TNT: Their religion is our religion.
Tony Harnell talks from his temporary base in Norway as the band continue to do press in support of the release of their classic My Religion album. Tony talks about the trials and tribulations of getting this album written, recorded and promoted.
G'Day Tony, thanks for talking TNT with me! I know you have seen my review already, but others seem just as enthusiastic for the My Religion album.
This must be very satisfying for all the guys?
Yes of course. Very much so!
My Religion has been some time in the making - all said and done - was the effort worth the result?
I believe it was. You know, some bumps along the way and I always think we can do better, but we did pretty well!
Could My Religion have been possible had it not been for Firefly and Transistor?
No, I don't think so. I think those albums were turning points creatively for Ronni and I and ushered in a new era of writing styles for us as a team.
Those albums have their fans - I rather like Transistor, but as a band, you really took some shit for their musical style didn't you?
We certainly did. A bone of contention between me and the fans for sure but I respect where they are coming from and it's not all of them either, just the real hard core conservatives. But hey, there was something they liked about us from another era and they want to hear more of that.
As you already know, I think My Religion is classic TNT, but with a healthy dose of modernism and a few new twists. But what was the catalyst for your guys sitting down and coming to the conclusion that a "classic" TNT album was really needed, or even wanted by you all?
Probably the response of the last two albums. We realized that if we were going to do this we had to get back in touch with the fans and what they wanted us to be. However, I stated clearly, and Ronni agreed, that we still had to find a way to move on and please ourselves musically and with the writing. I think somehow we managed to do that simply by staying focused during the writing and recording sessions.
Ok, so with that in mind...where did you guys start? How did you get the ball rolling?
We started by talking a lot on the phone and discussing the sound. Then we got together a few times and started writing. The result being the EP and of course that lead us to the album. I think the EP was an important process as well. It let us sort of find our footing so to speak.
Whose idea was the EP?
It sort of came about as an accident. I don't really know whose idea it was.
Did it serve its purpose?
I think it opened people up to what could be coming on the album and it created a buzz. So I think it was a good thing.
I see all but one of the songs were written by you and Ronni. How would you go about that process?
He'd send me music and I would come back with ideas for melodies and lyrics and I would also come with lyrics first and melodies. We have many ways of working and they are work well.
TNT is unique in that you reside in NYC and the rest of the guys are in Norway. I've read how you handled it in the 80's and 90's, but given the realities of hard rock in 2004, how difficult was getting this album recorded and just how was it done?!!
It is more difficult now of course. I hate to leave home. I just got married and I hate to leave my wife. But I love when I am working. I love being in the studio and finishing a new song. It's so satisfying. But back to your question, let s just say a lot of traveling was done by me!
You've privately praised the mix of Tommy Hansen to me - just how important was his role in making My Religion as good as it is?
Very important. We really just sent him files. Some from Norway and some from me in New York. I was so nervous it wouldn't all come together at the end and would sound weird or disconnected in some way. Tommy knew exactly what to do with everything. We did give him a lot of direction but he did a lot of things on his own and shocked us with his amazing sonic abilities. He really did make the album come together.
As an example, I love the fact the dark and powerful songs like She Needs Me and My Religion - are still highly melodic and instantly catchy. As a song writer, how do you ensure that each song has something for the listener to grab on to?
I always just feel that if I like it, if I don't get sick of it then maybe it's a good one.
I usually put something away for a few days or so after writing it to give it a rest and then go back and if it grabs me on a fresh listen there is usually something there. I am not always right, but getting better at it.
I also love the pop sentiment of Everybody's Got A Secret and Satellite. Can you explain the sound of those tracks vs the almost opposite vibe of Live Today and Invisible Noise?
You nailed it. It's pop. Ronni and I love pop. Especially 70's pop. I think it's fun and lightens things up.
Something that was truly different for TNT was the haunting track Song 4 Dianne. How did this track evolve and how did the female vocal and Celtic influence get included?
It evolved over a late night writing session and grew from there. It's a song about my wife's mother who passed away from cancer last year. My wife (Amy) went through a very intense time caring for her mom the last 6 months of her life and I wanted to give her something to make her feel a little better about the whole thing. Also Amy and her mom are English and the song has this Celtic vibe that was just perfect. After we finished it Amy came over to Norway to visit me and I asked her if she wanted to sing and play recorder on the track. She loved the song and lyrics and she did a beautiful job on it. The song is one of the most popular on the album and I get positive comments all the time about it. There is even talk about it being used on a movie soundtrack in the future.
