Tongue Party Interview by John Ensley
You know those days where everything seems to go wrong, and you just want to decompress with some aggressive, cathartic, skull-crushing tunes? Look no further than Minneapolis noise punks Tongue Party. Brothers Adam and Brandon Hile formed Tongue Party in 2014, moving from a prog rock-based project to a more straight ahead attack. Elements of complex song structuring can still be heard in their music, but with an onslaught of unrelenting fury. The brothers share dual vocals, shouting about everyday frustrations, including life in the service industry and demanding yuppies. Through the layers of noise, Tongue Party’s songs are still very much hook driven, with pounding drum beats and assaulting guitar riffs. Fellow Twin Cities musician Preston Laack rounds out the trio delivering fuzzed-out, driving bass lines.
Tongue Party has seen their share of misfortune through substantial touring, yet they soldier on with grit and passion. After a series of self-released EPs, their latest album, Looking for a Painful Death, is their first on Learning Curve Records. While Tongue Party remain DIY at their core, their label has allowed the band reach a larger audience, helping with press, distribution, and videos.
I caught up with Tongue Party at their rehearsal space. Between beers, bong hits, and cigarettes, the band talked about their inspiration, toils of the road, and suffering from carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Adam Hile – Guitar, Vocals
Brandon Hile – Drums, Vocals
Preston Laack – Bass
John: Were you guys in bands previous to forming Tongue Party?
Brandon: Adam and I are brothers, so we’ve been playing music our whole lives together. The last band we were in The Cities here was called Bongonya. It was like an instrumental prog punk type thing. And then Preston’s been in a bunch of awesome bands. He was in Burn Fetish, which is really great, and before that he was in New Wave Hookers.
Preston: Which is how we met. My old band played with Bongonya.
Brandon: Preston’s in Cryptic Fit right now. We had an old bass player who ended up quitting, and then we talked with Preston at the last Burn Fetish show to see if he wanted to jam out with us here. We’ve been doing that since last August. This is the lineup I like.
John: So you went from an instrumental band to Tongue Party?
Brandon: Well, it was super prog-y and super technical. Complex music.
Adam: Brandon and I grew up listening to punk rock, so we kind of just wanted to start a punk rock band after writing all these complex musical arrangements. We wanted to go back to playing verse, chorus, verse, chorus; the song’s over in a minute.
Brandon: And bringing vocals back into it.
Adam: We also want this aspect of wanting to be heavier than what most people think of with punk rock. We wanted to be just relentless and brutal. That’s kind of how the transition happened. I don’t really know how to describe Burn Fetish—really fluent playing as far as the instruments go.
Preston: We grew up on Primus, Queens Of The Stone Age, and stuff like that.
John: You said you wanted to get away from some of the more prog stuff in more straight ahead music.
Adam: We found that when we played that prog stuff, the crowd just stands there and watches. We wanted to play some shit, throw some parties, and have a good time with a bunch of people. Let it be some sort of release and not like a brain workout trying to keep up with what’s going on in the music.
Adam: You can definitely tell though, there are aspects of prog rock in Tongue Party. People tell us that all the time. I don’t know, we practice quite a bit. Maybe that’s what they’re seeing.
Adam: Another thing with doing any creative artistic thing is when one thing finishes, why start the same thing over? Do something totally different. We grew up with punk rock, but were totally out of our element at that point. It had been years since we played it. We just wanted to start a punk band where we didn’t need to totally think about what we were playing, have a good time, tour a bunch, and blow away people’s hearing. That’s another thing: we like to be really loud. Loud and fast.
John: I was going to ask you about that. Are those two bass amps that you run?
Adam: The 370 is technically a bass amp [points at amps] and that’s a bass cab. Then the Concert Lead is technically a guitar amp. I used to do the dual bass amp thing.
John: Guitar through two bass amps?
Adam: Yeah, a lot of low end. I want you to feel it, and I also like feeling it when I’m playing.
John: It definitely gives it a distinct grindy kind of sound.
Adam: We go for the dense sound.
Brandon: We don’t want it to be painful, but it should be some sort of an endurance test to make it through our set. Not in an unenjoyable way, but when it’s all said and done, it’s like, “That was fucking brutal, that was intense.”
