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Sue Willets & Tim Manford (Dante Fox)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 12:12 by Paul Woodward   [ updated 25 Jul 2011, 12:42 ]

Hi Sue & Tim, this is Woody from Midlands Rocks, hope you are doing well? I thought it was about time MR caught up with you guys with the band been Midlands based. Am I right in saying your originally from the Black Country?

Hi Woody its great to hear from you, yes we are very well and we trust that you are well also. Yes it has been a while now and I am sad that this is the case. You are absolutely right about us being from the Black Country, I myself being born and bred not far from Dudley Zoo, now as I know you are very quick witted, I fed you that one ha ha.

First off there has been a few line-up changes since the last Dante Fox album -2007s Under The Seven Skies. Who completes the Fox line-up in 2010 and who is playing on the forthcoming EP?

Sue -
Yes there have been a few changes since the last album with the first change being Mick which was a disappointment and a surprise when he said he was giving up playing drums but thank goodness that was not the case and he is still playing and enjoying himself. The next change was Andy Perfect joining us and he still remains adding I think a new dimension in his playing. We have as you know parted company with Mike Dagnall and Roman due to the need to move on and write new material which was not possible with the personality mix within the band. We tried to address this on a number of occasions but it just got to a point where I personally had to make some quite tough decisions. If Dante Fox was to carry on just playing the odd gig then the line up would have been fine but this was not the route I was prepared to be going along. It has taken me a long time to realise that there is a whole big world out there and now with working on the Shining Line the opportunities available due to modern technology can provide are fanatastic
 
 
I'd heard Eric Ragno will be playing Keyboards on the EP? How did you hook up with Eric? I know Eric has been too England in the past even staying in my hometown of Walsall with Tony Mills when recording the China Blue album, did Eric fly over from America again to record his Keyboard parts?

Sue

That was down to Tim he came up with that little gem and I am really looking forward to this new influence.

Tim

After the line up changes we made I was looking for a keyboard player that has the same influences but also someone who would help to bring back the classic AOR sound from our earlier albums and Eric has an excellent pedigree and fitted the bill perfectly. I contacted him through his myspace page and asked him if he would be interested in working with us on our new material. As it happens Eric liked what we had achieved with our First Three albums and accepted straight away. We have written the new tunes but I’m looking forward to hearing some of Eric’s input.

What can we expect from the new EP? Can you give us any hints on the style of the new songs and any of the song titles? How many tracks will be on it?

Sue

I want to capture more of the style in the vocals and melodies of the first album “Under Suspicion”. To be honest that was where I think I wrote some really interesting stuff. Obviously I know what Tim has put down as he is ahead of me in some of the songs. He has been really, really frustrated with the delay in getting something released but has been consistently writing. To add to this I have been studying for the last four years and this has had a big impact, but that will be over by the end of 2010 and I will be putting 110% into writing with Tim as I owe him and myself this now.

Tim

I have tried to mould the hooks and commercial sound of the First album with the harder guitar riffs of “Under The Seven Skies” to create a melodic sound that is up to date and current. Song title’s include “Who stole Your Innocence” has a really dynamic vibe with a big stadium sound with a “Photograph“ style chorus. “Message” has a “Love Bites “ styled verse but again a very big hooky chorus with some neat guitar harmonies, a friend thought it had a Sting feel of which I haven‘t got a problem with.We also have a huge epic track that is Eight minute’s in length which very Zeppelin Kashmir meets Alter Bridge with de-tuned guitars lots of drama and a great emotive lead vocal .

There will be Five freshly recorded songs all recorded at Mad Hat Studio’s with Mark Stuart and at our own studio in lovely sunny Shropshire. Eric will record his keyboards at his studio in Los Angeles.

The band has musically evolved over the years, from the pure AOR of “Under Suspicion” to the more guitar heavy melodic hard rock of “Under The Seven Skies”. Has the band continued to evolve and with Eric’s involvement is there a return to pure AOR on any of the tracks?

Sue

Yes I think that we have evolved over the years that is why I am keen on going back to some pure AOR and maybe this in itself will hopefully lead to something in the mix that will make things interesting.

Tim

I am very keen to return to the pure AOR sound that has influenced us though our careers but still retain the important elements of “Under The Seven Skies” album such as the big arrangements and pompy interplay of guitars and string arrangements. Its must be said that the individual performances of all the band was second to none and a great vibe was created by all involved. It also received rave reviews from a broad cross section of music journalists.

Is this EP self-financed or will it be out on a label? Do you have a release date for it yet?

Tim

It is totally self financed and it’s a vehicle to get Dante Fox back out there making the music we love. We plan to get it released for March and we will approach Steve Price to see if he is interested in the title track being exclusively aired like before on ARFM. In the meantime we’ll continue to write and record the new idea’s.

How is the recording of the album going? Are you recording at Mad Hat in Wolverhampton again with Mark Stuart producing?

