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Tony Mills (TNT/Shy/Serpentine)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 12:21 by Paul Woodward
Interview by Woody

MR: Hi Tony, Woody here from Midlands Rocks; I hope you are doing well! I’m sure you’re very busy on the promotion trail with TNT at this moment; after the recent release of the band’s new album “A Farewell To Arms / “Engine”” via the Metal Heaven label; but I hope you get five minutes to answer a few questions for us.

TM: “Sure my friend!! FIRE AWAY!!!”

MR: First off; many people were shocked and saddened by the ill health you suffered last year. We all at Midlands Rocks are happy to see you are keeping active and well at the present and hope it continues. If you don’t mind talking about it, how are you getting on at the moment? Has your ill health affected your musical career? It would be a shame to lose your talents or hear less of you, especially with you being a Midlander.

TM: “Well, of course, many thanks for your thoughts Woody...”

“It has been a rough ride, but I guess that is only to be expected? This life is not the easiest one to choose and, sure enough, it has taken its toll on me for thirty years. But I have been in good hands; both in England and in Norway, with people looking after me on both sides of the water, so it’s been OK. My illness was six months ago now and I have had a comprehensive recovery program. It has not affected my touring schedule at all; we’ve played six shows this month already and all have received very good reviews; so I guess all is well!!”

MR: Am I right in saying you recently moved to Norway so you can fully commit to your priority band TNT who you have now been lead singer with since 2006? Was the move out of convenience, as obviously you spend a lot of time in Norway touring and recording with TNT who are still extremely popular in their homeland? Or was it a health related decision?

TM: I think it would be fair to say that the heart attack had a profound effect on me yes and it was a health related decision…. But, along with all its associated medication and stress, it was inevitable. In the end, my marriage of seven years broke down finally, and I looked desperately for some peace and quiet. I have been looking for it for a long time, but never really found it.”

“The consequences of four hundred shows with TNT and all the associated flights in connection with that, in Norway, obviously took their toll and enough was enough. The consequence was to move to Norway and get rid of that problem altogether.”

MR: Has it taken long to adapt to the different culture and language? Or has it become like home away from home anyway?

TM: Well, I’ve pretty much been here since May 2006 on and off, so I'm pretty much used to it now. I never got used to any consumables here, be it drink or food, but after the heart incident, I lost all taste and smell, so those issues are now completely out of the window; it's just a case of soldiering on without. The language is, oddly enough, coming to me.  I've started translating newspapers and I pick up a lot of what goes on in conversations these days, so it’ll come…And, the culture? They're all nuts!”

MR: When I last interviewed you, you spoke off the record about your faith and religion and the importance this has on your life. Faith and religion are not something you would associate with stereotypical Rockers who in the most part have to play the roles of hard living rebels. Do you find your chosen style of music stifles your faith or that you have to hide it? I’m sure during your recent ill health your faith was a great source of comfort and strength?

TM: “Actually, this has been fairly traumatic. My faith has remained unshakeable throughout the last six months, regardless of what others may say, but it has been difficult!”

“I was pretty speechless in the Oslo hospital, for example, when I asked to take communion, only to find a priest that wanted my photograph too?? What the fuck is that about?”

“No, I think my faith was very much tested after the heart incident. I was left in hospital with an agonising illness that the hospital’s staff were not used to dealing with; so they refused to help me and left me to my own devices. Those moments will live with me forever; it was only God that pulled me through those days to be honest!”

“TNT’s bass player Victor Borge came to my rescue and lifted me from the hospital, taking me to his home to look after me for a while. What a guy! I love that guy! He has such a heart. Any person in need should run across this man; there they will see God in action. Victor taught me to laugh again.”

“After my departure from England last December, I have seen ‘Judgementalism’ in action in its purist form and the contradiction that runs through the Christian church, but I refuse to let this ridicule my faith! It just goes to show how many hypocrites are active within the church while your own heart stays honest to the faith?”

MR: Am I right in saying the TNT album is called “Engine” in Norway? What’s that about?

TM: That’s right! It was deeply thought, whilst I was ill, that this album could be the last record from TNT after my health issues, and Le Tekro initially called the album, “A Farewell To Arms”, to literally say goodbye….?”

