Welcome. This Venom Inc thing is now by far the most successful thing you have ever been responsible for, isn’t it?
I think so, yes! When Jeff (guitarist Mantas) asked me for M:Pire Of Evil, which we at first called Prime Evil, after our first record together, I had a choice. I didn’t have to do it. I had a very well-paid job, I was a production manager doing stage hydraulics and set construction for the likes of Rammstein, the Olympics and so on, I travelled the world and I was making good money. I am an automation engineer, and after I ran the Queen show 'We Will Rock You' in London I joined Brilliant Stages, so that is how I got into that. I was perfectly happy doing that. I said to Jeff: “if we are going to do it, we are really going to do this. You are not putting your guitar back under the bed after three months, we are going to to play everywhere. People have never seen you play everywhere, so we will go wherever they want us”. And we agreed on that and in honesty, I've nearly had to sell my house three times doing it, but it was worth every minute.
Then, two years ago at the Keep It True festival, Abaddon joined in on drums for fun, three songs. Just for fun. And since I was involved in the management too, I got a ton of requests to play other festivals, do full tours and it caught on so incredibly fast. My phone never stopped buzzing with texts after that show. Literally hundreds of messages and dozens of invitations. And we thought, "ok, let's just say yes and have some fun". We had no plan and definitely had not thought about an album, although after only three dates of the first tour, we were being offered deals for a live album, which seemed at the time, crazy.
I know you are a hard-working man and able to open doors, but that is only part of the story. What is the secret that it now all of the sudden falls into place?
That moment after that one show, I had a talk with the guys and said, we can either do this or not. Previously, they could not do shows too quickly after each other, yes the expense of pyrotastic shows was limiting, but more was simply because Conrad's voice couldn't do more than three shows in a row, but I am fortunate as mine can do 60 fucking shows in a row and my voice still works. I trained my voice, I try to stay in shape. And I proposed them to meet all the fans they had never played for before, and actually meet them at venues, let them experience the stories of the fans, what importance they have had as Venom and give something back to the fans.
That is something they had never done before, right? Venom did and in fact does only a handful of shows. With this incarnation, I think you let Mantas and Abaddon do more shows a month than in their entire career with Cronos. How do you all digest that?
Mantas and Abaddon? Never really. They were kind of cut off in many ways from the rest of the bands most of the time, let alone from the audience. I mean they did signings but that was it. But now? They meet everyone they can and the stories they get from the fans are incredible. That goes for me too, but they really meant something life-changing for so many people. So it is great to see them hear that form them first-handedly.
It has been heavy and exhausting at times, but now we finally get the experience of a full touring band. And we got back from it so much. Our deal with Nuclear Blast is only one of the highlights. And we don’t get to do all the pyros every night and we don’t always get the main spot, but we do what we love doing for a job now, rather than do four big festivals a year, get paid € 500,- a person per show and the rest is going to the singer and up in smoke.
Do you feel you have grown as musicians through all this live experience?
Oh absolutely we have, and I think it shows. We wanted to capture our live energy on stage and put it into the record. So we didn't want to over produce it all, but at the same time, we wanted to show we moved on as a band. Mantas, Abaddon and I wanted to leave a mark to and show we move forward as well as embracing the rich legacy of our music. So it's diverse, unexpected at some times and dealing with topics, that I think are interesting.
The songs are very diverse, who have written them?
Mantas had a lot of riffs ready and as he sent them, I went through them and really liked them. I went to Portugal (where he now lives and has his studio) and we completed all the lyrics and together we shaped up the songs. We recorded them together. And in my world, a three minute song is fine but he has the tendency to build up this seven, eight minutes plus songs but they worked so well. Mantas sent the backing tracks to Abaddon and he really pushed it to the next level. He recorded the drum tracks in Newcastle, England and sent them over to Mantas, who put all of it together.
The most off-standard song is ‘Dein Fleish’, Is that why you wanted it to be the first video?
Yes, because that is not the first song you would expect from us, really. My kind of social experiment. A four minute edit of a seven minute song from an entire album.. solo edited out.. the management and label decided that track, but it was getting different reactions to it because it wasn't' just the 'obvious' song to go first.
That was initially a song for M:Pire Of Evil, wasn’t it?
Yes it was, we had it sort of done already, but it has this dark vibe to it that reflects who we are, but at the same time is not a typical fast metal song. I shot the video in Rome, it was actually my debut as a director and editor. And I had a lot of fun doing that.
It has been two years into Venom Inc, in which many highlights can be pointed out. You played all the world, you met a lot of fans and gained a lot of respect with people that maybe before only counted Cronos as legitimate. I am not saying this to offend you, on the contrary even. How did you turn that around?
Well, he does what he does and I do what I do. There are always people taking sides, I know you don’t, but some people do. In any direction by the way. That is up to them. But they can either enjoy everything or stay like that forever, it's not my decision but I think they do not need to choose sides, they can like all of it, some of it, or none of it...their choice and the wonderful gift we all have of personal choice.
I saw a remark in one of those discussions, of a guys who replied with the question if the complainer would rather have two Venoms, or no Venom at all
Exactly, smart remark. As for your question, it is nice to get so much positive feedback. And I can handle the negative too, as long as it is based on something. But most of the times, I get along really well. I sometimes even respond to people if they are talking shit about me online. That usually is appreciated and sometimes not, but that is who I am.
How much did Stuart Dixons (La Rage, guitarist in Venom) remark of “don’t accept any pale imitations” help and amuse you?
