Tony Harnell: From Cyberdreamer to TNT
Singer Tony Harnell worked harder than ever to make the new Westworld a very melodic album and the results have paid off handsomely. It's easily their best album to date and the following interview dissects the album and Tony's thoughts on it.
Tony, there are not too many bands these days that get to album No 3 so you must be pleased at that?
It was a lot of work getting this one together and getting all the labels sorted out. We were sort of under the guise or whatever you want to call it of this guy in New York for the first two records. It was this character Jeff Allen who manages Riot He had started this little record company and he had friends, Kase Wessel was one of his good friends from Roadrunner so he put that whole thing together and basically hired all of us.
We got fees. I thought the guy was kind of a jerk, I mean he's ok he put up the money and everything but I just kinda decided it would be so much better if we could gain control. Even if it meant taking a bit less money but in the long run it would pay off.
So far so good. We've managed to launch a little record company so we could release this new album 'Cyber dreams' in the States without having to wait for a label to sign us so we can get the release almost the same time as everywhere else.
Fantastic. That is absolutely one of the most asked things I get is Andrew is this going to get released in the States?
Yeah exactly and we actually got great distribution. We got ABA WEA which is a pretty good distribution.
We're going to do direct sales obviously too from the web site so it'll be available in the stores and on the web site so we're covering all the bases here. I think we'll do a lot better than if we go and try and get a deal cause that's what happened with Skin. We got so screwed up with Skin.
First of all we had this guy managing us Jim Lewis and he's an old friend but that got bad cause he told me he was shopping the album and he wasn't. So nothing happened and we kind of lost our timing and then all the imports came in and then no one wanted the album. Dave Tedder from Dreamscape then decided to do it but then his money guy had lost someone in the Trade Center bombing so the money kind of put off for a whole year. Skin just came out here in July and now we're already going to put this one out here in the States. It's kind of funny you know.
I think a lot of people I mean don't mind going for the imports if they know they can get it. However there's no substitute for being able to buy it in a store is there?
No and I'm trying to encourage our fans here on our web site to not buy the Japanese import but to buy it from us instead and we will put up an MP3 of the bonus track up on our web site. I don't think it's in our contract that we can't put up an MP3. First of all the quality is definitely not as good as the CD. So they can buy 'Cyberdreams' and then burn a copy of the bonus track if they want.
If you can't run it I certainly will for you.
Well maybe we'll both do it. I mean I don't want to piss them off too much. I'll fell it out and see how they feel about it over there.
Did you have as much fun making this record as the other two?
What does it sound like?
It sounds like you've had a lot of fun making it to be honest.
That's good cause I really didn't. No, it was fun but it just took a long time. It took a lot longer than the first two and then maybe that's a good thing. I still hear things that I wish we had done differently but I think it's going to be like that till the day I die you know. It was a bit of a labor of love/hate.
How long did it take?
Well the thing is we actually started writing a few songs in the November and December last year then we put it aside for awhile because Mark had to finish up on the Riot album. He was working on that thing for like a year or a year and a half or something. It was like the album that wouldn't die. They kept going and going and we were supposed to start Westworld full time in January and then that got pushed to January and then to March. By the time we finally got started it was mid March or early April.
So we went in and wrote a bunch more songs but we didn't actually start recording till April. So then it was April and we had to go do the Xerox thing, which took out a couple of weeks. We came back and kept going and didn't really finish till the 2nd or 3rd week of August. So it wasn't horrible.
Compared to say Def Leppard it was a breeze. Of course they sold 10 million copies so it's ok if you take 2,3 years to make a record. It was ok. Bruno was pretty hard on everyone. Not me so much but in general. He had a certain way he wanted to do it and I think at the end it turned out great. Obviously he had a vision all the way through. I just think that it's difficult that when you're doing everything yourself in a home studio he definitely had his hands full.
The production sounds great. It's a very clean sound.
Yeah he did a great job.
It was great to listen to.
