Rock Eyez


Interview with Tony Harnell
(Lead Vocals - TNT)

Tony Harnell - TNT

Interviewed by David Felix
Date: October 6th, 2005

Hi Tony, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us again.
Thank you, it’s my pleasure… and thanks for the great review!

Oh you’re more than welcome. You guys deserve it and it really is a tremendous release… I can’t stop listening to it to tell you the truth!
Oh wow, thank you. That’s very flattering… even over STRYPER, huh?

Yes… it’s a very, very good album, though. I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not?
I saw them at B.B. Kings and got to say “hi” to the guys and such but I unfortunately have not heard the whole release yet.

So let’s start by talking about the new album, “ALL THE WAY TO THE SUN.” Was the recording process any different on this album as opposed to your last releases with TNT?
It was pretty much the same as “MY RELIGION.” The only difference was I spent less time in Norway this time. So, we sat down and did write most of the material together… or at least the “skeletons” where we get a basic melody and a basic music idea and we don’t really completely finish it. We get close, but then we leave it and then Ronni comes in and does his thing. Then I’ll come home with tapes and I’ll do my thing, we MPEG3 each other a couple of times and then he goes in and records the band. Then he’ll send me the music when he has some good, basic tracks for me to sing over… after which the music goes back to him so he can finish up the extra guitars once he hears what I’ve done and finally everything gets sent to Denmark where it’s mixed by Tommy Hanson. So it’s about the same process as last time except I recorded all the vocals in New York as oppose to half which I did last time.

Who does most of the writing for the band?
Ronni and I do everything totally 50/50. We write everything together and even if he starts an idea and I’m not there for it, I’ll finish it by putting in melodies, lyrics or even re-arranging the stuff dramatically.

How much input do the other members have?
With Diesel, he pretty much has to be shown the ropes and we have to tell him what to play. We weren’t quite as strict with other drummers, but that’s just the kind of drummer he is and he works well that way. He sorta wants to be directed to a degree. Once he gets to know the songs, he comes up with his own ideas and then we take some of them and we may change some things, but basically, Ronni takes care of how the bass is going to be sitting underneath it and the drums… along with me and , of course, the arrangements.

When you guys get together, is the writing and recording process as easy now as it ever was after all these years?
Ya know, it’s probably a lot easier in some ways but in other’s it’s different. It’s not harder, really, in any way that I can think of. It’s probably easier all the way around… at least for me. I find it to be much easier and more relaxed now than it use to be back then. There was just so much pressure back in the 80’s to come up with the “perfect” album all the time. We had all these big labels breathing down our backs, big producers involved and studio time that was costing a fortune every day. So, I think these days it’s WAY more relaxed because the costs are much less and we can do things at our own pace, more or less, so I’m not really stressed about it as much as I use to be. That in itself makes it easier.

Do you ever have difficulty having coming up with new ideas for songs?
So far, I can say no! Now whether or not those ideas are good or not, that can certainly be debated. I’ve just gotten into a rhythm because I’ve been doing all this recording back to back. This has probably been the busiest year I can ever recall… at least for me in terms of recording and writing songs. So, it’s been interesting but I think because of all the stuff I did from STARBREAKER through BRAZEN ABBOTT to all the little side projects I worked with then rolling right into TNT, it had a really positive effect. By the time I got to the TNT album, I was a bit extra critical and I think my skills were sharpened a bit both in the studio and in the writing process because many times I find myself writing at least a few lyrics… if not half the lyrics at the last minute. I’ll have all the melodies, I’ll have all the arrangements, probably the chorus and title but generally, there are things I find myself trying to finish up and sometimes I may even be writing up to the day before I have to go in and sing.

Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
I’ve been asked this before and I find it really difficult with every album. But this album in particular is extremely hard because it has so many “colors” and they all, kind of, need each other in a weird way. There isn’t really that one song that stands alone on this album that could easily represent the whole album. There’re a lot of songs I really like! I really love the opening track, “A Fix,” just for its energy and drive. I love “Too Late” because it sounds like old TNT but yet re-done for today. I love the lyrics on that one because it’s my little, well… I hate to say political stance but, obviously, people will hear something in there to that regard. I really like “Driving” quite a lot too. That’s probably one of my top favorites.

