After transitioning from former band Crown Imperial to a duo, Team Nightstand’s Cali Tonnu and Zach Massey — both of whom sing and play guitar live — are creating beats, taking trips and learning that two can sound much bigger than the sum of their parts.
Q: What are your backgrounds in bands around here?
Cali Tonnu: Many years ago I did some singing on a 4-track with a friend, and we even made a music video. But before Crown Imperial, I had virtually no real band experience. I just started playing guitar and writing songs right before that band began.
Zach Massey: I started in reverse; I recorded before I ever played in a band. When I was recording, I met Eric Harmon (formerly of Chainsaw Kittens, Locust Avenue) in the studio. He helped me put some demos together, and those demos turned into a band called the Mean Spirits. During the Mean Spirits, Cali and I started working on some songs. The bass player for Mean Spirits started playing drums and brought a friend to play bass. The four of us became Crown Imperial. We played our first show as the opening act for the Mean Spirits’ last show. After a few years of Crown Imperial, we started Team Nightstand.
Q: Why the downsizing of Crown Imperial to just the two of you for this project?
Tonnu: I think the downsizing was result of everyone’s schedule, wants and needs. Zach and I really enjoy playing out of town. It’s easy for us to practice, play anywhere, whenever we want, because we’re a couple, and our lives are intertwined.
Massey: I’ve been lucky to work with some immensely talented and lovely people. That being said, at the end of the day, my most enduring creative collaboration is with Cali. Team Nightstand is just another version of that collaboration.
Q: How has it changed the creative dynamic, both in the studio and onstage, whittling down the number people contributing to the band?
Massey: The two-piece dynamic is certainly different — both frustrating and liberating. We don’t have a group dynamic to plug into. We can’t just ask the bass player to write a part for the bridge; that’s our job now. It’s been a great experience, and the limitations have pushed us creatively. We’ve been able to expand in ways we maybe wouldn’t have as band members.
Tonnu: I think that there is a different intensity in our shows because I am totally dependent on Zach, and our focus is on each other. It becomes intimate, and I believe it shows in our relationship on and off the stage.
Q: You guys use recorded tracks to fill out your sound when you play live. Would you say that mirrors the writing process, or are your songs written more traditionally?
Massey: Generally, we write the same way we always have: couple of guitars, couple of beers. However, writing drum beats has been great. It’s like finding a new facet to something old and familiar. Now I listen to music in terms of rhythm, which has made old songs new to me.
Q: You just did a mini- tour and have done some regional playing. What sort of venue do you think lends itself best to your setup?
Tonnu: I love shows where we can feel close and connected to audience, whether it is a small or large venue. We love it when they get into it.
Massey: I definitely like the smaller spaces. The Opolis, Soundpony and Hilo, although different from each other, are great examples of places where the band is close to the audience. Around the early 2000s I saw the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at the Diamond Ballroom. After the show, the band just hung out in the audience and talked to people. I wasn’t in a band at the time, but I wanted to be, and I thought that was great. Still do.
I think that there is a different intensity in our shows because I am totally dependent on Zach, and our focus is on each other. It becomes intimate, and I believe it shows in our relationship on and off the stage.”