Interviewed by David Felix
Date: March 9th, 2005
Tony Harnell’s resume reads almost as impressive as that of a decorated war veteran… and in some ways, he is:
- Selling millions of albums worldwide.
- being a part of numerous successful and sold out tours in Europe, Japan and The United States;
- And being the recipient of countless awards and honors such as The Norwegian Grammy Award for 'Rock Album of the Year', 1987; Voted Best Live Act of the Year, in Japan, 1989; and Voted Best Live Act of the Year, in Europe, 2004.
After over 20 years, Tony Harnell has really made a name for himself throughout the industry.
Best known for being the lead singer/ songwriter for the heavy metal band TNT, Tony has also been involved with several other successful acts such as WESTWORLD, MORNING WOOD, and most recently STARBREAKER. Now Tony is breaking new ground for himself branching into producing and being a mentor as an established vocal coach. With the release of the new STARBREAKER CD looming on the horizon, Tony was gracious enough to grant me an interview in spite of his hectic schedule.
You've always had on of the most distinctive, powerful and versatile voices not only in "metal" but also in the music industry itself and it sounds just as good now as it did 20 years ago. How did you develop your voice, and what do you do to maintain it?
Ha! Well thank you very much for that. I just try to take care of myself really. And I have a good technique taught to me by the best there is - Don Lawrence.
At what age did you discover your talent, and how did people react when they first heard you sing?
I guess it was around age five. People were freaking out! It was funny. I probably should have been making music as a kid, but I guess I was more interested in surfing and skating etc…
Now with your ability, you could have gone in just about any musical direction you wanted... opera, rock, pop, Broadway!
What made you chose to be a front man for a heavy metal band?
Well, there is still time to pursue other things. Metal is just so much fun to perform onstage! That’s the real reason.
Did anyone ever try to sway you in a different direction?
All the time. ‘Cause I can sing pop really well so people have been trying to get me to do that for some time. I am not really interested in that kind of music. Not for myself. I need more!
Do you have any regrets, which you feel might have, lead your life in a different direction and are you happy with the success that you have had?
No regrets, waste of time. I am here today and that’s the only place I can be.
You've made the transition from, not only being a superb vocalist in your own right, to actually becoming a mentor of your skill. How is that working out for you and do you have any budding young protégés?
Oh sure. It’s a lot of fun. And I will be expanding this in the near future to include worldwide mentoring sessions over the internet. It’s going to be very cool. It’s not just about the singing, it’s about being an artist as well, and that’s what I talk to my students about.
Who helped you along with your talent and was there anyone who inspired you enough that you felt you wanted to pass your knowledge along to others?
There were a few but mostly I was on my own out there in the world. Have been all my life pretty much.
Regarding your taste in music, is there any type or genre of music that you are a fan of that might be surprising to people who recognize you mainly as a heavy metal singer?
Opera, Jazz, standards, classical, modern rock, punk, you name it.
How do you think you would do on "American Idol?"
When I was younger, I would have done ok. But I probably would have crumbled under the pressure. These kids are so poised it blows my mind. It’s not just about good singing it’s about delivering under the most extreme of conditions.
Before you became a success in the music industry, what is the worst job you ever held while trying to advance your career?
Record shop. Hated it.
Let’s talk a little about TNT. In my opinion, TNT was one of the most under-rated bands during the whole 80's metal explosion... or at least here in the States. You put out some absolutely incredible albums from "Knights of the New Thunder" to "Tell No Tales" to an all time AOR metal classic "Intuition"... and still are today. What do you feel the band could have done or what could have been done differently that could have made TNT a household name amongst metal fans like, say... Motley Crue, Metallica, or Van Halen?
Had more promotion from the label and a more aggressive management team, but that’s water under the bridge.
You guys got together again last year, put out another great album “My Religion”, and even did some shows in support of it. Can we expect to see another TNT album in the future?
Yes, I am working on one right now actually. It’s coming along very well.
What was it like getting back together again with your old writing partner Ronni Le Tekro after almost five years since your last studio album?
It was great. We will always have chemistry together. Always!
