Contributor’s Note: Tony Harnell(TNT), Joel Hoekstra(Whitesnake, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Eric Levy(Night Ranger), Matt Starr(Mr. Big, Ace Frehley), and James Lomenzo(White Lion, Megadeth) formed the all-star quarantine project Echobats. They have also recently released their single and music video for “Save Me From Loving You”. In this interview with Madness To Creation, Tony Harnell of Echobats discusses his music career and evolving as a vocalist of TNT to his current project. Fans can find Echobats at the following locations:
Tony Harnell: Okay. How are you today?
Mark Dean: I’m good. Are you actually based in the UK? I see you’re in the UK.
Tony Harnell: No, I’m not. I’m not. My girlfriend’s here and I’ve been here working on music. And we got separated when this thing hit and she has a place here. So it seemed to be a better choice when things started getting crazy.
And so I’ve been here for three months now.
Mark Dean: You mentioned that you’re working on music. Do you find your whole livelihood has been significantly affected by what’s going on? That it’s been difficult to stay motivated?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, definitely. And I think in some ways more motivated than ever, maybe. But in other ways, you have those thoughts some days where you just wonder if it’s all worth it, because it feels like everybody is so worried and so concerned about their own situation that maybe it’s hard for them to think about some artist that’s putting some piece of music out or whatever the case may be. But obviously, the main thing is touring. And I lost a couple of tours and a festival. And for me in particular, I was plotting a bit of a resurgence, I guess you could say, and working on a lot of solo shows.
So that got derailed. And I’m not sure if I’m going to put that concentration back into that exact thing when this is over, it’s going to be different. Whatever it is that I ended up doing is going to be different than what I… And that’s not the worst thing in the world. I’m trying to look at it like, “Well, okay, this isn’t happening. So how do I readjust? What is my next move going to be?” This whole thing I think is an interesting time for reflection and regrouping.
Mark Dean: Obviously you’ve got the Echobats musical thing going on. I just wondered if you could briefly outline the origin of Echobats. I mean, your phone contacts must be pretty extensive, built up over the years. How did you pick the band line up?
Tony Harnell: It was kind of interesting. I actually had been talking to Matt Starr a couple of years back and we talked about doing some kind of project. And then it sort of started to come together and he suggested a few people and I suggested people. And it’s really weird how it ended up because James Lomenzo and I have known each other since 1982 or ’83 before he was in White Lion and before I was in TNT. And so we go back real far, I used to stay over at his house. I knew his parents and his brother, so that’s a long friendship. And Matt and I knew each other for a few years, not a long time. And then Joel and I have probably about 10 years, I met him when he was in Rock of Ages at night ranger. And Eric, I didn’t know very well, but I’d met him once or twice.
So it just kind of fell together. And then I started getting some tracks from everybody. And the first track that I just sort of immediately gravitated toward was this one that Joel had sent me. So I just put it up on my computer and started working on it and started recording it and writing the lyrics and melody. And it just came out great. So when I sent what I had done around everyone got excited about it. So we thought, “Yeah, let’s put it out.“
Mark Dean: And of course, it’s quite a musical departure. For all of you guys, I guess.
Tony Harnell: Yeah. I think it’s funny for people who didn’t follow maybe TNT as closely as… If you weren’t a hardcore fan that didn’t follow my stuff into the 2000’s, you would think so. I did a couple of songs that were kind of in this sort of direction with Ronnie, but no offence to what I did with Ronnie because I really love all of the songs that we wrote, but I think, dare I say, this is a better song. In this style, in this sort of 70’s, some people now call it a power pop, which is really interesting because I just sort of see it as a 70’s glam or Brit pop kind of vibe.
Mark Dean: Did you feel then that you always had this interest in doing other genres, other styles. Do you feel then maybe what you’ve done in the past, you mentioned there at TNT was kind of limiting in what you actually wanted to explore musically?
Tony Harnell: It wasn’t limiting from the standpoint of what Ronnie and I could write or wanted to write. And we broke out of the box, I think a lot, especially in the 90’s and 2000’s with the last four albums that I did with him. From Fireflies through All the Way to the Sun, the last four. I think the box was created more by what we had done in the ’80s, and that’s what sort of the fans came to expect. So limiting in that regard, limiting from when the success comes with a certain sound, that becomes the limitation. Especially for hard rock bands, because hard rock fans, which I am one, sometimes contend to not let the artists grow as much as maybe other genres.
