Spanish guitarist, producer, composer Tony Hernando is known as founding member of rockband Lords Of Black. The band released three albums so far and became more known when their singer ended up being the new frontman of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. This eventually led to his departure from Lords Of Black and no possibility for Hernando and his men to tour for the just then released third album ‘Icons Of The New Days’. Besides looking for a new singer, Hernando also started working on what became Restless Spirits, a project for which he wrote the bulk of the songs and worked with various singers, like Johnny Gioeli, Deen Castronovo (who also plays all the drums), Dino Jelosic (Animal Drive), Kent Hilli (Perfect Plan) and new Lords Of Black singer Diego Valdez. Restless Spirits is different from Lords Of Black because it focusses more on melodic rock and AOR. HeadBangers LifeStyle’s Ron Willemsen contacted Hernando and spoke with him about Restless Spirits, his influences, plans and of course the new Lords Of Black album.
Tony, when did the idea to record a solo album come up?
,,Well, let me first clarify that I don’t want to call it a ‘solo album’ as such…because I actually made several solo albums already, showcasing my instrumental music…so ‘Restless Spirits’ is more a side project rather than a ‘Tony Hernando Solo album’…having said that, this project started way less ambitious. I was just writing some songs for other artists on my label, Frontiers Records. Serafino, the President of the label, knew about my wide musical tastes and skills and wondered if I was up to write stuff in a more melodic vibe, which I thought was cool and interesting, of course. All of a sudden I already had a bunch of songs that were quite special and it started to get discussed how to proceed and by then it was decided it was going to be a whole album, produced by me, around several singers and musicians.’’
Was it the plan from the start to work with different singers? ,,No, as I said, I was just writing songs in a more hard rock-melodic kind of vein. Johnny Gioeli was the only singer who was planned to collaborate from the very beginning, and later it became the idea with several singers.’’
Did you find the singers first and started writing songs later or was it the other way around? ,,Both ways, I had written the tunes for Gioeli specifically and the rest of the songs were written with the fan in mind that loves melodic hard rock and AOR from bands like Journey, Bad English, Giant, Foreigner.’’
Being on Frontiers you almost have an unlimited number of great singers to choose from. Why did you pick the ones you did? ,,That’s the great thing about this and the special and quite unique approach that Frontiers has. Giving us, the artists, the opportunity of working and developing cool music and projects among us. So yeah, I had an immense list of great singers that would be awesome for any of these songs, but then it’s a matter of schedule conflicts and many other things, so it’s not that easy, really.’’
People know you more for your power metal with Lords Of Black. Was Restless Spirits meant to show the world another side of you? The melodic rock side? ,,Yes, absolutely…people may know me from Lords Of Black or my instrumental stuff, but I consider myself a musician and a fan. As a fan I have a very diverse taste and as a professional musician and guitarist I’m very open and diverse as well. Even when I was a little boy, I could enjoy anything from classical music to thrash metal, but yes, anything that is guitar driven, guitar oriented, together with a great singer, is really my thing. Restless Spirits has been a great opportunity for me to show many other sides of my writing and playing skills, and with some of the best musicians in business, so it’s amazing.’’
ALL ABOUT POSITIVE STUFF
What can you tell me about the writing process? Did you present finished songs to the singers or were they able to put their own mark on it?
,,Most of the songs were pretty much done, but ,,I Remember Your Name” has been a collaboration with Kent Hilli, from the band Perfect Plan. Kent and his band have become one of my new favourite acts and it has been a beautiful journey making this song together. Also ,,You And I” and ,,When It Comes To You” are two songs I’ve co-written with the great Alessandro Del Vecchio, one of the most talented and hardest working musician in the scene.’’
Who was responsible for the lyrics? If it was you, where did you get the inspiration from?
,,Except for the three songs I mentioned before I wrote all the lyrics myself. This album was all about positive stuff, overcoming difficulties, love, compassion and forgiveness. I did not want to write anything about apocalyptic stuff. This was supposed to be a way out of the convulsing world we live in nowadays…a time machine to those “wonder years” we all had back in the day. One of the nicest compliments I’ve had from a fan was “thanks so much for making me feel like I’m 18 years old again”! That was so cool. Ah, the lyrics of the song ,,Lost Time (Not To Be Found again)” were done together with singer Dino Jelusic, a great singer and cool guy…awesome dude!’’
Why the name Restless Spirits?
,,Well, that moniker I had in my mind for quite some time, I really don’t know why, but I think it perfectly suits the musicians on this album; we are all restless spirits. By the way, after I decided to use this name I was listening the Def Leppard‘s ‘Hysteria’ and Joe Elliott sings “restless spirit” in one of the first phrases of the first song “Women”, so I thought… well, it can’t get any better…it sounds cool and beautiful to me and ‘Hysteria’ brings back the best memories of my life so…great!’’
Did the album come out the way you had in mind?
,,I don’t recall any album I’ve done that came out hundred per cent the way I had envisioned it…but it’s okay…that gives me the drive to keep on pushing and improving…but hell, this one came out so close!’’
