Featured Music: Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Close to you: The Eaton Lake Tonics mine music’s free love past for new inspiration.
Eaton Lake Tonics
Fri w/Goodwin at Jack’s Off the Wall, 2731 White Settlement Rd, FW. 817-850-9955.
New Ventures

Their songs may have touches of humor, but Eaton Lake Tonics are serious about music.


Domenic Ferraro, the 23-year-old lead vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and co-songwriter of Eaton Lake Tonics, remembers one of his first live performances: As a fifth-grader in a talent show at a Lewisville public school, he sat at his electric piano and punched out the melody to The Ventures’ groovy hit “Telstar.” The Ventures were one of the ’60s surf bands whose records his father played constantly around the house. Surf music was not white-hot in Lewisville grade school circles during the early ’90s, by the way.

“I just remember that when I left the stage, some guy threatened to kick my ass because he said I was staring at his girlfriend the whole time,” Ferraro said. “He said something like, ‘Sissies play music, and my girlfriend doesn’t like sissies.’”

It’s no accident that Fort Worth’s Eaton Lake Tonics play bright, kooky pop-rock. Ferraro’s taste in music was always a year or two — and sometimes 20 — behind the times. Listening to The Zombies, The Turtles, and The Dave Clark Five while all of his friends were jamming to Nirvana and Wu-Tang Clan could have either killed young Domenic or made him stronger.

Let’s just say that you won’t ever hear an Eaton Lakes Tonic song at the prom. The band’s tunes — though catchy — are that far out there.

Don’t get the wrong idea: Rounded out by bassist/organist/vocalist/co-songwriter Patrick Adams and percussionist Jonathan Losasso, Eaton Lake Tonics are super serious about music. Not too long ago, they released a new full-length, Long Arm Days, and the 11-song c.d. works on several levels, especially in creating new stuff from old-ish sounds.

Ferraro started learning to play guitar after seeing Gary Busey crack wise in The Buddy Holly Story. By high school, Ferraro was an irrepressible Beatles addict. On tunes like the sauntering country-pop gem “Drunk With Efficiency” (which includes the priceless observation “You know, comfortable people don’t shoot for the stars”) and the ultra-danceable “I Miss a Nun,” Ferraro and Adams channel the shameless songcraft of teen-idol bands from four decades ago. The hook-tastiness of choruses is particularly important to ELT, which explains why you’ll hear more Byrds than Pixies. When Domenic takes the mic, he almost always delivers one of those head-bobbing, hippie-tastic refrains.

“We try to make music that people will remember and take personally,” he said. “Honestly, we still perform a couple of old songs that we hate, but we know people who come see the band say they want to hear them.” The guys keep some old songs intact. Other tunes are re-arranged “to keep us interested.”

Ferraro formed the band three years ago with help from longtime friend Dave Howard. The two met while working together at Domino’s Pizza. Howard left the band last year on good terms. He and Domenic have just formed a side project called The Bad Night Brothers that’s dedicated to performing lesser-known covers, from Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes” to Weezer’s “Sugar Booger.”

“Eclectic” is a word that quickly comes to mind to describe Ferraro’s background. After his surf phase came the punk phase. Then Christian pop. (“I got out of that scene fast,” he said. “There was too much ‘I slept with the youth minister, and now I have to publicly repent’ shit.”) Then the “drug party-kid” phase. Then “country novelty.” Ferraro and Howard wrote most of ELT’s 2005 debut, Bernadina, on a dare from friends. The terms? The boys had to pen 40 songs in 40 days for $40. The duo wound up completing only about 25, of which half were recorded in Ferraro’s parents’ house and the garage of Mark Huebel, a member of the Polyphonic Spree-ish Handclaps and Harmonies (whose line-up also includes Adams and Losasso) who’s a local producer-engineer. For ELT’s forthcoming third disc, due this summer, the same recording arrangement will be in place.

“I’m a big believer in connections, connections, connections,” Ferraro said. “If you support your friends in other bands, and something good happens to you, then you can pull them in. And they’ll help you if they get a break. Eaton Lake Tonics has these little ‘crush’ relationships with bands like Handclaps and Harmonies, American Werewolf Academy, and Sunday Drive. We go see each other’s shows, and we book each other when we get a gig.”

Ferraro is also recording a solo album and is determined to return to college — soon. (He dropped out after three semesters.) A recent “reading phase,” which included Charles Bukowski and Bukowski’s favorite writer, the 1930s Italian novelist John Fante, has made Ferraro long to resume studies. He thinks returning to classes as an older student will only improve his commitment to getting a degree. Right now, though, Eaton Lake Tonics are foremost on his mind.

“We want to be a real group and be taken with some degree of respect,” he said. “I have faith that having a recorded catalog and playing a lot of shows — basically, all of us working hard at it — will lead us in some direction as more people hear the songs.”

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