Yeah I think production wise I think it's definitely the best produced 'Westworld' album without a doubt.
The style on 'Cyber Dreams' is consistent from Track 1 to Track 10 where as on the last two you were fairly diverse weren't you.
You're talking about style not production.
Yeah that's pretty much what I got at the end. You know what we did was interesting and I think Bruno was really helpful on that cause we had a lot of different songs that Mark and I came to Bruno's studio with.
We started playing through everything and I love versatility so we came to the table and Bruno would say you know that's a great song but I don't know if it's going to fit on this record. So we thought that's not a bad idea to try and make the record a little bit more focused. We kind of threw stuff away and wrote brand new songs even after we had everything written to try and make it more concise.
So I guess we succeeded more this time.
Absolutely. There's definitely a more consistent sound there. I noticed there's a more commercial sound too.
Well you know it's kind of funny because you would think that Bruno had a lot to do with that but in actuality I think I was aware when I was writing the songs that Bruno was going to be producing this album. So I think I went out of my way to try and make the album a little more hooky. I knew that he would like that.
I think that in the end he feels pretty good about the record. I mean Bruno comes from a fairly pop background and even the stuff he produces outside of the hard rock genre is pretty pop orientated. I mean god I love pop more than anybody does but I have never played it as part of my career.
Although I do a lot of pop in other parts of my career but in the career the melodic rock people know I've never delved into it. I mean TNT had some pop songs there's no doubt about that, '10,000 Lovers', 'Tonight I'm Falling' and 'Everyone's a Star' I mean those are relatively poppy.
That's a great song. I just got a video clip of that the other day.
'Everyone's a Star'
Isn't that a great video? Especially for that time period. We had done some really bad videos and I went to Polygram before we did that video and said can you let us do what we want to with this one and not make it so scripted and let us just go and have a good time. We put a couple of things in there like a convertible car and we shot it in London and it was a lot of fun to do. Back to my point I think my background probably compared to Danger Danger thought of to be more of a classically metal kind of background. I think me coming from that direction and Bruno from his I think we tried to meet some place in the middle. I think that's how this thing came together so well.
The thing I love about 'Westworld' and this goes for the other two albums but more so the new one is the melodies are very intricately woven into the songs. Some are first listen hooks and then some hooks are 2nd, 3rd even 4th listen.
Oh thanks. That's really nice to hear cause I'm so close to the albums that it take a while for me to kind of tell what's good and what works really well. I think what was nice about us getting to play live a lot last year was I sort of got to feel what songs were the better songs from singing them live.
There was a few that just stood out every single night like 'Black Shadow Symphony' and 'Uneasy'. I think the most immediate song on this album to me is 'How good it Feels'. It just pops right out. I mean the chorus the first time you hear is immediate but I think songs like that have the potential to become tiring faster.
Whereas other songs have more depth?
I think 'Righteous One' is a fantastic track.
Thank you I like that one a lot too.
Yeah I think 'What If' is kind of becoming everyone's favourite song. A lot of people also seem to like 'Cyberdreamer'.
I've had a good response from that one so far.
Have you? Not so much on the message board though?
No, via emails, which is normally a good indication. I mean I have put up songs before and had no response.
Now let's go through the tracks.
That was one of the last songs we wrote. We sort of decided we needed something big, heavy and epic sounding. They funny thing about it is every once and a while on an album I write a riff and Mark seems to like every riff I write so maybe I should write more riffs but I sort of came up with that chorus riff. When we first played it in the rehearsal studio I thought it sounded like Accept for some reason. It had that marching German thing, something off 'Balls to the Walls' or something.
We got into the recording and laid everything down and had put that song off to last. What I do is put all the melodies together and I work it out with the guys and what I am usually working on the lyrics after I get all the basic music tracks back to really hear what the songs are sounding like. I kept putting this one off because I didn't have any ideas.