Mark Dean: So Echobats… Go ahead.
Tony Harnell: Sometimes maybe they shouldn’t.
Mark Dean: Obviously then, Echobats, was it just the one song you did? Have there been others recorded and done, perhaps even for an album?
Tony Harnell: We have some other material and there’s some good stuff. So we’re already talking about what’s next. And we’re not done promoting this one. We’re actually gearing up for a big radio push. It’s sort of been a slow burn you might say. And nowadays there’s really no immediate limitation on, “Oh, it came out and it’s over.” No, really a lot of people have still not heard the song yet. So we’re trying to get it out there more and more.
Mark Dean: I was first introduced to you as a young rock fan with those early TNT albums, I think primarily Tell No Tales. Of course, that band formed a major part of your musical legacy. One thing that’s always stood out for me, both with TNT and subsequently, was how you managed to retain your vocal range. For a lot of guys that have been going for the same length of time as yourself, have kind of lost a lot in terms of the range. How do you manage to retain that?
Tony Harnell: I think a lot of that comes from the fact that honestly, I had a very, very good voice teacher that I started with when I was 18 that my mom absolutely found for me. I already started singing professionally and have been singing most of my life. From as early as I can remember, I’ve been singing little mini concerts for the family or that kind of thing. And then when I started getting serious about it at about 16 or 17, I joined my first band. And then at 18 for my 18th birthday, my mother bought me a bunch of voice lessons with a brilliant teacher in New York city.
And I never really studied with anybody else. He was just the best one. And I think that’s a big part of it. But also I must say, probably because of him and also my mother was an opera singer. So I think the combination of those two things made me take care of my voice. And I didn’t always take care of myself, but somehow I always tried to take care of my voice. And then the third thing I’ll say is, I really haven’t toured as much as most of my peers. So I think that also could possibly be working in my favor.
Mark Dean: Of course, just looking at your musical legacy, you had that brief period in Skid Row, I just wondered how you view that? Do you prefer to overlook that period or are you happy enough to talk briefly about that?
Tony Harnell: I don’t talk about it too much. For me, I actually had a lot of fun and all I’ll say is it was a good learning experience for me. I was going through a lot of… It was kind of a dark period in my life and I was going through a lot of personal things. So it was sort of just a bad collision of the wrong project for me at the wrong time in my life. I won’t go as far as to say it was a bad decision, because like I said, I learned a lot from the experience. I learned a lot about my limitations. I learned a lot about what I could do if I stretched a little bit. And I also learned a lot about myself. So it wasn’t all bad. I think, however, I’m… I don’t talk about it. I don’t think it was a great match. Put it that way, but I don’t think it was all bad.
Mark Dean: Yeah. Mentally, it must’ve been very difficult for you from that high of getting a position, to then leaving the band just within the short time. It must’ve been a whirlwind of emotions for you.
Tony Harnell: Well yeah, it was not my finest hour.
Mark Dean: Okay. Right. Moving on then. Off the grid of general rock music, you’ve contributed regularly to the Sonic the Hedgehog gaming franchise. How did that come about? And growing up, were you a gamer? And then, are you still a gamer?
Tony Harnell: No, I’m the farthest thing from a gamer that you could possibly get. I have literally zero interest in gaming, close to it anyway. But a buddy of mine was doing… Ted Poley from Danger Danger was actually involved in that, and I think that one of the songwriters, main songwriter or guitar player, was a fan of mine and they pulled me into the project. And I ended up doing a couple of theme songs. I wished I worked out a better deal for royalties because those things get more streams on Spotify than any of my music, but I don’t earn any money off of them, but that’s okay. But the cool thing about it is it got me a lot of young fans who then started listening to my music. So it was a pretty cool thing to be a part of.
Mark Dean: Okay. You said that you’re not a gamer. What do you do outside of music? When you’re not creating music or being out on the road, how do you spend the time?