That is, actually, my favorite song on the album.
It just has a great vibe to it. It just, kind of, rolls along and it’s the perfect title too because it has that “driving” feeling to it. (laughs) It actually reminds me a little bit, although it’s very TNT, of something that could have been on “HYSTERIA” by DEF LEPPARD. There’s something about it that’s a little ‘DEF LEPPARDY” and we don’t usually touch on them that much in our music. I think “Sometimes” is a great single and in a perfect world, we’d have a major label who’d be pushing the hell out of that to radio. And actually, I think “All The Way To The Sun” and the cover version of “What A Wonderful World” are, possibly, two of the best vocal tracks I’ve ever done.

I have to agree… which actually brings me to my next question. You guys decided to do a cover of the LOUIS ARMSTRONG classic. What made you decide on that?
It was actually Ronni’s idea. I know that it’s been done a few times lately and unfortunately I didn’t actually know that before we went in to record it… I just thought “Oh, this is cool!” But we had never done a cover before and people had been suggesting that we do. I just had one stipulation that it must be a totally unexpected song. It can’t be what people would expect us to do which would probably be like a 70’s classic rock song. That’s my feeling; people would expect us to do something from the 70’s, maybe “Brit-pop” like something by QUEEN… that would be just really obvious. But I said no; let’s do something totally out of left field. So he suggested it and I was like, “Let’s try it.” Work the music up, send it to me, I’ll do what I can to make it as interesting and original as possible and we both, sorta, did that on our own. And I said, “If it doesn’t come out good, we won’t put it on the album.” But I was very, very happy with the end result.

Yeah, it’s perfect and to be totally honest, I’m going to be getting married at the end of the month…
Oh, congratulations!

Thanks, but after my fiancé and I heard it, we decided almost immediately to change our wedding song to that.
You’re kidding? Our version?

Your version….
Wow, thank you so much. But we’ve been getting a lot of flack for it, believe it or not. I mean a lot of really strange responses… especially from the European magazines. But what I like is that there is no real in between. People are either falling over in love with it or they REALLY hate it. (laughs) So, I like that….

Really, that surprises me because it is such a wonderful and unique version of the song. Very respectful to the artist and I have heard some of the other versions and they really didn’t impress me all that much.
Yeah, ya know some people have said, “Wow, that really doesn’t fit the album.” or “That’s not really TNT.” And I’m like, “Think back! Think back to every album we’ve ever done. Haven’t we always had either one or two totally weird songs that really don’t fit in? What’s new about that?” (laughs) To me, that’s simply following in the footsteps of my and Ronni’s favorite band, QUEEN. And I think that although we really don’t sound like QUEEN, that this is closest thing we’ve done to take another song and do our thing with it while also paying a little bit of a tribute to QUEEN on it as well. I think you can definitely hear that in the background vocals.

How challenging was it to compose your arrangement?
It wasn’t bad, actually. I mean, I didn’t have anything to do with the music. Ronni did that with the band on his own, sent it over to me and I just started thinking about how I wanted to sing it. I listened to the track, thought about where I wanted to do certain things… so I definitely had an idea mapped out in my head but I have a very big advantage, when I do vocals, of working with Bruno Ravel who’s recorded the last four or five albums I’ve sang lead on. We did STARBREAKER together, we did the last WESTWORLD together, the last TNT... or at least half of that one anyway and now this one. He’s great because he’s very trained musically so when I have an idea and I maybe can’t quite find the notes I’m looking for, he’s amazing at helping me find all the little in between notes and harmonies. So he’s very, very helpful in that way… it’s great. I always like to do that. I could probably do all the lead vocals on my own and produce myself in my own studio, but when it comes to the backgrounds, I really like to work with someone else.

