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InterviewsTony Mills On The State Of Rock

Posted on Saturday, February 06 2010 @ 23:52:03 CST by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Metal Tony Mills is still probably best known as the lead singer in UK AORsters Shy, or for his current tenure in TNT, however in recent years Tony has been involved with some fantastic releases from a variety or artists and the latest in that list is the excellent State Of Rock which combines three members of Frontline with Tony's inimitable vocals. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Steven Reid recently had the opportunity to chat to Tony about State Of Rock along with a few other things Tony is currently involved with.

Steven Reid - Sea Of Tranquility: Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time to have a quick chat about State Of Rock and the other bands and projects you are involved with. I have to start by mentioning how much I enjoyed the debut State Of Rock album A Point Of Destiny, how did the band come together and how did you come to be involved?

Tony Mills
: AOR Heaven records in Germany, namely Georg Siegl, gave me a call. He was really interested in Robby Bobel from the band Frontline performing live again. He had the makings of a line-up to get him back on stage again, but had lost touch with their previous vocalist. So, they needed to find someone to replace him that was interested in writing and recording and playing with Robby, so I agreed.

SoT: Were you a fan of Frontline before?

TM: I had heard some of their material over the years, I don't think I ever owned any of their albums, and in retrospect, I guess it doesn't really matter, working with the guys was a big enough kick!

SoT: You have made a point of stating the State Of Rock is a band and not a project, what is the difference between SOR and the other things you have been involved with?

TM: Well, we've already played together in Germany to promote the new album and now we have also drafted in new members to strengthen the line up as well. There is every intention to bring the band to the UK this year and also record a new album at the back end of the year. It's a fine band with a great record. It was a good idea of Goerg's and I intend to continue with the band whenever the opportunities arise.

SoT: You must be delighted with how well A Point Of Destiny has turned out, tracks like "Black & Blue", "Freedom" and "Friction" are among my own personal favourites, can you pick out some of your highlights?

: Black and Blue was the first tune that Robby sent to me. It had no lyrics, only the music, but it blew me away and I was sold from then on in. I love 'Freedom' and I actually really get off on 'Count Me Out', such a simple bouncing rock track; but then most of them are.

: Were many of the songs written before you got involved in the band, or was it a collaborative effort?

TM: No. A few of the backing tracks were written roughly, but while I was writing and recording vocals in the UK, Robby was writing music in Nuremberg, so we talked daily until we were both finished.

: So did the band get together to record the songs, or was it, as so many albums are these days, a case of emailing sections backwards and forwards to each other?

TM: Yes, we spent a lot of time exchanging files by internet and I went to Nuremberg to tie some things up when we finished writing, which was around eight weeks later.

: I think I'm correct in saying that there has been some talk of SOR playing some live dates. Has anything been sorted out yet?

TM: As I said, there is a major intention to play the UK this year, and I know that Georg is waiting for the right opportunities in Europe as well. When the time comes we'll be ready.

: There are some excellent keyboards on the album, however the promo disc I was lucky enough to receive didn't say who played them. Who was it and when you guys are playing live, who will be handling keys on stage?

TM: Robby recorded all the keys himself at his studio, but now, Joe Basketts from SHY has joined SOR and will be the future keys man for recording and live commitments.

: Will you guys be playing any Frontline, Shy or any other material from the huge amount of projects you and the other guys have been involved with?

: Yes, there is a distinct requirement to play songs from both bands as well as the SOR album, so we have a wealth of material to draw from. In fact we already have done just that.

: Considering that you are still a member of TNT and Shy, how easy will it be to find the time for touring?

TM: It's funny how things just sort of work out really, because I don't have many clashes in terms of commitments to different bands or projects. I guess you get good at juggling after a while, or maybe it is prioritising. If I know I have to record an album for someone like Robby, then I give it most of my time and just fit other commitments in around it. If I'm on tour, I don't take on excessive recording commitments, it's as simple as that, really.

: You are always involved in a huge amount of various different bands and projects, will being a full time member of three bands curtail how much time you have for being involved with anything else?

: It's easy to misjudge and perceive incorrectly from the outside of a situation. I only really work with a handful of people and only really in the UK, Norway and Germany. I have recording projects elsewhere of course, but with regards to live work, I only really span these three countries. And I only played 30 shows in Norway last year, 2 in the UK and the promo shows for SOR in Germany, so the majority of 2009 saw me recording; in fact I had no break last year, as compared to 2008 when I think we did around 200 concerts as well as album recordings and so on, that was a crazy year. But hey, who wants to miss out on decent opportunities?

If other things come my way, then I will consider them in the cold light and see if it's a feasible proposition and whether it's a credible union to work in. I don't do everything I'm offered, far from it. Then I certainly wouldn't have the time.

: Is, if you don't mind me asking, the harsh reality of being a full time musician these days that you need to keep involved with as many different situations as you can?

TM: I suppose it might depend on how greedy you are! I like to earn enough to feed the family and pay all the bills like everybody else, but I have days where I just can't face the microphone because it has been non-stop for weeks. Actually, I'm definitely cutting down, because I've become a student again, so I have to share my time more effectively with working in the studio and studying. But, yes, the business can be very tough and unforgiving for even the most talented people; I see many pro musicians with dead diaries and no plans and many that have given up altogether to follow different paths in life because the breaks in music are so few and far between. If I ever had a key to this, it was persistence and patience.

