Tony Harnell is no stranger to fans of hard rock. Best known as the frontman of TNT since the ’80s, Harnell has also been in Morning Wood, Westworld, and Starbreaker. He’s now released his latest solo effort, “Round Trip”, which features alternative versions of some of his greatest material. Tony was kind enough to take the time to tell The Rock and Roll Report about everything from his early days to the present.
Q: To start, let’s go back to the beginning – what event took place in your life that made you realize you wanted to rock for a living?
A: I had just moved to New York from California and was driving around in my car, I was about 16, and some local dudes with long hair came up to my car at a stop sign and told me they’d been looking for me for weeks. Apparently they had heard me screaming in my car to Priest and Zeppelin through the hood and were trying to find me, so they invited me to their band rehearsal. I had never played with a band before so this was exciting for me. Well, after the three or four hours with them in their studio it was all over for me. I knew when I walked out the door that night what my life was going to be about.
Q: Tell us more about how TNT came about and your years in that band.
A: It’s been pretty widely documented, but the brief story is that someone sent a demo of me to the band without me knowing, they sent a couple of guys they were working with in the U.S. to see me perform live in New York, they came backstage after the show and handed me a tape of the band, said if I wanted the gig it was mine, and to listen to the music [and] if I liked it I would be on a plane in a few days. My years in the band were filled with immense joy, excitement, grief, pain, and misery.
Q: Your latest project, “Round Trip”, features stripped down and reworked versions of some of your finest work from over the years. Where did the idea to do such a record originate?
A: It was originally a simple idea to record my New York band live. I decided since we were playing the songs in such a dramatically different way that a studio album with a live feeling would be a better idea. What it started as and what it ended up as are night and day. It was a real spiritual experience and very cathartic on many levels.
Q: Are you apprehensive that some of your longtime fans who treasure these classic songs may feel somewhat betrayed to hear them in such a dramatically different context?
A: Not really. I think it’s a fun-spirited album, full of lots of colors, and if someone doesn’t get it they can just listen to the old stuff. So far it seems most are getting it. Ya know, I decided not long ago that though I adore my fans and hope to gain more as I go along, I have to please me and hope that pleases them at the same time. I can’t placate or fake it. The outcome is always bad when I have done that in the past.
Q: Is there one song in particular on the new record that means the most to you?
A: I just love the way “Somebody Told You” came out. I always knew there was more there than on the original version and I wanted to pull it out. I think we managed that. Also, “Northern Lights” is just pure and simple magic. There are songs that didn’t get the attention they deserved the first time around and I wanted to showcase a few of those again on this album.
Q: Are they any other songs in your back catalogue that you wish could have been reworked for this record?
A: I’m sure there are and maybe a volume 2 someday, but that will be a long way off I think.
Q: You performed this record with an outfit called “The Mercury Train” – tell us more about how you pulled this group of fine musicians in on your latest “trip”.
A: I met the bass player through a girl I know 10 years ago. Brandon is the cousin of a dear friend and he pulled Chris and Brad in to the project. On the other side, Jason was one of my vocal students and a hell of a guitar playe,r so I gave him the task of helping me with the rearranging as he was going to have the acoustic duties. He really did an amazing job and then, of course, my wife Amy who sings like an angel.
Q: As a hard rock veteran, I’d really be interested in your take on how the music business has evolved over the past couple decades, and where you think it is going.
A: Into the toilet? I don’t know. I try not to think about it too much as it is so depressing. But I am doing my best to utilize the new business as much as I can [to] be in close contact with fans etc.
Q: What can fans expect in the near and distant future?
A: A new solo album with all new songs and other fun projects, live and studio.