The past few years have witnessed a resurgence of bands who defined their sound in the ’90s alt/pop rock aesthetic. Bands like Third Eye Blind and The Gin Blossoms, for instance, are still playing today and gaining new fans. Tonic, one of the quintessential 90s pop/rock bands is experiencing their own reemergence of sorts. This year’s release of their self-titled album marks the band’s first full-length in almost 8 years. However, it seems as if the band never stopped working. The record oozes with radio-friendly melodies, impeccable drama and colorful riffs—all aspects that Tonic fans have come to love. Emerson Hart took us through the anatomy of a Tonic song as well as their reasoning for getting back into the swing of playing as a band.
OS: Being such catchy songs, how does Tonic go about arranging some of the heavier, distorted riffs?
EH: It really depends. I’ll write a song and sometimes it will contain a riff and sometimes it won’t. Usually the general melody structure and the intention is there. What I want to say and how I want to say it. I’ll play it for the band and we’ll all sit down and decide it could be tighter is some places or better in others. In some cases, like in the case of “You Wanted More” off the second record, Dan brought me the riff. I thought it was awesome and inspiring, so I wrote an entire song around that riff.There’re no real ingredients to baking that cake, but it usually starts with melody for me—what I want to say. Then it goes from there.
OS: The band has always had a strong licensing presence (film in particular). Why do you think your songs fit so well in these settings?
EH: I don’t know. If I knew that exactly, I’d probably be making 3 times the amount of money in film licensing than I do. I think it’s because it’s melodic and there’s some drama involved with the music. It’s not just a catchy melody. There’s something else underneath it. I think a lot of directors and music supervisors are attracted to that.
OS: A platinum album, several charting singles and even two GRAMMY nominations. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
EH: The thing that I’m most proud of is being a father to my two-year-old daughter. In terms of my career, second to that, would probably be our GRAMMY nominations. I’m pretty proud of that. We’ve worked very hard to always create and put good music out there.
EH: I didn’t have anything to say within the band anymore. I wasn’t speaking that “band” language. I didn’t want to creatively try to force something for money. That’s a bunch of shit. I think everybody gets hurt when you make moves like that. It feels forced, and bands know it. Most of all, I would know it.
We had been on the road for nearly 10 years and everybody was really tired. As an artist, I had nothing else to say in the band. It was just going to hurt everybody. I think it worked out great. We needed that break, for the band’s wellbeing. We’ve moved past it now. We’re trying to keep as much honest songwriting rock and roll out there as possible in the world of Ke$ha and all that crap.We don’t really treat it like a comeback.
OS: What was the fan reception like on your recent tour?
EH: It’s really been fantastic. It’s been interesting because a lot of our fans are parents now. They have children and they bring their kids to shows. It’s a walk down memory lane, being able to spend time with people. Even though in the grand scheme of things it’s only been like 10 years, there’s some of that that happens. I really get off on talking to people about their perspective on what happened in their lives, or what was going on when they listened to this song or that song.I can’t thank them enough that we’re still able to do this, and people still care about it.
OS: Moving on to the new self-titled release, how do you feel the new album relates to other releases?
EH: Records are always recordings in time for us. For me, as a writer, it’s definitely a reflection of where I was when I wrote the record. It was hard for me, because I didn’t want to overdo the record. I think you can get caught up if you aren’t careful in being like “this is what it should sound like.” You overshoot the honesty of what you should be writing about. Some of the songs touch on all of the records in a way. There are little bits and pieces. That helped us kind of make an eclectic record. The next one will probably feel more in the direction we’re moving. But this was kind of has one foot in the path and one foot in the future.
EH: Yes, it will be the next single. A lot of times I write songs, it can be about many different things within the song. Initially it was talking about what music is me. I want it to always be something that’s bigger than me. Looking at it from a songwriting perspective—“If I told you all my secrets, if I was that honest, would you teach me how to not burn them down and not destroy them?” A lot of people will immediately assume it’s relationships, but a lot of it was just about the process of a songwriter and getting older. If you’re bigger than your songs then you are no longer doing a service to your fans or anybody who listens to music. It’s about people so it should belong to people.
OS: What does the band have in store moving into 2011?
EH: To make another record. I haven’t decided yet whether it will be an Emerson Hart record or another Tonic record. It’ll most likely be another Tonic record. Because we’ve been having success, I think we’ve been reminded that it’s important that we do our job the best we possibly can. We’ll probably finish out touring Australia in the wintertime and maybe do a full winter tour in the US. Then we’ll start recording the record. We are in full swing, no doubt about it, whether people like it or not.
Listen to the new release yourself and see what Tonic’s reunion is really all about. Stay tuned for their Australian tour this winter.