outfit the Legendary Shack Shakers, but when Jesus Lizard's run ended, he needed another fix of harsher music. (As an aside, Denison says Tomahawk's latest was inspired by his dissatisfaction with younger bands who performed with the Jesus Lizard, but it's 50/50 on how serious he is there.) Although Oddfellows houses hushed and slow moments, it also makes good on Denison's desires. It's a jagged, demented record, rife with harsh noise rock, demanding experimental metal, erratic song structures, quiet-loud-loud dynamics and classically Patton vocal calisthenics. This thing is primeval and evil.
Once all the shows promoting Oddfellows are complete, everyone will return to other pursuits while Tomahawk will return to the shelf. Though Denison is committed to and savors this band when they're active, he's also content with so much downtime. "I sometimes have wondered what would have happened if we did tour more and go out and try to do all the TV things and push it harder and all that. Would we be bigger? Yeah, maybe . . . but on the other hand, I know how this group of people is, and we'd probably just wear one another out and be tired of doing it, and then you'd get sick of the music," he says. "We all want to avoid that. One way to avoid that is don't work so hard. Don't spend so much time together."
Tomahawk perform at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Sun., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.