Tony Dolan Interview
21st September 2022
This interview was conducted just a few hours after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral so naturally we started off our chat about it as it turns out, our Mr Dolan has wandered amongst royalty himself. Read on…
Queen Elizabeth II
Q: I thought it was magnificent.
TD: Yes and the thing is, what a lot of people were saying over the week was the historical value of it was huge. I wouldn’t say I was a Royalist one way or the other but as long as we have been alive, she was the Queen, our monarch. For me, the moment was when they went to Wellington Arch and took her coffin off the gun carriage and placed it in the hearse. Wellington’s house is there of course and I love all that history. We were seeing the Light Brigade Guards and I was thinking of The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balacalava against the Russians and the Siege of Sevastopol and they did all that for Queen (Victoria) and country. To see them all with their heads bowed, the regalia…it really touched a point. I have to say, today I felt proud to be English.
Q: Oh same here! I wouldn’t say I’m a Royalist either but it certainly moved me and I was quite taken aback about how upset I was hearing that Her Majesty had died. I quite like a lot of the Royal Family.
TD: Me too. You know, I’ve met Charles, met Anne and…
Q: What? You’ve met Charles? The now King of England?
TD: Yes. He was the Royal Patron for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and several times when we were on tour he would come to wherever we were and we’d chat and stuff. I was in Master and Commander as well and he came to the premier of that. I got the old mint in the mouth before he came round you know because you’re going to speak to him so you don’t want to have bad breath (laughs).
TD: I did the garden festival in 1990, one of the technicians on that doing sound and stuff for the World’s Greatest Strongman competition and Princess Anne was there so they asked me to take her around and explain everything so I spent practically the whole day with her and she was amazing! She was completely different to what I expected her to be. She was so beautiful, so sweet, funny, warm…just normal and I had a massive appreciation for that. With Prince Charles, obviously when we were doing the premier it was shaking hands and a little chat but with the RSC, because he was the patron and associated with it, you could just talk normally. He was always interested, wanted to know stuff about you and you can see the Queen doing that…they just seem genuine.
Our conversation continued for a further five minutes or so about the Royal Family and state affairs in both the UK and Japan but we shall move on.
Venom Inc. and the new album, There’s Only Black
Q: All this covid malarky has scrambled a lot of brains including mine. Five years since Avé was released which was Venom Inc.’s debut album and also, your only album.
TD: That’s it! As far as Venom Inc. goes, we’ve only released one album.
Q: Now obviously you have the Venom legacy but how on earth has Venom Inc. become such a big name off the back of one album? You tour the world, headline festivals, Bloodstock, Wacken…
TD: It is a kind of state of madness I think. The idea of an album wasn’t even a consideration for me back then and the record deal wasn’t intentional. We had a happened chance at Keep It True festival when we did five songs with Abaddon. We did the five songs, walk away and everybody’s happy. Then everybody wanted to see us play. On that consideration, it was ok. We’d just go out every twelve months and play shows or festivals as long as people want them. We’ll play the catalogue and we can make a bit of money doing it but we didn’t want record companies or agents or fees…none of that because I could foresee that once you get into that, you get into publishing arguments, money arguments and it destroys the whole creative process. The legacy is enough. We don’t need to make any new music as there is already enough music to play. Then after a year or a year and a half, Jon Zazula and Chuck Billy started pushing us for an album just because we were doing so much. We were hesitant but eventually me and Jeff did the demos and then Jeff said ‘Who are we going to send them to?’ I said ‘Nuclear Blast and if they say ‘no’ we just go back to playing live’ because then if you pass it around, you are begging someone, asking ‘Are we good enough to be on your label?’ and we don’t need that – we’re too old. So we sent it to Nuclear Blast and they ‘Yeah great! Make an album’ and I was like ‘Oh for fuck’s sake…’ (laughs) The result though was we loved working on it. Jeff got a chance to produce it and it was a really, really good album. Following it was Abaddon’s departure and then Jeramie Kling came in. We already had a lot of shows we had already been asked to do so we just kept going with that. I guess in a way, we were just back to where we were but with an album as well so we just kept going. After we did Wacken in 2019, I had to have me hip operation and had eight weeks recovery time so I just said to Jeff ‘Why don’t I come over to Portugal and we can write some new stuff?’, the intention being we could finish it in January or February and be back on the road in March or April. Then and course the pandemic hit and we couldn’t travel so I wrote at home while recuperating and Jeff kept writing and we just shared files. We ended up with 24 songs and sent them to Jeramie who has a studio in Tampa and talked to the label. Because it ended up being a two-year pandemic, we didn’t have the pressure of touring and we couldn’t even release when we wanted because the pressing plants were closed and we were in a queue along with everybody else so we knew we would have at least six months before it could come out. That was it really; as organic as you can get. There was no ‘Let’s make a five-year plan’ and now it’s all really wonderful. My plan was to wake and see what happens today and tomorrow’s tomorrow. (laughs) I think this one is more organic because of all that.
