Tonic – Interview [1999]

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Tonic

Though Tonic formed in 1994, it wasn’t until 1997’s Lemon Parade that the word tonic was associated with more than just gin.

The first single they released, “Open Up Your Eyes”, lit the fire, but when the award winning “If You Could Only See” hit the airwaves, the fire burned into an inferno. They suddenly went from the daily grind of their normal jobs to being platinum-selling artists.

Now Tonic has a hugely successful single on the American Pie soundtrack, pushing what is a marvelous second album, Sugar.

Tonic’s Jeff Russo offered some insight into the band’s success.

Hey, Charlie, it’s Jeff.

What are you up today?

Oh boy. We have a show tonight.

With the Goo Goo Dolls?

Yep. We started with them about two weeks ago.

We got a bunch of questions from readers and it seems most of them wanted to know about touring.

Cool.

The first is, how do you unwind after a show? + Ambi Daniel

Oh, man. We kind of just go to the dressing room, take a shower, and kind of relax. Maybe have a beer and talk about the show, and, I mean, we relax and try to rest as much as we can. There is no specific thing we do after each show. Like last night we went to a bar and danced. Sometimes we just need to do something physical to unwind like that and sometimes we just need to get on the bus and watch a movie.

I know from interviewing lots of people that after the show they are so hyped up that they can’t get to sleep.

Exactly. Sometimes I won’t get to sleep until 4am. The adrenaline gets pumping through you when you are onstage and, well, you know

What is your favorite and least favorite part of touring? + Courtney Melville

The favorite part is easy: playing music in front of a bunch of fans. It is all about playing music. I have so much fun getting onstage and playing for people, and being able to travel the world and meet all kinds of new people is great. The drag is missing home. Missing our families is the biggest drag. It’s just a drag not having a home life.

Especially when you get on a bus and are gone for months at a time.

Exactly. I actually try to get back home once every three weeks. If we have a few days off in the US, I try to fly home. Over the past three years I’ve racked up so many flying miles that I have a bunch of free tickets.

Do you spend any time with the other bands you are on the road with? + joe, san francisco, ca.

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve gone out a bunch of times with the Goo Goo Dolls on this tour and when we toured with the Verve Pipe a couple years ago we went out every night and had fun. Sometimes you get on a tour where the bands don’t have a lot in common on a personal level and you don’t hang out. The great part of it is when you do hang out and have a good time. I would say that ninety percent of the time we’ve had a great experience with other bands.

You are playing new songs, right? So what are the reactions since the album isn’t out yet?

Well, we play four old songs and six new ones. And the response has been great. It is hard for an audience member to tell live. They hear the song once and it is gone in three minutes, so they don’t get a chance to listen to it over again to see if they really love it, but they are reacting better than we thought they would. We are getting a really good response, because people don’t know these songs.

When did you wrap up the recording of the new album, Sugar?

We wrapped the first week in September.

So you didn’t have to sit on it for long.

Yeah, but we were under a lot of time pressure to get it out this year. We started the record at the end of May. In June we started recording, and it took three months.

Who produced the record?

We produced it.

Really?

Yeah. We did everything on the record basically.

Where did you record it?

Part of it we recorded part in LA and part in New Orleans at this huge fifteen thousand square foot mansion, and then we mixed it in New York.

It seems a lot of bands are doing their own producing.

You know? For us it was that our producer from our first record wasn’t available for this record and so we decided we’d be better off trying to get our creative mission across ourselves. I think we did a pretty good job.

Did you go into the studio and write or did you have songs done? + shiela peirce

We took like nine months to write. At one point, we took a month and rented this house in Austin, Texas to write, and Emerson had a few songs he had. The songs were all written when we went into the studio. They got tweaked in the studio.

Do you play live in the studio or do you record everything like vocals, guitar, and the rest separately?

We do both. We tracked most of it live and added stuff over the top.

How did you get the track, “You Wanted More”, on the American Pie soundtrack?

Well, our label put that soundtrack out. They asked us if we wanted to put a song on the soundtrack, that way they could release a single to coincide with the release of the record. We had a demo of some of the songs, so we sent them to them and they wanted “You Wanted More”. Then we saw the movie and we were laughing hysterically.

How did you get the track done so fast since you just wrapped in September?

Well, actually, that track was recorded back in March and we just used the same recording for this record.

