Following 2020, many people were ready to turn a cheek to their latest obsession of nightly news broadcasts that clung to the lingering terrors of society—not entirely, but they certainly didn’t want to be reminded of reality in their one form of joy, music.
While tons of bands are currently creating highbrow music with messages and political commentary on the status of society, alt-rock supergroup Tomahawk is deliberately avoiding that. Instead, making music that gives listeners, as well as themselves, an escape for their first record in eight years, Tonic Immobility.
“I think about this stuff a lot, I think we all do,” guitarist Duane Dension tells American Songwriter about Tomahawk’s choice to avert politics. “I read about it, it’s hard not to avoid it. But I don’t want to think about it all the time. I know some people will disagree with me, but I tend to think of music, especially rock music, as kind of is its own world. It has its own logic and sort of laws and limitations.”
Tomahawk’s new album Tonic Immobility adheres to that sentiment and boasts anthem-ready, punk rock featuring the classic lineup. Each member is a quintessential piece to punk and rock music—guitarist and keyboardist Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard, vocalist Mike Patton of Faith No More, drummer John Stanier of Helmet and bassist Trevor Dunn of Fantomas, the only non-original member, but an equal nonetheless.
Each member continually busy with other projects, Tomahawk has always been a kind of ‘sidebar’ for the majority of the band. More importantly it has always been the outlet they all crave when they need reprieve and a space to rock out with some old friends. And after the last few years, everyone was burnt out in one way or another allowing them a return to the four-piece outfit.
Introducing the record with its themes of ‘no theme’ is “Business Casual,” a song that explores universal topics without getting nitty-gritty or political, but at the same time not really saying anything provocative. It’s a fun rock song and that was the only unspoken theme the guys were aiming at.
“We’re not really discussing any serious problems here,” Denision said. “We’re not really trying to provide answers to the realities of our current existence, or the deep philosophical questions that plague us throughout our entire life.”
“Business Casual”, with its mocking lyrics and slinky percussion, serve as the best three-minute rally and escape from politics and reality the band was striving for. Much of the song is centered around the lyrics, highlighting Americans’ historical infatuation with things like diets and appearance in the work culture.
“Americans seem to be obsessed with diets,” Denison said. “I think it really started happening after World War II when America suddenly became this powerhouse with an obsession with appearances and that kind of thing. And this is almost like a metaphor for personal enlightenment. It’s something that people can relate to and isn’t terribly serious.”
Other songs like “Dog Eat Dog,” a single heavily pushed by their label and the sole song not considered a deep-cut, possess a catchy radio characteristic. It was also an unexpected success for Denison, who favored other songs. Still, the song with its 4/4-time signature and basic riffs, paired with Patton’s hysterical falsetto vocal textures between barks and whistles fits seamlessly into the light-hearted essence of the record.
“It’s not my favorite and that’s fine,” Denison explained. “It was chosen to be a follow up single by other people at the label who were like, ‘that’s the one.’ And ya know, I think musicians are often the worst judges of their own stuff. This is probably a good example.”
One aspect of the music Denison never questioned was the band dynamic, even after eight years and no releases. They were still a band and that was the real statement they were trying to make with Tonic Immobility. The longevity and their creative bond is still alive and well.
“I think that with some groups just being able to stay together and work together is a statement in itself,” Denison said. “Because you’re not necessarily all going to be on the same page on everything. You’re not going to see eye to eye on things. But you learn to work together and compromise where you have to for the greater good.
“And I think that that is a statement in itself,” he adds. “That’s kind of how it is was with the two main groups that I’ve played with in my life. With Tomahawk and Jesus Lizard, it’s usually the same three or four people working together for a long time and overcoming differences and working together to make something. So if there’s any political statement here on the record, that would be it.”
Continuing to work together to make punk-rock music is exactly what Tomahawk intends to do, regardless of who it appeals to. It may be next year or maybe another eight years from now, but sooner or later Tomahawk always gets the itch to return to the four-piece rock that they have cultivated over 20 years.
Until then, take a break from the news, politics, stimulus checks and vaccination rollouts with “Dog Eat Dog.”