Q: I think this one is stronger because of Jeramie’s playing as well.
TD: Yes, there’s a youthfulness in there. The thing about Jeramie is that technically he’s great but also, tacking over the performance from Abaddon, he would be consistent and very detailed about how they should sound, in time and with all the bits properly in place but also to keep the atmosphere and keep the feeling. He would do all this from a click in his ear, a click from the actual recording and that’s the timing he used so when people said it feels right, that’s why. The fans heard the song from 1981 and it felt like it was 1981 and then when we did one from 2017 it felt like 2017. It took a few months of that before I said ‘You can let go now, you can be you’ and that’s when he elaborated on what he had before. For the album, he asked ‘What do you want me to do?’ and I said ‘Listen to the music and then play’. It needed to be him, his character in there. We do that so he should too. We put no limits on him and told him ‘Go with what you feel and we’ll see what happens in the end’. There was one pattern in one song that Jeff was specific about when Jeramie had finished which Jeff wanted up-tempo as that is how he envisioned it so Jeramie went back and redid it but that was it. Everything else is just whatever he saw and felt which was absolute bliss because it was a struggle recording with Abaddon.
Q: The last album came out when I was in my fifties, this one I am in my sixties, I’m not going to have to wait until my seventies for the next one am I?
TD: No! (laughs) When Jeff gave me a call why back and asked me to do the Empire of Evil project, I had a pretty good job going at the time and I thought, ok, I’ll have to chuck the job, that’s a sacrifice so I said to Jeff ‘I’ll do it but, if I do, we do it properly and this time you never put your guitar under the bed again. This time we do it until we die!’. Then of course he went and died didn’t he (laughs). That’s…not…fair! (laughs) Anyway, yeah the thing was to do it until we ran out of juice and we haven’t run out of juice yet.
Q: I’m looking at your upcoming tour dates here mate and it’s a lot.
TD: Yes and the thing is, that’s reduced from what I was trying to feed off because since Jeff had his passing and came back, he’s physically great but mentally – and he’ll tell you this – he finds it very difficult as anyone does who has had this happen too them. The conception of death is beyond us. There’s Only Black, the album cover is a black hole and the reason I put that on the cover is because he said he saw nothing, there’s just a black void. It actually changed the title of the album which was originally Nine and was about Dante’s Inferno, the journey from birth to death and all the crap we deal with on the way but as soon as he gave me that title, There’s Only Black, I thought ‘That’s it!’ because it says everything. The questionable thing of what’s next, the human quest for existence and that there is only black until knowledge, someone teaches you. There are so many poignant things in that title and because of how Jeff feels now, the kind of touring we were doing before, something every day, never having a day off, he doesn’t feel he can cope with that so we are doing short runs of two weeks which means I have to turn down more dates than we can do but as you say, the demand is there. We just did the Alcatraz and Bloodstock festivals where we invited to play the Black Metal 40th anniversary and then Keep It True where we did the 1984 Hammersmith set where we blow stuff up. There’s a US tour of the new album, a European tour off the back of that and in the middle of that we go to Norway, Finland and Sweden to do three shows for the Black Metal 40th anniversary. After two years of the pandemic, it was a bit hard to get Jeff motivated again to go out because he was quite happy at home doing whatever but I know, its music what keeps him vibrant. He always plays from the heart, it’s soulful, not dialled in…it’s real; and that’s why it’s such a pleasure to play with him.
Q: Your new signature pedal. What’s all that then?
TD: Oh man it’s amazing! We’ve got a modified version now which is smaller. The first version designed by Anthony who works out of Chicago at a company called AMM Amplified and what he does is take existing amplifiers and fine tune them - a bit like hot rodding a car – and a mutual friend mentioned that he’s like to make me a pedal. So we talked a lot about it, the chain that I use and how I put my sound together and the settings on my amp and he suggested a pedal with all of that in it so all I had to do was turn it on and use a volume control. We were invited to play in Chicago All-State arena with The Misfits as special guests and I get a call saying they were in the arena. I go out there, looking for them in 11,000 people, running all over the place and I eventually found him and he gives me this thing in a black velvet bag which was the pedal. It was amazing and I used it for a year and we got some nice features from it. Then a while later Anthony said that he had been pushing them out and a lot of guitarists had been buying them and suggested a modification with a high frequency switch for guitars which he worked on and also reduced the size of it which we are just launching now. I used it for the shows we’ve just done and on the album and man, it’s mind-blowing! I thought the first one was great but this is the next level.
