With a name like Tonic, Emerson Hart, Jeff Russo and Dan Lavery have always been committed to supplying relief through their music. The band's third album, Head On Straight, once again provides such a cure for the head and heart. But lyrically, at least, it's not always an easy pill to swallow.
It's been three years since Tonic's last platinum-selling album, Sugar. And in that time, the Los Angeles-based trio has been winding down the road to connect with fans, while trying to keep relationships back home from unraveling. Not surprisingly, those intense experiences found their way into the band's new music.
"The album reflects how the band felt when making the record," says guitarist Russo. "It was inspired by our personal lives as well as how making and touring behind the last two albums affected us."
It's the age-old conflict between domesticity and destiny. And throughout Head On Straight's twelve dynamic tracks, singer-guitarist Hart recalls the ups and downs of the past three years and compresses them into three-minute anthems. Call it a road map to the band's emotional state.
"This is definitely the most personal and focused album we've ever made," admits Hart. "I took a lot of time writing the lyrics. It's a real album, and a lot deeper lyrically than a lot of music out there today."
In a mere twelve words, the title track's majestic chorus sums up the album's theme: "I'm keeping my head on straight, so you can trust me again." Most of the songs, in fact, find Hart in a romantic mood, soberly confronting the personal poisons that often terminate relationships. Yet somehow, the songs always resolve on an uplifting note.
Where does one go to record such a soul-baring album? Why, Maui, of course, where legendary producer Bob Rock does his best work (The Cult, Metallica, Our Lady Peace). During the mere six weeks it took to track the album, the band members took some quality private time communing with nature--but only as a means to recuperate between marathon sessions. "The remote location contributed to a great work ethic," says Hart of the island paradise. "We worked at our own steady pace and it was just the band and Bob, no distractions."
You won't hear any slack-key guitar, ukulele or Don Ho cameos on the disc, but you will hear Rock's unmistakable widescreen production. After the string of hits the band enjoyed with its first two albums, including the chart-topping "If You Could Only See," "You Wanted More" and "Open Up Your Eyes," Tonic wanted to up the stakes on its third effort. Rock served to amplify the material's best qualities.
On the album opener "Roses," toms roll in like thunder, introducing Hart and Russo's gargantuan guitar riff. On the Bic-waving ballad "Count On Me," the perfect hint of strings underpin Hart's aching melody and melancholy lyrics. On "Liar," the band opens up the throttle on its stage-perfected guitar attack and Lavery's booming bass action. And throughout, Hart's earnest vocals, point-blank lyrics and uplifting melodies take the spotlight. The result is a timeless album that distills the band's essence. "We make albums because we have something to say," says Lavery. "Plus we just love rock music."
1st Previous Official Bio:
In following up their platinum smash, Lemon Parade, Tonic's Emerson Hart, Jeff Russo, and Dan Lavery wanted more than anything to keep their new material simple. "We tried really hard not to overreach on the new stuff," says Hart. "We realized that we're a guitar band, plain and simple. That's how we started and we wanted to stay true to that."
Sugar, the LA-based trio's second studio album in three years, isn't so much simple as simply stunning. The record finds the band exploring a spectrum of colorful guitar-rock, ultimately staying faithful to the band's electrifying melodies and classic roots. Mixed by Andy Wallace and produced by Tonic themselves, Sugar presents the same Tonic sound that impressed audiences and record buyers everywhere in 1997 on Lemon Parade. Two tracks from that album went to #1 on the rock charts, "If You Could Only See" and "Open Up Your Eyes," while "Casual Affair" was a top 10 rock track. According to Billboard, "If You Could Only See" was also the most-played rock song in all of 1997. Today, their new rock anthem "You Wanted More" (off the "American Pie" soundtrack), is firmly entrenched in the Top 10.
While the sound is still all Tonic, Sugar is more varied musically. "This record is definitely more eclectic than our last record," says Hart. "It has a certain openness the last record never had." Tonic's focus on energetic, honest-to-goodness songwriting is old-school enduring. "We made sure that every song on this new record is real," Hart continues. "That's why I think people respond to our music. It touches an honest chord."
Hart and Russo formed Tonic in 1994 in Los Angeles, but it wasn't until bassist Lavery joined the band's tour in 1996 that the true creative vision of Tonic took shape. In the studio together during the making of Sugar, Hart, Russo, and Lavery pushed themselves to the brink of their abilities, testing themselves and their potential and polishing their rough ideas into gems of sparkling pop beauty.
