Oh hey! My last Official Add of 2012 is my first-ever International Band! Anthonie Tonnon, of Tono and the Finance Company, is spectacular and fun and smart and funny and from New Zealand!
As many of you know, my love affair with New Zealand (and its evil stepsister Australia) goes back a long way, starting when I studied abroad in Melbourne in 2005 and took a trip to New Zealand’s North Island before heading home, running through last year when I put on my first ever Band Mom Presents show with a bunch of NZ friends, and now we’ve come to my first ever NZ Band Mom Band! I met Anthonie Tonnon (codename Tono) through Shenandoah Davis, and he came to the US for his first-ever North American tour very recently this fall (you just missed it! It was so nice having him & his gf Karlya around NYC!), but here’s hoping he comes back soon, because he is SO GOOD. Seriously so good. He’s got a real gift for fitting big thoughts into pop hooks and making you want to listen to them over and over. So START LISTENING NOW!!
TONO AND THE FINANCE COMPANY
UP HERE FOR DANCING
When Anthonie Tonnon finally brought his Tono and the Finance Company project to the United States in Autumn 2012, he wasn’t fronting the dramatic, Pulp-esque five-piece that toured with Beirut in his native New Zealand earlier in the year. It was in the humbler guise of an electric guitar wielding solo act, in much the style of his hero, Jonathan Richman. But that is not to understate what is a formidable achievement for a man making music as far away from home as one can get.
Tonnon grew up in Dunedin, a university city at the bottom of New Zealand’s colder, less populated South Island. He started Tono and the Finance Company a generation after the city’s explosion of alternative bands – like The Clean, The Bats and The Verlaines, and labels like Flying Nun and Xpressway, at a time when new bands there seemed destined to work in the shadow of the 80s and early 90s. But despite taking an influence from The Verlaines in particular, and their US contemporaries like Pavement, Tonnon’s songwriting quickly moved in a narrative, character-focused direction with more in common with North Island bands like The Muttonbirds and Lawrence Arabia, American cult acts like Jonathan Richman, The Magnetic Fields, or Randy Newman, and British alternative bands of the same period, particularly Pulp, Morrissey and Billy Bragg.
What set Tonnon apart was his knack of finding something universal while drawing the detail of a specific place. Moving his band to New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland – a sprawling, subtropical city of 1.5 million, he had a hit with “Marion Bates Realty”, a song that captured the frustration of young students and creatives, driven from neighborhood to neighborhood away from high rents in the quickly gentrifying city (“the tide is rising on Grey Lynn, its coming from Herne Bay, they’re painting the houses whiter shades of white”). It was enough to land the growing ensemble the Beirut opening slot, and scrape the funds together to record with legendary Dunedin engineer Tex Houston (The Clean, The 3Ds).
Details change, but Tonnon’s neighborhood of Grey Lynn exists everywhere – it could be Silverlake or Williamsburg or any other place where characters like Tonnon are “gentrified out of my street.” On his first LP, Tonnon crafts the sound of urban life and its fraught decisions for young people, whether in ode to the purgatory of being in between the age of irresponsibility and respectability in “Twenty-three”, telling drunken tales of art gallery hopping blocked artists in “Tim”, or just the difficulty of removing clothing at pressing times in the slacker guitar anthem “Skinny Jeans”.
It’s that meeting of the universal, and the strange, antipodean specifics that makes Tonnon’s writing so engaging. But growing up in a place like New Zealand – a country with such a voracious cultural appetite, yet separated by so many miles of ocean from the cultural centers of the world, can cause a heavy case of island syndrome. In “Up Here For Thinking, Down There For Dancing”, one of the more unusual songs on the album, Tonnon taps into a very real part of the New Zealand psyche, one that looks desperately outward for affirmation, singing in the shoes of an elderly man who breaks into a never-ending chorus of “America, Merica, Merica,” after offering a young man somewhat conflicted money advice. Having calmed his own island syndrome with his first US tour, we can only hope Anthonie Tonnon will be back.
RIYL: Jens Lekman, The Brunettes, Pulp, Lawrence Arabia, Okkervil River
Start With: 2, 1, 6 FCC 9
Contact me for a download link if you’re a radio rep!