How do you guys write? + jerry penham glen cove, ny

It is different for every song. Like for that particular song, Dan had some bass riffs he had written and Emerson had a verse and chorus and I brought a bridge to the table, and we put it all together. We tweaked the bridge and verse here to bring it all together. That is how that song got written. Then a song like “Knock On Walls” was written like five years ago and tweaked a little of the bridge and added a pre-chorus part.

I was curious about the album title, Sugar.

That song (“Sugar”) was the first collaborative effort writing that we had done, so that was one of the reasons we used that title. And we kind of tipped our hat to the south, because in the south, ‘sugar’ is a term of endearment. Like, ‘Hey sugar, how are you doing?’ And the south was really good to us on our last record. So we just wanted to say, ‘Hey, the south rules.’

How do you think the two records compare?

I don’t think records can compare. They are like our two children and how can I say which is better or worse? I think we have a lot of great new songs, and it’s not Lemon Parade part two. But it still represents who we are as a band and songwriters. I think it is a good step for us. We wanted it to sound more organic and I think we did that pretty well. We didn’t want it to sound like the last record so I think we stretched it out a bit. Like the last song, “Love A Diamond”, is not like what we would normally do, but we took a step out on it. We wanted to try something a little different. A couple other songs, like “Sunflower” is not that much of a Tonic, but we made it into a Tonic song. What do you think?

I like “Queen” and I obviously knew the single from the soundtrack, but I also like “Waltz With Me”.

Good. I’m glad that you are digging it.

I like “Love A Diamond” too. It’s mellow and

Yeah, but it is a different kind of song for us too, like the production is different and there is a loop in there and some little sound effects.

One of the questions that I got a lot was, what inspires you guys? + jenny, seattle, wash.

Life. It is all about life and what we do from day to day. This record is really inspired by the three of our lives for the last three years, from touring to relationships and the ups and downs. Touring for as long as we did can be hard on the soul, so part of writing this record was soul healing for everybody.

What made you decide to take the chance with making music your career rather than taking the usual road? + [email protected]

I don’t think I had a choice. When I say that, I mean that there is nothing else I could have done to be happy. I made a decision to be happy. I mean, I struggled for a long time, we all did. It wasn’t like one day we had a record deal and a platinum album. Emerson and I were playing in coffeehouses for four years before we ever got a record deal. I have been playing in other bands before that and Emerson was doing it on his own before that. We have been doing what we do since we were nineteen or eighteen. We were willing to sacrifice anything to do music. It was all about making music and being happy making music. The choice was pretty simple: be happy or forget about being happy and just go about just trying to make money or whatever.

So you had to work jobs during the day to support your music?

Yeah. I had done a bunch of things. The last thing I did was I was a chef at a restaurant. Emerson was a manager at a pool hall and after that he worked at Fender, building guitars. Dan was a structural engineer. We all hated what we were doing but we had to do it to pay rent.

Right.

So we never made a decision to not do something else, we made the decision to do music no matter what it took.

When did you finally quit your jobs?

When Emerson and I signed our publishing deal. We quit to write full time, which was a Godsend to us.

Have you ever or are you interested in writing for other artists?

Well, there hasn’t been time to do that. I’m sure that eventually Emerson will write for or with other people. And I’m sure I will end up doing that too, and maybe producing with other people. In music there are so many options, but right now the band is our number one priority.

Who were some of your role models? + alisson dawkins

Um, I don’t know. Winston Churchill. (laughs) No, I really don’t know. I think that there are so many musicians out there but, like David Gilmour is a great guitar player, the guy from Pink Floyd. Paul McCartney is another great musician. They are the musicians that have stood the test of time. And Paul Simon, he is a fabulous songwriter and guitar player. There are so many out there, it is almost too hard to list.

Lastly, if there were any one person that you could spend an evening with just talking, dead or alive, who would it be? + murph, boston, ma.

Wow. One person. [pauses] That is really tough, man. There are so many interesting stories to be heard. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Van Gogh. I’d just want to find out just what the fuck was going through his mind when he cut his ear off. You know? The man was just a fucking genius. I know I’m going off on a tangent here, but I love art. And I think that some of his paintings represent so much psychological turmoil that I would just like to pick his brain to see what was going on. That is one, but on a musical level it would be John Lennon.

Same here.

I know I’m going off on a tangent here with the art thing, but if you wanted to make it a musical thing, then no doubt it would be John Lennon. The guy was a genius songwriter, and as far as I know he was also a nutcase. (laughs) But I love nutcases.

+ charlie craine

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