Q: So when you were here doing that bass clinic and explaining all your sounds pedals and rig and everything, now you have that in a box you can put in your pocket and fly around the world with.
TD: Yeah! I have a little Carlbro Stingray amplifier thing that fits in a satchel as well that powers it so those two things, that’s all I need. I can plug it into your stereo and as soon as I start playing, it sounds like me. It’s utilising the technology and the guy is a genius; he’s put me in a box and a lot have people have wanted to do that. (laughs)
Q: Another thing I wanted to mention was an entry from my diary dated January 29th, 1987 which I mentioned to you a while back. I was working with Girlschool and we were at Newcastle University. You were there supporting with Atomkraft. I remember being backstage and you giving Kim a cassette.
TD: Yes! It was remarkable because when you brought it up I thought ‘Oh my God!’ I remember we got the show and Girlschool were a favourite of mine. There were a couple of things I remember. The first being when came off stage after the show and we had a singer at the time so I was only playing bass but one of the songs I actually sung was Demolition Boys. My mic was pointed quite high as you know and Kim and Denise both said ‘Fucking hell you look like Lemmy from the back!’ - that made my day! Also, on the set list, we had a song called from our Conductors Of Noise album called Foliage and the reason it was called that was because I was scratching around for titles and I looked at the back page of the Evening Chronicle and there was a golf section. I thought I’d just scan it and then if anything jumps out, write a song about it and there was the word, foliage. So, I wrote this song about how in foliage there is this undergrowth, an alternative scene to what is really happening above. There you have all the grass and the sky and the trees and everything but underneath are all the worms and insects and stuff. It made a lot of sense to me but the girls were going ‘On your set list, you’ve got a song called Foliage; what the fuck is that about?! That is a naff title’ and I had to try and explain it. (laughs)
Q: I also remember before the show, Girlschool had soundchecked and I think you had as well and we were all in the dressing room and you mentioned that you did a version of Demolition Boys but thrashed it and you also said you were not going to play it that night but it was the girls who said ‘No! Play it.’
TD: That’s right, yeah. We already had a song called Demolition but we had just finished a studio session and covered Demolition Boys which is why I mentioned it to them. We really speeded it up from the original and had so much fun with it because it’s one of my favourite songs and that’s why I gave them the cassette. Denise said they’d listen to it on the way back down to London that night as you were at the Clarendon the next day. That Newcastle gig was my one opportunity too meet them and I thought I’d never be able to get in contact with them again but after the show I called a friend who lived in Manor House and asked if he’d go and see Girlschool with me if I came down to London and he said yes. I got the train the next morning, made my way to Manor House and then we went down to the Clarendon. I didn’t even know how I was going to get in but there was a door open, we went in, walked up the stairs and I think you had just finished sound-checking when I popped my head round the door and said ‘Hello’. They all came running over and they were nicest, friendliest, warmest people. It was only recently I reminded them of that. We also actually met in 1992 in Russia where we played the White Nights Festival outside the Winter Palace. Every band got to play three songs but you had to mime to a DAT tape because although they had a huge stage and huge P.A., they said they didn’t have the power to run it but there were four million watching it on TV and the square had one hundred thousand people in it and they said if the fans know you’re not playing live, they are going to tear the place to bits so please pretend to play (laughs). UFO were on the bill, The Sweet, Asia, us and Girlschool and I didn’t even have a bass but my manager (Eric Cook) said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll borrow it from one of the opening bands’. So he goes and borrows a bass and comes back and says ‘It’s this kid’s pride and joy so be careful with it’ which of course I wasn’t. It was covered in blood in the first song and then it was just a mash. Eric took it away and tried to clean it up and hide the dents before he gave it back to the kid and Denise and Kim – particularly Denise – were absolutely disgusted at this guy from Venom who had trashed this kid’s bass. They wouldn’t even look at me…’What a fucking wanker that guy is’…(laughs) and my outside Demolition Man was thinking ‘Oh well, whatever…’ but my inside was going ‘But I’m Tony Dolan! You remember, that guy from Atomkraft!’ (laughs) I’m not sure if they put the two things together but we’re all great mates now and when we did the Atomkraft Anthology for Sanctuary Music I made sure Demolition Boys was on there because I wanted to put it out as a tribute to them.
Q: Classic stuff mate. We have to end but we shall hopefully see you here in 2023 one way or another.
TD: That’d be great. We’ll talk again very soon.