INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA
The hard rock world received great news on May 21, 2016, when vocalist Tony Harnell announced his return to TNT. The band is currently recording its thirteenth studio album, which will be released later this year by Frontiers Music. In January 2017, the band embarked on an anniversary tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the TELL NO TALES album. I went to see their concerts in Oslo and Drammen and was then also fortunate enough to sit down with Tony Harnell for an interview. We discussed his return to TNT, the goals he would like to achieve with the band, what plans he has for his career as a solo artist, and recent changes in his personal life.
THE REUNION TOUR
First of all, welcome back, and congrats on TNT’s highly successful reunion tour in Norway!
Tony Harnell: Thank you.
Most of the shows were sold out, and the band seemed to work very well together. How has everything worked so far, in your opinion?
Tony Harnell: Great, I mean, I’m shocked. It’s funny because I’ve been off the road for almost a year. Actually, over a year. I have been playing little shows with my acoustic set. But I hadn’t done any big shows since my last show with Skid Row last year in 2015. So, whenever you’re off the road for that long, you always worry about it? Do I still have it? I’m I going to be okay? Are people going to come? Are they going to care about the band anymore? You have so many worries you think about. TNT always has struggled with rehearsing enough, preparing enough. Little things, because I’m in America and they’re over here. So, lots of worries but I’m happy, and the band is very happy. Our agent is happy. Our manager is happy. The only thing that was a drag was that I started the tour with awful flu.
I heard about that. But you were still able to perform all shows on this tour?
Tony Harnell: During the rehearsals, I couldn’t even go. I was so sick in my hotel room where the band rehearses, about an hour and a half North of Oslo, that I couldn’t even rehearse very much. So, that was the only part of the whole thing that I’m still recovering. It’s been a terrible flu, and it’s started to travel around the band. They were sick, some of them were sick when I got here, and then I got sick, and I got real, real sick. When I was on stage for when you were here, I think my fever was pretty high. But I managed to take enough medication to get through it. But those certainly were not my best vocal nights. But I’m very proud of myself. People can criticize and look at videos online, and they can make their comments and say whatever they want to say. We got a review from, not a bad one, but we got a review from Metal Hammer in Norway. Which was sort of between a good and a bad review? They focused on me having a cold. It wasn’t a cold, it was a flu, and it’s very different. But they concentrated on all of that. But I look at it differently. I feel a bit like a warrior, and I went out there anyway. I’m very critical of myself. I feel like I delivered two, when you were here, two good performances, considering how sick I was. I’m very proud of myself for being able to push through. A lot of people would have canceled the shows or whatever. But I did whatever I needed to do to get through them. Every time you do that, you sort of feel as though you can do anything. As a singer, you feel a little bit like a superhero when you get through something like that. The following weekend in Trondheim, I was still not recovered, and I still had a fever, and I pushed through that one. My voice sounded almost the same as it did for the two shows down South. Maybe it was even worse because I had gone through a week of still fighting it and everything. So, it was successful, though, because the fans were happy. The band, I think considering how little preparation we had, I believe we played great. I think the shows were great. The fans came to the shows. We sold out three shows in a row to start the tour. So, I’m really happy, because if this is how we’re starting again. It’s only going to go up from here.
I think that you did a great job on those two shows. You manage to sing most of the songs with no problems, but to be honest, there were a few songs, such as “Childs Play,” with which you had to struggle a bit. But that’s a hard song to sing anyway?
Tony Harnell: But normally, that’s an easy one. That’s the funny thing. Yeah. But my voice was doing weird things, where things that would be hard on some nights were easier. Things that would be easier were more involved. So usually, if I was struggling, not being sick, and I just had vocal fatigue. “Childs Play “would always be an easy song. So, that’s what funny about singing, are you never know what’s going to happen to your voice. Yeah. But with a ballad, I don’t have anything to cover me up.
ANOTHER THING COMING
It’s been only two years since you left the band the last time. Do you have any regrets regarding what happened then and how things are different now than that time and the following year?
Tony Harnell: 2016 was a very, very challenging year. In retrospect, I would have done some things differently regarding Skid Row and my exit from Skid Row because it affected how 2016 went. But we took a lot of time to organize everything. So most of 2016 was spent restructuring the way businesses run in the TNT organization. So, it took a long time because some people were stubborn, and we needed to put the business in the right hands. So, it was a frustrating, very exhausting year. But we ended up getting to where we needed to get to, and we have an incredible agent. We have a great manager, and we have a band that is hopeful about the future, and that’s what we needed to do. So, I’m feeling… How should I put it? Cautiously optimistic “Laughs.”