You’ve been involved in a lot of projects over the years; WESTWORLD, MORNING WOOD, TNT, and most recently STARBREAKER. Was there any project that you had found particularly more challenging in any way and why?
Actually, they have all been in many ways easier than TNT ‘cause I have been more in control of them. But I am proud of all of these projects, or bands really.
Of all the above-mentioned projects, which have you personally enjoyed the most and why?
MORNING WOOD and STARBREAKER. But WESTWORLD had it’s moments as well. Some great songs came out of that too. And some killer shows.
Now I know this may be a tough question, but if you could “mix and match” from all of the talented musicians you have already worked with to form a sort of TONY HARNELL SUPER GROUP, who would they be and why?
Oh I don’t know. I hate to answer that ‘cause all the guys I have worked with are great.
Moving on to your latest venture… STARBREAKER, how was the band formed?
It was put together by the label Frontiers as a one-off project. First, it was I and then Fabrizio came in as producer and then the very important Magnus came in to provide us with his special music and then I called Johnny Mac and that finished the line up. But if it started as a project, it ended as a band. It came out 10 times better than we expected and we can’t now just walk away from this and call it a day.
Obviously as soon as most metal fans hear the name STARBREAKER, they immediately associate it with the JUDAS PRIEST song of the same name. Is that where you got the name from and what made you decide on that for the name of the band?
Yes, I am a big PRIEST fan and I thought it would be a great name for this band. It really fits the music I think.
Who does most of the writing for the band?
Magnus and I wrote all the songs together.
The CD itself, although still very melodic in its essence, is a lot more aggressive than we are use to hearing from you. Is this a different side of you, you’ve been hiding all these years or is it a result of the collaboration with the musicians involved with this project?
A little of both maybe. I love metal and though I wouldn’t consider myself a typical metal singer, I love to sing it. It’s just so damn angry and it feels good to get that out sometimes!
So tell me a little bit about the band itself. What was it like working with Magnus Karlsson, Fabrizio Grossi, and John Macaluso?
Very smooth and easy. Professional. It felt very natural to work with these guys. They are all fabulous musicians and very cool people as well.
I understand Fabrizio is an established producer in his own right working with such acts as GLEN HUGHES, GEORGE CLINTON, and DAVE NAVARRO just to name a few. What elements do you think he added to the overall feel of the CD itself?
I think he made this album heavy. If it wasn’t for him this would have been just another good melodic rock album, but he came in a just kicked all the songs in the ass with his bass and production. But John Macaluso really had a lot to do with that as well.
Have you played any live shows together yet and if so, what were those like?
Not yet, but we will…
Are there any plans for a tour in support of the release?
Yes, probably in the fall.
Even with TNT and some of your other past projects, it seems the United States is always overlooked when it comes to actually performing live here. Understandably, the music industry in the U.S. is in a sad state of disarray to say the least and it has to be much harder to establish a fan base here. However, there is still a strong underground following for your type of music. Do you have any plans of ever returning to the States with any project you are involved in and is a U.S. tour even something you would want to do after all these years?
Well seeing as I do live here, I would like to play here. Actually, I am putting together a live band right now to tour the U.S., east coast, or whatever. It’s going to be a great band too. I will bring TNT to the fans if TNT will not come to the U.S. That’s my plan. The next best thing to TNT is me playing all the songs with a killer band here in the U.S. It will happen sometime this year I guess.
Do you think heavy metal music as a whole could ever break into the mainstream again in the United States as it did in the 80’s and what do you think it would take for something like that to happen?
A young band with the look and sound but updated. I think it will happen eventually.
So what can we expect to see from Tony Harnell in 2005 and in the future?
Oh my god! This is my busiest year ever. Lots of music being released-STARBREAKER, new TNT, three songs on the new Brazon Abbot CD, and a few other one-song appearances on some albums.
In conclusion, is there anything else you would like to add? Anything I may have overlooked or something you might like to say to your fans?
I appreciate the years of support and look forward to playing live in the states again. Please call your radio stations, request STARBREAKER when it’s released sometime in April, oh, and pick up the album. Stay in touch with me and up to date with all my activities at www.tonyharnell.com.
Love and peace, Tony!
All Tony Harnell images courtesy of Frontiers Records.