Former TNT and current SKID ROW singer Tony Harnell was interviewed on a recent edition of "The Classic Metal Show", which is heard live on Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. EST at TheClassicMetalShow.com. You can now listen to the chat using the Spreaker widget below. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On how he landed the gig in SKID ROW:
"It was an unexpected turn of events, certainly for me. There's a lot of things that led to this decision, separate from the TNT scenario. The [SKID ROW] guys and I go way back — we've known each other for years, and I think that out of… No disrespect to any of the other bands from that era — TNT was one of 'em — I think that SKID ROW then and have managed to remain, for lack of a better word, cool. And one thing that I had in my mind was that if I wasn't gonna be in TNT, if I was gonna be in a rock band, one of the things I wanted was a heavier band. And this is certainly a heavier band — other than the hit songs that were on the radio, especially the ballads. Which, really… I mean, '18 And Life' isn't even really a ballad; it's sort of almost a midtempo rocker, [but] it's just on the lighter side of what they do. I'm thrilled. They're great guys. They really have it together. They're very professional.
"They did not just call me up. I was the first guy they thought of, as far as I know, and they went on YouTube to check, to make sure that I still could sing and still looked okay, and apparently were pleased with both of those things. But by no means did they call me and say, 'Are you free? And if so, would you like to do this?' and it was a done deal. I went through a semi-traditional auditioning process. I mean, it was pretty loose, and I wasn't sitting there in a room with five other guys that were competing with me, but it was daunting for me. It was definitely a little tough on my ego, being in this business as long as I have and selling some records myself and having the little bit of 'legacy' that I do have. And I don't mean that in an egotistical way whatsoever; I mean that in the humblest way possible. But I've been in the business for a long time. So would I have preferred a phone call that said, 'If you want it, you've got it?' Of course. But I do understand their concern based on the difference in sound between TNT and SKID ROW, for them to make sure that I can handle the material in my own way. Am I gonna sound like [former SKID ROW singer] Sebastian [Bach] on the Sebastian songs? Probably not. Am I gonna sound like [ex-SKID ROW singer] Johnny [Solinger]? Probably not. So I'm gonna have my own spin on it, but I'm gonna try to be as true to the original songs as possible. So they just wanted to make sure I was gonna fit in — both as a person too, by the way. They wanted to make sure that we were gonna get along and be buddies and all that stuff is gonna be there as well."
On what the reaction has been like to the news that he has joined SKID ROW:
"I sort of have these nightmare visions of getting on stage and seeing people holding up signs in the audience that say, 'Bring back Bach,' or people throwing beer at me, or, you know, any number of things. But what am I gonna do? I mean, I really, honestly have to say… just like Rachel [Bolan, SKID ROW bassist] said, he wasn't really a TNT fan, he was more of a Tony Harnell fan. I respect that. I always liked SKID ROW. Honestly, I did not dig into all their material. I was not a hardcore SKID ROW fan that sat and listened to their music. I knew the hits, and I saw the videos, and that was pretty much the extent of it. I would rather be in my shoes right now — I can tell you that — I'd rather be the guy replacing Johnny than to have been him replacing Sebastian. I mean, I can only imagine what he went through the first six months, a year, two years that he was doing that. So at least there's been a fifteen-year buffer between the two things. But I'm sure I'm still gonna get it. And I've already seen it. I try to avoid it; I try not to look at bad stuff. It seems to me that — and maybe I'm just fooling myself, but I'm getting the same thing from the guys in the band — it appears that the majority of people are behind this and seem to be embracing it, and that's encouraging. And I'm seeing what's being said. Again, I'm trying to stay away from the real nasty stuff. There's been some pretty funny things. I think one guy posted just… The best post I got so far was just simply a picture of a big pile of shit. That was the best one. There were no words at all — just a picture of a big pile of shit. Otherwise, like I said, it appears to be positive. So I'm just gonna go with that. Because, again, I'm doing my job. I don't wanna be involved in the soap opera. I want the fans to be happy. I want them to embrace me. My job is to win them over and make them feel happy about SKID ROW. It's about SKID ROW; it's not about Tony Harnell in this situation."
On how he plans to approach SKID ROW-frontman gig:
"With all due respect, in all my years that I've been doing this, this is the first time in thirty years or so that I have stepped into a situation where I am kind of center stage singing somebody else's material. Not that I don't do cover songs when I do acoustic shows, but they're cover songs of my choosing. It's a little different, 'cause I can put my own spin on them. With this, I'm gonna attempt to, but I also wanna stay true to what the SKID ROW fans are expecting. And not all the SKID ROW fans know Tony Harnell, don't care about Tony Harnell or his past. So I think that for a lot of the fans that know the band, they won't have any clue about my past and my history, and that's fine. My job, for everybody, is just to go try to do my best. And I don't wanna compete with Sebastian or Johnny or anybody. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sebastian and what he created with the band and the legacy that he helped create with these guys. Rachel and Snake are phenomenal songwriters, and that helps a little bit for me to feel as though I'm singing songs that the guys that are standing next to me wrote. That makes the job a little bit easier to swallow, I guess you could say, rather than, say, the guy who replaced me in TNT [Tony Mills], who, I know, had to go out every night and sing my lyrics and my stuff. Look… Again, Sebastian is a hell of a talent, both as a performer and a singer, and he and I also go way back. And this is a very interesting situation for me to be in, but I'm not part of the soap opera, or part of the drama in any way, shape or form. I'm just a singer who's really happy to be — finally — in an American band, being that I am American, and be able to come back and play for all the American fans that TNT did build up in the '80s. Because, honestly, we had a bigger fan base here than we had anywhere else in the world. Even though we had gold and platinum records in other countries, America has more people. So, if TNT sold however many hundreds of thousands of records that we sold, we have a huge fan base. We have a big fan base in the U.S., and now they're gonna get to see me. I'm sure some of them would rather see me with TNT, but I tried real hard and I couldn't make that happen. So I'm gonna be doing it with SKID ROW, which is freakin' awesome, if you ask me."
