INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
After a seven-year absence, Tony Harnell’s return to TNT was one of last year’s biggest news in the world of hard rock. The reunion was officially announced last October, and the tour, “Intuition 25’Th Anniversary tour”, started from Norway in January of 2014. The tour reached Finland in July when the band played its first-ever show in Helsinki. Then I had the pleasure to meet friendly Tony and discuss various topics, including the reunion, new TNT album, Anniversary DVD, and the state of Tony’s solo career. Read on!
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s start this interview by going back to a discussion we had in Trondheim two years ago. When I asked about the possibility of you going back to TNT someday, you then answered…
Tony Harnell: I said, “No way.” Or did I?
Metal-Rules.com: Actually, you said, “No way in hell,” but here we are in Helsinki, two years after. What changed your mind?
Tony Harnell: Here we are. You want to know why? I mean, I’ve said it in other interviews, which you may or may not have read. Here is how it happened. I had many long discussions with Diesel, and I had spoken to some people in New York who were very close to me, that I trust. And we spoke back and forth for six months with Diesel after… Well, Mills quit, and then immediately I started getting e-mails from everybody. And first, I said, “I don’t know.” And then he said, “Come on, come on,” And we talked some more. Then I said, “No way.” And then we talked some more, and I thought about it, and I said no again. I think I said no about four times, and he kept trying because one thing about Diesel is that he’s very persistent. And finally, we decided that we would do two gigs. We would do this gig, this little warm-up gig, and then we will do this Telenor Arena gig, which was that 80’s thing. I said, “Let’s just do those two, and let’s see how it goes in November. If it goes well, then we can talk about it from there” But my reason behind it was, I spent, I thought about it, and I said, ” Okay. I spent 20 something years building a brand. Not many musicians at my age have a brand that’s worth something”. And I said, “At the very least level, let me go back and get the brand back to where it belongs and then I can decide what I want to do?” But to leave this great brand that I left in such a good condition, which I did in 2006 or whatever. It was in pretty good shape, and we had two good albums with MY RELIGION and ALL THE WAY TO THE SUN. We played a lot of good shows, and it was kind of a legendary sort of band. We weren’t as big as a lot of other bands, but still, it was a good brand. And then it just… So I felt, “Let me get it back up here again, and then I can figure out what I want to do. If I want to stay or go.” But now I feel we’ve done so many good shows, I almost feel like I could walk away from it now and feel much better about it than the way it was. It’s almost like, I’m not saying Tony is the king of the world, and he can come in and fix everything. But it’s my songs, and it’s my brand, and TNT works best with Ronni and me. That’s just the way it is, and it’s like that with many bands. Led Zeppelin would not work without Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. TNT has that same dynamic. When Ronni and I are together, there is something unique in there.
Metal-Rules.com: It’s called chemistry.
Tony Harnell: Yeah, it’s chemistry. And you can’t buy it, and you can’t predict it, you can’t try to make it happen. It either happens, or it doesn’t happen.
Metal-Rules.com: So, as you said, it was Diesel who was in touch with you but did you also talk with Ronni at the time?
Tony Harnell: Of course. But Ronni was cooler about it, and he was more like, he was more about the art, whereas Diesel was more about the business. But for me, it was; the final decision was, “Let me just go see how it feels.” And business-wise, it didn’t feel so good, but musically it felt really good. So, that’s how it kind of started. But the decision was really very much based on the brand and preserving the legacy, and now I think after doing all these shows, we are onto something now. The shows are great, and there is something different about the band from now than there was ten years ago. Very different.
Metal-Rules.com: How would you describe the difference between how the band is now compared to what it was ten years ago?