Well here’s a weird question for ya… what do you think Louis would think of your version?
(laughs) I’m tempted to think he’d probably hate it! But, I’d hope he’d appreciate it for what it is. I hope he’d appreciate it as a rock band with a lot of European influence doing a very classic, all-American song.

So lets go way back in time now….
Must we? (laughs)

Just briefly… How did you first hook up with your partner Ronni LeTekro?
Well, I was in a band from 1983 through the early summer of 1984 called THE JACKALS. We were a New York based band, having nothing to do with a “jackal,” and it was a band that was like a third originals and the rest covers and we played lots of “metal.” It was very much a metal band but what was interesting about it was that the songs that we covered were like ‘PRIEST,” “MAIDEN,” “ACCEPT,” “MOTLEY CRUE,” “U.F.O.” and all that kind of stuff but when we wrote our own song, they were way more commercial. More on the lines of, something like, an American SCORPIONS meets JOURNEY. It had a heavier edge than both of those bands but that was, kind of, the direction of it. So I was already heading in that more commercial direction. But anyway, we were playing a gig in New York City and we were very close to getting a deal.
We had worked up a lot of songs, had a guy managing us who had a lot of connections at Columbia (Records) and I am pretty sure that if we were able to stay together, we probably would have had a major record deal in the U.S. within six months to a year at the very longest. We were very close. In fact, the drummer… do you know Johnny Tempesta?

Ummm…. The name sounds really familiar. I can’t quite put my finger on him.
First he became a roadie for ANTHRAX, then he went on to be the drummer for TESTAMENT, and then he went on to be the drummer for WHITE ZOMBIE and later ROB ZOMBIE’s band.

That’s where I heard the name…
Yeah, so now he’s the drummer for HELMET. So he’s moved on to become a pretty big deal himself and we were both in that band together. So we did a gig in the city, one of our few city gigs. We use to have this one club we played all the time in the Bronx and had like a thousand people come out to see us every Saturday night, but after this city gig, Mike Varney (who I’m sure you know) and a guy that was managing the band came back stage and were like, “We’ve heard a lot about you and you’re great! We just saw you play and there’s this band from Norway who we’re working with and we want you to be the singer.” The story is, and I never did anything about this, was… see, I had done a few demos from the time I was 18 till I was like 20… all the way up until THE JACKALS. Probably at least fifteen to twenty different songs with all different people and they just all kept piling up on a demo tape and I kept track of them, always had them around. Someone had gotten a hold of it through some other project I had done and it made its way all the way to Norway and into Ronni’s hands. It wasn’t through me. It might have been because I had sent something to MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP at one time and somehow it filtered its way down to Ronni, but I really don’t know. Ironically though, they were about to hire Gary Barden. In fact, I think they even had a plane ticket for him and at the last hour, literally like a week before he was to arrive, Ronni got this demo in his hands and he cancelled everything and was like, “Stop everything! Cancel Gary Barden’s ticket… we’ve GOT to get this guy!” So they found me, came to a gig, came back stage and gave me the tape. The tape they gave me had no vocals but all the music to “KNIGHTS OF THE NEW THUNDER” on one side and on the other side was the original singer singing his lines over the same music. So they said, “Listen to both sides. We want you to basically re-write as much as you can and if you like it, you’ll be on a plane in three days and we want you to record the vocals for the new album.” But they only had a deal in Norway. I’m giving you a REALLY long story aren’t I? (laughs)

No, not at all… it’s very interesting.
(laughs) So anyway, when I got over there and FINALLY got to the airport (it was a really, really long flight) the whole band came in a car to greet me! So that’s how we met and we quickly got into some serious writing. We went through all the songs, I fixed up what I could very quickly because we didn’t have a lot of time to do much and we finished up the album in about a week. We were doing about two songs a day. Now we only had a deal with Polygram in Norway. So my original plan was to join the band and get my first album done, release it in Norway, maybe play a few shows with them over there and that way I’ll have an album under my belt which I can use to further my career. Instead, as soon as the album was mixed, our manager in New York got the album to the head of Polygram over there and within a week of them receiving the CD, we were in their offices signing a deal for the world. So, that was the end of any other ideas.