“This all happened while I was incapacitated and it remained so, and went to the press as this…. But some labels around the world just couldn't accept this as the album title, so, as I recovered, Tekro was really fired up again and called the album 'Engine' realising that my personal 'Engine' had restarted and that the machine was back up and running. I think it was very much a vehicle that he was happy with, as a progression for the album’s future promotion and development….”

MR: The new album is absolutely fantastic and I love it! Your two previous albums with the band, I found really hard going and I didn’t really enjoy the direction the band was going in. But from the opening riff of “Engine” the album really makes an impact on me. What has the response to the album been so far in general for you?

TM: “A damn-sight better than the other two, for certain! I don’t blame the public for that though. Le Tekro had a lot of crazy ideas that he wanted to get out after Tony Harnell left and I sympathise with him completely. We all go through that. I've done punk rock, soul, pop, opera and all sorts of shit, so it shouldn't come as any surprise to me that other artists need to vent their ideas. I've done plenty of that in my time.”

MR: “A Farewell To Arms” to me seems a far more commercial sounding album; it’s not a return to the bands 80’s sound, just more accessible from my standpoint. Did the band set out to write a far more commercial record this time around given the criticism your two previous albums have taken from fans of the bands heyday? Or was it just the way the album turned out?

TM: No. There were many facets to the album's design that were assessed based on its predecessors. We were very aware of all the criticism given to the first two albums I’d been on, since 2006; we had to ride that road and clear the decks. 'Engine' was always going to take a while to get here and so it should. But like all good things, they are worth waiting for.”

“When all the decks were cleared, we had nothing left but positive energy for a new fresh record; this is what gave birth to “Engine”…”

MR: I know you said the style of the two previous albums may not have been lighting up the older fans of the band but was attracting the attention of new younger fans, and obviously that is a progressive thing for a band to have such longevity? Are you hoping the new album will bind older and younger fans together now in their support of the band?

TM: “Yes, absolutely!! I’m certainly very conscious, during the live shows particularly, that the fan base has a younger element now, and I really hope that continues to grow, but I think the old fans will like the new stuff as well, so hopefully, everyone will be on board!!”

MR: You will always have the ghost of Tony Harnell behind you and hardcore fans have found it very hard to accept you into the fold; have you found this hard to deal with? I know a lot of people have pointed fingers at you for the band’s change in musical direction therefore doubling the criticism you have received. I’m sure the strength of this album will win people over, but do you worry nothing will ever be good enough for some?

TM: No, not reallyI accept it might seem to some that it took a long time for us all to 'gel' together, but in the meantime, we were playing a lot of concerts and getting to know each other. This took a long time and we spent a considerable time on the road in Norway and Sweden; this is natural for any band though.”

“I don’t really feel Tony Harnell breathing down my neck! On the contrary, we have become great friends over the years and we talk regularly to great result. I think he is a remarkable vocalist and he, as an individual, to survive TNT for 23 years, has an unbelievable energy and sustainability. What an achievement; who could seriously knock the guy?”  

MR: What was the recording process like for you and did you enjoy writing and creating in the TNT mould or do you find it harder to write in a specific way for the band?

TM: No, we have a very good way of working in this band. I took 12 months out from drinking alcohol and smoking and many would say that this was a definitive move forward for the recording process of this band, Ha! Ha! And, I would probably agree with them. (A consequent heart attack after this would also bring to the surface that I should have never abstained. Weird, eh? Ha! Ha!) But, again, I watched the recording process with clear eyes and ears for some months and what you hear is what you hear. I didn't really feel any different, but I knew this time, that Le Tekro had come up with some genius guitar work which I really appreciated greatly from the off, and that I was only to compliment it. He’d already done all the work. He is a very clever guy when the mood takes him.”

MR: I think your vocal performance on the album is one of your best yet and you do show your versatility more so than on many of your works. Are you pleased with your performance on the new album?