Preston: With the ability to understand.
Adam: Yeah, loud and crisp. Sometimes bands will try to be loud and that’s the sole purpose, and then everything gets drowned out. We’ve somehow figured out a way to make it loud and crisp and you really don’t lose much with the loudness.
John: Do you ever get shit from people running sound that you’re too loud?
Brandon: We used to.
Adam: Not so much anymore.
Brandon: On tour is when it happens the most because you encounter so many different sound people. A different one every night. Most of them are cool. If not, you blow them away with how well you’ve got your levels dialed.
Adam: Or when they say, “Can you turn that down?” you just pretend to.
Preston: I usually just do the, “No, sorry.” [laughs]
Adam: After we play though, most of them are like, “Your levels and your tones are really dialed in. I hardly had to do anything.”
Brandon: And it’s cool to be loud because right now for us we’re not going to be playing a legit shitty venue every night. We could be playing a shitty warehouse spot or a house or something. Without a PA miking everything, you still want to be loud enough. So it’s not just to be loud; there are reasons for it. But being loud is fun. It’s rock’n’roll.
Adam: Also, the (370 amp), once you get the volume past three, you’re maxing the volume out, and once you get past that, you’re just adding fuzz. So, literally, I can’t turn down [laughs]. We’re just working with what we got. Most of the time, sound people are pretty cool. Maybe I’m an asshole, but I’m like, “We’re not going to turn down because you know the room. It’s your job to make us sound good in this room. We’re doing half the work for you already with knowing our tones and our equipment.” I try not to be a dick to them.
Brandon: They can really fuck your shit up.
Adam: At Mortimer’s, we had to stop because our shit was on fire. Well, we didn’t stop. The sound guy stopped us because he didn’t want the fire alarm going off. He said the lights on smoke detectors turned on and the next step was a full-on sprinkler system turning on. He thought we were pissed. We only had one song left and we really wanted to finish it, but we were like, “Nah, it’s cool.”
Adam: That’s a big part of this band, just rolling with the shit that happens. Even before Preston got in the band, we’re a pretty hexed-ass band. Our first tours were total fucking disasters of us being stranded, vans breaking down, carbon monoxide poisoning, and crazy cocaine hookers pulling knives on people. Madness everywhere. We’re agents of chaos. The shit follows us everywhere, so you just roll with it.
Brandon: The first tour me and Dan, our driver/merch guy, ended up stranded in the Virginia Beach area for two months. Dan’s just as vital a part of Tongue Party as us three. He doesn’t do any music but he helps screen print shirts, he sells merch, he networks for us.
Adam: I think the curse is lifting now.
Brandon: Yeah, things are getting better. Just brace yourself for the next disaster.
John: Back to honing in your sound, what was the decision to put the drums up front?
Adam: Again, not playing some the nicest venues, maybe the drums won’t even get miked. We have that wall of amps, so you want the drums to be in front of them and as close to the crowd as possible to cut through. When we practice here, we’re kind of in a straight line and it’s really fun. It’s something different and we like jamming with our homies. I don’t want someone behind me. I want to be all together.
Brandon: There’s a bunch of reasons. A lot of it is just to let the drum cut through, but there’s a certain aesthetic to it too.
Adam: I would say the average show go-er would probably much rather watch a drummer than watch me do my thing. I know I would.
Brandon: I do all the vocals with you now too, so fuck it, we all do equal parts. We’re all right up front. Let’s party. Plus, Adam and I used to play a lot of house shows and unconventional venues, and it’s really fun to have the crowd right at your kick drum. Like you’re hanging out with them playing, and you can see they’re having a good time. It can get lonely on the back end. [laughs] It adds to the relentless aspect too, because we’re right there in your face.
Preston: It’s nice to set up in a line, so if I need to look at someone to lock in, they’re just right there without having to turn around.
John: Preston, do use pedals on your bass as well?
Preston: Yeah, just two pedals that are on all the time. Just a distortion and a bass boost kind of thing.
John: The bass definitely drives a lot of the riffs too. Good dynamics.