Tony Harnell: I think we are more professional now. I think there is more experience. You can’t say enough about the experience; you really can’t. There is something to be said for it; there are two ways to look at rock n’ roll. You’ve got the youth’s rebellion with the young bands and the energy, which’s exciting to see a really great young band. Something about that is very exciting. However, there is also something to be said for years on the road, or just years living and knowing how to handle an audience. And that’s something I have gotten value at over the years, and sometimes I feel like in ”80s. Sometimes I was good and not that good other times. In the 90’s it was the same thing. We didn’t tour enough. In the 2000’s I was good sometimes and not that good other times, but now I feel more like… Now I kind of feel like… if my voice fails me because I’m older, some nights, my voice feels better than it never felt. Other nights not so much. But now I feel that I’m more like an entertainer if I feel like if my voice isn’t 100%, I can switch gears and go more towards being an entertainer and worry more about the audience and less about my singing.
Metal-Rules.com: As you said, it is something to learn through the experience of aging. Things you did not know much about when you were younger?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, I didn’t. And I also didn’t know what to do if my voice failed me, and I’ve gotten better with that too. So, I just feel sort of everything is a little different.
Metal-Rules.com: When you decided to return to the band, how did you end up in this current line-up? I remember that you said to me that IF this will happen, then it needs to be a certain line-up, including Morty Black?
Tony Harnell: Yeah. I wanted Morty back, and I talked to Morty, but he’s got so much going on, and I think he made the right decision for himself. He knows what he wants, and he’s making very good money. So, that’s okay. We made it work with this lineup, and I think that with TNT, it’s the most important thing that Ronni and I are together. If that part of it is happening, then that’s the more… Not to make less of anybody else, because I asked Victor to come back. But it’s most important that Ronni and I are together. If Ronni and I aren’t together, I don’t think TNT works. You could have Morty, Diesel, and Ronni. You could have Morty, Diesel, me. But if you don’t have Ronni and me together, it doesn’t work.
NEW TNT MUSIC
Metal-Rules.com: One thing fans will definitely want to know, will the band release a new album at some point? I interviewed Ronni last January in Oslo, and he then said that he is not sure if the band will release new albums anymore. What do you think about that?
Tony Harnell: In Rockefeller, you came to that show?
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah. I was there.
Tony Harnell: That was a good show. What’s fun about that show was that it was “the hometown show.” That was kind of like the redemption show in many ways, and it was sort of like kind of like “We are back.” And we really did it that night, and everybody took notice: the press, the labels. We have four record labels right now trying to get a deal with us. We didn’t have that in January. So… Ronni probably had a different point of view back then. But now there are labels interested, and we are talking about it. So, it’s a matter of figuring out which label we are going to go with.
Metal-Rules.com: So it’s up to you to make a decision and go for it.
Tony Harnell: Of course, and we have to make a decision, and we also have to decide what kind of album it will be. And we’ve been talking about it, and I think Ronnie and I agree we want it to be… We don’t want it to be a pop album. We want it to be a hard album. I think my goal is … I think we want it to be, at least my vision is to take the heaviness from maybe KNIGHTS OF THE NEW THUNDER and mix it with a modern writing style. So, I want to go back, and yet I want to go forward.
Metal-Rules.com: In my ears, this sounds like, MY RELIGION?
Tony Harnell: In a way, but less pop maybe. Maybe less pop and fewer ballads. No songs like… Although the funny thing is Ronni and I both love the Beatles so much, but we tend to love to write pop songs. And like “Daisy Jane” and… That stuff comes easy for us, but it’s very intricate stuff in terms of the chords and the melodies. It’s not easy for a band to write that way. I just have a desire to; I want to have some heavy rhythms and things that are fun to perform live. That’s kind of like when we play now, we open with “Invisible Noise.” One of the fun things about that song is it’s got this really great groove to it, and it’s a perfect opening song. And it makes you feel, makes the audience feel energetic, makes the band feel energetic, and it really starts the show in a good way.
Metal-Rules.com: Would you tell us more about what you mean by the phrase “I want to go back and yet I want to go forward”?
Tony Harnell: We don’t want to be a nostalgic band, and one of the labels we talked about. This guy sees us as timeless and a classic rock band, which I like. I have no interest in being a nostalgic band, and neither does Ronni. We want to continue going forward and make something that sounds like TNT but has fresh energy on it. Otherwise, we are not interested in as a band.
