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Looking Backward

Danny Clinch

Lounge Lizards: Tonic's lineup, from left, features Jeff Russo, Emerson Hart, Kevin Shepard and Dan Rothchild.

Tonic takes some, but not all, of its cues from Led Zeppelin

By Nicky Baxter

It would be a little mean-spirited and maybe wrong to dismiss the bicoastal outfit Tonic as so much bad company running with the pack of Led Zep-influenced guitar bands. Sure, on "Thick," from Tonic's Lemon Parade album, singer/guitarist Emerson Hart delivers some (Robert) Plant-shaped yowling and Jeff Russo nicks a lick from Robert Plant's guitar-god partner, Jimmy Page, but the up-against-the-wall bridge of "Casual Affair" does include some other voices in the mix (play "Let Me Drown," a cut from Soundgarden's Superunknown, and check the introductory riff). And, as tracks like "Mr. Golden Deal" and "My Old Man" testify, when Tonic is not assaying smashmouth rock, the band is quite capable of going soft on you.

It all started when principal songwriter, singer and guitarist Hart and co-songwriter and guitarist Russo switched from right coast to left and, as luck would have it, bumped into each other in the City of Angels. Pals from their days back in New York City, Hart and Russo were already in third gear.

All that was required was a rhythm section. Through connections at a famous L.A. deli, they recruited a pair of worthy rhythm makers, Dan Rothchild (bass) and Kevin Shepard (drums).

Things became interesting, seeing as how Rothchild is a straight Beatles fanatic while Shepard was, growing up, a young punk jerking himself around to Minor Threat. But they don't run the show, so these influences are muted.

At this point, Tonic's identity is dictated by Hart's '60s and '70s-influenced lyrical bent, which happens to dovetail nicely with Russo's predilection for Bad Company. Still, this is the '90s, and the smart money is on bands like Soundgarden, which borrow only as much as they require from yesterday to make music for today and tomorrow. Whether Tonic can let go of the past remains to be heard.

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From the September 5-11, 1996 issue of Metro

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