Brandon: We really like that shit. Bass up front is just as much a part as anything else. I like each instrument to be—if you stripped everything else away from it—able to hold its own. Plus, bass is fucking gnarly. That shit’s heavy.
Preston: Do you guys care for a beer?
John: I’m good, thank you, though.
Brandon: You can do whatever the fuck you want, truly speaking. There’re signs that say no smoking, but that’s a new thing within the last month.
Adam: I’m thinking it’s just a city ordinance thing.
Brandon: If anything happens and we’re responsible for getting some fine from the city, I know that fine is just gonna end up on our fucking rent.
Adam: Do you know much about the guy who owns this place?
Adam: He was the guitar tech for Semisonic, that fucking “Closing Time” band. So dude’s done the whole touring thing. The first tour we went on, we came back and owed him almost one thousand dollars. We scrounged up as much money as we could and we brought it here. He’s like, “So what’s going on?” The second we explained to him that we were on tour and it was a total disaster, we got stranded, we broke down in Baltimore. We made our way to Virginia Beach. He’s just like, “Oh man!” Then he told us a bunch of crazy fucking tour stories.
Brandon: He instantly lightened up.
John: Do you find that when you’re on tour as well? Do you come across that same attitude with people who’ve had the similar experience with bad luck and are sympathetic to what you’re going though?
Adam: It mostly just blows people’s minds that we’re still doing it.
Brandon: We know a lot of bands who have had similar shitty luck on tour. It’s not a contest, by any means. I don’t know any band that’s been stranded somewhere for months.
Adam: Fucking Virginia Beach, of all places.
Brandon: Our van broke down on another tour that same year in Atlanta and we were advised not to drive it straight home. We had eighty bucks left on us. We went to this cool mechanic place in Atlanta where all the dudes were ex-members of Norma Jean and Whores and all these bands. The show we were trying to make was in Kansas City, because we had to cancel some shows due to van issues. The show was with Whores, and we’re like, “Dude, it’s with your last band. You gotta get us there.”
Adam: We gave them the eighty bucks and said do what you can. They gave the van to us and they’re like, “Drive straight to Minneapolis. The tour’s done.” So we got over the mountains.
Brandon: Which is terrifying.
Adam: Yeah, then we’re like, “It’s running really nice now.” So we just went to Kansas City anyway and played the show. But twenty hours straight driving in that thing—it had a leak and it gave us all carbon monoxide poisoning. So by the time we got the Kansas City, we were sick as shit.
Brandon: Sickest I’ve ever been in my life. I remember standing in the back of the venue watching Whores and I had gnarly vertigo.
Adam: It mostly just blows people’s minds that we still go out and do it. A lot of people say that would have ended a lot of bands.
Brandon: But this is what we like to do. Mostly on tour we meet all sorts of random fucking people. I feel like a huge common ground would be the content of our music.
Adam: And there’s a whole common ground of the DIY ethics of touring and being in a band. That’s where you find a lot of common ground with people on the road. And when you’re on the road people are like, “Oh, that’s so cool. I’m gonna hook you up and get you some food.” That’s always really cool. It’s unfortunate that you have to be in a band away from home for people…
Brandon: To be really nice to you.
Adam: Some dude gave us twenty bucks at some crazy fucking gas station in the middle of Missouri on our last tour. He’s like, “I used to be in a band, and I used to do this. Here’s twenty bucks.” Also, when we go on tour, we usually bring a dog with us. The dog is everyone’s favorite thing.
John: Who’s dog?
Brandon: It was Dan’s dog. Sadly, he had to be put down recently, within the last two months. But he got one more tour in. He wasn’t doing too well at the end of that tour, but he’s been on every single Tongue Party tour. Once again, as much of a member as any of us.
Adam: That dog has probably been more places than a lot of people.
Brandon: Cylus was his name. We’ve counted how many states he’s taken shits in. It was like forty-three or forty-four. I can’t think of many people who have been to that many states. Some people gave us flack about that because they thought that was mean to him, but dude loved the shit.
Adam: Yeah, he was always the first one in the van and the last one out. He wouldn’t eat food unless we were all hanging out with him. A real pack mentality. People don’t fuck with your van if you got a big fucking dog in it. No matter how friendly the dog is.
