TONY MILLS releases his latest solo album, «Beyond The Law», with a clear understanding that it is to be his final written work as an artist, after a career as a major recording artist since being signed to RCA Music in 1985. We talk about it with Tony, but mostly, as he says during the chat, we learn listening to his wise words, because sometimes listening to someone’s opinion is much a wiser exercise than speaking oneself, as it’s this case. Big Tony Mills.
Hello Tony, you don’t need introduction, so we will start from the most recent and go back later. «Beyond The Law» is your new album to bereleased in June 21st. Is true it can be your last solo album?
Yes it is. Apart from a planned Anthology next year. I had set a resonable amount of solo work for solo releases within an achievable and realistic timescale and it just so happens that forces outside of my control have kind of brought my whole plan to fruition without any further opportinities anyway, so. I have found a nice balance of sound and material style within the these last three albums that I really showcased how my voice was these days and I was very happy about that. It’s not all about screaming high notes, there is a lot of satisfaction in phraseology, diction and grammar in recording as well and I’ve managed to get a lot of things vocally correct this time. I think there are two points where something makes my ears prick up on the record and make me think, ‘Ooh, I should have sung that again’. But as the old saying goes, ‘A mix is never finished, it is only abandoned’,
Your voice sounds cool and powerfull as ever in «Beyond The Law», are you seriously thinking about retirement or you will continue working in other projects?
I have to retire due to ill health, so I am not actively writing any more. I can casually work on other peoples records or albums, but I can’t really travel anymore as such and I’m not going to actively write any more long winded projects of my own.
It’s a shame. How much have you taken care of your voice and healthy habits through the years? Is that important for a professional vocalist?
People will learn their own lessons and become the product of their own decisions and actions regarding their voice and any other instrument, for that matter. The most important thing for a singer, is adequate rest for recovery, or just plain sleep.
Smoking and drinking does not have a specifically uniformly bad effect on every individual, should they choose to do so in their career. I have like many singers, smoked during a long guitar solo, to help me relax or just to kill time. Drinking water and staying hydrated is very important. So there are two key factors. The others are, knowing your workload very well and pacing yourself to be able to perform that workload in a consistent fashion, night after night, or even more than once a day without any adverse damage to your instrument, i.e. Laryngitis, or vocal strain that disables you as a member of a group for any such performance.
I have smoked and drank through most of my career, and also had long periods, where I did neither for several months under doctors orders. All of the time, if I had trouble with my voice, which was mainly when I was young, it was because I had not slept so my thought process was not organised and I was not performing having planned my performance properly. So, the important points for singers really, are Sleep/rest. Hydration. Understanding and preparation for workload. Pacing. My voice improved with age as I matured and respected the job more and more and lived less rock and roll and more of a singer.
A nice lesson. This new album has been recorded with the assistance of the musicians you have worked these last years, right?
Thats right. I didn’t diversify too much. I didn’t want to have to repeat myself over and over, regarding the musicianship or talk about tuning and timing and obvious composition Issues. I used a lot of the same talented people as I dd from the previous album and it worked wonderfully. Tommy Denander reads my mind when I tell him what I want from a guitar part and a riff. As does Pete Newdeck, completely. And his wonderful approach to leight hearted sessions during mixing work, suits my relaxed approach to recording as well. The great bass players I used all locked on and drove the songs without any explanations. Paddy MKenna from Shy co wrote the ballad with me on piano and he gave me the exact melancholy I needed as did Chris Aldridge on saxophone from the Climax Blues Band.
Looking at the cover art one can easily guess what the lyrics are about. How did you get inspiration on the American mobs of the 30s and so on?
Just growing up from being a kid really. I loved all the guns and chasing the bad guys around, whether it was cowboys and indians, or gangsters and cops. Young boys love action and I was no different. It all came from there. Consequently, but not intentionally, it may not be so much of an album for girls, but more for boys. Purely because of the whole testosterone thing as a little boy growing up, it’s very much about learning to be a tough guy and standing up for yourself. The movies during the 40’s to the 60’s really highlighted these lifestyles significantly on UK TV when I was growing up and I watched them a lot as a teenager. They really inspired this album.
The opening track, The Westside, was very much drawn from the movie, ‘West Side Story’ and I was very pleased how it turned out.
«Beyond The Law» is a rock album full of great melodies and choruses, the essence of rock
I would say so. I come from a slightly more sleazy foundation, when Mott and Bowie sang with their unhinged and hazy eyed lyrics, but the swing into the 80’s matured my lyrical style and understanding of what worked commercially against the music I had in front of me, so yes, that is where the combo worked for me as a writer.
