The songwriting gurus of the Bay area, Daniel Kempthorne and Reto Peter run the indie production company TinyTone Music and, just between the two of them, do on their own what major labels struggle to do.
With 15 years of experience making major and indie records, the duo creates dazzlingly catchy music under several different monickers, including The Measels, MicroMen, SeaSalt Biscuits, and more. Each name comes with its own sonic identity that is unbelievably authentic to the genre. This acute sensibility for melody and hooks comes from years of touring with, recording for, and producing some of the biggest names in the biz.
MD: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How’s the new year starting off for you fellas?
TT: Our pleasure, thanks for having us. Well, with it being an El Niño year, out here in California we’re seeing a lot of much needed rain right now. So to answer your question, the new year is starting off wet. The good news is that thanks to the lousy weather not only are we getting some drought relief, we’re also spending more time than ever stuck indoors writing and recording. So it’s wet, but it’s productive.
MD: For those who don’t know, you guys make music under a few names. How did your groups come together and what differentiates your sonic direction for each act?
TT: 6 years ago when we first met up our initial idea was to do basically a seventies style punk rock sort of thing – no real goal other than to just get our kicks. With us having a background playing and producing that kind of stuff, growing up in the punk and indie scenes, we figured that was as good a place as any to start. So we came up with a name - The Measels - hustled together 10 tunes, tracked ‘em out here in Oakland fast and true to form, and it turned out really cool. Better than we expected. Since we’d done some licensing in the past with other bands we’d been in, we thought we’d see what this stuff could do. Fortunately for us, it did well – more or less right out of the gate. That encouraged us to do more.
We didn’t want to get stuck in just one vein though. From there we did a batch of fashion conscious 80’s synth-nerd songs (not too tough of a stretch for us), which ended up being the “MicroMen” stuff. We got uses out of that as well, so we just kept going and kept experimenting with styles. Hard heavy rock (Murder Takes Two), moody singer/songwriter (The Mums), hipster outsiders (Seasalt Biscuits), and so on and so on. Amazingly, it became a full-time deal for us. We’ve been very lucky to have had some fantastic placements and a lot of fun doing it along the way.
MD: We placed MicroMen in a pretty awesome spot with Sunglass Hut last year. How did you feel when you heard the news?
TT: We like that spot too. And of course, it feels great. The sun shines a little brighter, the girls get a little prettier! Truth be told though, not only does it put some solid dough in our pockets, it helps us to get a better idea of what works. It also pushes us harder to get the next one.
MD: That track is super catchy. Your hooks and instrumentals are infectious in general. It seems you have a firm grasp on what will stick and how to reach different audiences. Is there a formula to making license-friendly music?
TT: Thanks! In our experience, there really isn’t any sort of a formula, and even if there were, we would probably try and avoid it. No one wants cookie-cutter material. We tend to do best when we simply go with our instincts and make the music the way that we want to make it. If we don’t love it, why should anyone else? Once we’re on to something we feel like might be decent, it’s just a matter of working and re-working until it feels right – messing around with different arrangements and instrumentation and then finally recording it in a way appropriate for the music. We have a lot of neat gear over here along with a lot of vintage stuff, and that helps. Hopefully in the end, when the smoke clears, we walk away with a good song.
MD: Quite different from MicroMen, you also record as The Measels. Under this name, you guys have seen a lot of success getting your music placed to TV shows. Last year, we secured a placement with Sea-Doo. Now I’ve never personally rode a jet-ski, but I hear I’m missing out. How do you guys feel about the brand association on this one?
TT: Although we’re yet to actually do it, after we’d heard the sync was firm, we made a pact to take a day to hit the Sea-Doo Rental and, despite us being somewhat water challenged, go riding. It just looks too fun to not do it. So this is going to happen – sooner or later. We’ll keep you posted on how we do… it’s like skateboarding, right??
MD: I think it’s one of those apples to oranges sort of things, but one can still dream. Speaking of which, do you guys have a dream sync?
TT: TV themes! We’ve been fortunate to do a little bit of that in the past and that’s a really cool thing to be a part of. But since we’re talking “dream sync”, we’d have go ahead and say anything with Scarlett Johansson in it.
MD: Your music certainly lends itself to several different creative directions. As you look back on your musical beginnings, who served as inspiration?
TT: We’re pretty eclectic when it comes to our musical influences: punk, new wave, electronic, garage rock, surfer tunes, sixties French pop, metal, hip-hop, blues. Our tastes are all over the place. But early on, starting out, artists like The Ramones, The Kinks, Devo, Bowie, and The Velvet Underground were huge for us.
MD: How would you describe Tiny Tone in 3 words?
TT: Hmmm. That’s tough…
“More Coffee Please”
“Sol is Gold”
“Probably Not Reggae”
“One More Take!”
Or how about “Nor-Cal Music Lab!” That one has a good ring to it.
MD: Gentlemen – you truly have something special and it’s a pleasure working together. We look forward to another successful year together. Thanks again!
TT: No, thank you! And now we’re off to tune up the guitars and make some noise!
By: Zach Lyons, Music Dealers