Interview: Hot Tonic

“Described as Postmodern Jukebox meets Amy Winehouse,” Columbus group Hot Tonic is “a swinging jazz band that crosses over into funky soul” in a variety of lineups and settings. The core of the group is vocalist and double bassist Victoria Woods and guitarist Josh Hindmarsh, and the pair keeps busy with gigs ranging from duo performances to appearances by the Hot Tonic Orchestra, their brand-new eight-piece band featuring a horn section and percussion. Hot Tonic continues its successful 2019 with festival appearances, including opening the 2019 Columbus Jazz & Rib Fest at noon Friday, July 19th on the Bicentennial Park stage. Woods (VW) and Hindmarsh (JH) were kind enough to answer my email questions about the group and its recent and upcoming adventures – keep reading to learn much more and make plans now to see the band soon!

Tell us the story of how Hot Tonic started and how it has evolved to the present day. How would you describe the sound of the current band/lineup?

Victoria Woods (VW): Hot Tonic started back in 2018, the name represents both an invigorating energy and a communal listening experience. You could say it is both energetically HOT and a musical TONIC to the listener. The larger orchestra we have now creatively mixes jazz and funky popular music, and playing with Columbus’s best musicians really make these ideals come to life.

What was it like growing up as the daughter of OSU Marching Band director Dr. Jon Woods and how did that affect your musical growth?

VW: Dad was at OSU for almost 40 years and his pursuit of musical excellence inspired thousands of musician’s and educators nationwide, so growing up in that household had a profound effect on me as a child. I started ear training at age 3, bass lessons began at age 8, and later added trombone. Growing up around a 225 piece brass band and all its alumni was normal life, and if things got difficult Dad often said, ”You wouldn’t quit algebra because its hard, why would you quit music?” I also discovered recently my grandfather directed and ran a big band, so I guess you could say I am continuing the family business!

Do you feel that that the Columbus Jazz scene affords ample, or equal, opportunities and support to women musicians?

VW: I believe Columbus is one of the MOST supportive music scenes anywhere in the world, and the music community deserves a lot of props. Venues and festivals like Dick’s Den and ComFest and institutions like the greater Columbus Arts Council provide fantastic support to musicians like me.

As far as equality goes, you just have to look at the numbers to see that as far as instrumentalists in jazz and popular music, there is a shortage of really active female musicians, so I feel it’s my responsibility to set a good example and shine a light for emerging female musicians to feel they can be their best selves without feeling inferior. This is a topic very close to my heart and I want to find new ways to encourage and support women in music, specifically women in the rhythm section.

Singing and playing double bass simultaneously is a rare combination. What do you enjoy about that setup? Does it create certain challenges?

VW: It’s a known fact that it’s a big challenge to both sing and play bass, but you do what you gotta do to get your music out!

I like it that I can set the groove I want with the great Columbus drummers, including Reggie Jackson and Jim Rupp, and aim to create a musical message that’s more unique because of it. We really set out to have an original concept with both the arrangements and the stylistic interpretations, and having the music be interactive with the bands and audience.

I was excited to hear about the 8 piece Hot Tonic Orchestra! Can you describe the instrumentation and sound of this lineup?

VW: It is an exciting band, that has a 3 piece horn section, and rhythm section and percussion, and is multi-genre, fusing jazz with Latin rhythms, funk and soul, tied together by original arrangements.

How did Hot Tonic’s tour of Australia, New Zealand and Asia come about?

Josh Hindmarsh (JH): It was time to bring some of the Midwest energy and swing to NZ, and show them how vital and energetic our Columbus music scene is. Although I lived in NYC for 7 years, I am proud to say I am part of the Midwest music scene, and what it represents, which to me is summed up in one word – “Community,” after all we have a festival named after it right? (go COMFEST!)

What was the experience of bringing this emerging project to your home country like?

JH: A great experience in every way, with Victoria and I being so well received in a foreign culture, it affirms the qualities that our Columbus music community represents, grooving and swinging and playing as one musical team and reaching out to both jazz aficionados and the general public alike.

How do you feel the band grew and developed during this tour?

JH: Well playing on a nightly basis helps any band, as my late great musical father and drumming legend Roger Sellers said “it really comes down to flying hours”, so in that way it really launched us into a solid entity. I recommend it to any band…get out there and tour! We’ve been described as “amazingly energetic and full of vitality” which is what we try and live up to on every gig.

What is your favorite memory from playing with Hot Tonic so far?

JH: The recent packed out show we did at Columbus venue Rambling House was amazing because all our friends saw the birth of the Hot Tonic Orchestra, an 8 piece band with original arrangements and 3 piece horn section. It was so great to have old friends see the new band and its energy, and also have new fans start to follow us too. It’s exciting to have a band that represents all the musical things we believe in stylistically, both in jazz and beyond!

Tell us about the band’s upcoming projects and concerts. How has your relationship with Class Acts strengthened the band’s trajectory?

JH: Class Acts have really been vital in their support, We can’t thank Paul Hoy and his awesome company enough for their belief in us, and we look forward to working with them for years to come. We are now performing larger festivals including Jazz and Rib Fest, which you can find out about on our website and these larger stages are where the orchestra will be mainly performing now.

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