With the release of "Open Up Your Eyes" in the fall of 1996, Tonic hit the road as opening act for Dishwalla & The Refreshments. They surprised and won over the audiences with their powerful and melodic rock. Over 18 years of success with 4 albums, 10 of those years relentlessly touring, Emerson Hart, Dan Lavery and Jeff Russo decided to break away from Tonic, focus on their personal lives and exploring projects as solo artists.
At a recent stop in Las Vegas in November, while out with Vertical Horizon, Emerson, Dan and Jeff were extremely open about the past and how Tonic survives and thrives in the music industry of today.
To stay relevant one must know when to walk away, but more importantly when to reconnect. When asked if they thought they would ever get back together as a group after the 2004 separation, Hart is quick to point out you will get three very different answers. "I had a lot of things going on in my life for a few years. I almost got divorced and also wanted to write on my own. Dan was out working with The Fray and Jeff was producing and composing. We all just had a lot of things going on in each of our lives," Hart notes. As for Lavery, he was more doubtful as to a future with his two friends and bandmates. "I really doubted for a while if we would ever perform as a group again." However, Russo's more optimistic outlook on the future of the band brings us to present success of Tonic. "I never thought we would ‘not' be a band again. This (the band) to me is more than just that, this feels like home."
With time comes wisdom and reflection on the past. How one defines success is completely an individual experience either quantitative, qualitative or both. As a band, Tonic has four top selling albums, chart topping singles, and has been omnipresent on tour for many years. As solo artists, Hart's Cigarettes and Gasoline and Beauty In Disrepair albums, Lavery's work on the movie The Passion of The Christ and going out on tour with The Fray, and Russo's current scoring of the television series Fargo have cemented all three artists' exceptional credentials for quantitative success. However, posing the question to all three about looking back on all their success, there is a genuine retrospective appreciation for what they have achieved and a relaxed-comfort of how they define, as well as enjoy success of today.
It speaks volumes for a band such as Tonic who can still draw consistent crowds at all of their shows. The longevity, talent and rock heavy shows night after night are what keep the fans coming, as well as opening up the door for new fans with each collective tour. "We are lucky we have been able to survive and continue our success over all these years, unlike a lot of the bands that were around when we first came out. We are very grateful for that," Russo notes. Hart also elaborates that maintaining their success and presence with the fans is all about them and the show Tonic can give to those fans every night. "You know some nights the shows are packed, and others the numbers are lower. But it's not about selling out a venue; it's about giving the people a great show for sticking with us over all these years." The past run of shows with Vertical Horizon the bands took turns rotating headlining status nightly, each giving the fans a full set which not only gave each band's fan-base what they came to see and hear, but kept the audiences as a whole engaged for both bands every night. After touring almost non-stop for 10 years when Tonic first made their mark in music, today's vibe from the band is all about having fun, more laid back with no pressures to make anyone else happy except for themselves and their fans, and most importantly their gratitude for being able to continue what they all love doing as a band .
With all the accolades Hart, Lavery and Russo have under their belts with their individual solo projects, the question right now remains when will the fans and music industry have the opportunity to hear new music from Tonic? Writing sessions for the band come at a premium with both Lavery and Russo based out of L.A. and Hart out of Nashville. However, with today's technology driven world writing and collaborations are just as common and easy as the cross country flights the band still make to write as a collective unit. "We have bits and pieces we are working on, sometimes a lot of it comes out of jamming during nightly sound checks, but nothing we are playing and testing out at the shows," Hart states, maybe much to the disappointment of many fans. Lavery further elaborates, "There are a lot of times I might be working on a riff at home, and I will send the file off to Jeff and Emerson for them to work on in their studios. Those riffs, and pieces we can work on together to create the songs despite the distance." So for the time being, fans may not have a new Tonic album but the trade-off is accessibility to the band being out on tour more consistently.
Initially becoming a fan from very first tour with Dishwalla and The Refreshments and having the pleasure of working with the guys in the past I found this time around a different vibe with Emerson, Dan and Jeff. As we gathered around catering and bourbon backstage at The Eastside Cannery in Las Vegas there was just this immense sense of fun, no pressure, nothing to prove with these guys. They have cemented their credentials as stellar musicians and writers both as a band and as solo artists, so now all of this fun for them. Touring again, writing and producing new music for the love of it all for themselves and their fans has brought them to a place of comfort and enjoyment for what they do as a band. When you can sit down with a band and discuss everything from music, to their personal loves, to how everything is better with bacon (which was a 10 minute conversation all on its own) you just get a vibe of gratitude and comfort they are all in a good place as a band. They still rock hard, they still give 110% with every show, they are still extremely open about their career history, because for them it is fun, it is what they live and what they know and do so well.
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