METAL FORCES ISSUE 37 MARCH 1989
T.N.T. are one of those groups that most people have heard something by, but know little about. The band’s third album “Tell No Tales” released in 1987 caused something of a stir as guitarist Ronnie Le Tekro did some extraordinary things with his Kramer guitar and vocalist Tony Harnell pitched himself almost as high as an early ‘70’s Geddy Lee.
Prior to that attention grabbing album T.N.T. had already released two albums which saw them struggling to find a style and an image that they could expand on, and live with. Formed in 1982 by Le Tekro and three other Norwegians the band recorded a self-titled debut album in their first year, before the line-up began to change and gradually resemble that of today. Bassist Morty Black joined in 1983 and the band took the bold and necessary step of recruiting an American vocalist Tony Harnell arrived in Norway just in time to contribute to the band’s second album “Knights Of The New Thunder” – which was largely instrumental in forcing T.N.T. to the very front of the Scandinavian music scene. This was their first album for Polygram, doing well not only in Norway (where it went Silver) but, also in the States.
As mentioned earlier it was the band’s third album “Tell No Tales” which really put T.N.T. on the proverbial map. Gone, by this time was the Norse Viking look that had characterised the band in their early days and in was a stylish, clear as a bell sound and look. The album spawned two hit singles “Ten Thousand Lovers (In One)” and “Everyone’s A Star” with the help of their videos introduced many new MTV fans to the band.
T.N.T’s line up was consolidated in 1988 with the addition of drummer Ken Odiin, who apart from being a long-time friend of Blacks also engineered some of the band’s earlier demos.
Now, in early 1989 T.N.T are back with an excellent new album, a settled line-up, and a desire to adopt a much higher profile. Vocalist Tony Harnell spoke to me from Phonogram’s U.S. office on a day where rain was pouring outside both our windows. “Ah, it’s real ugly outside Dave, I’m glad I’m indoors.”
Me too, So tell me about the new album. How do you think you’ve progressed from “Tell No Tales”? “Well, I think that this album is another change in the band’s career, I would even say that it is as significant a step forward as “Tell…” was from “Knights of The New Thunder”. We’ve grown in every way, musically, lyrically, and socially. Perhaps the most noticeable improvement is with the vocal melodies and with the contribution that Ken has made. We’ve become much tighter now, I’m really happy about it all”
“Intuition” continues the trend that you set on your last album, that of being very positive and optimistic – which would presumably appeal to the many Christian fans out there, have you tried to cultivate that appeal? “Not really, but if we appeal to them then that’s fine. Our message is one with a general humanitarian outlook – it’s not driven at any particular religion, it’s just a basic feeling that we have about the way we like to live. We have had a lot of feedback on it though I must admit. There are a lot of subliminal messages in there, and I’m not sure how much they would be into the band if they were to study it in depth, although there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. We aren’t trying to please any particular group of people, we just feel there is enough negativity around, so if we can be positive then that’s a plus for us.”
In one sense you seem to have gone for a more ‘mainstream’ approach on this album in that there aren’t any instrumentals (there were three on the last album) yet you have included something as ‘off the wall’ as “Ordinary Lover” why? “Ha! WeII, Ronni wrote the song about a year ago and we keep joking around with it, playing it at parties and stuff. Everyone seemed to think it was a kind of novelty so we tried to reproduce that in the studio, we got Ronnie really drunk and made him sing it – it’s his lead vocal debut. We had everyone singing the backing vocals on it Me, Ken, Joe Lynn Turner, Morty, and all the crew and our friends, so you can imagine it was pretty funny.”
The Introduction “A Nation Free” is a little strange. What can you tell me about that? “It’s about the whole World. Basically what it’s saying is say your prayers tonight, which is not so much religious as just hope for the best y’know? Chase your dreams, hold your head high, it’s personal but it’s also about wanting World peace and stuff like that”.
I wondered if it was about Norway for example because other bands like STAGE DOLLS and even FATE felt that there was a close knit community there among the musicians, would you agree? “yeah, I guess there is. I know that it seems to be a bit more between the Norwegian bands because there is a bit of rivalry between bands from Sweden and those from Norway at the moment – it’s something we all try and laugh off though. I mean I know that Ronni was partying with Yngwie the other week and they have become good friends. I’d like to play some more in Sweden because they are a great untapped audience, it’s just a case of getting over there but, we will do soon.”