Brandon: On tour we meet all kinds of cool people.
Adam: I just treat it like normal life. If you’re a decent person and not a total dickhead, we can probably be friends. That’s what I like about tours; you get to meet a bunch of crazy fucking people. Even when you’re not at shows, just all over.
Brandon: The first tour we did, it was something like thirty-five shows in thirty-seven days was how it was booked originally.
Adam: It was on the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth day and our van died.
Brandon: It was straight through. No days off until the van broke down.
Adam: Touring’s a big thing for this band, though. It’s something we all really love to do. I tell all bands, “Y’all should get out and tour.” If you want to try and pursue some shit, you have to tour. It’s the only way to possibly make something close to money. That’s not what it’s about, but if you can carve out an existence doing something you actually want to fucking do, then you should try to fucking do that.
Brandon: Musicians should do it just for the experience.
Adam: Either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it.
Brandon: It’s just not for everyone. Our old bass player, he’s a total routine dude.
Adam: I think he liked touring for the first four days of it, but anything after that…
Brandon: It was time to go home.
Adam: Where day four or five, I’m adjusted. Then by the end of it—when it’s two or three weeks later—I’m ready to go home. Then you get home and I’m like, “I could fucking go out for two more weeks.”
Brandon: What happens is you get home and you’re like, “I’m so stoked to be home.” Then you have two days off and I’m ready to bring on three more weeks of shows.
Adam: It’s one of those things—you miss home when you’re fucking on the road.
Brandon: Miss the road when you’re at home.
Adam: Can’t ever be where you want to be. [laughs]
John: Do you guys have jobs that accommodate the touring?
Adam: It’s the only reason I still have the job I work at.
Brandon: Adam and I work at a coffee shop. Our management’s really cool. They basically say, “You can go on tour as much as you want as many times as you want, as long as you’re back when you say you’ll be back and you’re not a shitty employee.”
Adam: We had to earn that by being good employees.
Brandon: You’d be surprised at the jobs that don’t. I quit the coffee shop for a bit because I was burnt out on it, and I got a job at a record store. The moment came to go on tour and they weren’t cool with it.
Adam: Who’d have thought a record store isn’t cool with you going on tour?
Brandon: I would have had to quit that job anyway, based on money. But our jobs are cool about it. Preston works at a lumber yard.
Preston: Yeah, I do manual labor. I told them that I’d be touring when I was interviewing for the job.
Adam: It’s literally the only reason I still work there. I’m really sick of working there, but I like having a job when I get off the road.
John: There’s that attitude of do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.
Adam: That’s been the last ten years of my life.
Brandon: Adam and I were going to McNally Smith (College of Music) back in 2008, and both dropped out because we were working at Burger King at the time. We both decided that working more hours at this shitty fast food joint, going out on tour, and being in a band was far more worthwhile than getting into shit loads of debt to maybe get a job in the industry. We were going for recording, and I realized I hated recording other people’s shit.
John: That school went under too, didn’t it?
Brandon: Yeah, for fraud, and it went down really shitty. It was like two weeks before Christmas and they just told all their employees and students. At that point they already owed all the teachers a bunch of back pay. But yeah, you do what you have to do. Life is just one giant compromise at a time.
Adam: The service industry gives us a lot of fuel for the fire.
John: Inspiration for lyrics?
Brandon: Yeah, and part of the reason we like to practice a lot. We try to practice every night but we don’t. We definitely try to practice five times a week.
Adam: It helps us get over the shitty day at work we had.
Brandon: We come in and blast out some aggressive tunes.
Adam: Then when I play shows and people come up to me and they tell me, “Man that felt good.” I totally get what they’re saying. That’s why I do it, because it helps me release that.
Brandon: Pent up anything.
Adam: I don’t want to say “anger,” because I think anger’s a good thing. You just have to have that shit on the button, ready to go at the right time.
Preston: It’s kind of evolved.
Adam: Yeah, it just takes some time to get that shit under control. We wouldn’t sound the same if we didn’t serve asshole yuppies every day.
John: As far as writing, do you feel your approach has changed much from when you started?