: Even though you have sung with (from memory), TNT, Acacia Avenue, China Blue, Dale, Voices of Rock, Andersson Mills, released a cracking solo album, have a release with Serpentine coming soon and been recording with Shy again, there must have been other opportunities you've turned down. How much work are you offered and how do you choose what to do and what not to?

TM: Your instinct looks after a lot of that for you. If the project or whatever it is lands on your table and it's obviously hopeless, then it will burn you out trying to put it all right; these things are better left alone to mature before they approach anyone who works at different standards. Some things that come in the mail, you can't reply quick enough to, other opportunities you miss altogether, I remember being contacted by Gary Moore's roadcrew (well after the fact) that John Sykes had been trying to get hold of me to sing for Blue Murder. But we never hooked up, so it never happened. I get offered work to write and record albums for various American artists, but for some reason, very few of these ever come to fruition or ever end up being strong enough to actually complete and be confident in its release. China Blue was my exception. I mainly work and end up with satisfactory product working with European artists.

: Your vocals on SOR are simply stunning and amazingly after 27 years in the business your voice is as strong, if not better than ever, how do you keep it in shape?

TM: Ooh, well, that's a tough question. I'm not one of the singers that warms up his larynx for four hours before every show, annoying the hotel staff! On the contrary, I never warm up, never do vocal exercises and my main medicine for my voice whenever I have problems, is sleep and lots of it. Works every time. Forget the honey and lemon syndrome, that's all pointless and never works. The more chemicals you cram down your throat, the more paranoid you become and you cannot rely on anything except proper rest and a peaceful state of mind to perform consistently. So, don't let 'em kid ya !!!!! I suppose, as well, I guess I sing nearly every day in one way or another, so regular work of the larynx, lungs and the diaphragm can also put you in good stead to cope with the commitments.

: Your lyrics have become far more intricate and involved in recent years, is this something that is close to your heart ?

TM: I always said to people, 'Don't ever ask me to write comedy, or funny songs.' This was because I was always too serious and always took music very seriously. I think I was impressed by the grandeur and classic dramatic productions of bands like Rush and Judas Priest in their early days. I never saw comedy there; yes there were clichés etc, but nobody was laughing and it was all very stern faced. I think this had a big impact on me when I was younger and affected me throughout my career. Meaningful lyrics became a big part of me as an artist and has definitely brought me up against stumbling blocks with various people. I remember it caused me problems with SHY a long time ago, when all they wanted was 'I Love you baby, don't leave me', and I wanted to write about nuclear war and stuff like that. I guess it really depends on the music, prog rock/metal calls for an intensity in the writing, where SOR called for bouncing commerciality and SHY nowadays calls for a more grandiose/melodramatic approach. And anyway, it can be repetitive writing commercial hooks and I find it interesting to be more diverse in lyric writing; writing things out of the norm interests me.

: The music you are involved with covers so many different styles these days, what music inspires you?

TM: At the moment, it's opera. I can't get enough of it lately. I suppose it had to rise to the surface eventually after training with a teacher thirty years ago, it was just a matter of time. I made a bit of a play on an old SHY album and when I've finished the record that I'm currently recording, it will be released under the title, 'Excess All Arias'. Ten classic French and Italian arias by well known composers. It is being showcased at the Midem festival in France next week. So, I'll be interested to see how it is received.

SoT: Are there still plans to release a new Shy album, how is it progressing?

TM: Because I have been working non-stop on other projects over the last two years, the new SHY album has been neglected somewhat, which has been grating at me. I have all the backing tracks and have had for many months. I've completed some of the songs, but the majority remain unwritten. I can't say for sure when I will get around to working on the album at the moment, as I'm already involved with four other albums with the prospect of a new TNT album is imminent. So, I'll have to wait and see.

: I think the next release we will hear you on is from a band called Serpentine, can you give us some details on the band and album?

TM: I was contacted by the band when I was on tour in Oslo. Another scenario of a band that had lost the vocalist, with songs that had been written with no melodies or lyrics in effect. So the manager came to meet me when I got back to the UK and the album was finished in twelve weeks. We've since finished pro video footage in Manchester and the album was snapped up by the Europeans and the Japanese for release in March this year. Festivals are the way ahead for the band and that is being planned. The album, 'A Touch Of Heaven', is primarily AOR and breaks no real rules. The rest of the guys are much younger than me, but we get on real well, there is a good humour in the band and a lot of dedication. In fact they've already started writing their second album. They remind me very much of SHY when they started out in 1982.


: Any signs of things starting up again in the TNT camp?

TM: Yes, new backing tracks have already been recorded by Ronni Le Tekro and Diesel Dahl. Actually Ronni likes to come up with his own melodies and some of the lyrics when he can, although I have to adjust quite a bit of this to make it commercially understandable for the UK/US markets because it can come across as too Scandinavian at times. I have no doubt we'll be back on the road come the late summer.

: Thanks for answering the questions Tony, is there anything else you'd like to add?

TM: Just thanks to everyone out there who has supported me over the years, I still feel there is much to do, so I won't be hanging up the microphone cable just yet, in fact far from it.

Pictures reprinted with permission from Tony Mills

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