Emerson Hart steps away from Tonic for solo show at The Ark
Tonic’s 1996 debut album, “Lemon Parade,” went multi-platinum, yielding two hits, “Open Up Your Eyes” and “If You Could Only See." They released two more albums, earned a couple of Grammy nominations in 2002, then went on a hiatus in the mid-2000s, as Hart pursued a solo career. He released a solo album in 2007 and did a solo-acoustic tour.
Then, in ‘09 Tonic reunited, and released a new album last year.
So, now, Hart’s plan is to again to put most of his time and energy into Tonic, but to also set aside enough time to do the occasional solo album and tour, to allow him to express ideas and emotions that might not be good fit for Tonic’s modern-rock template. In fact, even as he’s working on his second solo album, he’s also in the midst of laying down tracks for a new Tonic disc.
“Tonic does a lot of touring in the summer in the U.S. and Europe, but not so much this time of year,” says Hart. “So, this was a good time to write solo songs and do a small tour, to work out the new material live, to figure out what songs work and which ones don’t By the time the tour is done, I’ll know which ones should make it onto the record, and which ones won’t.”The solo album, says Hart, is mostly shaping up as a “quiet, acoustic record,” with an emotional tone that he describes as “mostly pensive, but there are a couple of tracks that are joyous as well.”
Thematically, the disc is about “a woman’s journey,” says Hart by phone from his 1810-era farm near Franklin, Tenn. “The concept is women and how women affected me, and the choices they make, and how I have affected them, and the friendships and relationships I have watched my friends go through.
“I have a 4-year old daughter, and I was thinking about her, and then about my ex-wife, and my mother, and grandmother, and I was just struck by the journey that is ahead for my daughter,” says Hart, explaining his inspiration.
The fact that most of the tunes are quiet / pensive won’t surprise those who remember Hart’s 2007 solo disc, “Cigarettes and Gasoline,” which spawned two top 20 pop-radio hits, "If You're Gonna’ Leave" and "I Wish The Best For You.” Many of the tracks on that disc were ruminative and languorous ballads, although that disc also included some alt-pop-rock efforts.
Several of the songs were heartfelt and introspective. The title track was a nostalgic, soul-baring recollection of his father, who was murdered when Hart was just a child. The song evoked faint memories of his dad, his childhood and his hometown. But, in the song, Hart also forgave his father’s killer (or killers)—even though their identity is still unknown: The case was never solved.
Hart moved to the Nashville era a few years before making that record, so we also heard some of those influences on that disc, on songs like “Green Hills Race for California,” and “Devastation Hands.”
Regarding Tonic reuniting in 2009, Hart says that, “after we took our break, I realized how important it is for me, and how good it is for my spirit, to have other guys to interact with, and feed off of each other, musically.
“The other guys are always open to what I do, because of my creative role in the band, but at the same time, I like having the opportunity to make a solo record and perform solo, because there are some things I want to explore, and we don’t always agree on everything—like, I probably couldn’t drag them through a record about the female journey,” he adds with a laugh. “That probably wouldn’t work on a Tonic record.”
The upcoming Tonic record is shaping up as being “not overly-produced, a little more rocking, with not as much technology, says Hart. “And the mood might be a little darker.”
Kevin Ransom is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com who can be reached at KevinRansom10@aol.com.