Interview With Tony O’Hora from Ho-No-O August 1998
This interview was kindly translated for me by Yoko without me even asking so I am extremely pleased to have received it. Thanks Yoko.
Int: The band members of PRAYING MANTIS are very experienced musicians, and you are the youngest in PRAYING MANTIS. How long have you been into rock music?
Tony O’Hora(TO): When I was 13 or 14 years old when I lived in Canada. Fortunately I lived in the place close to the border between Canada and US, half mile from Detroit. I used to go to Detroit to see concerts 3 or 4 times in a week. It was really wonderful for rock fans because it was “Detroit Rock City”.
Int: I think people who grew up in UK have different taste for rock music from people who grew up in US. You are more familiar with American rock music than British rock, aren’t you?
TO: Indeed I used to listen to American bands at the beginning. But there are albums that even American kids must have if they are rock fans, such as BLACK SABBATH’s 1st album or ‘Led Zeppelin II’. I had these albums (laugh). Many American bands came out in ’80s like RATT, DOKKEN or MOTLEY CRUE, but my friends in Canada at that time had listened to British bands. So I could enjoy both.
Int:- When and how did you know PRAYING MANTIS?
TO: I had known just their name since ’80s in Canada. But I had never heard their music. The first time I heard their music was when I was back to England (laugh).
Int: So you didn’t experience NWOBHM era.
TO: No….because I was in Canada at that time. So I missed it.
Int: Japanese Heavy Metal kids think music in NWOBHM era is important. What did you think about those British rock bands in the era when you were in Canada?
TO: I had always seen tours of IRON MAIDEN or JUDAS PRIEST in the early time. So I wanted to know about such bands more and began to hear other bands like SAXON.
Int: On the other hand you have experienced L.A. Metal in the heyday, right? You just mentioned MOTLEY CRUE short time ago…
TO: Yeah, I liked L.A. Metal bands very much, and I had all their records. In Canada, new albums are released on Monday. I used to be in a queue in front of a record store on the day new albums of MOTLEY CRUE, RATT, and KISS came out (laugh). It was a great time…today’s teenagers in England perhaps don’t have the chance to experience such a great time.. I feel sorry for them. It was my life style, not only my hobby but also a way of my life. As far as I know, the only other place you can see the same scene as I experienced is Japan.
Int: You had been a music fan long time, but how did you get an idea to play music yourself?
TO: I think since I had been singing with the records of SCORPIONS and BON JOVI’s 1st album in the basement. In the mean time I began to sing in a school band. I’d never thought of being a rock star at first. I was just enjoying singing.
Int: Did you want to be a singer or a frontman from the first?
TO: Since I saw Dee Snider from TWISTED SISTER (laugh).
Int: You remind me you look like Dee Snider.
TO: (Laugh) I looked more like him years ago because my hair was more
Int: Did you put on make up….?
TO: No, I didn’t (laugh).
Int: Your voice when you talk is different from your singing. Your vocal sounds wet, clear, and very characteristic. When did you notice that you had such voice?
TO: I think everybody can sing songs. The point of singing is not technique but feeling and emotion. You might shed tears when you heard 80-year-old man’s singing at quiet bar in the West Coast, if he is singing emotional with not nonsense lyrics but lyrics that came from his heart though. Everybody can sing to some extent. Many people give up anything when they feel frustration. If you have voice like Paul Rogers, you should not sing like Rob Halford. Voice might have a limit, but you can use it.
Int: You remind me you were influenced by singers who sing in high tone such as Rob Halford or Robert Plant.
TO: Yeah, I loved singers who sang high when I was young. Only limited and talented singers can sing like them. Many people can sing normal, but when I was young I thought I had to have such voice to get out of those average singers (laugh).
Int: Your vocal sounds variety, wet and bright. You also can sing high. I think you have very nice voice to sing PRAYING MANTIS’s emotional songs.
Int: But I heard that you had joined ONSLAUGHT’s tour before. I can’t imagine (laugh).
TO: That’s true (laugh)! We had a big tour at the time. That was a hard time because I had to succeed Steve Grimett(*I don’t know how I spell his last name. “Steve Burnet” is wrong name on Tony’s interview on your website). I kept singing in high tone and had very hard work every night. But the point of singing in PRAYING MANTIS is not showing off my high tone vocal but expressing the feeling of songs. I’m glad to sing like that way.
Int: You came back to England at the end of 80’s, right? The British Heavy Metal scene was very stagnated at that time, wasn’t it?
TO: There were last survivors. There were bands played at the night club called ‘Marquee Level’. There were bands didn’t have record deals, but the scene was not so bad.
Int: Are you aware of being a professional musician?
TO: Yeah, from the beginning. But I wanted to be a dentist first. I supposed to get a grant if I study to be a dentist, but on the other hand I continued a band. In the last year of high school, I went to school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and toured on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. But my school was generous. The president of my high school was father of a drummer (laugh).
Int: Did you make demo tapes?
TO: I made many demo tapes. The way of doing things in Canada was that we played 4 days in a week when I had classes and 6 days when I didn’t have classes on summer vacation. We played a 1 hour show 3 times every night, but we had to play cover songs. We couldn’t play our songs in Canada. We played various kinds of classic rock, DEEP PURPLE, KISS, VAN HALEN….it was good for practice.
Int: You didn’t get another vocal job for a long while after the ONSLAUGHT tour. Have you ever thought getting out of music?
TO: No, I haven’t. I played in some bands and could have a full audience at Marquee on Saturday. I could let record company guys to come to see my gigs. We played music sounds like TNT when I played in London. Very fast guitar playing and a singer who songs high….that’s me, but there were musicians who sold their technical side, and everybody had very long hair. They looked great (laugh). But we couldn’t continue playing such music because it was like out of fashion, however, we were always busy for our band.
