The Sound of Art: ECC Art Instructor Plays in Local Band

By Caleb Duda, Fall 2012

I was lucky enough to interview Tone Rodent front man and East Central art instructor Adam Watkins about his band and his music history.

Watkins’ work with music started overseas.

“We got started when I was in grad school in England,” said Watkins. “I was doing sound installations, making sound art the way I was making paintings. Initially it was about making art with sound, and it then evolved to where we had musicians and compositions, something a little more structured.”

The sound installations were as much a form of artistic expression as his paintings. Watkins decided that he could share his music with a broader audience if he formed a band. So in 1999, Watkins and bass player, Matty Coonfield, formed Tone Rodent. The band came into full fruition in 2000.

The current lineup has been together for two years now. Watkins, on vocals and guitar, Coonfield on bass, Mark Early on the keys and synthesizer, Jeff Robotoy on guitar, Adam Dick on drums, and Ashley Hohman with vocals and percussion.

Watkins cited some of his biggest influences in music as Joy Division, Velvet Underground, The Cure, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. All of them are rooted in the post-punk era of rock and roll, which is reflected in some of Tone Rodent’s music.

However, Watkins says he is not the sole influence in the creative process of making the band’s music.

“Each person in the band comes from a completely different place musically, which is exciting. Each person brings their own thing to the group,” said Watkins. “If you were to sit down and listen to each of our playlists, it’s a very diverse pallet. Like our guitar player comes from a punk rock background, and our drummer loves outlaw country-western stuff. We’re a sponge. We take it all in.”

That sponge effect comes into play visibly when you witness the band during a live performance. Each has their own stage persona and they fit together like a puzzle.

(Read my review of their live show with the band Moon Duo here.)

The band tried to keep from being too influenced by one source or another. “If we sound too much like one thing we throw it out,” Watkins said with a smile. “Sometimes I’ll show up and play something new and [the band] will check me and say I’ve been listening to too much of one artist and we scrap what I brought.”

Tone Rodent does have a specific framework for all of their music.

“The biggest thing I’ve said is that sound is crucial. The wall of sound is important. I want it to be a sort of physical thing that’s inescapable. I want it to be such that if you’re in that space, you have to physically leave to get away. I want you to be able to feel it in your chest,” Watkins said. He enjoys the element of both a physical and auditory experience that a live show can bring.

Watkins says the allure of music is the unique experience of interaction with the fans. Both standing on stage and seeing the faces, and getting off stage and chatting with an audience member who liked a song or something they did.

“It’s the shared experience that only music brings. You and your audience, together,” said Watkins. “Whether it’s your first time at our show, you’ve seen us before, or it’s your absolute last time, I want it to be something you hopefully remember. ”

Watkins says that they all make their music simply because they want to. They’re not in it to sell a million records or become superstars, though they do appreciate any patronage. They do it for the fact that they’re creating art.

If you would like to see Tone Rodent perform, they have a couple shows coming up. First is Oct. 26 at Heavy Anchor in South City, and Nov. 4 in-store at Vintage Vinyl in University City.

The band will also have a new seven-inch vinyl record released in the first week of November.

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