Brandon: Actually, yeah. We just started writing some new shit. The last album, Looking for a Painful Death, was written by Adam and I. We had a different bass player. Adam and I would do all the writing and show him what to play.
Adam: It’s not like a weird ego thing either, he just liked playing riffs.
Brandon: Yeah, and then last August he quit. We were set to record end of last October. Then we brought Preston in and taught him the songs. So this is the first time for us that we’re going to write with all three of us together. Someone will bring some ideas and we’ll work off of that, or we’ll just improvise and jam it out. We’ll usually write all the music, then the songs will make us feel a certain way, and we’ll write lyrics based on it. Once we finished writing the last album, we started a list of subjects we would like to cover lyrically on this next one.
Adam: And driving in the van, we talk about all sorts of crazy shit that irritates us. If it’s persistent, it gets a song about it. This next album we’re definitely going to write a song about…
Adam: No. [laughs] I was going to say people with big SUVs and not knowing how to drive.
John: You mentioned Murphy’s. Was that the gig where they canceled before you loaded in?
Adam: Yeah, the one in Tennessee.
John: Speaking of rolling with the punches, I read that blog about how that gig was moved to a storage space.
Adam: Yeah, the band that set that up were really cool dudes. They practice in a storage unit, and it was literally a block down the road from the venue that canceled on us. So the band sent out a huge mass text to everybody and let them know that the show’s happening in the storage space.
John: So what happened with the show cancelling?
Adam: We pulled up and started loading in
Brandon: Preston went in there and said, “We’re ready to load in.” This dude was yelling about parking. We’re always pretty respectful when we show up to venues, and we did pretty much exactly what they said, as far as I know. The dude just wasn’t having it.
Adam: We’re not going to take shit either, especially if you’re some podunk motherfucker trying to impress his friends.
Preston: We were at the end of the tour, too—all fucking pissed off.
Adam: Yeah, that too. We were tired, and sleep deprived, and hungry.
Brandon: So they cancelled it, then us three got into an intense screaming match with this dude. Then Dan said, “Yo, we don’t have enough money for anybody’s bail.”
Adam: Plus, I don’t want to see what the inside of a Memphis jail cell looks like.
Brandon: So then we went down the block and played a show that was fucking awesome.
Preston: Solid fucking concrete walls.
Adam: It was something that just got blown way out of proportion.
John: It goes back to you guys rolling with the punches, and you got a really good gig out it.
Brandon: Yeah, people were like, “I don’t know if I would’ve come to the show at the bar,” but they came to the storage space.
Adam: Yeah, fun show, cool people. I like playing unconventional venues, so that was cool.
Brandon: They made it happen.
Adam: DIY at its finest.
Brandon: Even on a small scale, it just shows what happens when people are cool and come together. I’m not hippy dippy—in fact, I think the world is quite an awful place—but every once in while it’s good to see genuine moments of people looking out for one another. It also feels good that punk rock and DIY came out triumphant.
John: What are some other unconventional venues that you’ve played?
Brandon: New Hampshire somewhere, we played this weird loft under a hundred-year-old mill. We thought it was a bunch of different stuff going on there. We played this show and it was really fun. Then we woke up the next day and aswe were loading out, there were these actual mill people working. We’re loading drums out through all these people with hardhats. We played a Chinese restaurant on our last tour.
Adam: In Baltimore.
Brandon: That was pretty fun.
Preston: There was that workshop in Kansas City
Adam: Yeah, also before Preston was in the band, we played this place in Baton Rouge called The Woodshop, and it was an actual woodshop. We’re like, “Where’s the merch table?” and they’re like, “The table saw.” [laughing] It was great.
Brandon: A lot of just weird art spaces.
Adam: Miami, we played a cocaine-front music shop. All the instruments were broken and there were no prices on anything.
Brandon: There were like three guitars in the building.
Adam: I don’t know—Florida sucks. I don’t know if y’all have ever been there.
Brandon: I think what people forget is that it’s the deep South. We were down there before Trump was president, like two weeks before the election. I came back from that tour. Everyone’s like, “How was the tour?” I was like, “Trump’s gonna be president. I just drove around the county, and Trump is gonna be fucking president.”
Adam: There were so may Trump signs.