Tonic also experimented with responsibilities, assuming the producer role for the first time. It was a task that challenged them beyond their expectations, yet one that they wanted in order to have full command of their musical fate. Sugar was truly a team effort for the three musicians. In fact, the title track was the first song the band worked on together. Russo and Lavery brought in some of the music and handed it over to Hart, who added his own parts and lyrics. The result is a rich, meaningful rock song that serves as the album's creative focal point "That song was the true start of our collaborations for this album and that's why we named the record Sugar," says Hart. "It's also a tip of the hat to the South because they were so supportive, so it has a nice double meaning for us."
From there, Hart and Lavery collaborated on the British sounding "Sunflower" and the Skynyrd-esque romp "Jump Jimmy." "Because we all added different flavors," says Russo, who put his writing stamp on other songs on the album (including "Knock Down Walls" and "Love A Diamond"), "it turned us into a more multi-dimensional band. It was a new beginning for us."
In the same way crunching rockers like "You Wanted More" has caught the ears of guitar-rock fans, so do other tracks stand out – from the slightly distorted modern muscle of opener "Future Says Run" to the dark rumble of "Knock Down Walls" and the heavy grit of "Top Falls Down." But then again, Sugar isn't just about its omnipresent Gibson guitar noise. The trio teamed up to create great melodies on the acoustic side as well, including the poignant "Waiting for the Light," the breezy strum of "Waltz With Me," and the warm, heartland chime of the title track.
"We really wanted to experiment on this record with all kinds of arrangements and tones," Russo explains. "Every time we recorded something, we'd look at it and try to see what it would sound like if we did the opposite. It was a process that we had to go through to make sure our instincts about the material were correct."
Says Lavery, making their own music on their own terms was the only choice. "We put it together, we wrote and produced it," he says. "We made sure we liked it. If everybody else loves it, great. If not, at least we do. And we can live with that."
Following the release of Lemon Parade, Tonic toured for two and a half years straight, boosting album sales and earning the band thousands of fans. In 1998, they gave those fans a chance to take the live experience home with them by releasing Live and Enhanced, and EP, which is available for purchase only over the internet. There's no doubt that Sugar will receive the same road warrior treatment and the band is anxious to try out their new material. But beyond that what does the future hold for Tonic? Hart isn't saying exactly. "I try not to look any further than I can see," he says. "I just want to keep writing, and keep making records."
Bio taken from the official Tonic Site http://www.tonic-online.com
2nd Previous Official Bio:
TONIC took the music industry by storm in 1997 with "Lemon Parade," one of the most impressive debut releases in recent history. Following their #1 rock single, "Open Up Your Eyes," and top 10 rock track "Casual Affair," the band was awarded the 1997 Billboard Rock song of the year for "If You Could Only See," which topped the Rock, Modern Rock, Hot AC, AAA and CHR radio charts and rocketed the band to platinum-plus status in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Frontman Emerson Hart and lead guitarist Jeff Russo, both east coast transplants, formed TONIC in Los Angeles in 1994. The two crafted their songs playing acoustic sets in local coffee houses. Adding a drummer and bass player, the band went on to hone its distinctive melodic rock sound at LA's esteemed blues joint, The Mint and at the now infamous Kibitz Room at Canter's Delicatessen, once a hot spot for late-night jamming with the likes of The Wallflowers, Slash and Lenny Kravitz.
While the bassist and both drummers from the band's beginnings have since departed, the original vision of TONIC has flourished with the addition of Hart and Russo's friend Dan Lavery. TONIC fans know Lavery well as he toured with the band for virtually the entire 2+ years they spent on the road promoting "Lemon Parade."
While the band's record company was shifting from Polydor to Universal under the recent Seagram acquisition of Polygram, TONIC busied themselves by creating their own website: www.tonic-online.com and independently releasing an internet-only live EP entitled "Live and Enhanced." The EP features live tracks of some of their most popular songs, the never released video for the ballad "Soldier’s Daughter," and the much in demand acoustic version of "If You Could Only See" which is available only on this EP.
