After they bring you back to life, you wake to the sound of your own screaming…
Born and Bred in the West Midlands, Tony Mills is one of the most legendary figures in the Melodic Rock / AOR genre from the area. He rose to fame in the Eighties with one of the finest AOR acts to ever emerge from the UK – let alone the Midlands – in SHY. He moved on musically in the Nineties and even gave music up for a short time, before returning to the underground AOR scene quite prolifically with various projects and even a couple of reunion albums with SHY. He joined popular Norwegian melodic hard rockers TNT in 2006 and what followed was a rollercoaster and a constant source of gossip amongst genre fans. A heart attack in an airport made Tony face his mortality in dramatic fashion and even meant he needed to move to Norway in order for his schedule to be less stressful.
His time with TNT is bittersweet as fans struggled to accept him and when he did start winning them over his position and relationships within the band became a constant source of rumour and unrest. He left TNT two years ago and has spent the vast majority of his time concentrating on his health and a new deeply personal album, Over My Dead Body. MR’s Woody caught up with Tony following a preview of his impressive new album to discuss it and is shocked to learn this could be the last album Tony will ever release.
Following your career over the past few years it seems like it’s been a real rollercoaster and at times quite traumatic in some ways. From serious ill health, a move to Norway and a much gossiped about period of unrest in the TNT camp. Has life settled down for you now as you push forward with this new solo album?
No. Life hasn’t settled down for me at all. I’m currently in a cardio rehab unit for nine weeks where I think they’ve got me mixed up with a marathon runner. But as my next career move is probably more video shoots and live work anyway, I guess it will prove par for the course. I haven’t really stopped working on the record since I left TNT in August 2013. In fact we only mastered the album about two weeks ago, so the process has taken the best part of two years. Now I’m being juggled around between four different fitness trainers, until May this year, before I can get back out and get on with the music.
This album to me feels like a musical autobiography in its flow and of course lyrical content. Was this album cathartic to write or was it always your intention to create a deeply personal album?
Having reached the point of no return with TNT after seven years, I had every intention of sitting down and writing another solo album. But I didn’t actually plan that it would happen like this. I actually started writing with Tommy Denander and Robert Sall. Relatively commercial ideas and I found myself needing to express feelings over everything I’d been through and writing commercial hooks wasn’t satisfying me at all. Anger started appearing in the songs and I realised in the end, that I had to formulate all the ideas and feelings properly and it kind of happened at the same time as I was getting demands to reform Siam.
I could really feel another Siam album on the horizon, but it wasn’t happening with the band members, so it evolved into an album that could easily have been a Siam album, but in the end, it became very much a solo approach with some very good co-writers. The deeper I reached, the darker it got, until I reached a point where the reality of the situation dawned on me, that I had actually been dead, but I had been brought back, whether I had a choice in the matter or not and that I had to realise I needed to look at life very differently from now on, because I had been so bitter about it all and there was no reason to be that way anymore. But writing music about these events made a lot of sense to me,
The subject matter of course is mainly about your health issues and your time with TNT. There’s one song that has a particularly acerbic lyrics, is there anything you think you may regret in there or is staying true to your words something you intend to stand firm on?
It was pretty obvious after the last eight months I was in the band, that there was no love lost between us and that it didn’t matter how you looked at it, we thought in very different ways and wanted very different things. I have no doubt whatsoever, that it remains the case. Of course, I have had fans sending me mail and asking the predictable question regarding the ‘vacancy’ in the band. But regardless of the underhanded efforts to display a modicum of friendship, my long term memory is very good and I will not be alienating the TNT fans any further, by making the same mistake a second time. I was unpopular for joining (although I had a lot of thanks for helping the vehicle of Ronni Le Tekro back on the road in 2006) and just as unpopular for leaving and I would be out of my mind if I planned any sort of repeat performance.
I’m sure it would be hard for you to pick favourites from what is a deeply personal album, but if there are a few songs you could highlight and give us the story behind them, so fans can get see the story behind the music, that would be a great insight!
‘No Love Lost’ was really about just how low everything had gone, including my health after hundreds of shows in different countries, racing through airports to connecting flights and putting my own well being last on the priority list. It was pretty obvious that nothing was going to save the situation and nobody cared anyway, so the inevitable happened.
