Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You Sing For Them All: Tone and Niche

Tone and Niche brew a refined, light-jangled, warm toned folk with those pensive-setting-sun piano accompaniments and shimmering, beautiful violin/viola swinging saws that lull your heart into a teary-eyed smile, while steady strummed acoustics and driving rhythms carry foggy, world weary lyrics; the perfect soundtrack to the inevitable warming of the winds as winter turns to spring.


Anthony Retka (Tone) on guitar/vocals and Nicole Vagra (Niche) on violin, started playing around Detroit in 2002, first doing mostly covers but soon playing originals. In 2003 they released their first demo CD and in 2004 they released a proper debut, 'On The Streets Of.'

Since then they experimented with a rhythm section, went back to being a duo for a while out of comfort, and then experimented with a rhythm section again (with rewarding, finalizing results) – Scottie Stone on drums and Nick White on bass.

In 2007 they recorded their masterwork, "Rust," a strong front-to-back rhythm-rocking indie-folk tour de force; pop melodies, rolling rhythms and the beautiful brooding wail of Niche's strings under Tone's warm, pleasant ringing vocals. (See: "Rust" and "What I Could Have Done For You.")

"[With ‘On The Streets Of’]…our friend Dale Wilson engineered it in our friend Matt's attic," said Tone. "We were free to do whatever that way, but limited by lack of experience and gear. Still, Dale did an awesome job and we were much happier with the track list and the sound of the album.

"Our 2006 release (From Your Hands single) was recorded quick by Rick Smith in Eastpointe and that disc turned out being great as well because we enjoyed the songs and because we took time to get good sounds on the recording.

"RUST, however was a complete professional process. We recorded it at High Bias Studios in Detroit, had it mixed by Daniel Johnson (from Judah Johnson) who did a pro job! Then we mastered it in Dallas by a 'real' mastering guy who took care in his work on our cd. Rust, I think also reflects our growth in songwriting and making an effort at getting good sounds in the studio.

Tone (was going into music teaching before he found his gift for songwriting) has a voice that's earnest and booming, but with a soft, moving vibrato; Niche (has a BA in music performance) conjures heartbreaking melodies of wispy wanderlust. Often Tone's vocal melodies will intertwine with the capricious kite-like sweetly-sawed serenades from Niches violin. Think Revolver-era Beatles, Andrew Bird's string-laden neo-folk-pop and the heartache-poetics of Elliott Smith.

"The best show we ever had…" said Tone, "is hard to say. [But, the] best experience: opening for Martha Wainwritght in Nashville. Playing in that town can be really good or really bad. We happened to get lucky and join a good bill. Plus, Nashville is just fun to visit!

"We have always enjoyed playing the blowout. But, I have to say nothing beats the Rust CD release show we did at the Cadieux Cafe last December. The weather was terrible. Ice and sleet! We thought for sure it was a bust, but people turned out and we packed the house! It made us feel great! That's the best thing for a band or musician; when people come out to hear you and show support no matter what temper- tantrum Mother Nature throws."

Truly a gem in the rough and rocky milieu of an already healthily crowded Detroit scene, bringing a rock sensibility to country twang and spilling earnest, heartfelt singer/songwriter meditations grounded in a personable wisdom, in earthy tones feeling so attuned to the setting sun over the wheat fields on an immaculate summer's day.

Upcoming shows: T.C.'s Speakeasy (Ypsilanti) on 2/15 and the Belmont (Hamtramck) on 2/23.

And up next: "Taking the band on the road for a Midwest tour in the summer and continuing to record," said Tone. "Songs are coming out of our ears!"


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