TM: Thanks, but, to be honest, the album was a walk in the park. Le Tekro spent eight months writing the music and all the vocals were written and recorded in three weeks. I was back on a plane to the UK and it was all finished. I don’t break any records from the Guinness Book Of Records on here; all the songs are completely straightforward. All I ever did, was to follow the obvious platforms that were available from Le Tekro’s music and the song writing follows on from there!”

MR: What are your favourite songs on “A Farewell To Arms” and any reasons why?

TM: Well, probably, 'Take It Like A Man, Woman', which is the closest thing I’ve ever sung to a band like Judas Priest; 'Refugee', which is musical genius from it's chorus chord, right through to its structure; I could never have fucked that one up, not even on my worst day; and, probably, 'God Natt Marie' too, which gave me even more scope for song writing on an even keel, without any suggestions as to how lyrical content should be governed?”

MR: I know TNT is really busy in Norway, but is there any chance of seeing the band in the UK, especially in the Midlands?

TM: Nope, sadly I really don’t think so. It ain’t ever gonna happen. Logistics are basically impossible as things stand.”

MR: How is recording and writing going with the second (and your last album) with British AOR band Serpentine? Can you give us any gossip or clues about the style or even, song titles of the new album?

TM: “Well, I’m working on the tenth and last track for Serpentine this week. The new album is undoubtedly stronger than the first but this is where my involvement really ends with the band. Now Matt Black from the UK has taken over my role within the group, and I fully expect that he will carry on the tradition of the band with his writing……”

MR: As you say, Serpentine now has a new front man, in Matt Black; have you had much time to check him out yet? I saw him with his band Invisible Idols last year and actually came close to emailing Gaz Noon about him being a possible replacement for you in the future; although I didn’t think it would be this soon. I think he has a great voice and will compliment the band well….

TM: Ha! Ha! Remind me to get my fortune read by you, next time Woody; and not the old lady in Walsall market, eh? I think he’ll do really well with them!”

MR: When we spoke last we discussed that it would be beneficial for the band’s future to find a singer who was a similar age as the rest of the Serp’s, but finding someone just wasn’t that easy – I feel a bit of destiny in the air with Matt coming onto the scene more prominently last year. Was your decision to leave the band purely health related in order to reduce your heavy work commitments or a nudge to the band to start actively seeking a replacement?

TM: “Neither really… It was more a crisis of confidence on my part. It’s easy to sing your ass off in a recording studio for twelve months and make good records. But, it’s not so easy to maintain that on a stage, when you grow older, and you have to squeeze it all into ninety minutes. For myself, with the new and the old Serpentine albums, I had written a singer’s ‘suicide for stage’. The guys are all in their early twenties and I was 48. I was very conscious of this and as much as I thought it would be tough for me (to move on), I knew it was wrong for their careers to stay. I had been actively looking for other singers for the band since the summer of 2010. Matt was a Godsend!!”

MR: I think the future is bright for the band and I think having a young singer could help the band push into a younger market. Will you still contribute to the band in any way in the future, whether it is song writing, backing vocals or even just advice and guidance?

TM: I very much hope so… I have been asked by the management to write the third album and record the choir parts, which I will be more than happy to do. We didn't burn any bridges…..”

MR: Everyone at Midlands Rocks wishes you the best of health and good luck with the new album and tour Tony. Just to finish… Is there anything else you would like to add or say to Midlands Rocks readers?

TM: “What shall we do?”

It seems to me, that many of the world’s great writers and musicians come out of Birmingham, but that we’ve all had to leave to get anywhere? We can’t achieve anything in England. Kieran Dargan and Bruce Mee (with Firefest), fly the only flag available to British musicians with their annual show, and it’s a sound precedent for others to follow, because they do it properly…. I never forget the UK, but, when I have to move to Norway to play in front of thousands of people every night for the last five years; and these people are always paying 25 quid a ticket, doesn't it tell us what has happened to the UK rock industry? In retrospect though, as a matter of historic inevitability, I remember waiting for Def Leppard to come back to the UK after their massive US success, just to show the Brits., that we had to do it somewhere else, before we brought the pie back home? The Brits never believed it unless you went abroad and did it first….”

“I hope everyone enjoys the record first and foremost. That’s what’s important right now!”