Originally created 08/11/00

Band adds a little bit of `Sugar' to its Tonic



Never a group to take the stage in platform boots or spangled spandex, Los Angeles band Tonic has built a career focused on musical integrity rather than the trappings of rock stardom.

Connecting with listeners is the mission of the band, which recently released Sugar, its sophomore effort, and is one of five bands on the bill for Sunday's Lynyrd Skynyrd Music Festival.

"This is all about making somebody feel," said guitarist and founding member Jeff Russo. "Music is a form of communication. If we can communicate our passions, feelings and emotions, then we're doing what we do correctly. Because our writing is drawn from our own lives, we want what we communicate to be true."

Tonic emerged in 1993, at the tail end of the grunge movement and around the same time as guitar-pop bands like the Wallflowers and Matchbox 20. The band managed to set itself apart from the pack with a no-frills, roots-rock sound reminiscent of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Tonic made a name for itself with its initial release, Lemon Parade, and found success with radio-friendly anthems such as Open Up Your Eyes, If You Could Only See and Casual Affair. Its easy, loping tempos and catchy choruses made the group popular soundtrack fodder as well. Movie soundtracks featuring Tonic songs include Scream 2, The X Files and Clay Pigeons.

"That was never something we really did intentionally," Mr. Russo said. "We write the songs that come naturally to us. What people hear is what we are."

Mr. Russo said he recognizes both the cyclical nature of music and the fact that Tonic will never fit into the boy-band and teen-diva templates popular right now. He's philosophical about Tonic's place in the industry at a time when attractive teen music machines dominate the charts.

"I think there's room for every kind of music," he said. "It's not the kind of music I listen to, but there are a lot of people out there who do. We have a niche we occupy. There are always going to be people who want to hear songwriting, and those people are our audience."

Mr. Russo said that although Tonic is comfortable in the studio and on the concert stage, the band is happiest when developing new material.

"Probably the most pure part of what we do is songwriting," he said. "We're a rock band and we want to be who we are, but I think that's what I'd like for us to be remembered for. I want people to remember us as a great band who wrote great songs. I want people to say `Remember that song that band Tonic did. What a great song.' I want them to remember the songs."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.