Int: It seems that some record companies have began to take an interest in melodic hard rock in UK during the last 2 or 3 years. Do you think situation in underground scene has begun to change?
TO: I hope so. I think most music circulates. The last 2 or 3 years Guitar rock music like the BEATLES has become popular again in ENGLAND, bands such as OASIS or BLUR. If they get used to hearing the guitar sound, next they might hear the guitar sound with edge, and then Blues rock might come to popular. If it happens, I think Heavy Metal bands will come to popular again. I hope so.
Int: But British magazines make me think the situation looks no good. There are ads from gigs on these magazines, but they have low opinions for those live shows and they are not friendly to orthodox hard rock bands, are they?
TO: They are always not friendly. I don’t understand what the point of the press’s suppressing music scene that is getting bigger. When American rock was popular, they support only such music, and put down bands from England. I have talked about it and laughed now with musicians I know. Nobody buys Kerrang! (laugh).
Int: Any musicians are hard to keep motivated in the situation where the media is not friendly and they can’t go on tour. When you were playing at night clubs, was your musical taste influenced by such conditions?
TO: No, I tried to wait. Indeed people, who used to buy records of WHITESNAKE or BON JOVI in ’87, began to buy PEARL JAM when NIRVANA and PEARL JAM became popular in America. But I didn’t want their albums. Everybody cut their hair but I was not gonna cut my hair. I used to sing classic rock cover songs at pubs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but I could make money and it was better than selling cars or shoes.
Int: I heard that it was members from BALANCE OF POWER who introduced you to PRAYING MANTIS, and you gave them your demo tape at the time. What kind of music was on the demo?
TO: American rock styled. It included the original version of ‘Remember My Name’. We may put it on B side of single or something and release it someday. That song part of my history.
Int: Was the demo tape made with your friends?
TO: No, that was recorded at a small studio. I programmed the drums and played the guitar myself.
Int: ‘Remember My Name’ is an emotional ballad. Do you often write ballads?
TO: Not exactly. I mostly write songs with the guitar riff. I love ballads. Maybe because I’m Irish. I like emotional music first. I like ‘Remember My Name’ on the new PRAYING MANTIS album because the unnecessary parts were erased. There was the band called STEELHEART, it sounds like them (laugh). I’m glad PRAYING MANTIS found potential in the song. Luckily it became wonderful.
Int: You might be influenced to write a ballad with high tone vocal by your previous band that had played music like TNT.
TO: My vocal used to be compared with Tony Harnell’s. I loved the ‘Tell No Tales’ album. Although their 1st album ‘Nights of the New Thunder’ was wonderful, it wasn’t popular. ‘Intuition’ charted, didn’t it? The next album, was it ‘Realized Fantasies’?, that was wonderful too. The guitar playing, the bass playing, and songs were great.
Int: Tony Harnell has sung polished hard rock with high tone voice, but he is trying new category and change music now. What do you think about musicians’s change and growth?
TO: Growth is different from a change. There are American bands trying to change their music style, but fans won’t buy their albums if they heard them and thought ‘This is wrong’. They must play music in their category. It doesn’t make sense if TNT try to make music like PEARL JAM. You must love your music. I don’t just listen to Heavy Metal I listen to other kinds of music as well. But I know I can’t play other types of music. So you should stay in your category.
Int: Troy brothers’s music still sounds fresh even the songs written 20 years ago. They keep playing music with an idea they have had since they started the band with belief, and making us moved like 20 years ago.
TO: That’s very important.
Int: Now you are one of them…
TO: Yeah. My feeling for their music has not changed even now. I think that’s why my song sounds so good on the new album. They know what PRAYING MANTIS sounds like. They have a certain way and faithfully followed it.
Int: PRAYING MANTIS has many songs and various types of music. Do you have any song you like specially, or songs you like to sing?
TO: There are many songs I look forward to singing. First of all, I have to make sure that the songs sound good with my vocal. But I do want to sing songs such as ‘A Cry for the New World’ and ‘Can’t see the Angel’.
Int: Fans are not satisfied with ‘To the Power of Ten’ album because many songs from the album don’t sound PRAYING MANTIS. What do you think about the album?
TO: Indeed I think that album has lack of unity and doesn’t show their ability. But I think their music came back to their way. When I let A&R from some record company hear the new album at a pub in England, he listened it with Walkman from the beginning to the end, and said ‘It’s gonna be “A Cry for the New World 2″‘. The band that made ‘A Cry For the New World’ and the new album is different from the band that made ‘To the Power of Ten’ (laugh).
Int: (Laugh) It’s a bold opinion. You got a position in the band that you can say such honest opinion.
TO: We are equal since I joined PRAYING MANTIS (laugh). I’ve never been told, ‘Do this, do that here’. Band members have to be equal; otherwise bands won’t do well.
Int: Is it easy to work with other members of PRAYING MANTIS?
TO: It’s very easy. They have a sense of humour. We don’t argue with each other. We make trouble joke. They make me feel I have been a member of MANTIS 20 years because I’m with such good blokes.
Int: I think your vocal sounds really good with PRAYING MANTIS music, but only one thing throughout PRAYING MANTIS history I’m worried is whether you can last long or not…(laugh).
TO: I’m worried, too (laughed very hard). No, in fact, right after I left ONSLAUGHT…I regret I didn’t meet this band around ’91. If I had met this band, PRAYING MANTIS could have made 3 albums at least with same vocalist. (Laugh) If so, they wouldn’t have worried the fans so much. I really want to sing with this band long as far as I can come on stage.
Int: If the line up of this band is stabilised, we can see how you guys can go grow. I look forward to it.
TO: Yeah, we are doing and keeping well. Songs we are going to write must be good.