Tonic Returns With New Album, Tour

Rod Blackhurst

Tonic's first album in eight years came together without drama or coercion, according to frontman Emerson Hart.

"I don't think we ever considered it over; we all wanted to take time off to do our own things," Hart tells about the trio's hiatus, which started in 2004 after touring to promote the "Head on Straight" album. "We kind of sat down and had some dinner, and it was like...'I think we have something to say now. Maybe we can say it as a band.' That's kind of how it works."

Hart and bandmates Jeff Russo and Dan Lavery started writing material for "Tonic" -- due out May 4 on 429 Records -- in the summer of 2009, mostly at Hart's home in Nashville. The group recorded over a month in the fall at Conway Studios in Hollywood with Nathaniel Kunkel co-producing and longtime associate Pete Maloney on drums. The album's 11 tracks the towards the hooky, melodic pop sound of Tonic's three previous releases, mixing rockers ("Bigger Than," "Release Me," "She Goes Down," "Feel It Now") with mellower fare such as "Nothing is Everything" and "Resolve" -- but also throwing in some curve balls like "Precious Little Bird," which Hart wrote after unpacking some Smiths albums during a household move.

"At the end of the day we've always relied on the cream rising to the top and creating a great product and great songs and being honest about where we are," explains Hart, who released a solo album -- 2007's "Cigarettes and Gasoline" -- and co-wrote "Generations," the award-winning theme song for NBC's "American Dream," during the interim. "We haven't really suffered any huge pitfalls. Probably the biggest pitfall we ever suffered in our career was...I'll get these other artists or writers here in Nashville, and they'll say, 'You had 'If You Could Only See' (in 1997). That was a great song. Did you do anything else?' 'Uh, yeah...'

"I think that was the pitfall for a lot of bands in our generation, the late '90s and early '2000s. There was a lot (of music) out then, and I think a lot of people got lost."

Tonic won't be hard to find once "Tonic" is released, Hart says, as the group plans to be on the road all summer. "We'll probably go back to slugging in clubs and small theaters and stuff like that," he says, although there are possibilities of support slots or package tours. "It's always better to go out with friends; that makes it more fun," Hart notes. "But we're still able to do it on our own, too. The fact it's been over 12, 13 years now and we're still able to make a living doing this, it's just amazing."