Was there an immediate chemistry between you and Ronni?
Oh yeah… immediate! And that was evident when we started writing “TELL NO TALES” because that was the first album where he and I were writing everything from scratch.

After all this time, what is your relationship like with Ronni both personally and professionally?
It can get a little odd and a little strange sometimes. I mean, we’re absolutely COMPLETELY different people on many levels. We’re very much like brothers… long, lost brothers. We argue, we scratch and fight and have a lot of differences. He lives a TOTALLY different lifestyle from me. I can’t really get into it completely but lets just say he lives a very different daily lifestyle than I do. He has a lot of things that he’s into that I’m not into. So we’re very different people but when we get together, the thing that really bonds us is when we get on stage or we’re writing songs. Those are the two times where there is an indescribable magic there that comes from many years of working together and it becomes very easy. I just think that if we can hold it together, because it is a very hard band to keep together, but if we can get through this year and have more success than we did last year, I can just see our writing continue to grow and evolve every year unlike other artists or groups. I think I push him to grow and it works the other way as well. I think a lot of bands get tired at a certain point but we are constantly striving to better what we did before. And people always seem to be surprised at that “fire,” but I just think that that’s the way it should be.

As far as TNT is concerned, what album did you enjoy writing and recording the most and why?
Hmmmm…. That’s an excellent question and it’s a very hard question. I would have to say that although I think “ALL THE WAY TO THE SUN” is in many ways our best album, I think that the entire process of “TRANSISTOR,” overall, was really, really enjoyable for many reasons. I was going through a divorce with my first wife at the time and basically I was able to take off and Ronni and I met in Spain and we spent three weeks there writing songs, swimming in the Mediterranean every day, going out drinking wine at night… it was just a really, really good time and a very needed thing for me. It allowed me to just totally get away from what I was dealing with and allowed me to throw myself into making that album and I think it’s a very creative album. Actually the only album I can think of where we really rolled from beginning to end straight through the creative process. It started with the writing in Spain. We both flew back to Norway together, went straight to his place, continued the writing process, got the rest of the guys in the band down there and really dug into the album. So I basically just stayed in Europe from the time we started writing until the time we were finished which was, probably, from September of that year till just before Christmas. So it was a good three month process and, for the most part, very enjoyable.

Of all the songs in the TNT library, is there any song or songs which hold a special meaning to you personally or that maybe hit a little closer to home?
A lot of them do for different reasons… I can’t really isolate it to one. Obviously when I think of “Seven Seas” or “Without Your Love,” I recorded those the first day I was in the studio and those were the first two songs I ever recorded with TNT. So those have a special meaning. “Listen To Your Heart” has a very special meaning because that was the first song Ronni and I sat down and wrote together from scratch. I mean, gosh! So many songs bring back memories about things I was going through, break-ups, new love… just a host of things! I mean it’s been twenty-something years so it’s been girlfriends, two marriages, deaths and everything in between. So it’s been a very long career and I write about what’s going on at any given time.

So are there any plans for a tour in support of the new album?
Absolutely! We’re working on U.S. shows, believe it or not. We’ve got an agent we’re working with to see if we can make it work. The biggest thing for us is we’ve got four guys that are going to have to be flown over here and each will probably bring at least one crew guy so it gets a bit expensive but we’re trying to work it out. We’re not really trying to make money from playing here but if we can just break even and not lose money, that would be great. So it may turn into more, but right now we’re trying to do, at the very least, three to four shows here on the east coast and then the same on the west coast. Just, kinda, come over and be like, “Here we are!” We’ve had two new albums in the last two years and, actually, we had a greatest hits album that Universal put out in 2003 that went gold in Norway. So it looks like we’re finally going to be getting the rights to that as well and it’s going to be released on a British label all through Europe and on our label here in the U.S. So, if everything works out right, we’ll have it timed so that when the new album comes out November 8th in America, the “best of” album will come out early next year to follow this up. So there’ll be a lot of TNT stuff going on and then the shows. So that should be really, really good to make sure all the shows are packed with people and I think they will be anyway just because we haven’t been here since 1989.

