Interview: Tony Mitchell – Summer Nights and Neon Lights

Do I really need to tell you who TONY MITCHELL is? As he said himself, “most people know me from the 90’s KISS OF THE GYPSY”. Well, people tend to remember good bands with classy songs. But hey, since then Tony has released many records with different bands and projects and now he is ready to unleash his third solo album! The album has everything you love about him  and the title “Hot Endless Summer Nights” says it all. Believe me, Tony managed to do almost impossible thing give you the feeling of being young, restless and ready to conquer the world. So let’s leave the world behind for a while and jump into this journey with Tony!    

I guess when you were recording “Church Of A Restless Soul” you couldn’t even imagine this pandemic would break out. How did you go through the lockdown and all these restrictions? Did they affect your life and music?

The one good thing to come out of the lockdown was that it gave me time to write and record “Church Of A Restless Soul” and pour myself into it. Apart from family time and home schooling, it gave me a clear run at it. Although I had more time to write and record it due to the pandemic, it was made up of many layers and some things happened during the making of that album that made me think twice about if I should finish it or not. They say, “out of the darkness, comes a ray of light” and gladly, I continued to finish it.

What was the starting point for “Hot Endless Summer Nights”? Was it obvious for you that it would be an album with an 80’s vibe?

Yeah, I had that vision from the very start. I didn’t want to just continue in the same vein as “Beggars Gold” or “Church Of A Restless Soul” would have felt stale to me, the easy option. There’s plenty of time as I have many ideas to continue that course at a later date. This album had to be different for me and also I knew that there were a lot of releases this year so I wanted it to have a different flavor. The starting point was as I always start … a guitar, an amp and a dictaphone, the same way that I have done ever since I was 14 years old.

I have an impression that your new album is a kind of a flashback to FANTAZIA’s time. Would you agree on that?

Yeah, a little, I guess. I was in a band before FANTAZIA called NO HARD FEELING and we pretty much covered the whole of the “American Heartbeat” album leading us to get our first record deal with Spirit Records in 1984. It stood us in good stead for the AOR/Melodic Rock style that we had forged in FANTAZIA, performing up and down the UK.

Did you write all the songs on “Hot Endless Summer Nights” alone or was it a collaborative effort?

Yes, I wrote a total of 15 songs for the album but left 3 out.

You also changed the recording team a bit and joined forces with Miles Meakin of MIDNITE CITY. Is that because Miles’ playing fits better to the direction of the album? Or was Paul Hume unavailable this time?

I was honoured to have Paul Hume & Tim Manford playing lead guitars on “Beggars Gold” and Paul on “Church Of A Restless Soul” but as this album was going to be a little different, I asked Miles Meakin as I am a big fan of his playing and some of his work includes retrowave/video games styles which I was going for a modern 80s style. When I asked him if he would like to guest on one or two tracks, he said “send all the tracks and would love to play on them all” at which, he did beautifully.

Did you think about asking someone from KISS OF THE GYPSY to guest on the album? 

No, for whatever reason, they have never really backed or supported any of my work since I left KOTG. They were only interested in playing the old songs from the album which I didn’t want to do. Although I am in regular touch with the guys, we agreed to stay friends without the music being involved as it just brings up old friction between us that had manifested during our time as a band.

According to the press-release, you spent some time in the States in the late 80’s. How did that happen? Were you looking for inspiration and adventures there?

In 1989, I just landed a major publishing deal with Warner Chappell and travelled the USA with my manager to meet possible investors for writing for TV, movies and an album release. In those months, I learnt a great deal and gained valuable experience. Just the very scale of the USA, blew me away, driving down the highways from town to town, city to city that had their own story to tell that certainly inspired me. I always had a connection with that style of music. The 80s didn’t only have a vast array of top quality music, it also had some killer movie soundtracks as you can probably hear in certain tracks.

Did you just travel as a regular tourist or was it a hitch-hiking ride full of strangers, struggles, romantic feelings etc.?