Everything U R was the last track added to the album's make up. How did that come to pass?
It was a leftover and it got resurrected at the very end of the recording. I think it adds something to the overall album.
Do you have any personal favorites from the new tracks and are there any you are really looking forward to playing live?
We have been touring now and playing quite a few of them. I would say that they all sound great live, I especially love She Needs Me, My Religion and Invisible Noise.
How about dealing with record labels and such in 2004 - how has the band had to change their approach?
It sucks actually. It's very different. Thank God for our label in Norway, Playground Music. They make it all worthwhile. You can look them in the eye and see honesty. They are genuine people with a solid plan. If there is anything that makes me not want to do this music anymore it is dealing with what is left of the business side of melodic rock.
Who chose what songs from the EP to be included on the various versions of the album?
The various labels.
Aside from Japan, no one is getting any "bonus" tracks, but why 3 versions of the album - Europe, USA and Japan?
I hate it. I think it cheats the fans somewhere in the world. But this is another effect of being an indie band with separate labels in each territory. The Japanese always get their bonus track. It's in the contract and has to do with their import problems. Europe and Japan often disagree about song styles so they each had their ideas about the EP songs and in the USA the EP never came out so it seemed natural to have all the songs on the new album as one whole piece of music.
It's frustrating as hell and we try to do out best with the situation. The fans sometimes suffer for all the business crap. Bottom line is that we have to let the labels do what they think is right for their markets.
The CD has some simply fantastic artwork! Tell us how that came to be and if there was any set plans in mind when having the artist start out on it?
Sort of. I mean, the title sort of naturally pushed him in the direction he took. I think it's the right cover for the music and seems to please the fans a lot.
What can a band with a history such as TNT do in today's music business set up do to get seen and get much deserved recognition?
We're trying to figure that out now. If we could do in every market what we do in Norway we'd be rocking. We do a lot of TV and tons of major press there from the national news papers to major fashion and music magazines. We're more of a pop/rock act on stature there than a has-been melodic rock band. But I think our songs warrant that kind of attention and unfortunately money needs to be spent on a grander scale to see even a glimmer of that elsewhere in the world. For now it's simply to show people how powerful we are live and keep pushing the album.
Does it frustrate you that an album of My Religion's fine calibre and major label sound might not reach its potential fan base due to the fact it may not be found in every record store and featured in every magazine such as many pop acts are?
Of course. Especially after the year I had making the album. But I sort of expected that. I know who and what we are dealing with, but we did choose to deal with it. People always have choices in life despite what some may have you think!
What can we - as fans within this scene that do find out about this and other great albums - do about that?
Be more unified and demand better albums and music. Don't accept second or third rate music from the smaller labels. Don't buy it if it isn't good enough.
Force them sign better artists and make better albums. They can do it if they want to. Better music will lift the whole genre up and not make it a joke. I think this genre has to set higher standards for people to take it more seriously. Also, tell people outside our community about a great album that you discovered.
If there is something you love, send out e-mails or go to a website NOT connected to melodic rock music and talk about it. Get outside the melodic rock world to promote it more. This community is already sold on the style. We need the other people to know about it too. There is a huge untapped audience out there. They loved rock when they were young and they want new rock that sounds like the old rock now. They also have money. 30-50 year olds want to buy music! The question is how to get to them?
What are TNT's plans for world domination in 2004?
Touring and touring and getting people to hear this album.
You, yourself, are a busy man....what's coming up for you in 2004 - what are you working on?
I am working a lot on TNT of course. I am working on a solo album as always and various other things are in the pipeline. Harry Hess and I have been taking about doing something together as well so we will see.
What comes next for TNT - can you do this all over again next year for another record?
Oh man. I can't even think about that yet. One step at a time. We have some more TNT plans but I'll wait till they are secure.
What would you like to achieve on a future album - how can you top My Religion?
Ronni and I learned a lot from this one and we both feel we know what to do to make an even better album next time.
What are you currently listening to Tony?
Maria Mena from Norway, Sophia Ramos-an awesome singer from New York, and looking forward to the new Priest album!
Have I missed anything that you would like to add?
I love your site and thanks for creating it. Without your website the labels and bands would have very little in the way of a community. You created a whole world for everyone involved with melodic rock and a way to promote it better. You rock Andrew!
Thanks Tony, very kind! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview...much appreciated and once again, congratulations on a perfect record!