Metal-Rules.com: This current tour is built around an INTUITION album released 25 years ago, and you’re playing a lot of stuff from it. Some songs from the album on the set have never been performed live before, or am I wrong there? ANNIVERSARY AND SETLIST TALK
Tony Harnell: I don’t know. Let me think. We played “End of the Line” before for sure, and I don’t think there are any songs we didn’t play ever before. We actually played a lot of songs in Japan on the “Intuition” tour that we didn’t play now, like, not “Learn to Love,” but “Fallen Angel.” Those kinds of songs, but they are just not good songs, in my opinion. But I shouldn’t say that, because a lot of fans really love them. But that’s how we feel.
Metal-Rules.com: Many bands are currently playing their classic album in its entirety from start to finish. Would that work for you as well?
Tony Harnell: It can work, but it depends on the album. It depends on the band. I don’t think it would work for TNT because I don’t think we have we, A; we don’t have any long enough albums to fill the whole show. B; I don’t think that each member in the band can perform all the songs on each album, and C; I don’t think that there is one TNT album that has where every song is great. I think that MY RELIGION the most complete TNT album for me. And on the American version, I think there are 17 songs, but obviously, you can narrow that down to 12 songs and have a great show.
Metal-Rules.com: You also released a brand new “anniversary” vinyl version of INTUITION when the tour started, and…
Tony Harnell: We didn’t; the label did. The label kind of does what they want to do sometimes, and it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass, but what can you do. That’s what they do. So, anyway. Yeah, that was part of the things. But that’s coming to an end. That will be over at some point, and we will be done with that. So, I’m not really into that anniversary thing so much. I think it’s a way to take advantage of it. I don’t know?
Metal-Rules.com: There´s one thing I have to complain about a little bit. I have seen several shows on this tour, and, except Oslo, you don’t play “Everyone’s A Star” anymore. Why?
Tony Harnell: I don’t love the song. It’s a hit in a way for TNT fans, but I just kind of feel like… I don’t know where to put it in the show, to be honest. That’s the problem. If we put it last, we used to do it because it’s a good closer. But on the other hand, so is “10,000 Lovers”. It’s kind of like we’ve got so many good songs, and I think that we really want to try to like play more stuff that was more recent from 2000, which is why we put in “Invisible Noise,” “She Needs Me,” “My Religion” in there. We’ve been adding all those songs in there, and I think people really like them, even if they don’t know them. And I think it kind of like… those songs are a little more modern, and it also makes me feel a little bit more like “We are not a nostalgia band.” And we think we play enough old songs. And I think as we get past this INTUITION thing, we will rehearse a lot more songs and build the show and make the show a lot more flexible. So, we are going to be more like Iron Maiden. So that if we play five shows in the same country, then there will be maybe one or two different songs every night. And so, maybe “Everyone’s A Star” will come back at some point. Yeah, it’s possible.
Metal-Rules.com: Another thing, are we ever going to hear any songs from TRANSISTOR or FIREFLY live again?
Tony Harnell: That’s my goal. I want to take TRANSISTOR or FIREFLY, that’s my idea… Because I want to get the master tapes. I want to take those two albums and give them to a good producer. I want them to take those two albums, throw away the bad songs, take the best songs, put them together, make a new cover, remix, re-master, and put it out as one album. It would be like a special edition thing on vinyl or something. Because both albums have production problems, but there are a lot of great songs. So I say, throw away the shady ones, take the best ones and make one good album that’s experimental and cool and do something with it. That’s my dream. But someone will have to pay for it, so let’s figure out how that’s going to happen.
Metal-Rules.com: What does Ronni think about the idea?
Tony Harnell: I think he would go for it. He always calls the TRANSISTOR writing sessions that we did in this band. He calls that session the three best weeks of his life. And I feel very similar. In terms of my time with TNT and with him, those were probably the three best weeks I ever spend with him, and we had a great time. It was a good bonding experience. Two brothers in Spain on the beach, drinking wine, eating good food, and writing songs. And we got a lot of work done, and we were pleased with it after we finished.