‘We Should Be On By Now’ has recently been released as a single and is a very personal song for me. As you have said, of course, the whole album is such, but I started to see two different people in myself when it came to stage performances and one guy really had no connection to the other. I was starting to switch off from who I really was whenever I got onto a stage to the point where I couldn’t remember anything of any of the shows after I’d left the venues. It became almost remote control and I had little say in what happened or how. I would just be dying to get on the stage, so that I wouldn’t have to hang around for any unnecessary reasons in a room where I couldn’t understand what was being said. My voice and my fitness had reached an optimum point, but I had lost all reason for what I was doing in the end.
‘Gate 21’ was the place where the lights went out and I was met with very little.
In retrospect, I couldn’t actually believe that the band took me back there for a photo shoot some months after, like it was some sort of novelty. I don’t think I had the strength to complain. It was certainly a point of no return where the bass player Victor Borge and a stranger, Trine Reime Fitje, helped save my life with the paramedics. Indeed, ‘Bitter Suite’ will be ingrained in my memory forever, because after they bring you back to life, you wake to the sound of your own screaming.
‘My Death’ by Jacques Brel, is a song that has haunted me since I was a kid and it was made for the situation as well as that it just belongs there really.
After life returned, many memories washed over me and ‘4 In The Morning’ and ‘Somewhere in London’ are very much about earlier times in my life that reminded me how happy I was when I was younger, in the 80’s and 90’s. Robert Sall’s performances and indeed his writing styles were instrumental in bringing out the right emotions in me to be able to open up how I felt and be able to sing the words with the right feel.
Obviously performing live here in the UK is not an easy thing to do but if the right opportunity or Festival came knocking, would you be open to performing as a solo artist? Or would you prefer to take some time out following your very hectic live schedule with TNT?
By the time I emerge from this place, it will have been two years since my departure from the band. I already have people here in Norway demanding to see the material live and it’s important to shoot some video footage of the songs, both in studio and probably live as well. It’s really the norm, I’ll be looking to finalise a line up and rehearse as and when I know the demand is there for the supply.
I can’t talk to you and not bring up SHY! Steve Harris’s death was very tragic whether you were a fan of his music or not, he was way too young and died of a particular nasty disease, I feel heartbroken for his loved ones. Has closing the book on SHY and this chapter of your life been particularly difficult as it was a big part of you musical career?
It’s not difficult for me to move on, because I already had. I spoke to Steve a few months before he passed and we were equally as ill, as I had lost my power of proper speech for a while along with my taste and smell and I think we both knew that things were pretty much over and done with. He was such an amazing talent, that he still finished the recording and did an awesome job of the final SHY album. Looking back, they were the prolific part of my product releases, but not the live scene. We were a pretty self destructive force on the road and after we finished touring the States in 1990, I was glad to get out of the band. Two or three albums ten years after, never really resurrected the band to the standard we reached across the States, it was evident that our time had passed really.
You played two final shows with SHY a charity tribute in Steve’s hometown of Birmingham and played a fond farewell show at well respected melodic rock festival Firefest. What were the shows like to perform and did it ever feel wrong knowing Steve wasn’t to the side of you on those stages?
For the youngest musician I ever worked with on stage, he was someone that you really needed and were always glad to have there as a constant that you knew wouldn’t change. It didn’t really matter how much Carl Anthony Wright or Neil Hibbs could have rehearsed for the shows and as nice as the guys are, it would never have been the same without Steve. I was choked at Firefest and I know that even though I felt it was necessary to say a final farewell to him on stage, I could barely get the words to come out.
From the outside it seems like your taking it a little easier on the musical side of things and you have been concentrating on your solo album, but do you have any other projects or bands you have been working with lately that you can talk to us about?
I’ve purposefully been avoiding as much as I can during the recording of the record, because a part of me felt sure it would be my last album and I wanted to get it finished and mixed properly by Neil Kernon as a matter of my life’s priority. But now, I don’t know. I’ve been approached by Neil to work on another awesome project and I never saw that coming at all. My main priority is how fit I can be this year. It takes priority over everything else otherwise there will be little point in thinking about music or indeed, anything else.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to state or say to Midlands Rocks Readers?
My music ended up taking me away from my home in the Midlands many years ago and I miss it a lot. I always felt that it was an important source of musicians and raw talent for our rock world and I hope it always will be. My great inspirations came from there and I suppose I could never have expected to stay there forever. Although a lot of the music scene has changed a lot since the 70’s, the Midlands has long been recognised as an iconic centre for rock and metal. I’m very proud to have grown up there and been part of that culture as it developed out of one millennium into another.