Alex Irwin ordered a tomato pie pastry from Baguette Magic, a fitting food for the keyboard and synth player of Charleston four-piece experimental outfit Tomatoband.
Tomatoes go way back for founding members Irwin and Charlie Mitchell, who plays guitar. Mitchell's grandmother's house, where the duo would have jam sessions in the basement, was always scattered with the red fruit.
"It was such a part of life over there," Mitchell says. "There were tomatoes covering the countertops from her tomato garden, and she used to make us tomato pie."
Bassist Alan Stern, who joined in later, joked that he put cherry tomatoes in his coffee to fit in with the group. (It was not true, The Post and Courier confirmed.) Drummer Jake Acheson was also late to the tomato party but embraced the band name and its fitting origins.
The group was first conceived in 2011 but was fully formed with its current lineup in 2017, mixing original compositions with covers for a set that gets a little funky, psychedelic and electronic. The synth sound effects are a key factor, and structured improv is also a part of each set.
"It really just flows," Stern puts it simply.
And practicing together two times a week, with shows scattered in between, has allowed the members to grow. From the start, however, there was a special chemistry that couldn't be ignored.
Mitchell adds, "It's never been like we have to figure out how to play together. Even the first time we played, it still felt the same as now. We've just improved."
While Irwin is squiggling the knobs, wiggling the oscillator and fiddling the filters, the rest of the band is keeping the rhythm and guiding the vibrations. Tomatoband is meant to be seen live.
Even the group's newest album "Bird Hotel," which The Post and Courier is premiering in its entirety, was recorded live at Coast Records in two days with minimal editing.
This is the band's third full-length album release in two years. Yet, it's the first that wasn't recorded in the group's home studio.
The band's songs that make it into the studio and the recording process never seem to stay the same live. Almost all of them have evolved over time.
That's why the format of "Bird Hotel" is particularly interesting. Side A is more condensed radio cuts, while Side B is freeform improv of the exact same songs.
There are some other unusual elements that make it onto the disc, including a poem recitation by Irwin's piano teacher. And the name stems from a giant birdhouse the band members ran across while hanging out.
"That looks like a bird hotel," Acheson mused.
The album title was born.
Tomatoband will play at the Lowcountry Hemp Festival on April 20 at The Barrel, 1859 Folly Road. A tour is in the works, including a date at the Windjammer with Travers Brothership on May 17.