Brandon: All I saw was Trump shit outside of the city.
Adam: I’m trying to think of other unconventional places.
Brandon: We play a lot of basements and houses, and shit like that.
John: Do you find the energy at those places is different than a proper venue?
Adam: Yeah, it kind of depends. If you’re going to a house or place that you need to know to see a show, you’re there to enjoy some fucking music, whereas if you play a bar you could be there just to drink some beers.
Brandon: Up until this last year, house shows were the shows where things would get rowdy, but the last ten shows we played in Minneapolis, the crowd goes fucking ape-shit crazy. Last May, when we played The Hexagon, there were people hanging from the PA speaker and doing all sorts of crazy shit. We’re like, “We’re never gonna be allowed to come back to this place,” and it’s The Hexagon. [Everyone laughs.] I don’t really condone destroying a public place. I’m also not really into moshing because I broke my nose when I was younger in a mosh pit. But if that’s what you want to do, I’m all about it. I love seeing people go fucking crazy. You can go to a lot of rock’n’roll shows and people are like [crosses arms]. I’m guilty of it too, but I get a release from playing music.
Adam: Go watch old live videos of the ‘80s hardcore scene. It’s just madness.
Brandon: It doesn’t have to be like that. I don’t want people spitting on me. People should lose their shit, but I don’t want to get spit on, and I don’t want to have to fight people every night.
John: I see you’ve been doing screen-printing. Do you do your own art too?
Brandon: No. We’ve met a lot of talented artists and it’s really cool to be able to feature their artwork.
Adam: It all started with Dan and me sitting in his car smoking pot right before we were going on tour. We were trying to figure out how we were going to get a van and get merch all before the tour, because we were poor as shit. Also, with all the disasters this band has been through, we’ve acquired a decent amount of debt. So I was like, “Why don’t we get some screen-printing shit and make an initial investment, and we’ll make some fucking merch?”
Brandon: We had some other bands asking us, “Who did that art for you?” and I said, “This guy. Here’s his contact.”
Adam: It’s cool to just help artists out that are our friends.
John: So the screen-printing is out of necessity, but do you find its different creative aspect that you enjoy?
Adam: It’s cool that it benefits Tongue Party, but we’re also trying to help other bands out. It’s ridiculous how convoluted some T-shirt sites can be. I was trying to order some shirts from an actual T-shirt place and I was like, “I don’t know what half this shit means—let’s just learn it.” Plus, it’s always good to have a couple side hustles.
Brandon: With Tongue Party, it’s something we always wanted to do, because we don’t have to wait on a third party.
Adam: And we don’t have to save up for bulk purchases of shirts. I could have twelve different shirt designs for sale online. We’ll need them for shows, but let’s say that online you got a bunch of different designs—if you got all the art and the screens you can just make them to order.
Brandon: We’ve always been all about the DIY thing. Looking for a Painful Death, the record we just released, is the first record Adam and I personally have ever done on a label.
Adam: First time we’ve gone somewhere else to record.
Brandon: Usually we just record it ourselves. So we always wanted this to be DIY. We book our own tours and stuff like that. So that was part of the screen-printing thing. Even on the label we’re super DIY. They just help releasing the records, and that’s just one thing we don’t have to worry about.
Adam: We also got a fucked up order of T-shirts the last time we ordered from somebody else. We couldn’t figure out if they fucked it up, or if we fucked it up. It gives us more quality control over more of our shit.
Brandon: All in all, it cuts a lot of cost and allows you to do a lot more merch. It’s a really cool skill to have.
Adam: If we aren’t here doing this and playing music, I’d be at home screen-printing.
Brandon: Even though I’d like to have a side hustle helping other bands get some merch, it’s something I would always encourage other bands to do. It’s only one initial large investment. After that, it pays for itself.
John: So what else is on the horizon for you guys?
Brandon: Basically, this next year we’re going to be touring as much as we can.
Adam: All while working on new material. We don’t feel like we’ve toured on Looking for a Painful Death enough.
Brandon: So yeah, touring and writing new music.
Preston: Some splits would be fun.
Brandon: I’ve also been talking to this dude about doing some videos.
Adam: And you know—roll with punches, whatever else comes along.