It was part business, part leisure as there were a few business people who wanted to meet us as investors at the time. You name it, we did it, staying at high class hotels, low class motels from coast to coast meeting some great people,

Are there songs on the new album which take you (and us) back to certain places or certain people from that trip?

It has to be “Hot Endless Summer Nights” as it kinda sums up the whole experience but framed as a relationship with the 80s USA music scene.

On two previous albums you had guest singers but this time you sang everything alone. Were there songs too personal to share them with anybody?

No, not at all, I really don’t like doing the same thing too many times and that would have been too predictable.

What are the lyrics of “Can’t Fight It” about?

Very simple really! When an emotion like love is thrown at you and attraction takes over, sometimes you have to show your true feelings instead of hiding it.

“Blame It On The Rock’n’Roll” is such a cool anthemic song and this gentle QUEEN-ish part in the middle makes the song even better! How did you get this idea? Was it a spontaneous thing or were you like, “Wait, I have this part for quite a while, let’s put it in some song finally!”?

I like throwing a curve ball now and again just so the dynamic can drop from near nothing into an explosion. It had to have a twist as it was a dose of realism when the words “in another life, I’d sit at home and watch TV” etc. set the tone for that section. I did something very similar in the middle of “Take A Look At Me Now” from the “Beggars Gold” album.

“Blame It On The Rock’n’Roll” is an autobiographical song. So what lessons about music business have you learned so far?

Very much so! When I was in my last year of high school, a career’s officer came to school and I was asked to attend with my parents to see what I saw as my future career. I told him as I told others “I want to be a singer/songwriter”. Times were different then, rather than encourage me, he told me to “get those stupid notions out of my head”, “it’s not a proper job and you can’t make a living doing that”. To which, my Dad said “if he wants to do this, we will support him all the way” and they did. Music has been good to me and always made me a living out of it.

Speaking about autobiographies, didn’t you want to write one? What would be the highest and lowest points in your eventful career and personal life?

If I was to write an autobiography, it would have to be a big old book, let me tell you! My highs, apart from my family, it is the response and reviews that I have received for my recent work, namely “Beggars Gold” and “Church Of A Restless Soul”. I know most people know me from the 90’s KOTG but it was only a small part of my journey and I always like to look forward rather than back to that period. Also it has been a high to work with so many fantastic musicians over my career. The lows are more to do with the family members that I have lost over the years who weren’t able to continue this journey with me.

“Caught In The Headlights” is a stunning ballad which could fit into some romantic movie from the 80’s. I can’t believe it’s a brand new song or isn’t it? How did you get this idea basically?

Thank you, yes it’s a brand new song and I purposely wrote and recorded it this way. Like a lot of my songs, I have a vision of how I want the picture to look and sound, much like a movie, I storyboard it and take it section by section. It took me quite a while to build the synth layers on this one as I used a lot of the old 80s mono/poly synths and Symmons kit but I was happy how it turned out in the end.

“Leave The World Behind” is my personal favorite on the album I love how you incorporated saxophone parts in there! How did you work with Daniel Sings on that song? Did you give him free reign or did you have straight vision for his parts?

I have known Danny ever since we were in NO HARD FEELINGS together in 1984/85, he’s a fantastic musician and also played sax on “Someone Like You” from “Beggars Gold”. I told him the idea that I had for it and he got it straight away. I had a visual storyboard of teo sax players stood on 2 separate high rise buildings at night in the heart of a steamy American city. They are speaking to each other in the language of music. Listening to this, on the road below awaits a reving car with someone who wants out, who is tired of fighting and wants to live life on the edge, time to put the pedal to the floor and drive.

“Faithless” and “Calling Mother Nature” sound a bit out of the general vibe of the album. Was it  an intentional thing, a kind of reminder to us that life isn’t only a candy?