The band did changes on the business side, but you also have changes in the line-up. Did you have any plans to try to get the classic line-up back, including the original bass player Morty Black?
Tony Harnell: We did. I didn’t, but the other guys did. He’s very happy with his life, great now, and how things are going. So, it was no hard feelings; he just respectfully declined. He’s got his book and agency. He has moved his family to Spain. He’s on another project which pays him very well to tour for a few months a year. So, he’s very fortunate with his life, and I respect that completely. Honestly, we would have loved to have had the full original line-up, and the fans probably would have liked that as well.
What about Victor Borge, who was in the band since 2005. Whatever happened to him, and how you end up picking Ove Husemoen in the band?
Tony Harnell: Victor decided that he wanted to move on, do other things, and explore other things musically. So, we found Ove. He plays with Ronni’s solo band, so I trusted Ronni to pick somebody he thought was great, and Ove is a very nice guy. He’s a really good singer. So, that was ideal for me because he plays bass in a way that pleases Ronni, and he sings in a way that pleases me for background vocals. So, what we were able to do was it was great that we had the background singers on the last tour. But frankly, for a hard rock band, I don’t like having girls singing on stage. I don’t think it looks cool for a rock band. Even though they were very good singers and the band sounded fantastic, and they sang great. I just don’t think it’s cool for a rock band. So, the fact that he sings as well as he does is a big plus for me. Ove is a very, very nice guy, and he fits perfectly for a band like TNT. Because you’ve got three original members, who all have big egos and big personalities. Diesel, Ronni, and I have been together now for over 30 years. Diesel was out for about 12 years, I guess. But all things considered, we’re an old family, and we have a lot of history together. So, it’s important that the extra members, Roger our keyboard player, and Ove. It’s important that they have the kind of personalities that they have. It is important that they are very nice, very considerate and happy to be in the band. They don’t cause additional problems for us. They take problems away. So, it’s perfect that way because the three of us cause enough problems between ourselves. We don’t need any more “Laughs” I feel strongly that if Morty were back in the band, it would be without a very, very strong person to intervene all the time. It could be a disaster. Not because Morty is a bad guy at all. But because then you’re adding another strong personality, who has been there from the beginning. Who wants things to be a certain way. So, this is perfect. The way we have it now, I think this is going to work very well. I’m happy, yeah.
I can’t deny that, in my opinion, it would have been amazing to see all four members back together but having three out of four originals is better than what many bands have nowadays. You all are individual personalities, and together you make the band sound how it sounds today. I’m glad to see that Diesel is still in the band, although you had some disagreements with him the last time?
Tony Harnell: Part of the work we did in 2016 with the restructuring and everything was figuring out how he could handle this without being involved in the business. Because before, he was so involved in the business that we just gave him an ultimatum and said, “We want you to be in the band. But can you handle just playing drums?” It took a long time to work things out. But we all love Diesel, and he’s a perfect drummer for the band in many ways, and the fans love to see him on stage. He plays the TNT classic songs the way they’re meant to be played. We could have a different drummer, maybe a technically more advanced drummer or whatever. But maybe it wouldn’t be the same. So, I think we’re all happy with the outcome. Diesel has been great, and he’s had a great attitude on this tour, and we’ve all been getting along really well. As I said, I’m very optimistic about all things at the moment. We have one more show coming up on Saturday before we leave to go to the Monsters of Rock Cruise, and I’m hopeful that that will go well. As well as the other shows.
THE RECORDING PROCESS
So, when you started writing new music and what is the state of the recording process now?
Tony Harnell: I want to say that we began in May, June. Around there? We were off to a flying start in the summer, and the negotiations with Frontiers took a long time. I’m not going to get into details. But let’s just say that it wasn’t TNT that dragged it out. But we finally were able to start. It went on so long that literary we were well into the process, and we just had to stop because it was becoming just very difficult negotiating the deal. But we finally got it done. So, the album will be delayed, no doubt about that. We’re going to pick up the writing process pretty soon; I would say, and the recording process as well. We’ve got a lot of songs written, but we’ve got a few more I think we need to write. I will probably be recording vocals back in the States. I’ll probably be traveling back to Norway to co-produce the music with Ronni, and then we’ve chosen Tommy Hansen again to mix the album in Denmark. So, we’re very happy about that because he did a great job with MY RELIGION and ALL THE WAY TO THE SUN. So, we’re glad to have him on board again. We trust him. From how I can see it right now, it’s a very eclectic album. That is what it’s going to be. So, what we’re going to do now that we’ve had a little bit of time away from it, is to kind of review what we’ve done and looked at it with fresh ears. So, I think in one way, I don’t like rushing albums out to meet deadlines for the label. Often people put out shitty albums when they do that. I almost think that the record company will exert pressure on this and to meet deadlines and this kind of thing. But I feel that at the end of the day, that the album is for the fans. We have to make a great album. If it takes a little bit longer or we have to redo, keep writing some more songs or whatever. We’ve got some songs so far that might be some of the best things we’ve ever written, and everybody says that. But I feel that way, and I think we’ve got some things that are… TNT has a reputation, thank God. Every album being different than the one before. And this won’t be an exception. It shows, I think, a lot of maturities, and Ove is a great addition to what we’ve been doing in the studio.