Tony Harnell: That changes. And right now with this situation, there’s not a lot. I like to do a lot of things outdoors as much as possible. And so that’s kind of been taken away a bit. Although I do try to get outside as much as I can every day and just stay away from people. That sounds terrible, but you know what I mean? Well, I read, I’m a movie buff, I love movies. I’ve been really into that whole thing since as far back as I can remember. Yeah, that’s the best way to put it. I just love movies. I love the art of acting. I love just knowing who directed the film and all of that stuff. So I’m very into that. So I’ve burned out Netflix I think, and seen pretty much everything that they’ve got to offer during this thing. But I’m working on some stuff I don’t really want to talk about yet, but I’ve been working on some things privately since this whole thing started. And when a few of these things are ready to come out, they will.
Also been working on just rebranding some things and reworking on some things, like websites and just what I want to do musically going forward and what I want to do really as an artist and with the rest of my life in many ways. And that’s what this pandemic has illuminated for me personally, was just the need to possibly, in the situation of being forced to close down, to really take a look at not having the choice to move like we’re used to doing. Most musicians are like hustlers, you’re hustling for the next thing, and go, go, go, go. And, “Is there enough money?” And I think this forced stop and pause is… I’ve gone through a lot of emotions with it, but I find it right now, I’m sort of in a place where I find it to be pretty… I’m actually really grateful for it.
Mark Dean: It’s caused you to rethink things?
Tony Harnell: A lot of things. And there’ve been many days where I’ve thought about, “Do I even want to do music anymore?” And of course I do because it’s in my heart, but the main thing is not the way I was doing it. Not the way I was doing the business part and not the way I was presenting it. Just the whole thing needs to be flipped upside down in some way.
Mark Dean: Do you prefer working as a solo artist with the flexibility and freedom that that brings? Or do you prefer being in a band structure which offers a little bit more stability?
Tony Harnell: Yeah, I think if I had… It’s weird, being a solo artist like myself, I don’t really play an instrument very well. So as a songwriter, I have to have a writing partner or writing partners so that I have music to work with my melodies and my lyrics, which is what I do. I write melodies and lyrics. And I have a range, I obviously do more than just that. But I need to have a good partner or partners. I think that there’s a lot of freedom that can come with that when you really know what you want. And yeah, the hardest thing about a band is the democracy part. It can be very difficult.
And I know that some very top managers that I remember talking to in the past would say that whenever they would sign a new band, they would tell the band clearly, “You’ve got to pick one or two guys that come to us and make all the decisions, but we can’t have all of you chiming in. You have to pick a leader, and that’s who we want to deal with. We don’t want to deal with four or five guys.” So even the business side, they’re like that. And I think that from the bands I know, when they have a guy who generally has a little bit more to say about it, I think that they operate smoother. I hate to say it, but I think that’s true.
Mark Dean: Yeah. I read an interview with you a couple of years ago where I believe he said you wouldn’t rule out the possibility of doing some music with Ronnie again. Is that still maybe an option for you?
Tony Harnell: Oh yeah. We talk all the time. It’s always a romantic tempting thing to do for a lot of reasons. I say romantic, that’s the bulk of my material, that’s how people know even who I am at all, or even who he is. So of course when we get on stage together, that’s where we’ll put the most people in the seats. Or if it’s a festival or whatever the case may be. So that’s where the most people are going to come see us. But yeah, I don’t know. But even that I’ve been looking at that. I want to do it. And at this point, I think it might be more likely that he and I do something outside of the TNT moniker.
Mark Dean: Yes, that’s what I meant. Actually create maybe new music, and also pay some homage to your musical past.
Tony Harnell: Yeah. I think where we can stretch a little bit with the song writing and the style without having to be TNT is where we both would like to experiment. So we’ve talked about that a lot, and that appeals to me probably at this moment in time, much more than going out and having to play TNT. I say, having to play it because quite frankly, I’m grateful that I did all that, but I think I’m just at a place where I would like to experiment with some more creative time with him.
Mark Dean: Have you found that it’s difficult to move on in terms of musically, that fans just want to hear those old songs and it’s been difficult for you to progress and introduce new music, new material?
Tony Harnell: I’ve put out music that’s very, very, very different from TNT over the years. Hasn’t necessarily always gotten a lot of attention, but yeah, I’ve had record labels flat out telling me that, “People only want to hear you do that one particular thing.” And I think about it and I think, well, “If you were a real TNT fan,” because there were quite a lot of colors in the songs and in the music, lots of ballads, lots of mid-tempo things, very few things that maybe you could label as metal, even though I’m certainly a fan of metal, old school metal. But I don’t know, I just feel like I like a lot of different things and I like to put my voice on a lot of different kinds of music. I like to experiment with things.