THE ANNIVERSARY DVD
Metal-Rules.com: The Anniversary DVD recorded in Trondheim 2012 was released in Japan in spring, and worldwide release will follow in autumn. What do you think of that gig in retrospect?
Tony Harnell: That it was a strange reunion show, but I’m glad I did it especially as a tribute to my dear friend, TNT keyboardist Dag Stokke who passed away in 2011. Singing “Northern Lights” was a wonderful moment with Dag’s picture in the background. I almost cried in the middle of the song and everything. There were definitely many interesting moments on that show.
Metal-Rules.com: You have done several shows on this tour already, including the Japan tour. Have you taped any of those shows?
Tony Harnell: I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I don’t think anything was taped professionally. There are some interesting bootlegs, though, that we found in Japan, from recent shows in Bergen and Stavanger and some other places. I haven’t heard them yet, but one of our tour managers showed me the other day beautifully packaged bootlegs. And I’m wondering where are they getting this music from?
Metal-Rules.com: And so fast?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, so fast. I have no idea. I don’t know where it’s coming from, and I know it’s not coming from the band. So, I don’t think so. It could be.
Metal-Rules.com: Hopefully not. “Laughs”
Tony Harnell: It could be. I don’t trust anybody anymore. I trust about three people in my life right now.
GOING BACK TO JAPAN
Metal-Rules.com: Like said, you now went back to Japan with TNT. When was the last time you have performed there by yourself?
Tony Harnell: I was there with Westworld. That was in 2000, for the SKIN tour. I think it was, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: Now you went back there with TNT. How was the experience? Are the fans there still as crazy as they were back in the day?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, it was weird. The audiences were amazing. That’s where we really had fun playing INTUITION songs because that album was huge there. So, I hardly had to sing “Tonight I’m Falling,” It was like just stand there and let them sing the whole song practically. And many people had never been there before, most of the band hadn’t been there before. Only Ronni and I had been there before. So, everybody on stage behind us they were just like, “Shit!” They were freaking out, like they couldn’t believe it because they were just, “Wow! Crazy.” So, it was from that standpoint. It was really super fun. And that leads to something else I want to say. When I was out of the band, it was easy to be very sort of negative a little bit about the music and the ’80s and about, “I want to move on, I want to do different things.” And I did do some other things, and I still want to do other things. I want to try other kinds of music and sing other types. But when you go on stage, Rockefeller, Japan, Sweden Rock., and you see people so happy and singing along, and they know the lyrics, and they are really singing loud. It kind of makes you appreciate your own songs again, and you are standing on stage and you sort of getting this new love for your own material that you actually… I would never put a TNT record on and listen to it again because I don’t do that. But while I’m playing the songs and they are singing, I go, “Shit! This is really cool because look how fucking happy they are. Look how much fun they are having; look what they are getting out of it.” It injects me with all this energy, and I feel huge.
Metal-Rules.com: I can see that you get a lot of positive energy from it.
Tony Harnell: Yeah. Because I wrote these fucking songs. So, if they love them that much, then it kind of comes back to me again. It gets to my heart, and it says, “Okay. I understand now.” I have this obligation, and I made this music 30 years ago, 25, whatever, 20 years ago, whatever it was. This music is associated with special moments in these people’s lives. So, it means something to them. So, I have this obligation, and now I understand. So, I have to deliver this stuff, and I get it now. It’s almost like I came full circle. Time is a funny thing; time is a brilliant thing because it teaches you so much about… It changes your mind. It changes things. And it’s like The Eagles. They said, “We will never play till hell freezes over.” And then they called their tour “When Hell Freezes Over.” And they came back, and they played. Time is a funny thing.
Metal-Rules.com: On this tour, you have performed mostly in Norway and other Scandinavia and Japan parts. How about the rest of the world, for example, what makes it so difficult for you to make some shows in the States?
Tony Harnell: It’s not difficult; it’s just that this particular round that we did now. That’s been going on for so long, and I’m not comfortable talking about sort of the details about why it’s been so confined, but the thing is that this tour finishes up in September. Actually, it ends in early August, and then we are doing like two shows in September, and after that, we are going to sign with two new people, new management and make some new music and then maybe next year we are going to go places we’ve never been before. And go back to places we’ve been before.