On whether he has talked to Sebastian Bach since he was announced as the new lead singer of SKID ROW:
"Sebastian and I had a pretty close relationship when SKID ROW first came on the scene. We met before their first album came out and we became friends. And through the years, it's been off and on, and that's the honest truth. I saw him on Broadway, and I thought he was phenomenal; he blew me away. And then it's just been off and on. No animosity, no bad things — nothing like that at all. It's just an off-and-on thing. That's what kind of happens in this business. You have periods of time when you're really in touch with people and times when you're not, and this is one of the times that we're not. So that nay actually not be a bad thing for the time being; I don't know. I have no clue what he's thinking or feeling about it. I wish him all the best. He's got a great solo career going. Again, like I said, I don't wanna be a part of any of that stuff, because it has nothing to do with me. I'm joining a band I'm thrilled about joining, and, like I said, I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he created with the band, and I know that the fan base… Those records are very sacred to them, just like the early TNT records are sacred to TNT fans. So I understand it and I get it. But to answer to your question straight up, I have not spoken to him, and I don't know at what point… It's not something that is at the forefront of my mind right now. What is at the forefront of my mind is getting these songs together and getting ready for these shows that are coming up."
On the decision to re-record the SKID ROW classic "18 And Life" with his vocals:
"The re-record was not to try to outdo the original, it wasn't to try to in any way replace the original version, at least from my standpoint. I don't know what their idea was. From my standpoint, it was… They asked me to do it, and I thought it was an interesting idea as a way to introduce me to the fan base. And I did my best to stay true to the original, which is what they wanted. I probably would have strayed more, if I could have, and done more Tony Harnell doing the song. But, you know, I tried to stay as true as I could to the original version.
"This was recorded from scratch. This is a complete re-record. And, in fact, they purposely used the same exact gear, so all the amps, all the guitars, as far as I know, were exactly the same. The only difference is Rob Hammersmith is the new drummer… is the current drummer, I should say; he's not new anymore. So other than the drums, the guitars and the bass are all original, same exact gear — same amps and guitars, as far as I know, is what I was told. They did a great job duplicating, and they wanted to duplicate as closely as possible to that original version."
On how it feels to be replacing a hugely popular singer like Sebastian Bach:
"I will say this, and I'm gonna try to say it as tenderly and in as humble a way as possible. I've said it, and I'll say it forever… I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sebastian. When he first came out, like everybody else, I was blown away. The first time I heard the [first SKID ROW] record was on a cassette tape, with him sitting next to me in a taxi before the record came out. And he sat there pointing out notes and phrases that he was singing that he literally said were taken from my style. So, in this weird sort of way, I kind of… maybe not from a stage performance standpoint, but from a vocal standpoint, there are elements of this that are very different than what — and no disrespect to Tim ['Ripper' Owens, who replaced Rob Halford in JUDAS PRIEST] — but very different from what Tim did with JUDAS PRIEST. I sort of see this in a weird way as almost 'Rock Star' [the 2001 Warner Bros. movie starring Mark Wahlberg as a salesman-turned-rock star, was styled after Owens, who fronted a JUDAS PRIEST cover band before being tapped to become the new lead singer of the actual group] in reverse — meaning that when Sebastian met me, I was his idol, or one of heroes, and here I am, 25-some-odd years later going into this band. So I think that, if anything, maybe I'm doing him doing me. [Laughs] That sounds a bit incestuous and odd to say in that way, but I think that there are gonna be elements to… Obviously, look, he's got different qualities to his voice. I think he's got a little bit more of a punk and edgier kind of… I don't know… I really don't know how to describe it. I guess I'm more… There are differences; there obviously are differences between our voices, and that's totally fine. I will, as I go forward with the band live… They heard me in rehearsal get pretty damn rapsy, and there's gonna be nights where I'm gonna pour that on real thick, and I'm able to do that. I see this as kind of almost, I guess… and really, again, I wanna be careful about how I say this… I don't wanna say that I see it as a supergroup, because a lot of people don't know my past and my history, but I do think that of all the replacement singers I can think of, I do think that TNT had a stronger past, both with record sales and accomplishments, even if a lot of it was overseas. We did do huge tours in America, and we accomplished a lot here, and we accomplished things overseas and in Japan that a lot of America bands never came close to: gold, platinum albums; we won a Grammy [-equivalent] award over there; we were one of the biggest bands in Japan. When everybody was big [in Japan], we were one of the biggest. So we accomplished a lot. So I kind of feel like I'm not sort of just some guy that they grabbed off a YouTube clip and stuck up there on stage. But I do see this as a bit of a coming together of two forces. And I'm hoping to be accepted by the SKID ROW fans as time goes by, and that's gonna be my goal — to just try to be accepted and do my best, and give a lot of respect to the past. I don't expect that they're all gonna accept me immediately, but that is my goal as time goes by."
