Just like a triangle has three connecting lines, Gospel / Inspirational artist Tonex, now known as Ton3x, says he felt at home with several pieces of his life and career over the years but it took adversity to bring out the man known as a “triple threat” today.
Not what may be deemed a typical Gospel recording artist, songwriter or even actor, Ton3x, after a five year hiatus says “I feel complete.”
Sitting down for an exclusive three part interview with Singersroom’s Njai Joszor, Ton3x, often viewed as controversial for his choices in fashion, music or even ideals, speaks candidly about his first major label release under Battery Records; the controversial album cover for “Unspoken,” relations with community and church; a role as Jimmy Early in DreamGirls, and most importantly: the reason why he decided to return to music after issuing a controversial open letter declaring his intention to retire from the music industry.
Singersroom: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today.
Ton3x: No problem. I had to do a little research and I appreciate what you’re doing for us singers with the setup.
Singersroom: Thank you. First off. I have to ask you about the name change. What is the significance behind the ‘3’ and can we still call you Tonex?
Ton3x: For me it’s completion. It took a while for me to finally become complete and whole as a person, artist, actor and singer. So after all that I’ve been through I felt like I was three times more powerful; three times more wiser; and three times more focused. It just represents completion and triune.
There are three points to a triangle but it’s one whole unit. I felt like I had certain pieces throughout my life and career, but it took adversity to bring forth that full me.
I wanted to making a distinction between the holistic me and the artistic me.
It is still pronounced the same but it just means three times more powerful. It could elude to a triple threat, as they say in the business. I think this will be the era where people will get to see all the things that I’m really able to do now that I’m inching into theatrical, television and film (projects) aside from music.
It’s definitely not a pretentious thing. It’s just more so a personal reason. I feel that I’ve become complete.
Singersroom: The net is abuzz with anticipation for “Unspoken.” What should fans expect on this album?
Ton3x: I will call it inclusionary inspirational.
There are elements of alternative on there but for the most part it’s a really solid R&B/Pop dance record.
It’s my shortest album and I usually have a lot more songs because I try to give more bang for buck. This time I wanted to really narrow it down to songs that spoke best to what’s going on in other lives from what I can see.
There are things that make (people) want to dance and reflect, but at the same time have hope and really see that there’s more to life than what comes on the news that brings us down.
I will say that I’ve never been so pleased with the vocal choices, so it is a ride in that sense. Overall it is consistent.
Singersroom: Was it hard narrowing the song choices down. Did you actually record three albums worth of material?
Ton3x: (Laughs) Actually I did. I’ll be honest, “Unspoken” is the derivative of three to four albums.
I had to pick the choices…whichever spoke the loudest without becoming too soapbox or making something that I believe in becoming too spoon fed. I think if someone listens they can hear where my background and belief structure comes from but it’s not as easy as some of my previous work because I’m more about personal relationships (spiritually) than extroverted at this time.
There are a lot of people out there… and I don’t want to alienate anyone from just feeling the music. I think once they listen to it, they can sort through the cards and pull out the things that apply to their lives.
I thought that the songs on this album were the perfect balance of recreation and spirituality. It doesn’t go too deep. Usually my albums are very autobiographical. Sometimes in my underground work it can be a little self indulgent and even cynical…and cryptic to some because I tell the truth. I really do go to those dark places.
This is an album where it’s really not about what I’ve gone through as much as it is that I am relating to what I know others are experiencing. It is about relating instead of trying to bring people down this gigantic road of my life journal. This is not a personal, personal, personal album as far as the choices I made and that’s new for me.
Singersroom: Before I go further into the album, please tell me about that interesting album cover. What was on your mind… I guess what is the message you were trying to convey to fans ?
Ton3x: I always knew from the beginning (once the album title came to me) that there was going to be debate involved and some element of practical espionage. Some type of theme like being taken hostage and being held captive. Some of that is symbolic of some of the things I’ve experienced in religion; in the industry itself and social stereotypes. I feel there are a lot of things that people think they know that are just better left unsaid and whoever needs to know will know. My eyes tell the truth… that’s why they’re stark blue, which represents justice and truth.
Instead of me talking, the album cover suggests that I’m in a warehouse in a gigantic freezer of sorts where I’m being held captive.
