Right here and now, Emerson Hart wants to put an end to the vicious rumors that the members of Tonic do not have faces.
“It’s true,” the lead singer-songwriter said recently, mocking critics of the platinum-selling rock quartet, “we do have features and characteristics that resemble human beings. I, for one, have a nose, a pair of eyes and a mouth. And I can vouch for the other guys.”
After 20 months on the road in support of “Lemon Parade,” the group’s Polydor debut album, Hart’s punchiness is understandable. Like Collective Soul and Matchbox 20, Hart and his band mates Jeff Russo (guitar), Dan Rothchild (bass) and Kevin Shepard (drums) have an image problem: Radio listeners are humming along to their hits, but darned if they could pick out the group in a police lineup.
“There’s nothing you can do except keep touring and getting your face out there,” Hart said. “MTV is very picky about who they play, and that makes a difference. You know, I consider us an interesting, good-looking band. We’re all very different looking, but it’s something you need to see live.
“I look at it this way: We’re going to be on the road doing what we do no matter what kind of success we have, so eventually people are going to figure out who we are. We get recognized here and there, but it’s really about how our show is.”
The show is doing just fine. Buoyed by appearances this year on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Late Show With David Letterman,” the Los Angeles-based rockers are making names for themselves. The platinum-selling “Lemon Parade,” which peaked at No. 28 on Billboard’s pop chart, has generated four rock-radio hits: “Open Up Your Eyes,” “Casual Affair,” “If You Could Only See” (the album’s standout track) and the current single, “Soldier’s Daughter.” And a fruitful tour with The Verve Pipe continued the groundswell.
“Our record came out in July of ’96 and something like 20,000 records came out that year,” Hart said. “For us to do as well as we’ve done and go platinum, it’s incredible. The music’s good, of course, but I also think luck has a lot to do with it. You can never count on what the people are going to like, you know. You just have to do what you want to do, and if they like it, they like it. If they don’t, whatever.”
Hart said they will get reacquainted with their families and loved ones over the holidays – “They’ll get to see what our faces look like after going through the rock ‘n ‘ roll car wash,” he said, jokingly – and after New Year’s Day, they will begin preproduction on a follow-up album.