Tim

I have recorded the guides and have written all the solo’s and harmony parts in my own Pro Tools equipped studio. We will be recording the live drums with Mark Stuart and Sheena Shear at Mad Hat Studio’s in December. We hope to have all songs finished for the end of Febuary with the lead vocals and the mix being finished at Mad Hat.. We also plan to record a promo video for the title track to help promote the new band.

Local legend Tony Mills has sung backing vocal’s on all your albums, will he be appearing on the new EP? I know Tony has suffered some ill health of late, which I was shocked and gutted to learn about so I wasn’t sure if he would be available yet. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony earlier this year (in my local pub no less!) and he is a really good guy and a big supporter of Melodic Rock bands.

Tim

We would love Tony to perform on the songs because his voice moulds with Sue’s perfectly and also he’s such a pro and a great guy and we go back such a long time , it must be Eighteen years now to when we both shared the same management. We have been really concerned about him and it was great to finally catch up with him the other day and yes he still has his sense of humour and both myself and Sue wish him a continued recovery and look forward to seeing him soon.

Sue

Yes it would be great to have Tony on the album it would be a shame not to keep up the tradition.

Is the EP a pre-cursor to the next full album and will many of the songs feature on it or will this EP be a stand alone release?

Tim

It’ll be a stand alone release and just as important to us as any of our other albums. Maybe more important because this time the songs have been my vision over a period of time and also I’m recording part of it myself so it’s a much more involved piece of work. There will also be an album to follow it later on in 2011.

You both recently appeared on the AOR project Shining Line on the song “Still In Your Heart”. It’s a fantastic album over all, but this song is probably my favourite, It’s great to hear you guy’s back in pure AOR mode. Sue I think your vocal performance is stunning and you definitely steal the show from the duet with Bob Harris (AXE), and you nail all the melodies perfectly and I felt as if the song was written for you! I’ve always been a massive fan of your vocals as I find you have a strong a passionate approach to your style which really appeals to me. Tim you played the guitar solo on the song, which is fantastic melodic guitar solo which enhances the song. How did you become involved with the project?

Tim

The Shining Line project was a joy to do. it’s a great album full of great songs and musicians. We originally met the main founder member Zorro at the Rescue Rooms when we played with Wig Wam.He was there with some friends and he came over to us and said how much he loved our set . Then about Two years later he sent me an e mail detailing what his visions were for the album and that he would like Sue to duet with a male singer (originally Bob Catley) and he wanted me to provide a “Dante fox” style solo. It wouldn’t surprise me if “Still in our heart” was written for Sue in mind and Bob Harris vocals are really great on that song and the album was meticulously planned. I must say after working on this pure AOR song I realised our strengths and I think Sue sounds really great on this arena.

Sue

To be honest Woody it was refreshing to sing this song as it was, I felt a different approach to what I would normally undertake but absolutely in the pure AOR vein. It was however in a different vocal register to what I would normally sing in, but I have been working on that following Mark commenting on it whilst working on Under the Seven Skies so I will see where that takes me. I am so pleased that you like the track so much and your comments about the passion in my voice is greatly received. This was obviously the first time I had worked with Bob Harris and when I received the track with his vocals on, I thought he was stunning in his delivery and this made it easy to put my parts to and I would love to work with him again.

What do you think of the finished song? Did you have much involvement in which song was to be yours or were you just told which one they wanted you to do?

Tim

I think the track is really good and Sue and Bob sound fantastic together. They just sent us the song and we recorded our parts at Mad Hat studio’s. Maybe we’ll ask Bob to appear on our next album, now that sounds really exciting.

Sue

There was no choice in the song but if I had the choice I would have chosen Still in Your Heart so it was a win win scenario. I would love to be involved in anything they did in the future.

Would you consider making guest appearances or be involved in more project albums in the future? And is there anyone out there who you would like to work with?

Tim

I can speak for Sue here and say we’d both like to work either individually or together on other projects so if there is anyone out there wanting to work with either of us or both please just contact us at our myspace page

www.myspace.com/dantefox

Sue you recently sang on the Tara’s Secret album Vertigo, a duet with Johnny on the song “The Last To Know” a ballad which you steal again with your passionate vocal. How did you get involved with doing the song and again did you choose to sing this song or was this the song the band approached you with? Are you pleased with how your performance turned out and what was it like working with the Secret guy’s?

Sue

Woody they asked me and I said yes. I didn’t chose the song, and they presented me with different lyrics on the day, typical of those guys. They are like a monty python sketch gone wrong and so funny. There was lots of talk about cheese if I remember correctly. I have got to say that I was pleased with how my performance turned out, but the song was not in a comfortable register for me. There was however much laughter around the Kenny Rogers country feel on the day and I do think it is evident in parts of the song. A very enjoyable few hours though and they are a great bunch of guys.

It’s been three years since “Under The Seven Skies” came out and it got a lot of critical acclaim as well as many hardcore Dante Fox fans claiming it as the bands best album. At the time I wasn’t blown away by the album but the album has grown on me over the years - I think my initial disappointment was based on the fact I was hoping for something more in the vain of the “The Fire Within” album. Now I listen to the album I can appreciate it for it what it is rather than what I’d wanted it to be. In reflection what do you think of the album? Did it turn out how you hoped and what songs are you most proud of from it?

