When singer/songwriter Emerson Hart was 10 years old, his father (a diagnosed schizophrenic) was murdered near Washington, Pa., and his body was never found. The case, though cold, has never been clos

When singer/songwriter Emerson Hart was 10 years old, his father (a diagnosed schizophrenic) was murdered near Washington, Pa., and his body was never found. The case, though cold, has never been closed.

In many ways, the former Tonic frontman, now 27, is creating closure with his debut solo album "Cigarettes and Gasoline," released today (July 17) via Manhattan Records.

"I was never comfortable talking about the murder. No one even knew that story because I never told it," Hart tells Billboard.com. "I'm discovering that writing songs can help people and touch people. I discovered it was time to talk about it."

Named after one of his most prominent memories of his father -- the smell of Marlboro Red cigarettes and his dad pumping gas into his Cadillac -- the album was written with themes of forgiveness, growth and family in mind.

Though few songs broach the subject of the actual tragedy, the Nashville-based songwriter says addressing the topic opened him up to stylistic and lyrical content that he felt he could never have used in the band.

With the help of producers Bob Rock, Jason Lehning and Mike Napolitano, Hart began "taking more chances talking about deeper subject matter, which reflects in the way it sounds. This record is so sonically diverse and there's some things you just can't get away with in a pop/rock band," he says.

Tonic, known for hit radio singles "If You Could Only See" and "Open Up Your Eyes," eventually fizzled out after a final tour in 2004. "We all just had this feeling that we wanted to do something different," Hart admits. "We were with a label (Universal) that wasn't believing in what we were doing. And as you get older, it's not about the money anymore. It just felt uncomfortable to be writing songs in a group anymore."

But with the new album's single "If You're Gonna Leave" already garnering airplay, Hart admits hearing his voice on the airwaves hasn't lost its charm. "It's very strange. I heard 'If You Could Only See' so many times on the radio and just kinda laughed," he says. "This whole solo thing is so new to me. I'll hear [the new single] and I'm like, 'This sounds really good!' I just happy to be making deeper music for the people who are into it."