You can tell a lot about a city from it’s drug trade. When a package of cocaine burst inside the stomach of a drug courier en-route to Auckland, New Zealand in 2011, it was enough to cut off the supply of cocaine to the city’s champagne set in the month it hosted a huge sporting event. Despite being the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland’s isolation means the drug is either around or it isn’t.
On his first tour of the USA under his own name in 2013, Anthonie Tonnon started playing “A Friend From Argentina” – a song that put listeners in the shoes of an Auckland dealer on the other end of the unfortunate shipment. Influenced by a Metro article on the subject by Donna Chisholm, the song, and it’s unusual second-person narrative, set the tone of what would become Successor.
The album is driven by second-person narratives inside the kinds of flawed characters Randy Newman might have written about in first-person in the 1970s – the dark ride inside the dreams of a nihilistic surgeon in “The Songs Of Your Youth,” the optimistic spin inside a civic-minded librarian in “Railway Lines,” or the values of a cocaine dealing family man in “A Friend From Argentina.” Tonnon recently wrote a piece about the development of “A Friend From Argentina,” and the influence of Newman, Lou Reed and long-form journalism for arts website, The Pantograph Punch.
Produced with long-time collaborator Jonathan Pearce (who recorded Tiny Ruins’ Haunts EP) and using Auckland’s The Lab studio and a personal collection of analogue equipment, Successor is an album with a mixture of fidelities. “Water Underground” employs a full-band studio sound akin to 70s rock classicism, while “The Songs Of Your Youth” strips back to an effected piano and a boys choir, and “A Friend From Argentina” is a solo take into a 1960s journalist’s portable tape recorder. Lou Reed and David Bowie loom large in the sound, but there are departures, like the early-krautrock of “Railway Lines,” or the Talking Heads-inspired “Mt Cargill.”
Tonnon started working under his own name after retiring the band Tono and the Finance Company, which he started in the late 2000s in Dunedin. With anthems about gentrification and the plight of the young in New Zealand cities, the Pulp and Jens Lekman inspired band toured with Beirut, and released an album which reached the NZ album charts and the CMJ Top 200, but it felt like a project that belonged to a time and place.“Increasingly, my influences have been writers, rather than musicians, and I wanted to work under a name I felt I could keep working under for the next few decades.”
The album was recorded around a year and a half of extensive touring, with solo tours in the USA and Australia and full-band tours in New Zealand. Touring became Tonnon’s primary production tool. “In the USA I’d seen bands who were subconsciously or consciously evolving their songs on tour, and the idea was new to me – I realised this must have been how rock and roll was invented on American roads”, Tonnon explains. “In New Zealand we don’t have the cities to play, and I grew up thinking you needed to make the perfect album in your bedroom before you tried to perform it.”