Tim

I think its definitely our strongest album because the material is stronger and more varied,the arrangements and instrumentation are more ambitious and the performance’s are more challenged. I really pushed myself on “Seven Skies” and I think the guitars are really classic sounding as its Gibson guitars and Marshall amps played loud through Marshall 4x12’s. These days most albums are recorded and the only microphone used for the whole album is the one used for the vocals, this is I feel really sad.

We all were really pleased with the finished product. The production is really impressive and real and the songs were very mature sounding. You have to remember that we wanted to produce an album that would appeal to fans of classic rock from early Heart/Zeppelin to the more melodic bands such as Journey .We wanted the album to sound as a complete band playing together live in the studio like it used to be .

My favourites are the title track ”Under The Seven Skies” with its emotive vocal and lyrics, string arrangements , brilliant vocal arrangements and its my favourite guitar solo. “Goodbye To Yesterday” is one of our best songs - great vocal melody and very commercial and current sounding. I also think “The Last Goodbye” is great opening song and really sets the scene for the rest of the album and oh yes I really like the solo again.

Sue

The album did turn out how we wanted it to be, we enjoyed writing, and recording it, the whole experience of it really. I feel it captured where we were at the time and I think this can be said of a lot of bands. I am most proud of ’Under the Seven Skies’ because out of the three albums it was the one that had a different approach and feel.

How do you see the state of the current Underground Melodic Rock / AOR scene? Is it frustrating as a musician to be part of musical genre that doesn’t receive any mainstream media attention? Do you think the scene is healthier than it was during the 90’s when the band’s debut album came out?

Tim

I think the scene is really good at the moment and I can’t believe how many 80’s/90’s artists are out there now recording new music and appearing at UK festivals. Its certainly great for the fans to have older artists such as Marcie Free releasing come back albums one month and Nelson Brothers the month after, its really surreal . Where were these bands in the 90’s when the scene crashed ?? The 90’s was good for Dante Fox because at the time we were new and the fans didn’t have all these older bands to indulge in and we were fresh and don’t forget we appeared on the Gods festival most years along with tours of Holland/Belgium and support tours with ELO Enuffz nuff etc..

Sue

Not wanting to get on my soap box Tim, but I did predict that there would be a change in the scene. You only have to look at Journey in the charts and dare I say GLEE to see that.

Do you have any live shows lined up to support the release of the EP?

Tim

We don’t have any plans to play live unless someone asks us. If the EP sells in the right places then we would be more than happy to put a live band together and play but its just got to make sense.

Sue

If people want to see us then we will be there, if we end up being a recording unit then we will be there. Whatever the future holds we will be there.

Sue who are your musical influences and what bands or artists are you currently enjoying listening too?

We have tickets for Journey, Foreigner and Styx (see you all there). Musical influences for me are very varied and you will have seen that from other interviews. Now me and Tim live together as you know and I want to let you know who wears the trousers. Well here is the truth, when it comes to music Tim does, so see below about who I am listening to at the moment. But let there be no mistakes about it, I wear the trousers with regards to everything else (lol).

Tim who are your musical influences and what bands or artists are you currently enjoying listening too?

I really love the classic’s such as Journey ,Boston ,Van Halen, and some others such as Slamer,Nelson etc.. As far as guitar players go its always been Gary Moore (Corridors of Power ) John Sykes , Neal schon ,and of course Edward Van Halen and Steve Lukather . I’m currently enjoying the new Unruly Child CD.

With the band around for such a long time what have been your Highlights with Dante Fox?

Tim

Releasing all Three albums , appearing on the chat show hosted by Rory McGrath “Hit the Town” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCsTfjiJy7g

Touring Europe in support of the First album ,supporting ELO on their UK tour, appearing at the three Gods festivals and appearing as Stan Bushes backing band at the Gods in 1999.

And has there been any lowlights?

Being told to “crack open the Champagne” because Virgin Records want to sign the band. Losing the Jimi Jamison backing gig after we’d spent weeks learning and rehearsing his set for absolutely no return in fact it cost us - Thanks Dave…………

Sue

I agree with Tim, but also wanted to add, that a lowlight has been the lack of opportunity for more UK bands to be involved in some of the festivals held in the UK, which I feel should and could support their own. When you are self funding all of you activity whether it be putting out products or playing live then you really need this support.

This leads me onto another lowlight the fact that the last album was put onto download sites before it was officially released to purchase. This really has a detrimental impact not just on us, but on many other bands worldwide. So thanks to who ever did (does) it and may a force be with you!!

Thanks for your time and doing this interview for myself and Midlands Rocks is there anything you would like to add or say to the Midlands Rocks readers?

Tim

Just really looking forward to getting some new songs out there for you all. Hope you like it.

Just keep checking out our myspace page for updates

www.myspace.com/dantefox

Sue

Ditto Tim Ditto

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