Does it sound like you have a lot of confident feelings about that upcoming album?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about it. But again, I feel like with all the delays from the business… Another thing about making music is I hate the music industry. I can’t stand it; it’s a necessary evil because you can’t reach your fans without it. But I absolutely can’t stand all of this contractual bullshit. Lawyers and negotiating and all this crap. All that takes away so much fire from the artist. Because you’re dealing with all this crap that has nothing to do with writing songs, singing, or playing, it can be very frustrating, and it can take away the fun and the creative flame that you have going. When you have to deal with all of that fine print of, “How many years and how much percentage?” It goes on and on and on, and it’s just exhausting. There are many egos involved and people who work for labels and all that stuff as well. So, it’s very, very exhausting, and I hate it. Now that it’s finished, I am looking forward to getting back to the creative process. We’re not here as artists. We’re not here to be businessmen, and I don’t like being a businessman. Some artists like doing that, but I don’t quite enjoy it very much. I like being on stage, and I like being in the writing process, and I like being in the studio. The other stuff drives me insane. Including social media, to be honest with you.
One thing from which the fans are always interested in how the new material sounds? Is it going to be more like an old school or more experimental like TRANSISTOR, something entirely new, or a mix of everything you’ve done so far? Can you answer that at this stage?
Tony Harnell: I think it’s brand new. I believe that… The great thing about Ronni and me is that when we’re away from writing together for a long time. When we come together, we bring new influences into the picture. So, I think it’s cool that we’ve had the opportunity to do that. I believe that there are things on this album I have never heard us do before. So, I kind of almost say that every time. I don’t know. I never know what to say because I don’t know what it’s going to sound like in the end. I never really know till it’s mixed. Exactly how I’m going to feel about the album. Right now, I think we’ve got some great songs. If they don’t get fucked up by something, then it will be amazing.
I believe that, and after all, in my opinion, you have never released a bad album together.
Tony Harnell: Thanks! One thing I can trust about Ronni, and even if we have to fight with people to delay the album release, we’ll put out something we’re proud of it. Other people can criticize records we’ve done, and so can I., But at the end of the day, I feel proud about it, even if I don’t love the whole album. There is no album that we’ve released as a band that I’m not super proud of, at least four or five songs on each record. In my opinion, MY RELIGION was the best album we’ve ever recorded. There are so many good songs on that record. It was also well produced and mixed amazingly. My only wish for MY RELIGION was it came out in 1989, instead of 2004. But I don’t know what this is going to end up sound like? But I think it’s going to be a great album.
This thing a bit “off subject,” but I have to mention it now. Before starting this interview, I decided to listen to a few TNT songs, including “Mousetrap,” which is one of my all-time favorites from you, “Laughs.”
Tony Harnell: That’s probably one of the weirdest TNT songs that we’ve ever done. The fact that you like it is great; it is a cool song. What I love about being in TNT is the creative side because I’m always very satisfied at the end of a writing session or a recording session. Or finishing hearing a new mix. Ronni is fantastic, and he’s great to work with. He gives me a lot of freedom. We’re an excellent team, no matter what people think. I think most people understand that when he works without me, it’s great. He puts out some very cool stuff. I love a lot of his solo music. I didn’t listen to the TNT stuff that was done without me, but I did hear a lot of his solo music, and I still listen to it. I think he’s a very talented guy on his own. But when we get together, something happens that doesn’t happen when we’re not together. So, I’m excited about the record. I wish I could tell you more about how it is going to sound like? But I don’t want to say anything more because I don’t know.
There is going to be a right time and place for that for sure “Laughs.”
Tony Harnell: Yeah, exactly.
But anyway, can you even give us a hint when the album would be out?
Tony Harnell: Yeah. I don’t know, and I’m not going to give any dates at the moment. Because again, as I said, I want it to be brilliant. So, I don’t know.
