Anthonie Tonnon is about to release Successor – his second full-lengther, his first as – officially – a solo artist. Previously he recorded/performed as either Tono or Tono & The Finance Company. The Finance Company’s musical insolvency was announced a couple of years ago now. So the songs on Successor have been worked up across live performances – some of them even caught on tape (for those that were looking). The new album is out this week, Friday. The album release tour kicks off on Thursday.
“It’s very much a change in process”, Tonnon explains. “I grew up with the idea that you’d make an album, and then – you know – get famous and tour behind it”, he breaks off in a chuckle. “But this record is a fair representation of how I’ve been touring” – he means the arrangements, the band sound, and also the fact that the material has had a chance to strut and fret its hour (and a half) on the stage already.
Since the break-up of The Finance Company Tonnon has toured New Zealand – as support act for international friends and as solo headliner. He’s performed on his own and with a band. And he’s taken his show not only on the road, but further afield.
“Island Syndrome”, he tells me. That’s what was behind the move to get up and go – to play Australia and America. “I just felt I had to go overseas – I love New Zealand but I grew up in a comfortable environment and my parents had never really travelled. I had this urge, I needed to get overseas. Also, I started making music around the time the internet seemed to be making big promises but not really delivering for musicians”. Another break for a chuckle. “There was a lot being said about streaming services, and touring, and how it was all going to work – but I remain a believer that the best way to connect is to put your music in front of somebody. To go to their town and play”.
Touring America has not only introduced him to an international label – and reciprocating tour buddies – it also introduced him to the idea of working up material on the road; confirmed that as a way forward.
“International touring showed me that you could go on the road with half a dozen new songs and see what happened – we’d see these bands that literally just had that, and then would jam and work up the material on stage. It’s very liberating in a sense, kinda scary, but a good way to create. It’s nice to have something you think is already formed, in a sense, when you then go to record it”.
Tonnon’s songwriting – story-songs, narrative – marries poetic imagery and observational humour to guitar-chugs. The new album features hints of the Krautrock feel The Phoenix Foundation has adapted (Railway Lines) and languid laments where it’s just the guitar and voice telling the tale (A Friend From Argentina). If it ever felt like a gimmick previously, quirky – nearly silly – now it’s a sound that’s all grown up. Serious, but never boring. The songs are surprises, still. There’s none of the awkwardness within the jangle now, the shoulders are smooth, these songs, along with their writer, have grown.
I have to ask if other writing has (ever) informed Tonnon’s approach to creating songs.
“I did a poetry course under Emma Neale, an amazing poet. And I liked that. It was very inspiring. I did a few English papers at uni in fact – but I was more into History. Right through high school and university I would say I was a better historian than I was a musician. And I think I came to writing – very much so, in terms of the craft of writing – through formal history essays. And that took me to journalism – I wrote for Otago University’s Critic magazine and when I moved to Auckland there were a few opportunities for more journalism, including some music writing. I found this interesting – but ultimately I was more interested in songwriting”.
Reading is still very important to Tonnon, a huge source of inspiration. He says the Longform website (a site dedicated to lengthy feature articles from the dying days of print media and new stories in the spirit of that “lost” long-form magazine feature style) has been a big influence – “just the idea of someone working on something, a story, for six months or a year and distilling it down to a few pages. Okay, sometimes it’s a very long read still, it might take me an hour or more but that’s still a year’s work for someone. The ability to give you all of the details you need and leave nothing out that is required”.
That, of course, is songwriting.
Cue discussion of Don McGlashan’s ability to tell you all about a relationship gone sour without actually having to tell you all of it or barely any of it in the opening lines of Dominion Road. And then a mention of Paul Kelly’s To Her Door.
Tonnon says Successor, just nine songs, but 42 minutes in total, is him “attempting some sort of long-form balladry – I’ve ditched the pop songs of Up Here For Dancing and moved on to this kind of ballad-form I reckon”. He’s right. But don’t be scared off by that description. These five and six-minute songs are jam-packed with ideas, and it is all about the narrative. There’s still plenty of angles within the guitar lines too.
“It’s exciting to have something driving the song – you’re writing a verse and when you can make a connection between the verses, some reason for the next verse to come in, that’s very inspiring for me”. He says A Friend From Argentina “even features a flashback”. He’s proud of that. You talk to Anthonie Tonnon about songwriting and the passion is there, it’s obvious. It’s very clear too that this is someone utterly focussed on following their own path. And so sure they’ll be learning forever. Never the teacher, always the student.
With just nine songs making the cut, Successor gives off the feel of an immaculate collection – cherry-picked, ripe and ready. All correct and accounted for. It also means there are a few songs leftover for a new project, the next record – or EP.
“I haven’t quite decided on that”, Tonnon says. “But definitely there’ll be something else, and there are already a few songs for whatever happens next”.
Right now it’s about the tour, the release of the album and then just enough time to get those pesky visas sorted to head over to America again, via Australia.
For Anthonie Tonnon it’s about doing the work. That now means taking the songs to the people, finding an audience for this work. It shouldn’t be hard. He’s shown great skills across previous releases. This, however, is his finest batch of songs. His best effort. A great new album – and he’s an excellent live performer.
Successor is out on Friday. Tonnon’s New Zealand tour dates are here.