The debut album of Los Angeles-based, post-grunge alternative rock group Tonic yielded not only two number one rock singles, but one which was voted the most played song of 1997 by Billboard.A rather impressive track record for a band that emphasizes quality over quantity and was adverse to pandering to the lowest common denominator flavor of the month school of success in the popular music industry. Commenting on this idea, Emerson Hart, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist said on the official Tonic website, “That’s why I think people respond to our music. It touches an honest chord.”
Tonic began as a collaboration between Hart and guitarist and backing vocalist, Jeff Russo. The duo was a pair of East Coast transplants who had known each other since childhood. They began to hone their craft by playing acoustic sets in various coffeehouses in the greater Los Angeles area. They soon added a bassist, Dan Rothchild, and a drummer, Kevin Shepard.
According to the unofficial Tonic website, the new group decided to name themselves Tonic after the musical term representing the beginning chord in a series of chords, or the keynote. Paying its dues and perfecting its craft, Tonic began playing numerous sets and shows in such highly regarded and notable Los Angeles area venues as The Mint, a blues club, and the Kibitz Room at Canter’s Delicatessen.
The band signed with A&M Records and began to work with producer Jack Joseph Puig on what would become their debut album. At Puig’s suggestion, Tonic adopted a more folk-oriented roots based rock approach as they experimented with mandolins and a lap steel guitar. In July of 1996, Tonic released their debut album, Lemon Parade.Not long after this, Rothchild decided to leave the band and was replaced by Dan Lavery, who had previously been the singer, songwriter, bassist with the band True.
Interest in Tonic and Lemon Parade began to build throughout the remainder of 1996 and early 1997. Constant touring with the likes of Iggy Pop, the Verve Pipe and the members of the R.O.A.R Tour helped a great deal. This was also bolstered by the fact that “Casual Affair” and “Open Up Your Eyes,” the first two singles from Lemon Parade, were receiving steady airplay on the radio. It was Tonic’s third single, “If You Could Only See,” however, that helped to catapult them into heavy rotation in the musical minds of most Americans.
The success of each of the three singles from Lemon Parade topped the one that had preceded it. “Casual Affair” was a top ten rock track while “Open Up Your Eyes” was one of the number one rock singles of 1997. “If You Could Only See” not only held the number one spot on the rock chart, but it also topped the lists for
Members includeEmerson Hart (born on July 21, 1969), lead vocals, rhythm guitar, slide, percussion;Dan Lavery (born on June 11, 1969; joined group 1996), bass, backing vocals;Pete Maloney, session drummer;Dan Rothchild, (left group 1996), bass;Jeff Russo (born on August 31, 1969), rhythm and lead guitars, backing vocals, slide, percussion;Kevin Shepard (left group c. 1999), drums, backing vocals;Jeremy Vogt (born on March 9, 1973), drums.
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1994; signed with A&M Records, released Lemon Parade, 1996; released Sugar on Universal, 1999; released Internet-only Live and Enhanced EP, 1999.
Awards: Billboard Rock Song of the Year Award, “If You Could Only See, “1997; American, Australian, and Canadian platinum sales certification, Lemon Parade, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 373-0600, fax: (212) 373-0660, website: http://www.universalrecords.com. Website —Official Tonic Website: http://www.tonic-online.com.
Modern Rock, Hot Contemporary Hits Radio, and Hot Adult Contemporary, to name a few.
As if this wasn’t impressive enough, “If You Could Only See” earned Tonic the Billboard award for the 1997 Rock Song of the Year. Tonic’s platinum selling debut smash was not limited to America alone. Both Australia and Canada racked up platinum selling sales for Lemon Parade.Despite all of their success, why did Tonic tour over two years behind Lemon Parade? The answer was simple, as Hart said in the Tonic biography on Yahoo! online, “We love getting out there and working hard, and it’s also the best way for us to judge how we’re doing.”
Not content to rest on their laurels, Tonic was involved with a number of soundtrack projects in the late 1990s, including contributing tracks to 1997’s Scream 2, 1998’s X-Files Original Soundtrack, and 1999’s American Pie.In 1999, Tonic also released an Internet only Live and Enhanced EP.
During this same time, Tonic began to work on their follow up to Lemon Parade.According to the official Tonic website, the title track for the album Sugar was “the first song the band worked on together. Russo and Lavery brought in some of the music and handed it over to Hart, who added his own parts and lyrics. The result is a rich meaningful rock song that serves as the album’s creative focal point.” Hart added, “That song was the true start of our collaborations for this album and that’s why we named the album Sugar.It’s also a tip of the hat to the South because they were so supportive so it has a nice double meaning for us.”
Tonic claims that Sugar is much more musically diverse than Lemon Parade.According to the official website, “Tonic’s focus on energetic, honest-to-good-ness songwriting is old school enduring.” Hart was also quoted as saying “[Sugar] has a certain openness the last record never had.”
Sugar, Tonic’s sophomore effort, was released in November of 1999. Not long after that, Shepard quit the band and was replaced by their drum technician Jeremy Vogt. When asked why they took a different approach to writing and recording their second album, Russo stated on the group’s official website, “We really wanted to experiment on this record with all kinds of arrangements and tones. Every time we recorded something, we’d look at it and try to see what it would sound like if we did the opposite. It was a process that we had to go through to make sure our instincts about the record were correct.” Lavery added, “We put it together; we wrote it and produced it. We made sure we liked it. If everybody else loves it, great. If not, at least we do. And we can live with that.”
Lemon Parade (includes “Casual Affair,” “Open Up Your Eyes,” and “If You Could Only See”), A&M, 1996.
(Contributor) Scream 2 (soundtrack), Capitol, 1997.
(Contributor) X-Files Original Soundtrack, Elektra/Asylum, 1998.
(Contributor) American Pie (soundtrack), Uptown/Universal, 1999.
Live and Enhanced (EP), Internet only, 1999.
Sugar, Universal, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 25, 2001).
“Lemon Drops-The Official Tonic Faqs (unofficial Tonic website),” http://www.keynote-tonic.rockpages.org (January 25, 2001).
“Tonic Bio,” http://www.tonic-online.com/bio.html (January 30, 2001).
Tonic Official Website, http://www.tonic-online.com (January 30, 2001).
“Yahoo! Music, Tonic Biography,” http://www.musicfinder.yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1802396795&cf+11 (January 25,2001).
—Mary Alice Adams
ton·ic / ˈtänik/ • n. 1. a medicinal substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being. ∎ something with an invigorating effect: being needed is a tonic for someone at my age.2. short for tonic water.3. Mus. the first note in a scale that, in conventional harmony, provides the keynote of a piece of music.• adj. 1. giving a feeling of vigor or well-being; invigorating.2. Mus. relating to or denoting the first degree of a scale.3. Phonet. denoting or relating to the syllable within a tone group that has greatest prominence, because it carries the main change of pitch.4. relating to or restoring normal tone to muscles or other organs. ∎ Physiol. relating to, denoting, or producing continuous muscular contraction.DERIVATIVES: ton·i·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv.
1. adj. a. relating to normal muscle tone. b. marked by continuous tension (contraction), e.g. a tonic muscle spasm. t. pupil (Adie's pupil) a pupil that is dilated as a result of damage to the nerves supplying the ciliary muscle and iris.
2. n. a medicinal substance purporting to increase vigour and liveliness and produce a feeling of wellbeing: beneficial effects of tonics are probably due to their placebo action.