THE REMASTERS AND THE MUSIC BUSINESS
Do you have any plans to re-release some of the old albums at some point as well? Because, as you know, most of that stuff is hard to find these days?
Tony Harnell: We’ve talked about all of that because we’ve got a lot of the masters back now. So, there is a possibility of doing all of that. But right now, our focus was getting this up and running. Again, going back to these first new shows. Amazingly, we can come out with no new album, not even a single. Not even a remastered “Greatest Hits.” Still, we sell out the first shows of this tour. So, that only needs me to believe that we have a good new album; we should be able to do even more than that. So, as I said, I’m pretty excited. And the old stuff, we want to do maybe a new box set. Take a look at all those records and see what we can do about putting together a new package because of those late ’90s albums, MY RELIGION, and ALL THE WAY TO THE SUN. There is so much good material on those four albums that people don’t know at all. It’s a shame because I love those albums, and I think that there are some of the best songwriting and performances that we’ve ever done. It would be a real tragedy if more people don’t get to hear that stuff. So yeah. I would love to do what you said, and I think that will be one of the things we probably start to attack after the new album is out.
I just love that box set idea!!! But, it might be challenging to sell the idea for the record company?
Tony Harnell: Yeah. They don’t like the late ’90s stuff, and they’re very picky about when they sign their bands from the ’80s. They’re very picky about having to sound like you used to do and all that shit. So, you know me well enough to know that I hate that crap. My biggest criticism of the hard rock market is that every other genre is allowed to grow and evolve musically and artistically. It doesn’t mean you have to lose who you are. MY RELIGION is a perfect example of a band that went back to its roots but did a modern production and has modern songwriting and qualities mixed with classic sounds. I think that that’s not an easy thing to do. But I believe we pulled it off on that album really well. I’m hoping that we can do it again in the future.
After the album is out, what kind of touring plans you have? Are we finally going to see TNT doing a full tour, including shows in the U.S and other rarely visited territories as well?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, yeah. We had an agent that we hired for North America and other parts of the world, and unfortunately, that didn’t work out. So, we’ve got a new one now. Again, as I said, the business part of things is still developing. We have a brilliant agent for Scandinavia. We’re very happy with him, and we’re hoping just to find more great people to work with, people who can finally take TNT to places where we’ve got a lot of fans because we have a lot of fans. People have this impression that we can only sell on our venues in Norway, and that’s just very untrue. We’ve got a huge following in Japan. We’ve got a huge following in the US. We sold more records in the US than any other market in the world. We’ve got a big following in a lot of European countries. We’ve got a huge following in Russia, Brazil. From when I heard about South Korea and Indonesia. The list goes on and on. It’s just a matter of we haven’t been there. Just because we haven’t been to someplace, it doesn’t mean we don’t have fans there. We just got some new sales figures from management. On our Wikipedia page, I think it says 1.5 to 2,000,000 records. But in actuality, I believe that we’re up to; I believe that our worldwide sales are more somewhere in the four to 5,000,000 range. Which probably makes more sense to a lot of people that are fans of the band. It may take us a little while to get all the markets organized. I don’t know when a proper American tour is going to happen again. But I would guess that it will be around either the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018 if I were to take a wild guess?
I was thinking that when you’re going to do a US tour…maybe you should think about putting together a package. For example, how about teaming up with Stryper again?
Tony Harnell: Everybody says that because we toured so successfully with them in the ’80s. Michael and I have remained such good friends. But I think that would be great, and it would be fun. They love to do those packages. I don’t know. It just depends on many things. Queensrÿche would be another fun band to tour with, and I’m friendly with the guys as well, very friendly. So, I don’t know. It’s tough to say how we will do it or how it will go. But we’ve had some good offers in the US, but we need to decide, “Are we going to start off by doing festivals and then come back and do a full tour?” People want to see us in many different cities. So, I think what’s great about the cruise is if that goes very well it will open a lot of doors for other things.
There are tons of promoters and other important people in there. Or should I say that they all are there “Laughs?”
Tony Harnell: Exactly.
But I think that you’re not planning to tour together with Skid Row in the future? “Laughs.”
Tony Harnell: Yeah. Hopefully not “Laughs.”
However, before the actual tour starts, you already have a couple of shows booked for the spring. There’s the Frontiers Festival in Italy and at least one U.K show. Are there still more shows to be announced soon?
Tony Harnell: I know that there are more shows which are not officially announced yet. But there is going to be a couple of shows in the UK as well. So, that one that’s been announced is one of maybe two or three that will happen around the same time. I don’t know about the details, about the others yet. But I think we’re playing London on that same trip over and maybe one other show.
