An extended break quickly gives way to a long-awaited renewal

Alt-rock band Tonic didn’t intend to wait eight years between albums, but side projects and growing families helped put some distance between the Los Angeles band’s 2002 album Head on Straight and its new self-titled effort. “There was no definitive moment when someone said, ‘Hey, let’s take a break,’ at least not on purpose,” says guitarist Jeff Russo. “It was more like, ‘Hey man, I’m going to do some stuff, why don’t you go do some stuff?’”

Eventually, the completion of that stuff brought Russo and singer Emerson Hart back into each other’s orbit and they started writing songs for what would become Tonic. “One day Emerson was in town, he called me and said, ‘What do you think?’” recalls Russo. “I said, ‘All right, let’s write some songs and see how it goes.” Bass player Dan Lavery then joined in the writing, some of which was conducted among the members via the Internet.

After not having worked together for a few years, the band was surprised at how quickly the new record came together. Recording and mixing the 12 songs on Tonic took only six weeks. “The songwriting was very together, and we’re better musicians than we were 10 years ago,” explains Russo. Only one song, “Bigger Than Both,” proved itself a challenge to get right as the band tried different keys, tempos and arrangements. “We just hadn’t really settled upon what we wanted the song to be,” says Russo.

To capture the spark that comes with playing together as a unit, the band recorded the songs live in the studio, adding just a handful of overdubs later. “Making a record is just literally making a recording of a moment in time, and it’s really important for us to capture moments,” Russo says. “For us, it’s always just about the song. If the song is great, the record will be great.”

Although the band is excited about playing new songs in concert, they won’t be crowding older material like Tonic’s signature song, 1996’s “If You Could Only See,” out of the set list. Russo has little patience for bands that seek to distance themselves from their hits. “This is entertainment,” he says. “We go out to entertain people. We want to play the new songs because we’re artists, but people love the older songs, so we play them. That’s why we do what we do—because we have fun doing it and people have fun coming to see us play.”

–Eric R. Danton

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