I didnt like music that droned on in the same key endlessly, as a lyricist and a singer, I wanted melodies and different keys to work with to give me possibilities and a colour in the story or contect of a song. I never just wrote to grooves.
How long have you worked in the new album? Is was easier or more difficult to compose than previous ones knowing that this would be the last?
Around eight months, from July 2018- March 2019. It wasn’t difficult, because the car crash happened to me in December when nearly all the recording was finished. My health only declined after that.
As a master in rock matters, what is more important a good guitar solo or a chorus with appeal?
Hmm. What if it is an instrumental, or a song that has no solo? I think it is important if it is an introspective piece of work that does not rely on vocals, Then the solo work should be more about satisfying the artist than the listener, because otherwise the artist would never be happy for it to crossover to another listener on any level.
Songs with a chorus that have no appeal in a medium where songs are supposed to have a memorable chorus, are a failure. There are many songs that only have a chorus and nothing else or have verses than no one ever remembers but a chorus that sticks in everyones head. All of these work and are a success. It depends where it is coming from and where it is suppose to be going to. There is the answer.
Another lesson to record. In «Beyond The Law» we get quite a lot of both, stellar solos and a great performance by you. Do you have something as an agreement to share the spotlights of it’s more a natural process?
Not really, The composition of these songs was planned with an even balance for both instrumental and vocals.
Any especial song for you in the album?
I think Running Guns and Beyond the Law, do it for me, sharing out the raw vibe and the other extreme, the danceability factor of the record.
I buy it! Now, time to go back in time, you have put your voice to many bands and projects. Which one has been more important for you?
Singing on Cinderella’s, ‘Night Songs’, was a high point in my recording career.
The best album you have sung on?
Dockers Guild. ‘The Mystic Technocracy’ The first of a seven album story which I love. Very high tech, with great world famous musicians and I sang three songs on the record. ‘The Gem of Love’, ‘The Secret of DNA’ and ‘Legion of Aliens’. I’m about to start work on the third album in the series. I’m very proud about that.
They use to say that rock will never die. But I have also read some artists’ opinions saying that rock is not rock any more because it doesn’t fight the system any more, on the contrary it has become part of it. What do you think?
Rock is in the heart of the writer and the ears of the listener and in the souls of both. As long as someone has music in their heart and a desire to portray it with an electric guitar, then it will be heard by someone who will join in and move to the beat and dance to a rhythm, whether they find it smashing a system or not.
With a so long career as yours, would you like to share with us some funny story or the like related with it?
Lots of funny stories over the years, from getting locked out of a venue fully clothed ready for a show, but couldnt get into the theatre because I hadnt got a ticket, to waking up on a beach competely nude on the west coast of France abandoned by the group, flying to the wrong country, sharing prison cells with murderers in my stage make up. It goes on forever.
Hahaha, I’m sure you could fill a book with all that material. With your experience, what would you advice to the young bands starting in the world of music?
It is a very different world, from when I started writing and singing in 1974. There wasnt even a mobile phone then and we had not long had a TV. So of course, the advice for upcoming musicians, may not even apply.
But there will always be other people to deal with. Work with people you like. People who you get on with, people who you respect. Listen. Always that. Even if you don’t agree. Hear the opinion and advice. Then make up your mind. Dont talk over everybody else and miss their point. Be grateful to your fans and supporters. Join in. Help others. Interact. As mmuch as you can.
Watch and learn from the people who have been doing it for years longer than you. And its not about staying single as a musician. You may find, as I have, that your wife is your biggest asset in your music career. Mine is a wonderful singer and guitarist and I agree with everything she says because of her sheer talent. So dont think you know it all. You don’t.
Amen, I think your words could apply not only to music but to life in general. Do you consider what your life will be after rock or you will stay linked to it whatever it happens?
I will carry on breeding writing for other people until I pass away, working on my motor cycles on my farm and breeding the Lassie dogs I love with my wife, Linda.
Anything you would change if you travel back in time?
Sometimes, I think so, Other times not at all. I have been very lucky. I have turned dreams into reality, that is more than enough for any young boy, or indeed, any old man.
True enough. Can we expect a promotional tour for «Beyond The Law»?
I would not say that I was well enough. It is destined to be a studio album for all time. If anyone else should portray the songs on stage, I hope they do the album credit, not just for me, but for the other artists who all worked very hard to give me a great record, that I am very proud of.
Many thanks for your sincerity and your amazing work through the years, Tony. Wish you the best.