A few days a week, Eliot Gordon, bassist-vocalist for Tornado, drives a hybrid cab for an alternatively fueled car service. The 26-year-old musician serves as the guitarist for the Twin Cities’ group Mary Allen And The Percolators and, at his South Minneapolis home (affectionately referred to as Disgraceland), he’s built a recording studio in the basement. It’s here that he and Klaus Dakota, Robbi Grunke, Thomas Jennings, and Mae Devitt are in the process of recording their LP on a MCI 2-inch 24-track analog studio tape recorder. It’s a piece of equipment that’s larger than an oven and more than four decades old. The album, Luchadores Of Tone, is the debut full-length for the surfy-soul punk rock ’n’ roll project Tornado, or, as the group will soon be called, Tonador.
Tornado/Tonador makes a lot of the right decisions. The group’s presence on the Internet is small, in some ways only adding to its charm. In the thick of the fly-by-night digital age, the group has opted to keep recording analog, to do things the old way—playing bike parties and shows around town for the last three years—and releasing sparse four-track tapes and a split 7-inch with Mary Allen. The group has a session mix done by Atmosphere guitarist Nate Collis recorded above Matt’s Bar and aptly called The Jucy Sessions. On the group’s enigmatic website, there’s only one song: a dark and sweet, slowed-down ballad named “Goodbye,” which effectively shows everything there is to love about Tornado in less than four minutes. Imagined as a soul and funk band at its inception, the group has become something else entirely: a seamless, gritty bridging of grinding organ jams and plucky surf-rock with punk and rock ’n’ roll elements. It’s all anchored down by the soulful trade-off vocals of Gordon and vocalist-conga player Devitt, filtered and accentuated through analog tape. In anticipation of the group’s summer full-length release and March 31 show at the Twin Cities third annual Worst Friends Ever bike event, The A.V. Club talked to Gordon and tried to get a bit more insight into the mystery of Tornado.
The A.V. Club: How did Tornado start?
Eliot Gordon: We’ve been playing out for about three years. We got the name when a tornado knocked my garage off the slab in South Minneapolis. I had a dream to start a funk band and do some slower soul songs, like Stax stuff, but we weren’t really good at it. We’re all a little too white. So we started in an attempt to be a funky/soul group and just evolved into this mashup of everything we like.
Me and Klaus had been playing together for 10 years, or something. We had this other band, Dangerboy. And I lived with Robbi for a long time, so we would play music together. Tom was there, and we were like, “Fuck it, let’s start a band.” I had some intentions for it, like the funk and soul thing, and that didn’t work out, but I like what it turned into.
AVC: How is Luchadores Of Tone coming? Is it hard to make time if you’re all in other bands?
EG: Yeah, we’re all in other bands, besides Klaus. We have a few different things. It’s not a side project in any way, though. It’s usually my most active band. We practice at least once a week, if not more than that. Luchadores Of Tone is a full-length. I just got this huge recording machine and a mixer to match. We got 10 tracks laid down. A few of those will probably get cut so that it fits on a record. It will only be released on vinyl with an MP3 download.
AVC: Where are you gonna press it?
EG: There’s a company called United Record Pressing in [Tennessee] that I’ve always used before.
AVC: When will the record come out then?
EG: I wanna get it out by mid-June. All the main tracks are laid down; we’ve just got to get the guitar solos and vocals. We recorded the drums, bass, guitar, and organ all live at the same time.
AVC: How important is the equipment you’re using to the overall sound? Like the Kimball organ, for example?
EG: I mean, we could all play on crappy Yamahas, and it would be fine—but I do think it helps the sound. I love my bass, but I would play a different one if it broke or something. If we could get a nice, new keyboard that’s good, we’d use it because it would be way easier to play and move and stuff. But a keyboard that can do what the Kimball does is like $1,500 dollars, and we’re not wealthy, none of us.
AVC: What did you do to outfit Disgraceland to be a recording studio?
EG: There is a boiler room, which is the main room, which has all the recording equipment in it. I just smashed a hole in the wall and made some windows and shoved a PVC pipe through there and put a socket in. It’s got pretty thick plaster ceilings, and we put pillows in the windows when we play. We had to soundproof the laundry shoot, because it was just blaring the music through the whole house. You can still hear it in the radiators; it’s just quiet.
AVC: Why the name change?
EG: I don’t know, TONADOR! It just sounds cooler. Also there’s a lot of bands that are Tornado, like The Tornados and this metal band from Europe called Tornado. And when you Google search the word, it’s just actual tornados.
AVC: Was it an intentional move to cultivate this old sound? Or did it just organically happen out of what you all like?
EG: I think it’s just what we listen to, so it’s what we’re always thinking about. I can’t sit down and play a new metal song. This music’s just what comes out now, no matter how hard I try to make it different.
AVC: Has everyone been playing music for a while?
EG: We’ve all known each other for a long time. Me and Tom and Robbie and Mae have been in the Black Label Bike Club for years now. So we’ve been biking together for a while. We build bikes, and we do runs and campsite parties. We ride and party on the bike club’s birthday and stuff. We’re having our 20th anniversary this year.
AVC: Can anybody be a member of BLBC?
EG: We take it pretty seriously. If we are hanging out with someone for a while and we like them, we ask them if they want to be a part of the club. We give them prospect colors, which is just the patch sown on the vest, and then they’re—to varying degrees—subjected to whatever a member tells them to do, and then after a while they’re given their real colors. We usually try to do it at an event like May Day or the club’s birthday.
AVC: What about the show on March 31? The third annual Worst Friends Ever?
EG: We’re playing a block party, but we aren’t really allowed to publicize where it will be yet. We can say it’s a block party, and it’ll be in South Minneapolis. There is an Alleycat race before the party, set for 2 p.m. It starts at The Grease Pit bike shop on East 28th Street and Bloomington Avenue. The block party is from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. We are allowed to have three hours of music, so the music will probably start at 7. There will probably be bike events like jousting, footdown, bumper bikes, and relay races going on during the music.