Metal-Rules.com: So, do you already have all that planned already?
Tony Harnell: We already have new management, we are going to have new agents, and everything is going to change and become a little more functional. The thing about touring in Scandinavia is that it’s really good for us and that there is a lot of… Obviously, we are big there, so we can keep playing there, and there is a lot of demand for us. So, with America, we have to be careful, and we have to go and have a couple of shows that pay really well so that we can afford to. We carry many people with us when we go; it’s an expensive band to tour with. And we are very particular about our sound and the whole presentation.
Metal-Rules.com: Have you been thinking about doing some selected festivals in the States?
Tony Harnell: I don’t like to do festivals, but if we have to do a few so that we can do club shows, that’s fine. I like doing festivals, don’t get me wrong. Sweden Rock was great, and there are a few others that went really well. But I think that when you do a festival, you don’t really get to do the show you really want to do. And you are outside, and I think there is something about like Rockefeller, for example. There is something about a club, a big club. When you just can take control of that indoor lights and the whole thing, it’s a different thing. I feel much more in control as a frontman in that environment than I do in a festival. I feel like I have to work ten times harder at a festival than at a normal TNT show. But that’s actually okay, too, because it makes me a better frontman. Because I can read the audience, and I can tell when I have to go further and further and try harder and harder.
Metal-Rules.com: But even though you might need to do more work in the festival gigs, isn’t it positive that you can reach many people who have never previously heard of you?
Tony Harnell: Yeah. That’s a positive. And then some people have been waiting for you, through their whole life, to see us. So, they get to see you for the first time. But it’s outdoors, and it’s a strange environment. You don’t always get the… Especially during the daytime, at night, you can get a more, sometimes a bigger response.
Metal-Rules.com: What’s going on with Tony Harnell’s solo career at the moment?
Tony Harnell: I just did a show with Night Ranger in New York, and that was fun. I’m not really making any new music right now, but I will. I want to. I’m producing a young artist right now, who is quite incredible. And writing songs and helping sort of developing that, and I have a lot of interest in doing that kind of thing. And I want to make new solo music; I just don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen. And I want to be a part of some other projects as well. So, I sort of see TNT… I want to get TNT re-established and running and strong, and I want that to be my priority as my job. At the same time, I want to leave myself open for other opportunities that come along with either other musicians that I admire or other bands that I admire. And be able to do a couple of things and produce, and I like to be busy. There is a lot of things I’d like to do. I have a lot of music, even the EP CINEMATIC that I did. I would really like to at least put it out on iTunes, with a new cover, and maybe add one or two more songs and maybe re-master a few things or something. There is a lot of things I’d like to do, just have to see.
Metal-Rules.com: Are you still working with Bumblefoot?
Tony Harnell: We want to, but he’s so busy, and so now he’s getting busier with his own stuff. And so, it just becomes difficult. I just got an offer to sing with Boston about a week ago, but it wasn’t the right situation for me. So, I didn’t do it.
Metal-Rules.com: Interesting. They have worked with your good friend Michael Sweet before and…
Tony Harnell: That’s right, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: But he’s really busy with Stryper now.
Tony Harnell: He very much is, yeah. And his own solo stuff as well, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: Going back to the Wildflowers album, how did you like the feedback you got from the EP?
Tony Harnell: I thought it was really good; actually, I was kind of surprised. I didn’t, really… I originally wanted to get a record deal for it, and then I changed my mind. I did the same thing with the demos, with Cinematic. I didn’t even try to get a record deal for Cinematic. And I didn’t really try to get a record deal for the Wild Flowers record. I was going to, and then I decided not to. I just changed my mind, and I don’t know why.
Metal-Rules.com: The EP was released through a Pledge campaign which went really well. What kind of experience was that Pledge thing for you?
