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Whatchoo lookin' at? Tony C. and the Truth (Tony is lower-left wearing the newsboy hat).

Good Honest Fun
Hudson-based rap-rock amalgam Tony C. and the Truth tell tales of touring, hanging out with Lava labelmates and letting the good times roll

By Erik Hage

Even if you were only paying half a mind this spring, you probably caught Tony C. & the Truth’s booty- shaking, innuendo-laced anthem “Little Bit More”—perhaps on alternative radio, where it’s been in regular rotation across the country, or maybe even pumping out of a dorm window. The tune, an infectious collision between hiphop and hard rock, places the group in the same general territory as their labelmates Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker.

It starts with a snappy little sample, and then Hudson native Tony C., in a strikingly low, gravelly rumble, coos, “That’s lovelyyy . . .” before breaking out the rhyme: “I thought she was a nasty girl and I was right/She’s tying cherries up in knots with her tongue/I wish I may, I wish I might, get me a little some.” It’s one of those simple, good-time anthems that seems tailor-made for youthful mass consumption, conjuring up images of college girls in J. Lo sunglasses shaking it poolside.

The track and the accompanying album, Demonophonic Blues—a mix of DJ samples (courtesy of DJ prestige), blues (particularly Tony’s searing slide guitar) and rockin’ power chords—have taken Tony C. (aka Tony Cesternino) to some interesting places in the past year. He and his group have toured with Sugar Ray and Living Colour, their album got a rave in a recent edition of Billboard and, according to his press kit, Tony C. even told Kid Rock “to F*ck Off and that he was his ‘new replacement’ ” at an industry fete. I ask him about this as he and his bandmates hurtle down an Ohio highway in a rainstorm, on their way to an outdoor gig in Canton.

“No, dude, that’s not supposed to be in there!” Tony exclaims over the phone, his deep voice (which puts this white boy in the choir row between Barry White and James Earle Jones) pitching, for the first time, out of its soulful malaise. “The first time I talked to him, I was like, ‘Hey, how you doin’?’ and he was like [in a dismissive tone] ‘Yeah, yeah, OK.’ A half-hour later I came up to him and started fuckin’ with him. Then he paid attention to me. . . . We ended up hanging out all night and playing songs and shit.”

Beyond kibitzing with the top dog on his label (Atlantic imprint Lava), Tony and his group—who have been touring only since last August—also have had a chance to learn from acts who have been around the block a few times. “We went out [on tour] with Sugar Ray twice and both of those times were remarkably fun—a hell of a lot of fun,” Tony notes, adding that they learned a lot simply by “watching how they interacted with the crowd.”

These experiences certainly have brought the 27-year-old a long way from his days at Ichabod Crane High School (where Tony and guitarist/high-school buddy Patrick Halley first met; the rest of the band members are from various Northeastern locales). Nevertheless, he and the Truth still maintain their home base in the Hudson area, on a rural slab of real estate called, somewhat ominously, “the compound.” “It’s outside of town so nobody can find it. It’s a converted barn we made into a recording studio,” Tony says, pointing out that, among the other features of his slice of bucolic-meets-high-tech paradise, is a trailer and a horseshoes pit.

The group actually recorded most of Demonophonic Blues while living at the compound, and thematically, the album places the onus on fun, sex and partying. This is music of the loins, not the head: no intellectual exercises here or raw confessionals a la alternarock-therapy bands like Staind or Linkin Park. “We didn’t want to be one of those bands that’s upset about every damn thing—whining and whining and whining,” Tony claims. The album opener “Who I Are” certainly throws down the Truth’s good-time gauntlet, kicking off with Tony’s nasty, spaghetti-western slide guitar and working its way through some phat DJ beats, with Tony rapping out such memorable aphorisms as: “Who I are is who I is/Gee whiz, muthafuckas, all up in my biz/I got to keep being me till I get laid.” The tune culminates in a hard-rock flurry of power chords, biting guitar leads and Tony stretching his vocal cords like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.

Throughout the album, the group distill their blues, rock and rap influences into a toxic party-time mixture, and Tony’s constant refrain is, “If you’ve got to do it every night, you might as well have fun.” Even more important, he notes, the crowd should have a good time as well. “There’s no reason that anybody needs to come out and see a band play. They could go home and on the Internet or DVD watch their favorite band of all time. . . . When they come out, that’s really special. You know what I mean?”

But the group can also play it straight: “No Pain” is a deceptively straight-up, soulful slab of blues-rock balladry (replete with gospel-flavored backup singers) that shows Tony C. and the Truth aren’t simply a rap-rock hybrid, but a band with real chops. “The guitars, bass and drums are all live,” Tony points out. “We overdubbed [only] the organ and vocals.” Another album highlight is the group’s ZZ Top-style Southern-fried boogie romp through “Fight for Your Right (To Party).” It’s an interesting, breakneck-paced send-up of the group’s ancestral muse, the Beastie Boys.

