But Toomey reveals a slightly different face on her two-disc solo debut, Antidote. Her careful observations and lyrical panache remain intact, but the overall focus is more intimate.
"This record is really personal," says Toomey. "The records I've done with Kristin in Tsunami were more political -- but it was also personal political. So I guess it's fair to say it's always been there."
Recorded over two years in Chicago and Nashville with a small arsenal of contributing musicians, Antidote has the introspective allure of a collection of torch songs. Laments of lost love and unrequited lust are set against everything from a jaunty guitar/drum/bass backbone to a small chamber ensemble of strings and flute. Whether she's offering some sisterly advice to women entangled in relationships more prone to tension than tenderness ("Patsy Cline") or lambasting "editors of certain teenage magazines that dictate style for teenage scenes" ("Breezewood, PA"), Toomey sounds like she's singing from personal experience.
"[The songs are] not all autobiographical. [But] a lot of them are," she says. "Sometimes they're collapsed people, in the same way you'll have a dream and it'll be your mother and your best friend and God in different parts of the dream, but they're all the same being that you're interacting with [them]."
Whatever the case, one thing stands out: the vocals. Recently Toomey has spent more time thinking about singing, a concentrated effort highlighted in the devastating delivery on "Fall on Me," where she exhibits a range and depth never revealed before.
But Toomey's increased focus on vocals hasn't dictated any significant changes in her songwriting. "I think my songwriting approach is very similar to what it's always been -- except, with any luck, I have some more tools to use now than I did when I first started," she says. "But it's never really conscious -- the drive to get a song written. [It's] a combination of drive and boredom."
Boredom is hardly something you'd expect to afflict somebody as busy as Toomey. On the road for her first tour in four years, she's also managed to work in a series of speaking engagements to discuss another aspect of her life: the Future of Music Coalition. Formed by Toomey and Thomson about a year-and-a-half ago after they closed Simple Machines, the FMC is a product of two activities: Toomey's involvement in low-power radio activism with Michael Bracy, the D.C.-based executive director of the Low Power Radio Coalition, and Thomson and Toomey's examination of the Internet's effect on the independent music industry. Eventually, these intersections of music and technology overlapped, and the FMC was born.
"We have an hour-long speech that explains why the traditional, dominant models of the major-label music industry don't serve their musicians that go through that system, don't serve the musicians who have to compete with that system and don't really serve citizens who get their music through that system," Toomey says. "[The lectures are] designed to shine a spotlight on a history of bad business [in the music industry]."
Extremely active in its first year, the FMC has been less visible lately as it examines how the recent economic downturn will impact its concerns.
"We never believed that technology was going to be a snake-oil solution that would cure everything," says Toomey. "What we thought was [that] we were at a historical moment where a lot of change could occur. That right now, the market is so artificially constrained by money that it's very hard to compete. There's only so much bandwidth on the radio. There's only so much shelf space [in retail stores]. There's only so much money in the indie coffers to manufacture CDs, stock them and distribute them. And the Web offered a lot of ways to move around those structures that artificially constrain the marketplace."
It's really no surprise that Toomey works both sides of the fence -- or that she continues to juggle politics and music. (She has another solo album and two projects with songwriter Franklin Bruno in the works; meanwhile, the FMC's annual policy summit and fund raiser is slated for February 2002 at Georgetown University.) After all, Toomey witnessed first-hand the emergence of "indie" and "alternative" music as popular forms, and their subsequent sterilization as marketplace tags for faceless consumable product. Now that indie has a lower profile in mainstream pop, Toomey believes the tide may be changing again.
"Maybe one of the reasons I didn't put a record out was because of that," she says. "We closed the record label down and it was time to take a break from the commercialism that had consumed the independent community.
"That said, this tour really feels like one of the first tours. It has that same feel," Toomey continues. "Maybe that's just because it' s been four years and [it's] the first time I'm touring under my own name. But I think the climate [on the road] is about building your own space again, and that's a climate I'm really comfortable in. I really like that space, as opposed to the space where you're plugging into some idiom that someone has defined for everyone."
Jenny Toomey plays Wed., Nov. 7, at the Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. Show time is 10:30 p.m. $6. Ivory Coast and Space Crime Quintet open. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.
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