Kristen Mystirie Calderon, a club hostess and makeup artist from Los Angeles, does not like Tomahawk’s new single.
“Tomahawk, your music made me wet—juicy even!” she wrote on the band’s Facebook page in December after it released the first track from its new album, Oddfellows. “I would want to make love to the music...but then I heard “Stone Letter.” Now I want to take my sharpest stiletto and ram it through this song. What the hell, guys?! What happened to music!?!? Why did you dumb down and mainstream the music!? :( I’m not turned on.”
Duane Denison doesn’t want to hear it.
“I have to remind myself not to read comments ever on anything,” the guitarist says with a sigh from his home in Nashville. “No matter what it is, it’s virtually always negative. You have to tell people: Be patient, this is not what the [whole] album sounds like. This is one song.”
But Calderon, as Denison, of all people, would acknowledge, is not wrong: With “Stone Letter,” Tomahawk has gone mainstream.
Tomahawk is best known as a band that’s very much the sum of its parts: Denison, formerly of ’90s noise-rock outfit the Jesus Lizard; drummer John Stanier from hard rockers Helmet; and Mike Patton, best known as the lead singer of Faith No More but increasingly identified more with genre-bending experimental projects like Mr. Bungle, Fantômas and his work with John Zorn. (A co-conspirator from these groups, Trevor Dunn, recently came onboard as the band’s new bassist.)
The band’s first, self-titled release in 2001 was a vaguely terrifying journey through a funhouse of fuzz freakouts, epic choruses, post-hardcore riffs and menacing whispers—and things only got weirder from there. Its previous release, 2007’s Anonymous, was a concept album based on an extensive study of Native American tribal chants.
Back together for the band’s first album in six years, Tomahawk is “restarting,” Denison says. And in this post-iTunes world, where the single is king, it’s looking to find a new audience.
“After 10 years, you can’t just assume your old fans are going to be there,” he says. “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making accommodations for the new climate.
Thus, the release of “Stone Letter,” a catchy, quiet-loud hard-rock song that features Patton screaming at his most tuneful. Denison makes no bones about why it was picked as the single: “‘Stone Letter’ was easily the most accessible, inoffensive sing-along-type song.... It seemed the most like other rock that is on the radio.”
Fortunately for Calderon, Oddfellows also contains plenty of the signature Patton weirdness that makes her so juicy: twisted, math-y riffs; rumbling monastic chants; and no small amount of incomprehensible yelling.
But if a straightforward “heavy-pop” song like “Stone Letter” is what reels in new fans, Denison is all for it.
“If we suddenly have a deluge of teenage girls [at our concerts] wanting to hear ‘Stone Letter,’ I’d love it,” he says, laughing. “If we could get Mike to do a duet with Taylor Swift or Gwen Stefani, someone like that? That would be awesome.”
SEE IT: Tomahawk plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Retox, on Wednesday, Feb. 13. 7:30 pm. $25 advance, $28 day of show. 21+.