Despite Tony’s upstate pedigree, the group built their live following in NYC (though they frequently return to Hudson, often doing two-to-three-hour live shows for the home fans at Joe’s). By summer 2002, the labels came calling, drawn by Tony’s distinct voice, the music’s potent marketability and the group’s versatility. (“We can play any damn thing,” Tony notes, when it’s pointed out that they get paired up with vastly different kinds of acts on the road.) Tony says the group went with Lava because of the smaller organization’s success rate and personal attention. “You know everybody that works there. They always answer your phone calls—you don’t get the corporate runaround with them too bad.”

Once the label deal was struck, Tony called his old high-school pal Patrick Halley and told him he was in the band. One problem: Halley couldn’t really play guitar, and his job description would be rhythm guitar. “We taught him to play,” Tony recalls. “He figured he’d give it a shot, but he didn’t want to embarrass himself and we couldn’t take anybody on the road that wasn’t good enough. It took about six months, but he plays better than I do now.” (Tony’s been playing since he was 6 years old.)

With a group in place and a single and album imminent, the Truth hit the road last August and have been steadily out there since then. But the first time the group heard their own song on the radio was back home between jaunts. They heard that Albany’s WHRL was going to play “Little Bit More” and jumped in the car to head northward. “We’re driving a hundred miles an hour up the Taconic Parkway to try to get [within reception range] by nine o’clock to hear it,” Tony remembers. “We hear the first few notes and then ‘crackle, crackle, crackle’ [and] Hootie and the Blowfish came on. We got pissed.” The group missed the whole song, but once they got reception again Tony says he called the station and asked, “ ‘Hey man can you play that song again? This is Tony C.—I want to hear my song on the radio today.’ ”

And? “He did it, man. It was pretty fucking awesome.”

Rough Mix

THE SOUND OF THE MUMBLE: Ever find yourself needing a way to record a live show? An outdoor show? An under-the-bridge show? Enter Mumblesound. What’s Mumblesound, you ask? Seamus McNulty (of Sifters fame) and Frank Moscowitz of the Orange and Princess Mabel have started a mobile recording business, which they are referring to as “a studio without walls.” On the Web site (www.mumblesound.com), they tell us that they’ll be wherever we need them: “rock and roll in a warehouse, jazz in a restaurant, punk in a basement, classical in a church, country in a bar or bluegrass on a front porch.” The duo also offer their skills in engineering, as well as top-notch computers, mics, battery backups, etc. Find out costs and other pesky details on their Web site. On a different note, catch McNulty’s band the Sifters when they play their last show before taking an indefinite break (due to the imminent birth of lead singer Andy Sink’s first child) at the Lark Tavern next Saturday (July 26).

SO YOU WANNA BE A ROCK STAR? Dan Goodspeed has birthed another baby of his own, one he’s promising to take good care of: TheRockstar.com (www.rkstar.com), an online music ’zine rife with local club listings, band bios, audio, video, newsletters, a discussion board and much more. Like a phoenix from the ashes of bumrock.com (mmm, birds flying from bums), TheRockstar.com wants to be the comprehensive online source for all things local music. Goodspeed would love to have you sign up online, but he is accepting phone calls from the Luddites, 253-2758.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Congratulations are in order to Sean Rowe for snagging a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Rowe, the gravelly voiced singer-songwriter from Castleton who does a regular gig at Lionheart on Monday nights, was one of only four Upstaters to receive the nod from NYFA in the music composition category (the other 11 are from in and around NYC). NYFA sifted through more than 4,700 applications this year, and when all was said and done they lumped Mr. Rowe in with the other 147 winners from a range of artistic disciplines including architecture/environmental structures, choreography, fiction, painting, photography, playwriting/screenwriting and video. Along with the honor, NYFA threw a $7,000 check in the singer’s lap to help ease the financial burden while Rowe marinates in his own creative juices. We look forward to tasting your stew, Sean.

HERE’S A STORY FOR YOU: Seven Stories Falling just released their new CD Man of 1000 Skies, featuring the ultra-hooky “Like Me.” Catch the guys when they’re interviewed by Jason Keller this Sunday (June 20) on EQX 103.1’s Big Break at 8 PM. You can sample the new album on the band’s Web site at www.7sfrock.com. Or catch them live next Thursday (June 24) when they play E. O’Dwyer’s in Saratoga Springs.

 GUERRILLAS IN OUR MIDST: Scott Nichols of the Pink Hearse Paparazzi Project organized the third annual Guerrilla Picnic, a Lake George musical phenom that’s free and open to the public. The first day of the two-day fest featured acts like Horse in a Box, Resonator, Kickstand Love, the Mathema ticians, Struction and many more. However, the second day of the fest, which was slated to include Madeline Fer guson, Lost in Translation, Bullets Say Goodbye, and others, was preempted when park rangers came and shut it down, citing that the organizers did not acquire the necessary insurance to hold such an event. Too bad, because they had all the permits they needed. We have yet to hear whether or not they’ll try to hold another picnic next year.

HEELLLOOOOOO OUT THERE! Are you in the next superstar band? Are you a club owner or musician who’s doing something really frickin’ cool and we don’t know about it? Then don’t be shy—tell us! For gig listings, e-mail calendar@metroland.net (be sure to include the band, venue, date, time, cost and contact info); to report music news or UFO sightings (wait, this isn’t the right place for that, nevermind), e-mail Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net.

—Kathryn Lurie and Travis Durfee


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