Usually I write the melodies with the song when I'm writing with Mark but with that one the music all sort of came out and I had no clue what I was going to melody wise. So finally I had recorded all the vocals for the whole album and that was the only one left and I hadn't written anything for it. So my girlfriend was here visiting me and I said I've got to write this song and she's a really talented singer songwriter so she sat down and I put the album cover up and I said I want the song to have something to do with this album cover. It all just started to come together and the story was developing and she wrote the 2nd verse. It all came together in about half an hour.
We just sat back and went hey that's pretty good. I think I went into the studio the next day and recorded it. I think that's interesting because I'd never written a song of an image before. I kept looking at that cover and came up with a weird abstract idea of like a futuristic world where there's a almost like a mechanical, spiritual goddess some way out place on a space station. This whole idea of trying to make it a place where love is really important. I was just really getting frustrated with all this war shit. I think you can get that through the whole record. A lot of positivity this time around.
'When I Come Home'
Again one of the last songs that we wrote for the record and Bruno had a hand in the writing of that one.
We just said we need something up tempo. So that one just kind of popped out. I think I came up first with that verse riff thing and then we wrote it in the studio. Lyrically I think it's a another song that's about a guy trying to basically get back to himself, get back to who he really is. In the chorus I'm saying looking out from where I stand on the edge of where I'll be. It's kind of a searching song.
'How Good It Feels'
Nothing but love songs baby. I think that song is basically without any doubt an ode to my lady from my heart. Starting with the 'Westworld' debut I was just about to find that my wife and I were about to get divorced. So you start to hear songs like 'Heartsong' and there's this feeling that something's about to happen. I went from that album into Transistor and that's when I knew we were going to get divorced. So you get a lot of stuff on there like 'Free Again' which is the Japanese bonus track and there's a lot of other references on there I'll put it that way.
Part of the songs were me letting it go and then part of the songs were me wanting it back. Then you get to Skin and I'm really pissed off. I'm all done now and I've got a great new girl and a whole new attitude that goes with it.
I really love this song. It's probably one of my most favourite songs on the album. To me it almost sounds Journeyish or something. I can't really put my finger on it. There's something about the verse melody that's very haunting and then you get to the chorus and it's almost like a happy melody but the lyrics are saying this is not how it should be. It's kind of an interesting rubbing of ideas. I really have no clue what that song's about. I think sometimes things just come out on certain days. To me it's a mystery to what these things are about.
Again when I sit down to write lyrics I don't think too much about what I'm writing I just let it go. I think when I listen to the whole album it could almost be a concept album. There's a theme that runs through the whole thing and I think it's let's get this shit together on this planet cause we're really fucking things up here.
I for one am extremely unhappy not only the events of Sept 11 but the events after Sept 11 and how certain responses have been handled. I don't want to get into a big political thing but I just think an eye for an eye and all that crap there's got to be a better way. I will fight for it through my music, as much as I can as I'm all for handling things in a peaceful manner.
The premise of this song is, is it naïve to think that we can actually turn this crap around. Basically it's a call to not just other people but it's a call to myself when I say can you open minds, start revolutions and break new grounds. Can we do it, can I do it, can you do it can we all change the way we think about things and not be quite so aggressive.
'Look To See' - Track 6 and we just hitting the first and only ballad.
I know that's right. 'What if' is almost like a heavy ballad you know.
Yeah it's a piano ballad. Yeah I really love that song a lot and I'm always a sucker for a ballad. I like to sing them. I think the song is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes when I'm feeling down myself I like to write songs like that and they're almost directed at someone else but they're really for me.
Eventually I might be singing them every night.
It's interesting how that works because it ends up sounding like it's a song for someone else but it might just be a song for me trying to get out of a bad mood or something. That song actually started off as a guitar song and Mark had a guitar riff but we just decided let's do something with piano. Josh has become a full member of the band now and we just decided to really utilize that, the piano skills that he has.
'Righteous One' - What a hook!