That’s really exciting. Actually, though, when I spoke to you a few months ago and asked you if there were any plans for a tour of America, you said you were working on putting together a band of your own to play here with. Are you still doing that if the whole TNT thing doesn’t work out?
I’m still going to do that whether it does or doesn’t. TNT, as I said, will probably just do a handful of shows so the door is still open for me to go out on my own and I can do WESTWORLD songs, STARBREAKER songs, and MORNING WOOD songs. I’ve got plenty of songs to do and then I’ll have new songs to play as well so, I’ll go out and do that as soon as I find the time. I may actually start booking some shows sooner than later but I’m just so busy! (laughs)

Now I’ve heard rumors that Ronni has been pretty adamant about not playing the United States. Is there any truth to that?
How recently did you hear this?

Probably within the last year or so.
I don’t think that’s true and if he said it to someone in an interview, it must have been a European magazine or something. Sometimes he says things he really doesn’t mean if he thinks it’s cool to say in that moment. So if they were having a political discussion about the U.S. or he was feeling bad about something in some way he may have said that but he has a lot of fans here and he knows that. I think that’s evident in the letter he wrote you because he usually doesn’t do that. I think he sees the value of the United States. He knows he’s got a lot of fans here and knows he’s neglected this market even with his own music in his own band that he had after TNT, VAGABOND, in the early 90’s. So no, I think that, knowing him as long as I have, people should just write that statement off as something he said maybe after he had a couple of drinks in him or something. (laughs)

Now are you guys going to be playing Europe in the mean time while you’re trying to set everything up here in the States?
Yes. I’m leaving in three weeks to launch the album over there and we’re going to do a few shows to get that off the ground. We have one show that we’re doing in Norway which they say is going to have about 20,000 people. We’re just doing two shows to start. The big one I mentioned then a little, kind of, warm up show. But then we’re going back again three weeks later for an all out Norwegian tour in places that hold like 2000 to 2500 people. So that will be our headlining Norway tour. Then we take a break for Christmas and after that we’re going to play Spain, probably the U.K., probably Greece, Italy and Germany and possibly Russia and we’re working on South America. I can’t promise you any of those things but I am 99% sure that Norway, Spain and the U.K. are definitely happening. Everything else we’re kinda working on at the moment.

What is your live show like nowadays?
It’s very simple. Just put a back-drop up, get as many lights as we can and we go up and wing it! I mean, obviously, we’re rehearsed but generally it’s just us playing our songs. In fact I did an interview with a guy a couple of days ago from Germany who said, “For a band that just walks up on stage, plugs in and plays, you’re probably the best band I’ve ever seen.” And that’s true because there’s a SHOW going on… there’s no doubt! Nobody should get the idea that when I say we walk up without anything special going on, no pyro or anything like that… but there’s a HELL of a show going on! We go up and we communicate very tightly with the audience and there’s a lot of energy going on back and forth.

What inspires you?
Everything! Everything inspires me good or bad. I’m inspired by my wife, of course… I’m very inspired by her. I’m inspired by art of any kind whether it be other music or movies or just about anything. I’m inspired by inspiring people! (laughs) I’m inspired by catastrophes. There’s just so much going on! Living in New York City, I mean I just have to walk out my front door and there’s plenty to draw from.

What are you most proud of?
I guess I’m most proud of the fact I’m still doing this for a living. I’m proud of the fact that I think every time I put a new album out, it’s my best work so far. I feel that way and I don’t care if other people feel that way. I feel that way! And I think as long as I can continue feeling like there’s always some place to grow to and always somewhere to go, then I’ll always be interested and happy in my work. There’s so much I have left to do. So many styles of music I wanna try and explore. Not to mention getting into my first solo album which I am finally going to dig into. I feel it coming… it’s getting close now and I’m starting, actually, to talk to quite a few producers. So, it’s coming and it’s going to be an exciting year.

