Tonic Screws Its 'Head On Straight'

Excerpted from the magazine for

While elixirs often mellow with time, guitar-driven melody maker Tonic cranks it up on its third set, "Head on Straight," due Sept. 24 from Universal Records.

Nowhere does the trio's current musical statement resound more strongly than in granite-edged first single "Take Me As I Am," which opens with a weighty guitar riff then reveals the pop hooks that first separated the band from the pack in 1997.

"It's a bridge; it's a great way to experience the next step of Tonic," singer/songwriter/guitarist Emerson Hart says. "It's a great way to start, lyrically. We're not about image. We stake our entire career on the strength of our songs."

Bridging the band's previous work -- its platinum-plus debut album, "Lemon Parade," and the follow-up, "Sugar" -- was part of the band's mission on this summer's Jeep World Outside festival. During the tour Tonic dished up old and new material alike alongside rockers Sheryl Crow, Train, and others. Once the album is out, the band will support the set with a U.S. headlining tour that kicks off in October.

This album also brought some changes for the band. For one, Hart bid farewell to Los Angeles, where bandmates Jeff Russo and Dan Lavery still make their home, and hung his shingle in Nashville. Much of "Head On Straight" was written during an initial year "off," in which Hart says he holed down and let Nashville's "bucolic setting" wash over him.

"I needed that time to get my head together. We had always been touring, always on the road," he explains. "I wanted to make sure the next record would be coming from fresh eyes and ears."

The trio hammered out finishing touches in Hart's basement during a rendezvous, and found their creative muse leading them down a harder-edged road. "We wanted to make a rock record," Hart says. "'Sugar' had rock moments but it was a little more introspective musically, a little more mellow. We wanted to punch it heavy this time."

To get the job done, they turned to veteran producer Bob Rock, whose "laid-back efficiency" and Maui, Hawaii, studio setting provided a welcome change after the draining experience of self-producing "Sugar," according to Hart.

Of that experience, Hart says, "It was exhausting. We couldn't stay focused and there was really no neutral party. This time it was a great experience. We enjoyed recording music again, and he was able to bring things out of us -- and particularly out of me as a singer -- that we hadn't been able to capture before."

Excerpted from the Sept.14, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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