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Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 22nd March, 2012 10:58AM

Anthonie Tonnon aka Tono, and his band The Finance Company, are set to release their record Up Here for Dancing later this week. Heralded as a “pop album with oddball sensibilities” it sees Tono mash together his former hometown of Dunedin with his adopted hood of Auckland. UTR got a chance to catch up with Tono and find out more about the much-anticipated long player on the eve of its launch.

’The Finance Company' seems like a bit of a juggling act, can you tell me about the dynamic of the band, especially live vs. recording?

Well, we're originally a Dunedin band, but I was the only member who moved up to Auckland. Since moving I've gradually built an Auckland-based live band, which felt complete when we did the Beirut shows earlier this year. That's the band we'll be touring with.

But at the time of recording I was still getting the Auckland band together, and I wanted to record with people I had history with. So we recorded with a mixture of Auckland musicians in the current band and Dunedin musicians I've worked with for years.

Why did you choose to record in Dunedin?

I considered recording in Auckland - I was meeting some great musicians and recording engineers here. But our last EP with Tex Houston came out sounding so good, and we'd learned a lot in the process of making it. It seemed a waste not to go back and improve on it using the same people, in the same room, drinking the same beer.

It's always really important to me to work with people I've built a relationship with, and those relationships back in Dunedin are still very strong for me.

It was great to precipitate a meeting of Auckland and Dunedin ears - I think you get quite different approaches on either end of the country. Getting musicians like Jonathan Pearce and Logan Valentine to play together on the same track is a something that might never have happened otherwise, and I think it sounds really different and wonderful.

Dunedin is also an extremely romantic city in the middle of winter, and if you have a task to work on it can be a really inspiring place. I can go on forever about how good the beer is there too, so I won't start.

What was it like recording with Tex Houston?

Tex is really Zen. He gets the best performances out of a band with the gentlest of hints.

If you do a take and he says, "Yeah, it's alright," you know you need to do it again. If he says it's "pretty good," you've nailed it.

Recording in such a short space of time (eleven days, usually ten or eleven hours a day), we had to make a lot of quick decisions about sounds and takes, but between my idea of what I wanted, and Tex's instinct to say yes or no, we always had an answer.

What was the biggest lesson you learnt during the recording of the album?

Don't buy knock-off power adapters for your Mac. Mine blew up and turned all the gear in the studio off near the end of recording - for a second we thought we'd lost everything.

Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

Not in retrospect no, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, it was one of the most productive times I've had, and I'm really proud of what we made. But there are ideas I got from that process that I will take into the next record for sure - I'd like to try a few new methods and see where they lead me.

Your songs seem to have this kind of microscopic storytelling element, how do these situations and characters hatch?

I wish I knew, really. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk and making myself write the first thing that comes to mind.

Every now and then a fragment I like will jump or slip or creep out of some black hole, and then I will try to mould that into a developed song.

As soon as I start adding music, the stories usually start changing too, so I have to rework both at the same time. On "Multiple Lives," it took five months to get from that first line to the final image about the evolution of bats, whereas "Marion Bates Realty" was mostly written in one emotionally charged evening.

My landlord's name is Marion... and she's pretty renowned in Auckland city as the matriarch of the apartment building I live in... I have to ask, is she the inspiration behind 'Marion Bates Realty'?

I don't know if it's the same one, but yes, the song is based on a real Marion in Auckland.

I had a wonderful flat when I first moved to Auckland - my flatmates were arty and had a glass of wine and a yarn after work. But after only a couple of months our leaseholder left, and this landlord told us we had to pay a lot more to start a new lease, so the flat broke up. It was heartbreaking, and since then I've met so many people in the same situation.

But I don't really blame her - she was doing her job by getting the most rent she could, I'm doing mine by writing a song about it.

What is the most common thing you hear people say about your music?

A lot of people compliment me on my lyrics, and that's something I'm proud of.

I'm really excited when the lyrics catch people on a first listen - that's a difficult thing to achieve, and I think it's something we've developed well.

What's your relationship with Homebrew, it's sonically an unusual pairing, how did you get hooked up?

A mutual friend of ours showed Tom "Marion Bates Realty," and the guys really got behind the song.

They invited us to play at their video release in Avondale, which was the first time we got what would be the current Auckland line up together.

We were all big fans of Homebrew - I remember going to a show at Rakinos and seeing a couple of hundred people singing along with Tom. It really made me think about how a live show should be - that band isn't just something you watch passively, it can change you.

I think Tom and I aren't that far apart in what we're trying to do lyrically, even if the music is quite different. But his productivity astounds me! He released the equivalent of at least two albums last year, in different projects. At the moment I'm looking more to the process of someone like Tom for inspiration than I am to indie bands.

If you weren't making music what do you think you would be doing?

I was better at History and Economics at university than I was at Music.

If I wasn't doing this I think I'd be in Wellington trying to work in policy analysis. I often write songs about myself in an alternate reality, and "Eating Biscuits" on the album is a little about that.

I like how you wear suits for performing and whatnot, what's the thought behind that?

I decided a year or two ago I wanted to be able to really deliver a story live, and inhabit my characters more. Thinking about how to dress to suit those stories happened unintentionally at first, but by the time I started thinking about it, it seemed to be developing by itself.

I've shopped exclusively in op shops for years now, and the suits I've been wearing have the look they have because it's what is in those shops at the moment.

I love that last era of clothing to be made in New Zealand – iron-proof Lichfield shirts in decadent colours like champagne and rose, things that disappeared after the 1987 stock market crash.

So I imagine you are going to be fairly busy touring and promoting the album, but what are the next steps for Tono?

I'm writing all the time, and I'm looking for new ways to get all the things I want to say out of my head.

I'm looking forward to trying out some more collaborations soon.

Obviously I'm keen to do more out of New Zealand, and that will be my priority after the tour. That line (from song ‘Up Here for Thinking, Down There for Dancing’) "America, merica, merica, merica..." - part of it is just me going nuts that I still haven't been to the place! I'm planning a jaunt over there for later this year.


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