Tony Harnell: Pledge was awesome. And I want to do more work with Pledge. In fact, we have a couple of ideas of things we want to do in regards to… There is a guy who wants to do a documentary on my life, and we may use Pledge to help with that, and Pledge can be valuable for tour support. And potentially another project for me, I may do an EP, another EP with Pledge. Maybe it will be a hard rock EP or something. I’m not sure. And then I can go on and get a record deal from there. But I love that company, and I think they are really great, and they are great guys, and they did an excellent job. But in fact, we were actually making the record a way before we got the money. So, that’s what we have to do with that. Pledge’s main idea is that the people get to experience making the album behind the scenes, and then they get to be the first ones to hear it. And so, you are not really just paying for the record. You are paying for the experience. So, it’s really kind of a whole different thing. It’s not just like, we want money from and then we will give you music. You are actually coming along for the ride, and that’s really the thing it’s cool about it. And I like the fact that you can do whatever music you want and there is no label telling you what to do. So, that’s fun as well.
Metal-Rules.com: One more thing about the Wild Flowers thing. The video of “Burning Daylight” got some mixed reviews because some people think the video is dark for your style?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, I agree. It was a tough situation because it was a huge video company; it’s one of the biggest. They did Muse, a huge Muse video they did. I can’t remember the name of the song now; it was Muse’s biggest hit. Anyway, I can’t think of the name of the song. But it was their biggest hit, and they did a video. And they’ve done many other big videos, and they are probably the biggest video production company in New York. And I happen to make friends with the president, so they did the video for free. So, when they presented me with the idea, I felt a little bit… I didn’t love it, but I felt like I wouldn’t get the video if I didn’t go along with the idea. I didn’t want to fight too hard. So, I was a little bit nervous about how hard I should fight that. Should I fight it, or should I not fight it? So, I went along with it. I made a few changes, and I made a few suggestions, and at the end of the day, I went in, and I did some last-minute edit on it, and I put it up to see what would happen. And I think the song is great. And I think the video ruins the song; that’s my feeling now from having a little time to look back on it. I feel like that’s not me. That video does not reflect me as an artist. It reflects the director as an artist.
Metal-Rules.com: Well, despite everything, it is a good-looking video.
Tony Harnell: Yes. But I’m not into some suicidal love story. And I’m the lead singer, and I’m like in the dark all the time, and there is an actor in the light and it sort of… It was a good experiment; it was a nice favor that they did for me. We spent a lot of time on it; they spent some money on it. But it doesn’t really reflect me as an artist, and that’s really the most important thing I learned, is that it’s very important to don’t take something for free and without approving of everything. And if you don’t get what you want, you just have to accept you are not going to have a video, which was my biggest… I was so desperate for a video, I said, “Yes, yes.” Right away. And I should have said, “No, this is nothing like what I…” If I followed my heart, I would have said, “This is not what I want at all. I want something completely different.”
Metal-Rules.com: Ok Tony, it’s the time of the last question… I must ask about your appearance last year at Eddie Trunk’s birthday bash in New York. You performed there in good company, and it must have been a great experience?
Tony Harnell: That was great and a lot of fun, which led to many other things. I met Billy Sheehan for the first time, and we have a good relationship now. He played a song that I produced with a very talented female artist I’m working with named Rachel Lorin. We did the remake of “Love Bites,” which I was promoting. And I produced, and he played on another song of hers, and so we have a good friendship now. Mike Portnoy and I now have a good friendship. Yeah. It was a good experience to get up on stage and play “Diamond and Rust” with Portnoy, Sheehan, and Bumblefoot; what a band. We were actually looking at each other and saying, “This could be a musical advent.” But everybody is so busy. But these are the kinds of things that when I say I want to establish TNT and get it up and running, and then open myself up for other things. That’s what I’m talking about so, whether it’s getting a phone call from Boston. Okay. Maybe I can’t do that, but maybe something else comes along that I can do. That’s the right thing to do. So, for me, I just want to sing, I want to perform. I want to write, I want to work with other artists, and I want to be successful. And keep a roof over my head, and be able to eat every day. And that’s about it.
Metal-Rules.com: This is a good way to end this interview. Thank you, Tony!
Tony Harnell: No problem. See you at the show.