Thank you. I got pissed off on the song; it's my one angry song. I can't really say who it's about but it's about someone really close to me. It's not my current girl or ex. It's just a person in my life and they'll get the message. I don't even remember how that song came together musically. Mark was coming up with all these really cool 70's retro riffs. You kind of get that with this song. It's got that old fashioned I don't even know say Aerosmith meets Zeppelin.
'Misery Loves Company'
Lyrically it's about not going along with the crowd here to find my way out of whatever hellish situation I am in or the world is in. It is a lot about me, a lot of lyrics I definitely write from the heart. I'm not really a storywriter per se. I think 'Cyber Dreamer' is about the closest I've done to a story. It's just however I was feeling the day I wrote that song.
It's got a good message to it that song, a positive edge to it.
We can all change any time. There's a great line in 'Vanilla Sky' Penelope says to Tom that every moment is a new opportunity to change your entire life. I just love that so much because when you're really fucking feeling like shit and things are falling apart you can say wow in this next moment of time I can do something to actually cause it to turn around. I don't have to do the same things that I've been doing and I don't have to have the same patterns. I think people sell themselves too short and don't feel that they are in control of their own lives. Look at you, you created a web site 5 years ago and now you've got a full time job with that. It shows you the power of having a good idea when there's an opening for it and you've created like a whole life for yourself. Who would have thought, you probably wouldn't have thought?
Not me, that's for sure
The idea of the song is if you listen to other people enough you'll do nothing. You need to create your own space and your own environment and sometimes not even tell other people about it. I say in the song keep it to yourself until it's real. Just do your thing and don't tell anybody and if you want to make a change in any way, shape or form and don't fucking listen to other people.
'I Can't Run'
That's a pretty obvious message there. When you are facing your own demons you can either succumb and completely go all the way to the bottom into the gutter and feel like shit and fall apart.
The idea behind the song is that you can't run from yourself. I think it's a real realization for some people when they come to terms to the fact that they can't blame other people for their own problems. In the song I say can't run from the things I can't hide there's no way I'm ever going to lose this fight. On one hand I'm saying I can't run from this I have to deal with this but on the same there's no way I'm going to let this fucking get me down.
I'm going to overcome my own demons. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
I actually wrote that song. It's almost entirely my song, Mark cleaned up a little bit here and there but I pretty much brought that to the table.
What do you think of that one?
I think it rocks, it's great. It's probably the only song on the album that has a bit of a different style.
Yeah, For some reason 'Westworld' always seems to be a mid tempo band. We decided that we wanted to do a cover. We tossed around a lot of different ideas and it was kind of hard to get everybody to agree. Finally we agreed on that one. I really don't know how or why that came about but I do know we were getting tired of arguing about it. I love Dio so I thought it would be fun to sing it.
On the last album you did 'Invited' which was a fantastic version.
I'm a huge Alanis Morrisette fan, I actually saw her twice this year in concert. She has an amazingly devastating voice live. She's a very under rated vocalist I think a lot of people make fun of her with the way she sings. She's got a very strong and beautiful voice.
How about you guys getting out and playing live this year?
We're going to be doing a record release party here in N.Y around the time the record is released. I'm going to be going back and forth from here to Norway over the next 6 to 8 months working on TNT material. I have no idea what that's going to sound like. It's going to be very interesting. We have been working on songs and we're getting a lot of pressure from all the record companies to be very retro, very classic sounding. I know we're going to do our best to do that but from the material we've been working on so far it's nothing like 'Transistor' and it's nothing like 'Firefly'. It's not like 'Intuition' or 'Tell No Tales' either.
We're only a couple of songs into the whole thing really.
I'll be looking forward to hearing the results.
You've seen me on the boards enough to see my opinions on all that, It's really hard to go back and recreate something. It's not that you can't. I think what I'm doing now both lyrically, melodically and vocally to me is much better than what I did before. I felt that way about 'Skin' and 'Transistor'. I even felt that way about a couple of songs on 'Firefly'. It's progression forward.
Thanks Tony, that's a great note to end on.