Written by: Shawn Brown
Think back to where you were in 1996.
Were you shot-gunning beers at a high school kegger? Were you crowd surfing at a Tau Kappa Epsilon toga party? Or were you lovesick at home, moping with your records?
Ring a bell?
This was the year that Tonic’s “If You Could Only See” was always on the radio (or on a disc cumbersomely lodged in your yellow Discman). Go ahead, admit it – you sang that song loudly, alone in your car.
2002 probably was probably similar, only this time the anthemic Tonic song was “Take Me As I Am.”
You can thank Emerson Hart for all those years of ear candy. He fronted the platinum selling, Gammy-nominated group until 2004, when the juggernaut went on hiatus. His first solo album Cigarettes and Gasoline was released in 2007 and featured two radio hits “If You’re Gonna Leave” and “I Wish the Best for You.” Tonic has since reformed and released a greatest hits collection and a 2010 eponymously-titled album.
In spite of his alt-rock creds, Emerson Hart’s brand new record Beauty In Disrepair represents a bit of a sonic sidestepping of his pedigree. The record is unmistakably Hart–distinctive pop hooks and huge choruses–but this time around, Hart goes deep…very deep. The resulting record is a not only emotionally transparent, it’s an intimate exploration of pain and joy and is equal parts reassuring and replenishing. Hart has made a genre-less record where the songs themselves are the featured attraction.
And you can still turn the album up and sing to it in the car.
Stereo Embers was ecstatic to sit down with Emerson to discuss his new record, healing, and owning 90’s alt rock.
Stereo Embers: Congratulations on releasing Beauty in Disrepair! We love it here at CITC. Why such a large gap between solo albums?
Emerson Hart: After Cigarettes and Gasoline I went through a divorce. I needed time to be a dad and figure out what I wanted to write about. I was writing during that time but it was mostly in pieces.
SE: As far as producers go, it’s tough to find a more talented guy than David Hodges – can you tell us how you guys hooked up and a little about the process of making the new album?
EH: I met David on a co write, actually. We instantly hit it off and I felt like he was the guy to help guide the ship and get down what I wanted to say. It was a fantastic experience working together and I consider him a friend. We split recording between L.A. and Nashville and I found that to be great when it came to keeping things fresh.
SE: This sounds like an extremely personal record for you. Thematically, these songs are packed with loss, love, moving on and growing up. Did you set out to go this deep?
EH: I never set out to go any direction, to be honest. I have found if I really listen to myself and what songs are coming out they will guide the vision of it. If you are going to go, you better go deep.
SE: For you, what are the risks associated with writing so candidly about your life?
EH: Anytime you write about what you are feeling it’s bound to make the people in your life think about how it all fits together. Certain songs can have different meanings within them and can be read in different ways. Other songs can be blunt. It can be a tough call sometimes about what stays in and how it will be taken. In the end though, anyone who is in my life will always play a role in the story and I just have to hope that everyone is okay with that.
SE: Both “You Know Who I Am” and “Hallway” are absolutely stunning! Can you tell us a little bit about the writing of those two songs?
EH: “You Know Who I Am” is a simple reflection on how easy love can be if you just get out of the way and let it be. “Hallway” is a snap shot of when I bought an old house and hung pictures in the foyer with my little girl. I feel it’s important to hang real photos in your home and make a place for your family history. We are losing these moments when we keep them on the phone and computer. Pick a moment and print it out, you won’t regret it.
SE: When you look back at all of the years of success – what are you the most proud of?
EH: I think I am most proud of the fact that I have managed to keep pretty close relationships with the people I came up with. The fact that I am able to create and still make a living in this biz is something I never take for granted.
SE: The music industry has changed at lot since the 90’s – What has been the biggest challenge for you as an artist navigating the current landscape of the music business?
EH: The biggest challenge has been watching the music we work so hard to create be given away at unfair royalty rates. I know that is a battle we will be fighting for sometime.
SE: What’s on Emerson Hart’s playlist these days? Any recommendations?
EH: I have been listening to the last Young The Giant record and Will Hoge’s latest. I met Will when I moved to Nashville in 2001 and I have always been a fan. I call him a friend and I respect his work ethic.
SE: While your focus is undoubtedly on supporting this new release, are there any plans to record new music with Tonic down the road?
EH: Tonic music will always be part of my life and I hope we will continue to create for a long time. There is new music in the works.