The Biggest Lie
It was always an honor and a pleasure when Tony would invite me to sing on one of his solo records or a No Use for a Name album. It was easy and fun to work with him and the lads, and I will always be especially grateful for the time they gave me the the lead singing role for the Sinead O'Connor song, "This is a Rebel Song."
Back in the day, we did a lot of touring together, Dance Hall Crashers and NUFAN, and it was a good fit because everyone got along really well. The NUFAN guys were good hardworking family guys, dedicated to music rather than the scene, and they were wicked funny. It was during that time that I learned Tony and I had a couple of random things in common. Our British background (his parents being English and the fact that I was born and raised there), was an underlying common ground that made me really appreciate him as being different to some of the other folks we toured with. He had a self-deprecating humor that was uncommon for most Californians but so funny and familiar to me. Also I felt that for an American touring at a time when the economy was good and we had it pretty easy, he somehow understood the 1980's working class political struggles of England (and Ireland), and the depressive state of the early punk roots that I had grown up around in London's East End. He must have seen and heard about it from his family or perhaps it had seeped into his psyche from movies and records, but I heard it in his music from covers he chose including Rebel Song. This ethos is also apparent in intros to songs like Mike Leigh's Naked excerpt for "On the Outside" and in Tony's own songwriting. I always found that really interesting.
Another thing we bonded on together as people playing fast punk rock music is that we shared a strong interest in non-punk songwriters and bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Elliott Smith, among others. Those influences are present in Tony's music to me, especially as he started doing more acoustic material. His chord progressions, harmonies and melodies go other places then an average punk rock tune. Though as is obvious in the Tribute record, his acoustic songs can still be performed fast and punk with no loss to the song's overall effect.
When Fat Mike asked me to contribute a song to the Tony album I was deeply honored. Yet it was a tall order because I would want Tony to like the way it was done. I suppose it might have made sense on some level to do "On the Outside" or something more mellow since I was doing this solo rather than with a full band. Yet Biggest Lie is a song that I always thought of as pretty sad lyrically, and one that I thought might lend itself to a slow and spooky version. I fell back in love with it after singing back up on it with Matt Riddle for Tony's tribute concert in Montreal. An event that was heartbreaking and beautiful in so many ways. The song's subject matter is biting, smart and to the point and yet so real and heartfelt which I always thought Tony handled so well lyrically. It's a very hard thing to accomplish all of that without sounding preachy yet that is really what epitomized Tony's songwriting. On this song I love the chord progression and harmonies so I wanted to try it more stripped down with an eerie ominous feel, as that's how I hear the lyrics. Getting my vision to be right was harder then i expected, because at first it wasn't quite eerie enough. I think the addition of the vibraphone and the Lowry organ (with a bit of a carnival tone) helped steer it in the right direction. This whole sound is a bit of a nod to Elliott Smith who i know Tony loved, so I had that in mind. Elliott Smith used a lot of organs and layered vocals and tons of harmony and reverb and even did some a cappella songs. Anyway, since I don't play guitar super well, I had to use my voice, as it's my most reliable instrument. Ha!
It's super hard to think about Tony being gone. From his lovely family and friends, to his peers, to his fans, the loss felt is so huge. I only hope we can find some solace in this amazing tribute to him. He would really love it I think and be amazed at the amount of people and bands who think so highly of him and his talents. But they do, and I do.
Cheers to you Tony!