And I think I just want to get into a place where I can do that and try my voice with different things that I love and different kinds of music that I love and experiment and enjoy it. I think that taking the pressure off for me, one of the major goals is just taking all of the pressure off of making a living from that part of my life, because that would allow me to be completely free with music. So that’s kind of what I’m working on at the moment. Doesn’t mean it won’t be music related, it just means to take all the pressure off of, “I got to get back with TNT and tour because that’s where the big…” I just want to lift that pressure, otherwise I will burn out on music completely and I can easily see myself just kind of putting it down and not wanting to go back to it and rather just buy a surfboard and go surfing every day.
Mark Dean: You definitely can’t hide away with that voice that you still got.
Tony Harnell: Well, thank you. What I love about this song is I love that people seem to really be liking it, and very few people that I’ve met have anything sort of negative to say, not that I really sort of care if they do. But it’s been a really positive response. And I think that during this time where it’s easy to put out really dark music or whatever the case, having this sort of happy tune come out, I think people kind of appreciate that.
Mark Dean: Yeah. Just a couple then, to finish. What in your professional life are you most proud of?
Tony Harnell: Wow, that’s really interesting. In my professional life, I would say, well, the fact that what you had said, that I still have my voice, that I’ve really actually, compared to a lot of my peers from the 80’s, with a few exceptions, of course, I think I’ve put out quite a lot of music. I think I’ve put out more music without TNT than I have with TNT. And whether a lot of people know about it or not, I know about it. So I feel proud of a lot of that stuff. There are very few things I’ve released that I’m not proud of, a few things. But I think I’m proud of that. I’m proud of winning a Grammy award in Norway with TNT. And I’m proud of being the only American that was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in Norway last year. So there’s a few things that make me feel proud. But I think above all that, I’m just proud that I’ve been able to touch so many people with my voice and lyrics and the whole thing. People have good memories connected with my music and that’s really a blessing and an honor.
Mark Dean: Yeah, just a final one then, if I may. I’m sure you’ve done many interviews over the years. What personal hero or inspiration would you personally like to interview, with you asking the questions?
Tony Harnell: Oh boy. Well, there’s quite a few who aren’t with us anymore, but I think probably the name that came right up in my head… Well, there’s two actually. Paul McCartney would be definitely the top one, followed by Robert Plant. I’d say those would be the top two.
Mark Dean: And then if we can squeeze another one in, do you still have hopes, dreams, and ambitions for the future?
Tony Harnell: Oh, for sure. But it’s funny, a lot of them are more in my personal life, I think, than maybe my music. Although, I still have yet to write what I think is a great song. Or when people say, “What is the best song you’ve written?” I always say, “Well, I haven’t written it yet.” So I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to say, “You know what? That’s a pretty good song. I don’t think I could have done better than that.”
Mark Dean: Are there any that you’d maybe pick out?
Tony Harnell: Any from my career that I’d pick out as highlights?
Mark Dean: Yeah.
Tony Harnell: Yeah, there’s a song called Limbo that always comes into my head that I did with my project Westworld that I think was quite good lyrically, especially. And most of the ones that I think of are ballots, and I think that’s just because you can get a little deeper with lyrics on ballots. But there was one called Month of Sundays that I wrote with Ronnie in the late 90’s that I’m pretty proud of. And there’s a few here and there that have some nice moments, but not perfect as a whole.
Mark Dean: What about something like Child’s Play? Was that not…
Tony Harnell: It was pretty good. It was pretty good.
Mark Dean: It’s more than pretty good.
Tony Harnell: It’s okay. I was so young, and I think the lyrics were better than some of the other songs I had written during that time. I liked the fact that I was writing about some feelings like, the government and so forth or whatever that they were, “Playing with our lives by starting wars,” and things like that.
Mark Dean: Very appropriate.
Tony Harnell: Yeah.
Mark Dean: Okay. That’s great then. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
Tony Harnell: Well, thank you very much, Mark. It’s been a pleasure.
And there you have it! Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations:
- Photo Credit: Just Arielle