On his latest departure from TNT:
"I really wanna make it clear that I was leaving TNT for totally unrelated reasons, and that I was not leaving TNT for any other situation that was ahead of me. Because, honestly, in January, when I made my announcement, I was not in SKID ROW. We hadn't even really met for the first time yet. So I did not have the job. It was just… I was done. And I wanted it to be clear that it was an unrelated situation, and so that's what I did."
"If you want me to be honest about it, I think the thing that's bugging me the most right now is the lying again. And it's not even lying… It's passive-aggressive posting, which is almost worse than kying. Well, they're both about the same, actually. You know, when it first happened and I made my announcement, there was no 'thank you.' There's never, ever, from the band, been, 'Thank you for thirty years of, basically, almost killing yourself flying all over the world so that we can be famous in Norway and Japan.' And that's fine. I have my own life. I don't need the approval or the recognition of the guys in TNT. I think they're all… I wish them all really well. But some of the posts that have come lately… purposely posting videos of my songs being sung by my predecessor, who is not coming back to the band, is weird. It's an odd way of handling your brand, and it makes no sense. So this last post wishing me well… Believe me, they don't wish me well. I got no private e-mails from the band saying, 'Good luck and have a great run with SKID ROW and we wish you well,' and all that; there was none of that. So anything that you saw online was just very bad P.R. What happened, basically, was that I never actually got grooved back in with the band. What happened was I had about three months' worth of conversations with Diesel [TNT drummer Morten Dahl]. We finally came to an agreement where I said I'll do two shows. And those two shows were about three months apart, maybe four months apart. And he said, 'Fine.' I said, 'Let's see how the first show goes. If it goes okay, then we'll talk about business and we'll figure out a way to, basically, operate as a band. Because we had no plan in place. It was just… Was I gonna be a hired gun in my own band? Was I gonna come back into the company? I mean, there were a lot of questions to be answered. In this particular situation, the drummer is the booking agent. And that was always a problem for me, because I think it's a conflict of interest. I don't think it's a problem for a bandmember to manage the band, which is the case with SKID ROW, but I do think it's a problem for a bandmember to book the band, which is what TNT does. So I was trying from the very beginning to change that. And when I said 'yes' the first two gigs, suddenly up on his web site for his booking agency, there was a photograph and, basically, saying that TNT was available for dates. So before I could even get grooved in and make any sort of agreement, there were ten dates booked, and then there were fifteen dates booked, and then twenty and so on and so on. You have to understand that in the business that we're in, he knew that he kind of had me by the balls, because once you book a show, and then you say 'no,' well, who's gonna get blamed? So to save face and to not… I was put in a very awkward situation, on purpose, and I was put on a spot. So being that I love the fans, and being that I love to perform live, I said, 'You know what?! Fine. We will work out the kinks as we go along. Let's do these shows, and as we go, we will have days off, and we will have meetings and we will work out the kinks. Well, try as I did, those meetings, which went on for hours, many of them, unfortunately, turned out to be completely a total waste of time. And there are many reasons why, and, again, I'm not gonna throw people under the bus and get into the details of why, but that's basically all I that I have to say about it. I did my very best to keep it together and to keep it professional. I wanted to stay in the band for the rest of my music career; that was my goal. I said, 'Okay, this is it. We can make this work.' People wanted the band. There were people all over the world that wanted to book the band and that were excited we were back together. The shows went phenomenally well. We were very well received at Sweden Rock, which is a wonderful festival, in front of 25,000 people on the night BLACK SABBATH played, and we did very, very well, and had a lot of shows like that. A lot of sold-out shows. So it was a very successful run. And the band went from being, basically, a struggling club band to getting back up to the stature where… close to the stature I had left it in 2006. But I couldn't get anywhere."
"I guess the realization of it was, because we couldn't work the business out, I was back as far as the fans were concerned, and even as far as I was concerned, and probably as far as the band was concerned, I was back. The band was back together, and we fully intended on going forward for as many years as possible. It is being portrayed now as though the plan was that I was only coming back for 2014 to do an 'Intuition' reunion tour, and that is absolutely, completely one hundred percent false. We were all in it for the long haul, and I tried to make it work for that. But when September came and the touring ended, nobody wanted to talk to me anymore, and my calls were not being returned, and my e-mails were not being returned by the most important people in the band that had the most influence. And the manager that came in to quote 'save the day' actually sunk the ship."