It did not amuse me at all. I tell you what happened. This is a guy, with the fortunate position to be in a band in which he plays very famous tunes. But he plays the riffs Mantas wrote. He felt he got success after making an album reviewers liked and maybe from a couple of guys that liked his riffs too, and he got confident enough to say that. He took a deep breath to have the guts to say it ,but now he's said it there's no going back. It is fine that he does what he does, but that remark is so disrespectful to my friends Mantas and Abaddon. We'll see what he says when we meet!
Are you a fighter?
Ok, I won’t. When push comes to shove, not with La Rage, but could you kill, you think?
When it comes down to it? Yes I could. If the only option is the other guy or me, I could. I have been in enough fights to know that I take care of my own safety first. Whatever it takes. But not just for the sake of it, although I like the thought for a while sometimes, hahaha.
How did you land the deal with Nuclear Blast?
I've known Jaap (Wagemaker) from Nuclear Blast for a long time and have always been in proximity to Nuclear Blast and I think we were very close when I was pitching the M:Pire Of Evil ‘Crucified‘ album, but we lost out to another band on the table. When our manager (Jon Zazula) asked us where to have our album aimed at, my first desire was there. And it was a quick signing. They know where to put us and how to do it. They have the network and they are fans themselves and passionate about their label and their music, so I feel very lucky to be a part of that family.
You were known for your rough and tough shaped custom bass. You recently switched to a shelf-model by Dutch builder Bo~EL Guitars, right. Tell us about it!
Well, a friendly guy I know introduced me to Eelco, the guitar technician of Bo~EL at a show. I fell in love when I saw it, but I didn’t believe how confident he was when he just said: “look Tony, this is tuned and adjusted for you already, take it, play it, this very night”. That confidence made me confused. The first thing it did, it blew up my amp. My nickname is “Demolition Man”, so that was a fit. I took it on stage, I had not a single reservation. Well, I give it a beating on ‘Witching Hour’, so I didn't’t want to do that with a borrowed bass. But other than that, it felt so strong, so direct, I was in full control in all the regions.
After that, I got an offer, several actually, even to this day, to have custom built and custom designed bass guitars. I talked to most of them and even went into to process of building at some point, but I just kept thinking about the Bo~EL Big Generator and gave Eelco a message. I needed it for recording, I really felt that deep inside. The rest was details and now I have two pieces of the most amazing bass I have ever handled. If it is up to me, I will never play anything else on stage anymore. It has done the recording really well, it has been road tested and I just love it. Part of me wants to scream out to everyone how good it is, but another part of me wants to cover the headstock, so no one else will find out what it is and it is just me with my own secret. I am really proud to be part of that family.
All this together, what was the highlight of the last two years?
I used the metaphor before, but we are on a speed train without brakes. We just keep going and we love every moment of it. The places we get to see, the remote places sometimes, that’s great. But I took some time to walk in the back of the train and you know what? It is the fans that are pushing the train on and on, everywhere we go. As long as they are there pushing, we keep pushing ourselves to be the best we can, night after night.
Is there a backup plan, back to acting or writing for instance, if this should ever fall apart?
I am a workaholic, so I always have things going. But for now, all I want to do is get this as far as I can, for the rest of our lives.
This is taking so long, which is awesome, but I have to skip some questions now.
I know I talk a lot, but I am not going to change that (chuckles).
No, don’t Besides Anton LaVey and older metal bands, what inspired you the most?
It is meeting people, mostly. I love to meet new people. When I worked as a production manager and actor, as well as a stage carpenter, I travelled the world, but I didn’t get to meet as many people as I do now. That is the main thing for me. Honestly, when I was young and leaving school there were no job in the North and you either joined the merchant navy or army or were unemployed. Whatever, I always said that I wanted to meet every single person on the planet before I die and my tutorial teacher said that's ridiculous, and of course you can never actually do that, but I am still following my dream more than some of the others and I've met quite a few of this planets inhabitants over these 40 years. I have travelled so much. And I always interact with people. And you get so much good energy back from that. You give that person some attention, you get something back, it really adds colour to anyone’s day. And it is so simple.
Ok, one question I can’t skip. The song ‘Black N Roll’, I can’t go through all of the songs, that is an homage to your heroes right? Did you give a lot of thought of how to bring that across?
Yes it is an homage, mostly to Lemmy for me and for Mantas to Priest and all of the cool metal that inspired us. I haven’t given it too much thought, because that would kill it. We just rode with it. If you over think it, straighten out every single detail, it will lose that vibe it needed. Music should be vibrant and exciting and give you a good feeling.
Do you want to tell us what the two sheep on the album cover represent?
They represent man. One has its eye socket torn, inside it hints there’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the deceit of man. And the demon is the shepherd leading his flock. Lucifer was set the task of looking after man and giving him knowledge.. when he questioned God he was cast to earth, there to stay forever to wander...so it seems fitting.. he would be our shepherd, wouldn’t he?
I noticed the sign on his head yes, hahaha. I know from experience we could talk for hours, but we shouldn’t. So I am wrapping this up. What big plans do you guys have ahead of you?
We are close to releasing another video, a lyric video. And after that, maybe one more, you never know. Well, I know, but I won’t tell just yet. We will soon embark on a big American tour (September 1st in Philadelphia) ,which is the start of the world tour, and after then some European dates, South America then after Christmas we will be doing Asia , Australia and New Zealand and we certainly will come back to Europe too.
We need to go! Thanks again for your time. You are dangerous to interview, really. I will give you the opportunity to close the interview down, with some famous last words!
Thanks for your time and interest, first of all. I really appreciate that. The album will be out soon, in all kinds of interesting formats. We are humbly surprised by all the great feedback from all we are doing, This album is YOURS, our thank for everything and with our respect, we will see you soon, somewhere, sometime, AVE!