Old Original Bio:
Emerson Hart: Vocals/Guitar
Jeff Russo: Guitar
Dan Lavery: Bass
Kevin Shepard: Drums
Incendiary guitars, distinctive vocals, tightly-crafted songs - Tonic's LEMON PARADE is one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory. L.A. based and relentlessly gigging (over 300 shows in under two years), the quartet profoundly rocks, delivering epic music and poetic lyrics artfully welded for maximum effect. Their breakthrough single, "If You Could Only See" is still enjoying multi-format radio success, and their latest release, "Open Up Your Eyes" has been released to strong radio support.
With the release of the new single, the band created and directed (with Niels Alpert) a new video, which is already on the playlists of MTV, VH-1, and Canada's MuchMusic. MTV's 12 Angry Viewers gave the video highest ratings of the week that it was aired, pushing Tonic's directorial debut into heavy rotation. The band is no stranger to national television, though, as they have appeared on the late night talk shows with Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, Vibe, and most recently, Keenen Ivory Wayans. A platinum album and a successful headlining North American tour rounded out the year for this hard-working quartet. Lead guitarist Jeff Russo delightedly admits "We're definitely living out the childhood dream."
It's one, also, that they've labored resolutely to win. Raised in New Jersey next door to E Street band drummer Max Weinberg, Hart picked up guitar at around seven years old, and decided to commit professionally to music at 19. He woodshedded, first - spending time rigorously practicing and composing. It was after a move to Los Angeles that the pieces of the larger puzzle came together. Russo had grown up across the river in New York City and had ventured west to pursue his dream. He says, "I walked into a pool hall in Los Angeles about 4-1/2 years ago and there he was. Emerson and I remembered each other from the past and we started writing songs together."
Then, at the Kibitz Room of Canter's Delicatessen, a hot spot for late night jamming where The Wallflowers, Slash, The Freewheelers and others congregated to groove, they met dynamic drummer Kevin Shepard. With bassist Dan Rothchild on board, they were ready. Rothchild would play on LEMON PARADE; today, it's bassist and old friend Dan Lavery who helps propel the rhythm section. Shepard is a precise, hard-hitting power drummer whose personality shines through his playing. Lavery's style is extremely fluid. The two together are unstoppable.
LEMON PARADE is the sum of outstanding parts - and it's triumph. The band's name signifies the root in a series of chords and they keep the spotlight squarely on dazzling rhythmic and melodic interchanges. Produced by Jack Joseph Puig (Black Crowes, Jellyfish), the sonic quality is gorgeous, highlighting the sheen of the six-strings, the kick of the drums. "Jack Joseph," Emerson says, "was great at arranging the paint on the picture, taking the artists' ideas and putting them on canvas. He's also amazing as a creative motivator." From the galvanic intro, "Open Up Your Eyes," to the majestic ending cut, "My Old Man," this is music of assurance and grace, "Celtic Aggression" underscores an Irish air that, due to Hart's family background, subtly pervades the atmosphere. In fact, the singers Hart grew up respecting - Ireland's Paul Brady and Free's Paul Rogers could serve as aesthetic signposts for the band's range of influences and their marriage of indelible melody and lean, full-out rocking.
Hart concentrates on penning lyrics that match the intensity of Tonic's music. From the maritime metaphors of "Mr Golden Deal" ("And the captain he is laughing/You can't control the sea/She will always do what she pleases/it's her nature to be free"), the fiery imagery of "Mountain" (Like a demon, I'm drawn to her flame/I'm gonna burn calling her name"), Hart evokes passion, yearning, real emotion. "I dream a lot," he says, "And some of my songs come from dreams." After playing around with the melody Jeff had brought in, the lyrics for the song that would become the title-track arrived in his sleep. A tale of an ugly-duckling girl, Hart elaborates: "I was on my Schwinn Stingray with three speeds," he elaborates. "Other kids were throwing lemons at her from the lemonade stand. But I saw her grow up and eventually realized how gorgeous she was."
Dream-like itself in its power to entrance, LEMON PARADE packs a very visceral punch. Completely of the moment in its immediacy, it yet also honors and incorporates the spirit of legendary precursors (Led Zep. late '70s guitar rock, early New Wave - the music that formed Tonic's tastes). As the album continues climbing the charts, Tonic, as ever, will refine their act on the road - this is a band that simply loves to play.
Tonic, they are the band to watch out for - new music, with a rich history, that's made to last.