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Tonic's Emerson Hart loving life, working on new music, playing in Buffalo

by jmaloni
Fri, Jun 23rd 2017 06:35 pm
Preview by Joshua Maloni
Managing Editor
Fewer and fewer bands are making records these days.
If you could only see the way music labels treat artists who make harmonies, then maybe you would understand - why these artists feel this way about their love, and what they must do.
In Tonic's case, it meant crowdfunding an acoustic version of the band's first full-length record, the immensely popular 1996 release "Lemon Parade." Lead singer Emerson Hart said that kind of a connection with fans (and the ability to keep master recordings) is the future of music.
The experience of revisiting an album, after decades of performing it live, opened up Hart's eyes and allowed his mind to tell a story here.
Of course, Tonic fans wanted more - more than the band could give; more than Hart, Dan Lavary and Jeff Russo could offer. So, the trio is back at it, in the early stages of creating a new album.
The record labels couldn't break Tonic - hold the boys down or keep them from creating.
Nobody knows their fire like the fans do. So, Tonic will give them a thousand reasons to pick up the new material when it's ready, and show them it was worth the wait.
Prior to that, Tonic will perform at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo - playing alongside Collective Soul and Our Lady Peace, if you can believe that super lineup.
Hart recently chatted about old Tonic music, new Tonic music (solo work, too) - oh, and the opportunity to perform in "Smashville," for his Nashville Predators, during the Stanley Cup Finals.
Tonic (Photo by Danny Clinch)
Q: Like so many people in the Buffalo area, I was watching the Stanley Cup Finals. In one of the game, at intermission, music was playing in the background. I said, "Wait a minute. I know that voice!"
Emerson Hart: It was amazing. It was great just to see our city (celebrate the Predators). You know, you always think about Nashville, you think about SEC football. You don't always think about hockey. But we're a bigger hockey team now, and our seed's gone up. And hopefully we can keep most of our people.
I love hockey. ... It was a really great experience. I was very honored that they would ask me to do it. I know every musician was clamoring for support to do it. And, plus, you know, those are some kick-ass seats, too.
"Lemon Parade" featured two of Tonic's most popular songs, "If You Could Only See," and "Open Up Your Eyes."
Q: So, you guys did an acoustic take on "Lemon Parade" for the 20-year anniversary. What was exciting to you about taking on that kind of a project?
Emerson Hart: Well, I wrote the songs on acoustic guitar. Most of them, except for "Casual Affair," really. I think I wrote mostly on electric for that first record. But it was really interesting in two different ways. No. 1: Revisiting those emotions, and what I was thinking when I was writing them. And just the sensibility that goes along with that, when you start hearing the tonality of something, and you're like, "Oh, I remember. I remember sitting in my apartment. Broke, as a joke. Writing this song." You know?
And in the second way, it was interesting to see how playing a record for 20 years has changed some of the arrangements, and having to go back and really listen to the record, and go, "Oh, that's right. That's what I did. I didn't do it this way, the way I've been doing it for 10 years on the road," because I changed it for whatever reason.
So, that was a really great experience. And we had such a blast doing it. It was so much fun.
Q: I imagine then, since that process, you maybe come at the songs a little differently in your live show now. Is that right?
Emerson Hart: Yes. It's true. And that's the nature of it. I mean, when you're putting songs into a setlist and maybe you're in different tunings and you have to think, "All right, well maybe we need to drop this down a half a step, or raise it up a half a step, because we're already in this position for the song." Just over time, things change. And that was the most interesting thing, was bringing things all the way back to where they originally were, and living with it.
Q: Obviously that was the album that put you on the map. I really liked "Head on Straight." (Grammy-nominated third full-length album released in 2002.). As far as moving to 2017, I see you guys talking about new music and a new album. Where are you with that?
Emerson Hart: I'm writing it. Pretty much.
I'm not sure what it's going to be yet. But I'm getting my head around it, and setting songs aside. And then, you know, I'll plan an L.A. trip and fly out. Get the boys and kind of sit down and figure out what we want to do, what we want to say.
It's not that it's a daunting thing in today's world to make a record. But that's something we like to do. And there's not a lot of people out there buying records anymore, that's for sure. But I like doing things in complete thoughts. Telling the whole story.
Like with "Head on Straight." "Head on Straight," that was my favorite record to make so far in my career. I love making solo records. It's fun, awesome, great, telling my story. But there was something about that record that I felt was the most connected. And I'm kind of - I wouldn't say using that record as a template - but I've been using that record as a reminder of what it means to be connected. On a stream of thought on how a record could feel.
Q: I haven't seen you guys up this way in quite a while. I've seen you solo. But you guys have always drawn well here. Collective Soul always draws well. Our Lady Peace is a huge band in this area. What do you like about playing with these two bands?
Emerson Hart: Well, I haven't played with Raine (Maida of OLP) in years. It's been probably close 18 years since I've seen him, or played with them.
Collective Soul, Ed (Roland) is one of my dearest friends. So we do shows together more often.
But I like (that we're) three different kind of rock bands. That's what I love about it. But it's still rock. I think Ed's melody sensibility and showmanship is amazing, and always has been. I love Our Lady Peace's kind of direct, introspective approach to how they do their records. And for us, you know, we're a song-based rock band.
Three totally different bands, but all still three in the same world of rock 'n' roll.
And with Collective Soul, they started before us, so we're spanning a good gap of a little snapshot of what the '90s were.
Q: Tell me about your live show. What are we going to see from you guys on stage?
Emerson Hart: It's a mixed bag. And I don't mean that in a negative way. But, I change the set every couple days. And so, obviously, we'll play the hits. I'm not that guy, who gets up there and is like, "I want to play all new music." We're there for the fans, and you know, it's going to be maybe one song off of "Head on Straight." Definitely leaning heavier on "Lemon Parade" and then "Sugar" (second album, released in 1999) always gets at least one or two in there.
Q: You released a solo album not too long ago, "Beauty in Disrepair" (2014). What can you say about that particular project?
Emerson Hart: After I did "Cigarettes and Gasoline," that first one (2007), and toured that, I kind of felt like I had more stuff to say with Tonic. So we went back and made that eponymous, that last record (2010's "Tonic). And then I took a little more time and started writing again, and kind of went though a bad divorce. And just a whole bunch of other life stuff. And became a father. And all of these things.
And I felt like, "Well, now I have something that I need to say again." And I was lucky enough to get a great record deal on that; and make the record I wanted; and work with some of my best buds. (Co-writer) David Hodges is one of my dearest friends. He lives down the street here in Nashville. ... And it was a really fun project to make.
Q: Reading your thoughts about the record on your website, it seemed like - you know, a lot of times musicians say that the process is very cathartic - but it seemed like in this case it really was. It sort of corresponded with you coming out of that darker period into a much better place in your life. Is that right?
Emerson Hart: Absolutely. It's still the case.
Cathartic is - we always strive for cathartic. But sometimes we get the win. And that's what it is. With this record, no matter what it is as far as market, whatever you want to say about all that stuff, it really helped me get correct in my life. And realize the importance of joy and love. And all those other things. And I think, you know, you just, you get jaded. And you get beat up. And you don't want to get up. You want to stay in bed, and you don't want to have to move forward. And that record literally launched me forward into, "Wow, it's good to be alive. Everything is amazing."
For more information, or for tickets to Thursday's concert, click HERE.

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