The original Tonex, from years ago, is just now being let out of that situation so that’s why even the hair and everything to me, was in reference to Tonex. That was the last time I felt I got to do what I wanted to do on an album (at the beginning of my career). So it’s almost like this is the first time I get to come out with it. I don’t think that the whole story is necessary now â at least now with Google (laughs)… if they want to find that story it’s there.
Now it’s like let me shut my mouth. Let me tape up my mouth and let’s let the music speak.
Singersroom: I like that. The album cover is definitely original and will make you look twice…
Ton3x: I haven’t seen any album covers that take any risks lately. I used to love that about older album covers â when there were actual albums â the artwork is very important. I could see that we were getting away from that and I wanted to be one of the artists that makes a statement with this cover.
Singersroom: It is known that there were a number of issues with your last label deal, how is Battery Records different?
Ton3x: One of the significant differences about Battery Records is the fact that I’m a flagship artist there. I’m the first act that they have coming out with a full record or a commercial LP and I don’t have to deal with being caught up with the hodge podge or political slave trading of fighting for attention, marketing, publicity and all those things. I am the focus right now.
I always wanted to be at a smaller label where there could be artistic development as well as artist-company relations that could grow.
Coming out of such a battered relationship with the industry and previous labels has been like a breath of fresh air. It hasn’t even been a year, so we’re still learning each other. Sometimes now it’s a little overwhelming because I don’t think anyone was anticipating the anticipation of this record â even I wasn’t. I totally undersold it. I thoughtâ¦If it works it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’ve worked very hard and diligently. So far it’s been healthy.
One thing I like about Battery is they’re keeping it rookie and taking it back old school. They’re saying if it doesn’t happen with this album we’re committed to seeing it developed into something and then building one fan at a time. I like that approach because at least there’s room for growth.
Singersroom: On the mixtape “The Naked Truth,” specifically on “Searchin” you said you were at a crossroads. What brought you back?
Ton3x: Jive came up with the idea that “since we can’t just seem to get along or see eye to eye artisticallyâ¦try this as an avenue within the Sony umbrella.” Once I saw the opportunity to have a shot at doing something I love to do again â that’s how it came about. Otherwise I would still release underground material and if I never came back out commercially again I would be just fine.
I’m not being pessimistic in anyway but I’m just personally not engaged in this industry right now. I’d rather wait till all the dust settles. We’re all trying to act like everythings secure but nobody knows what’s going to happen next based off of the economy. We don’t know what’s certain right now. We don’t know in the next eighteen months what the concept of the music industry will be. So I said “before that happens let me use this outlet to get something out” just in case eighteen months from now there’s only one label, plus the fans were waiting for a new piece.
I’m thankful and excited that I have another commercial record. It’s been five years for me.
Singersroom: For those who may not know you’ve been busy over the last few years. In addition to releasing a few independent (underground) albums, you starred as James ‘Thunder’ Early in ‘Dreamgirls’. How was that experience?
Ton3x: That completely changed my life. I started out with acting, which a lot of people don’t know. It was like returning to my roots on stage. It just felt like home. It really felt natural for me. I connected with Jimmy (Early) on many levels.
Jimmy was counted out (and) basically morphed by label executives into being something that he wasn’t. When he tried to do it their way and it wasn’t truly him and it didn’t work out they were ready to let him go.
The movie and the screenplay have two different endings: Jimmy did not overdose on heroine. Jimmy didn’t loose his mind and take his life. Jimmy said “I was here long before you and I’ll be here long after you all” — I connected with that line !
I was able to take a lot of the industry frustration and experience, put it in this character and add the God given (and I’m so thankful for) anointing he has given me and put that on stage.
It was something that people had never experienced before. Beyond just being talented. They actually felt the spirit that I carry. It transcended to meeting people in a way that usually only happens in church, but it happened in theater. It was a side door that was a blessing. A lot of work — I can’t lie about that — but the pay off … just to commit to something at that stage of my career and be successful and then follow with another world premiere play (The Black Eyed Pea), which is also award-winning, it showed me that there’s multiple things I could do.
It really built my esteem in a lot of areas after being umm… badgered if you will… as an artist. It was the one place where I didn’t have to tone down or turn into whatever they wanted me to be. I felt free on that stage and I’ll always cherish that moment.
Singersroom: So it was kind of like home.
Ton3x: Oh yeah. It was like “I need to be doing this”. —— By: Interview By: Njai Joszor