I always like to end my albums off with a face melter whenever I can. On “Faithless” I just tried to balance out the more “rocky” styles that people associate me with. With “Calling Mother Nature”, I wanted it to be of biblical proportions. Ironically, I wrote this back in 2000 about climate change and how we were dangerously close to the tipping point. Now 21 years on, I felt I had to re-record it. Normally, I’m not THAT guy who likes to preach and write songs about political issues as I have always said leave politics to the politicians and let us musicians give you the escapism of RocknRoll but this it will have catastrophic consequences if the WHOLE world doesn’t pull together on this one.

I understand that you can’t be sure about live shows these days but do you have something scheduled for this or next year? What type of shows do you prefer acoustic with intimate space or with a full band?

I love playing both. I am looking at continuing with my solo acoustic shows and also putting a full band line up together for 2022. As there is a lot going on on my recordings, it would have to be a strong line-up and quite a challenge to replicate the tracks but I’m looking forward to it.

(c) Tony Mitchell

There is another Tony Mitchell from Australia. Have you been mistaken with him by promoters?

No, not heard of that one! Last time I looked, I think there is an American porn star called Tony Mitchell too, I might try and cash in on that one, eh?

Beside a solo band you have other projects. I remember you said you wanted to record another album with DIRTY WHITE BOYZ but under a different name. What happened to this idea and why to change the name?

The name is a long story! Khalil from Escape Music wanted to release the album that I sent to him originally called “Playing Dirty”. He suggested putting a band around it, which he did thankfully but when he asked about a name, I threw a load of names at him to think about. DIRTY WHITE BOYZ was one of them as I was in a band just before NO HARD FEELINGS is 1984 called DIRTY WHITE BOY. I later found out there was another band called that. Before we knew anything, we were called DIRTY WHITE BOYZ. In this age of political correctness, it wasn’t a good idea. I have been asked to write/record and perform for various projects for 2022. I have the KOTG unfinished ideas that I want to complete, a gothic metal album to write and record with another band that I am in, PUPPETMASTER. I am also writing and recording new original tracks for a Christmas album.

I tried to find some info about your first steps in music and failed (maybe it’s me and my inability to use Google properly), so could you tell us a bit on that matter? What and who turned you on music in general and rock/AOR especially? 

From an early age, I loved the punk and metal scene up until around 1984/85 when we discovered the “American Heartbeat” compilation album. I was blown away by the huge sound of guitars, vocals and harmonies along with incredible songs from bands like BOSTON, JOURNEY, FOREIGNER, TOTO, KANSAS, STYX etc. To this day BOSTON’s “More Than A Feeling” is still my favourite track of all time.

I already mentioned FANTAZIA, so could you tell us about this band? There is next to zero information about it. Who was in the lineup? How long did you stay together and why did break-up?

We were a local Blackpool-based band, had a huge following playing big shows up and down the UK performing QUEEN, BON JOVI, JOURNEY, FOREIGNER, ZZ TOP etc. and also introducing material that myself and the keyboard player often wrote. The band’s line-up was the same as KOTG apart from the bass player who was female, later to be replaced by Martin Talbot. We were together from 1986 until 1990 and didn’t really split, we kinda morphed into KOTG. The record companies who we showcased for, wanted less AOR & wanted a more “the next BON JOVI or AEROSMITH” so that’s when I took the sole writing responsibility to give it a harder, more rocky style.

(c) Tony Mitchell

You put FANTAZIA’s songs on YouTube. Are there plans to re-release them on CD?

No not really, the FANTAZIA songs, although are good, they are a little dated their execution, I guess they are of their time.

Well, I guess I’ve been a bit annoying with questions about the past, so let’s round up. Is there a message you want to share with your fans and readers?

I just want to say thank you to all that have supported me throughout these years and continue to do so. It still astounds me that now, more than ever, I am gaining new fans of all ages thanks to the wonder of the internet and sharing. It really means a lot so thank you for buying the albums that allows me to continue creating more music for future releases. Keep the Rock Flag Flying my Hard Rockin’ Amigos … T \m/

Konstantin Chilikin

Author: Konstantin Chilikin

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