RECOVER MY SANITY
How long did the whole process of writing and recording take?
,,It all started three years ago! But the serious writing and demoing came way later since I was totally busy with and focused on my band Lords Of Black. Last year saw the release of Lords Of Black’s third album ‘Icons Of The New Days’ with no touring afterwards and I really had to commit myself to this project in order to recover my sanity. Believe me, this album has been so important and so cathartic for me considering the situation I was going through last year.’’
What sparked you to start playing guitar?
,,I was surrounded by music from very early on and I gravitated naturally to music and arts…but it was the electric guitar that suits me personality wise…or violin if I was born in the late 1700s I guess. I was already at Conservatory of Music learning music and classical guitar when I got into hard rock through the radio and older friends. I discovered how similar in music and feel the works from Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi or Mozart were to some of the Deep Purple, Rainbow, Randy Rhoads stuff I got into. Then I got into Yngwie Malmsteen and I was hooked!’’
Who are your biggest influences?
,,In the beginning it was really Randy Rhoads, all the Thin Lizzy guys, Vivian Campbell, Gary Moore…then I got seriously into Malmsteen, MacAlpine, Gilbert, Satriani, Vai…all those guys were amazing. After that I went thru a serious fusion phase, learning all I could from guys like Brett Garsed, Greg Howe, Scott Henderson. I have a lot of different influences but I really believe I have my own style by now.’’
What would you’ve become if not a musician? Did you have a Plan B?
,,I have degrees and studied other things, not only in Music but also in Geology Sciences and Environment management, but music was the only thing I really wanted, and if you want to be serious about it you must sacrifice a lot and pay a huge toll…but it is what it is. Live your own life, be unique and accept the consequences whether they are good or bad, instead of regretting or worse than that, envy others for their success.’’
How is the musical climate in Spain? Spanish bands hardly ever break out European wide let alone worldwide. Why is that, you think?
,,Mainly because most of the bands insisted in singing in Spanish…but since quite a few years now everything is starting to get better and younger guys are more open and know English. Also; the fact that Lords Of Black and a few other bands are getting out there is helping out the scene I think. It is just like it was before for countries like Germany or Sweden or Finland. Scorpions and later Accept and Helloween made everything possible what we know now about the great German metal scene, as it was with Europe for Sweden or Nightwish and Stratovarius for Finland. There must be some artists that become successful first before the next to follow that path.’’
Will you play shows with Restless Spirits or is that impossible because of the other commitments the singers have?
,,It would be certainly amazing and interesting, but monetary wise and the schedule conflicts might make that difficult…however, why not give it a try at least for a live dvd? It would be awesome.’’
DISAPPOINTMENT You are first and foremost the driving force behind Lords Of Black. The departure of your singer must have been a big disappointment. Did you see it coming?
,,That has truly been a disappointment, even heart breaking. I started the band with Ronnie; we had such a chemistry and a bond that I thought we were unbreakable. But situations change, people change…or people around you make you think differently…whatever, I will forever treasure the good moments we had and the music we made together. Now it’s time for me to recover from that and come back with the best album I can make.’’
You found a new singer in no time, this time from Argentina. Was it not possible to find somebody closer to home?
,,Well, right after Ronnie announced his departure I started auditions and in less than one month I had 3-4 possible guys… Diego was actually the last one I tried. I had just met him three months earlier or so, singing one of my Restless Spirits songs, and believe me, not for a moment I thought he was going to be the new singer of Lords Of Black. He had other things running and I didn’t even ask him. He just called me up saying “can I audition?”…and he sure did a terrific job!’’
A sneak peak on the new Lords Of Black album Photo from Tony Hernando’s Facebook page
What makes Diego Valdez the perfect successor for Ronnie Romero?
,,Well, Diego was one of the few guys I had after the auditions, but I wanted to take the best decision possible considering many other factors…and he’s just an awesome guy, very honest, down to earth…it also happened that he lives very nearby, so I just thought…well if this isn’t the new singer… you know…so I went for him and here we are five months later with the new Lords Of Black album written and ready to be recorded! We are just waiting for some stuff to be cleared out before entering the studio.’’
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
What do you consider the highlight in your musical career so far?
,,Oh…that is so difficult to say, although I enjoy everything I’ve accomplished, I’m a perfectionist and very difficult to please, I always say the best is yet to come.’’
What was your goal when you took your first steps into the music scene and are you still on the right track?
,,I have never changed my goal; I am for better and for worse- one of those very few artists that think music is sacred and music always comes first. Not money, popularity, ego or drugs, but unfortunately the music business is a strange world full of strange people and it’s very difficult to keep on going strong and stay true to yourself, but that is what I will be doing for sure.’’
What advice would you give to kids who also hope for a career in music?
,,Only follow a musical career if it’s really in your heart, in your personality…in the core of what you are…if not, try anything but music to make a living! Music, more than ever, is now like winning the lottery…reserved just for one in a million, but what if you are the one…?’’