I also heard a rumor that you’re maybe performing at the M3 festival?
Tony Harnell: We’re working on it. I’m not aware of it, but it’s possible. We’re working on it. We do have few other shows coming up as well, but we’re going to get back into the recording and writing process after Monsters, and then we will start up again in April, I think.
TNT is back to stay, but do you have plans to continue as a solo artist as well?
Tony Harnell: Yeah. I just wanted to get this done and then figure out what I’m doing with my solo album, and with Starbreaker, and with everything else. Because I just wanted to get this finished. Because with TNT, once TNT is smooth, then everything else becomes easier. So, I’m going to attack all of that probably when I get home; I’m going to start working. After Monsters, I will start working hard on that stuff.
Do you still have plans to form that “supergroup” that we discussed last year?
Tony Harnell: I do, and all the members for that project have regularly been speaking. So, in fact, I will see one of the primary members on the cruise, and we will probably get together and talk a bit about that soon.
That’s going to be an exciting project.
Tony Harnell: Yeah.
You briefly mentioned Starbreaker, so; it’s not put in the grave either?
Tony Harnell: It’s not put in the grave, but we have to see what happens. I love working with Magnus. But we just have to see where it goes. I’ve got some mixed emotions about that. Not because of Magnus at all. It’s just the whole process. I just want to see where it lands. Yeah.
RACHEL LORIN TALK
As you said, this time, you also bring Rachel Lorin with you to Norway. It was great to see her band performances in Oslo and Drammen, and she also performed with TNT in Trondheim. I think that she enjoyed every minute there.
Tony Harnell: So, she’s was pretty excited about that. We got a lot done while she was here. She did the shows. We did a lot of press. We did radio, and we brought her up to Ronni’s studio, and we wrote and recorded a song for her. Ronni and I. Me, Ronni, and she wrote and recorded a new song for her, and it came out well. So, we got a song recorded, and we did a photoshoot. A superb photo shoot. A beautiful photoshoot. We did a lot of cool things while she was here. I had a great time. Usually, when I’m here, I am focused so much on TNT that I don’t have any other things going on. But having her here was fantastic because we were able to do all these other things, and it was fun. I got to focus on other things than me. That was a very good time.
I have a few more questions about Rachel and you, ok?
Tony Harnell: Go for it, “Laughs.”
You’ve been Rachel’s musical mentor and almost everything else since her career started. But now she is also working with other people in the music business. So, my question goes, how do you see your role in her musical career in the future?
Tony Harnell: That’s pretty much up to her. I don’t know what she… If you asked her that question, I don’t know what she said. But my feeling is I am always open. I’m pleased that we were able to get her up to the studio with Ronni, and that was Ronni’s idea. She was happy, really happy about it. So, I am always there for her whenever she wants to bring me in to do anything. Because I love working with her. I got too busy, and she had a lot of other people interested, and it was perfect because we had worked hard enough to get her to merge over to the rock world. She started to get the right people interested in working on rock music with her, which is really what the goal was originally anyway. So, I’m happy to have been a part of the transition, from where she started over to where she is now. She’s got a lot of great people; she’s working with. So, I’m always available to work with her. To write, produce whatever she wants. I’m never going to say no to that. But again, I’m not going to push it. It’s up to her.
The final question. It’s not a secret that you and Rachel also have a special relationship outside of working together. And something extraordinary happened in Drammen when you asked Rachel to marry you on stage. That was a cool moment for everyone in the crowd, but I can’t even imagine how the situation was for you. Do you want to tell us something about that special night?
Tony Harnell: Yes, we’ve been together for a couple of years now as a couple. We started out as close friends, but there was always a special spark there between us, and eventually, there was no denying it for both of us. And no, I didn’t really plan the onstage proposal that night. I just thought, wow, it’s our anniversary coming up the next day after Drammen. Although we already consider ourselves to be engaged, I wanted to do something extra special for this occasion and kind of seal it for real once and for all. I even got her a new ring when we were away on the MOR cruise to make it official. But I was pretty sure she would say yes, of course, and also since we are both singers, I thought what better way to celebrate our love than on a rock and roll stage on a night where we both had performed:) I didn’t tell my band; I only told her mom to have her on the side of the stage at a certain time! So it was a surprise to everyone and was very special indeed. I love the girl with all my heart, so taking it to this level is natural. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other. And it’s a blessing we can share our music lives with our personal lives whenever possible:) and of course, the fans loved it, and it was a great moment we will never forget!
That was a great answer. Thanks, Tony!
Tony Harnell: No problem. Thanks, Marko!
Live pictures from Oslo and Drommen by Marko Syrjala