- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

Although the Mission of Burma show tomorrow night at the 9:30 Club is cause enough for celebra

tion, serious Washington-area music fans will be out in force for the night's opening act, Tone.

Tone, founded by 9:30 Club vet Norm Veenstra and local music fixture Gregg Hudson in a Silver Spring rehearsal space in 1991, began as more of a project than a band. Mr. Veenstra and Mr. Hudson would invite members from other bands who used the space or, later in its existence, were active in the local alternative music community to create Tone's "wall of sound." Among the bands invited were Velocity Girl, Pitchblende, Government Issue, Unrest and Edsel.

From the beginning, the band adhered to a strict set of rules that still applies: "There's not ever going to be a singer. And there will never be less than three guitars; we like four or five," Mr. Veenstra says.

They extended this the-more-the-merrier approach of guitar layering to the fluidity of the group itself, allowing players to come and go without prejudice. This permitted Tone to reject traditional band structure: The band has no lead guitar, no solos and no frontman.

"The only soloist is the dynamic," he says.

With the release of "Ambient Metals," their beautifully packaged fourth album on the D.C. label Dischord Records, Tone bends some of its rules to let in a little melody. Mr. Veenstra says it is not that the original concept has changed, but that it has just been developed further.

"In the past…the primary writer would present the material as 'done' with minor room for modifications," Mr. Veenstra says of tracks from previous albums such as "Structure" (2000) and "Sustain" (1996), which relied mightily on the trance-inducing effects of drone and repetition.

By maintaining a core of players since "Structure," the members "stepped up to the plate with a more vested interest in the project and wanted to be more a part of the process" of making "Ambient Metals," says Mr. Veenstra.

"I wouldn't say 'full-on democracy,' because that would never apply to us, but on this album, everyone tried to put their imprint on it."

For their first live show of 2003, Tone will bring out no fewer than four guitars, a bass and two percussionists. For its 40-minute set, the band's goal is to create a sense of flow, segueing almost seamlessly from new, unreleased material to songs from "Ambient Metal" to earlier works. While Tone finds massive musical sound more compelling than personality, don't expect to be left feeling simply tone-deaf.

"When you don't have a vocalist or a lead guitar player and no video on MTV, the people who connect to you really connect to you," Mr. Hudson says. "Because it's not about the video or the vocals, but it can still bring just as much satisfaction."

Like the title of her debut album, "Failer," Kathleen Edwards' rise on the alt-country music scene has been a happy, deliberate accident.

While writing lyrics to "Six O'Clock News," the opening track of the CD, Miss Edwards says, she wrote "failer" in one of the lines before realizing that the correct word was "failure."

"I liked the flow of 'failer' better," she says. "And I had a lengthy discussion with a friend on how there had to be a use of 'failer' that works, but he says no. I thought, in the end, that it was a perfect play on words: It was humorous and self-deprecating and the reason why this album came to be."

After releasing the EP "Building 55" in her native Canada, the then-21-year-old Miss Edwards found herself broke, frustrated and fed up with fielding calls from her parents about when she was going to stop chasing her music dream and go back to school. Instead, she loaded up her busted car and moved from Ottawa to a rural area an hour outside the city. She spent most of the summer of 2001 reveling in the isolation and writing the songs that would become "Failer."

"Failer" has been a success. Named by Rolling Stone as one of "10 Artists to Watch in 2003," Miss Edwards has imbued her music with a durability that will make her worth listening to for years to come.

Critics have praised the lyrical honesty that matches her raw vocal delivery on songs that follow the rutted roads of relationships that more often lead you nowhere and sometimes take you home.

"I like that people like the songs I'm writing and feel some sort of personal connection with them," she says of the enthusiastic response she's received. "In the end, though, I'm writing songs for the sake of writing songs, not for what might happen as a result of me doing it."

Although she's gone from playing for four people in some Canadian bar to appearing before 4 million on the David Letterman show in less than three months, she says she hasn't changed her approach to live shows. No matter where she plays, she says she still loves to hear from her audience.

"I like the hecklers for some reason, I think because I'm one when I go see people play," confesses the 24-year old singer whose friends have nicknamed her "Potty Mouth."

Kathleen Edwards, aka Potty Mouth, alt-country's next big thing, opens for Last Train Home at Iota tomorrow night.

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