Talking of the band’s homeland, you excepted, did you have any intentions when you joined of continuing that Norse Viking theme? “You know that was just something that when I joined I just went along with because that was pretty much where the songs were at then. What they did was they took me up into the mountains and showed me some castles and stuff to get me into the mood! After that album though I thought it had run its course and I wanted to move towards writing about more real life issues. When I say that I must add that I don’t like bands that write about reality, but dwell on the negative stuff, to me that’s harmful – whether you’re singing or just living out that kind of attitude. So what I’ve bled to focus on is a mixture of reality and fantasy, but with an emphasis on the positive side of things…”
Having said that though, Tony, does that mean that you don’t sympathise with bands like OZZY OSBOURNE and JUDAS PRIEST who, after writing about the negative side of things have been accused of causing suicides etc? “No. My feeling is that everybody has a good head on their shoulders (with a few exceptions), and I think we all agree on this, that whether they were listening to PRIEST or to God, then I think those people would have done what they did irrespective of what they were listening to – maybe those people just needed an excuse to snap, and that was a convenient one.”
We mentioned image before, in terms of the band’s old look, so what are you trying to emphasise nowadays? “I think we’re just trying to be ourselves – I think that is the most important thing. We’re trying to let our fans see that we’re a real band who write about real issues. We still feel that we’re a new rock n’ roll band because although we have had some success there’s still a lot of people that haven’t seen or even heard of us.
“At our shows we seem to attract a good cross-section of fans – women, rockers, you know the sort. Sometimes I think that the real heavy fans shy away from us – but to do that they have obviously never seen us live. I mean when people like that do take the time to listen to us I know that they get turned onto it ‘cos it is heavy, and it’s intense.”
What was it like working with Joe Lynn Turner then? “It was unbelievable. I mean I’ve admired him for years – when I was in a band playing cover versions in Philly and New York I used to sing all his RAINBOW stuff, I’ve just been a fan of his since I was about nineteen years old I guess. Just to stand next to him and sing all the harmonies with him it was amazing. He taught me so much about how to best do the backing vocals. I’d done them all on the previous two albums, and I thought they were O.K. but I really wanted some more. He showed me a lot of new harmonies, and how to do them a lot quicker. He’s just like a machine, he’ll find the melody then he’ll just do it, he is brilliant. He has such a rich voice, and I think that the bottom end harmonies this time are much fuller thanks to him.”
What made you choose to work with Bjorn Nessjoe again? “Erm, ‘cos he’s good! Ha! Seriously though he just seems to get a sound that just fits us – we’re not looking to sound like all the other bands out there. We don’t sit back and say let’s sell eight million records next time, go get Bruce Fairbairn and Desmond Child y’know? It’s O.K. if one or two bands do it but now that everyone’s having a go there’s soon not gonna be a lot of difference between them all. As a band we all felt that we wanted to keep our own identity, and I think with Bjorn we can do that”
Would you agree that your live profile has been pretty low, and are you going to change that? “Yeah, we are gonna try and change that with this album. We’ve had some real bad luck with some of the tours that we were gonna do, or were doing y’know. Our goal now is to play as much as possible – on the last two albums we were taken off the road before we really wanted to come off. We are a good live band, but that is something that people will just have to accept for now, until they get chance to see us. We’re looking at three options right now as to when and where we’ll be touring. One of the options is to open for a big band in the States, which is the record Company’s intention with this album. But, the band are mostly European and so we all want to do another European tour, and I especially want to do more British dates than the Marquee slot we did last time.”
O.K. then Tony, does your “Intuition” tell you that this is going to be the album that’s gonna ‘make It’ for you, or do you foresee another one first? “My intuition tells me that this is the one, I’m not gonna jinx it though, so I have to say that it feels very good, that the record company are giving one hundred percent – it’s kinda frustrating because In the past we’ve always done what was expected of us, then fallen foul to outside forces or something. This time though I think we’ll be able to see it through, we’ll play all the shows we need to play, and really give it all we’ve got. We’ve some great plans to do some ‘proper’ videos this time and we’re all really excited about it all.”
Well, there you have it, if you’ve never heard T.N.T. do yourself a favour and grab a copy of “Intuition” – it can’t be wrong after all.