You’ve worked with countless artists over the years. If you could work with anyone you haven’t worked with already, who would it be and why?
Oh, so many people… my God! I would LOVE to work with Chris Cornell, actually. I know he’s a singer, but he’s a great song writer. I would love to sit down with him and write songs with him and just listen and learn. Hopefully he’d allow me to do my thing yet, at the same time, help me grow in some way. I’d love to work with Brian May. I’d love to work with Alanis Morissette. I would love to work with Jerry Cantrell… the list goes on and on but probably number one on the list would be Paul McCartney. I mean if Freddie (Mercury) was around, then he’d be a very close second. But since he’s gone it’s Brian May but there are a lot of people I respect immensely but, of course, Paul’s the master.

What would you most like to be remembered for?
This might sound odd, but I would probably want to be remembered more for the work I’ve done from like 1996 on than for what I’d done in the 80’s. I would like to be remembered as someone who kept going, kept growing and expanding, getting better and better all the time and sort of defied the idea of age because I think it’s kind of a myth. Sure, I mean people look older and you can’t really stop time in that way. But even from that standpoint, I’ve been told, that I don’t look my age and I don’t think it’s so much because, you know, I don’t have lines or whatever. I think it’s because I present myself as a young guy… because I feel that way. I don’t even think about the fact that I’m in my early 40’s. I don’t dwell on it. I have a very energetic life, I have a beautiful, young wife and I live the life of a younger person. I would also want to be remembered as a person who had something to say that was important in his songs because I think that my lyrics are a huge part of what I do and they often go unnoticed in this genre because people focus so much on the melody or how high I sing or whatever. I think a lot of the lyrics slip by people. Not so much with the American journalist, but our biggest audience is in Europe and maybe it’s the language barrier or whatever but at the end of the day, the lyrics in my songs or what I am trying to say actually turns out to be one of the most important things that I do.

Well you’ve had a very busy year! I know it’s a bit early, and we’ve already touched on your solo project briefly, but what else can we expect from Tony Harnell in the future?
Well, as far as this year goes, there won’t be any other releases after TNT and then there’ll be some touring. Next year, I’d like to see a new STARBREAKER CD and, of course, my first solo release. Now that may or may not be a full album. What I may do is try to take advantage of the internet like a lot of younger artists are doing and officially release maybe two or three songs at a time over the period of like a year or so. They would be available on I-Tunes because I have a way of doing that and also I could put them up for paid downloads from my site and other places. I would do the full “My Space” attack and basically the idea of it would be to just expand my audience. Take all the people with me that want to come along with my new sound and get a whole bunch of new people to get into what I’m doing and not harp too much on the fact that I am in TNT because I want to reach a whole new group of people.

Tony, again, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. That just about wraps things up. Is there anything else you’d like to say in conclusion?
Just thanks for all the years of support and I look forward to seeing you on my home turf very, very soon. And thank you, David, and I look forward to meeting you next weekend.

*Tony Harnell WILL be appearing at the Starland Ballroom on Saturday October 15th with EDGAR CAYCE (featuring Mark and Dave of TT QUICK), FRICTION (featuring Russell Arcara), SEVEN WITCHES (featuring Jack Frost), RATTLEBONE, AMERICAN ANGEL, Ted Poley, Randy Jackson of ZEBRA, XENON and many other special guests for BAND TOGETHER III,  a benefit concert where all proceeds are to be donated to the AMERICAN RED CROSS, AMERICA’S SECOND HARVEST and the UNITED ANIMAL NATION’s disaster relief fund to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone please come out and show your support! Several members of the ROCKEYEZ staff will be in attendance as well so don’t be shy, come up and say hello and support this very worthy cause.

Tony Harnell
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