"Through high times and no times.
Been around the block
so many times...
they should've named it after me."
~ Tony Carey ~
Some musical artists get pigeon-holed rather quickly. Wined, dined, and quickly defined. Not necessarily a bad thing. But it can often stifle other directions they might want to travel. Tony Carey has always been a blazer of his own trails. He creates music his own way and on his own terms. Satisfying the fans, while keeping true to his own space. Whether laying down the crazy good keyboard rushes all over the heavy hard rock album "Rising" (1976) ...arguably Rainbow's best album. Or the excellent pop-rock albums of his own...one which includes perhaps his most anthemic song..."A Fine, Fine Day." Or maybe it's the spacey, atmospheric synth-driven direction Carey takes on his groovy Planet P Project albums that have created their own groundswell of diehard fans. Each phase of Tony Carey begs to be revisited.
A long-time resident of Germany, Carey has also been producing and recording dozens of other artists and garnering quite a collection of gold along the way. And he's just re-released probably his most introspective album to date...“Lucky Us”...in a Deluxe Edition package available in all formats. It's really good stuff and you can take a listen on Spotify right now. Tony Carey has made a lot of terrific music and has done so without being boxed in, labeled, or tagged. Turn the GPS off and roll down your windows. Tony Carey...Go get you some.
Tony Carey Interview -- November 2021
Casey Chambers: I first became a fan when I heard "A Fine, Fine Day" blast outta my car radio from your "Some Tough City" album. (1984) That opening track is one table-setting biscuit. How did that song come together?
Tony Carey: Well, first of all, it was just a story. I don't really have an Uncle Sonny and he was never in prison and all that. I did hang around with a lot of gangsters when I was young. (laughs) I mean, people who might've had criminal intent. I lived in West Hollywood in the early '70s. From '73 to '77. This was like 10 years before the Motley Crue and Van Halen West Hollywood. This was more your dirty West Hollywood. And so I knew a lot of gangsters. And a lot of my friends were bikers. Hells Angels. Plus when you're around rock and roll, there are all kinds of crooks, anyway. (laughs)
And the song always reminded me of John Steinbeck. It had a Steinbeckian ring to it. "A Fine, Fine Day" is something he might write. Or even Hemingway. But the song's not autobiographical. It's just characters I invented. I still get a lot of mail from ex-cons telling me, 'Well, you know, I got out of jail four months ago.' Or 'I was in for 14 years for manslaughter. And I'm listening to your song.'
Casey Chambers: Oh, I can believe it. The song cuts close to the bone. And there's an almost anthemic taste of hope and hurt in the telling. When you write, what comes first...the chicken or the egg?
Tony Carey: The vibe first of all. What kind of piece is it going to be. I knew it was going to have a signature line which I used in about 14 other songs. The line is very characteristic of my '80s stuff. It's like a worm in my ear. And I always write in the studio. I mean, I don't write at home and then go in and record it. I write in the recording studio and the lyrics always come last. Sometimes I'll have a leftover track that's never had anything put on it and I'll go and finish it. Sometimes I don't. And then I'll sit down and try to write something. In the early eighties, I was more of a novelist or a short story writer. And a lot of the songs had characters that aren't real characters, but just inventions. I was probably reading Steinbeck or John Cheever. I read a lot. I like things with literary references or that remind me of my literary heroes. I've gone through a lot of phases in my songwriting and I don't do that so much anymore. But the hardest part about writing a song is knowing what to write about. (laughs) Once you know, the song writes itself.
"A Fine, Fine Day" - Tony Carey / "Some Tough City" (1984)
Casey Chambers: I heard somewhere that when you presented "A Fine, Fine Day" to the label for inclusion on "Some Tough City," they weren't happy with it. What did they want you to change?
Tony Carey: A bunch of shit. A bunch of shit. Let's see, how can I put this delicately? I never presented songs to a label for consideration. I give them an album, basically, and say take it or leave it. And this was Geffen Records. At the time, the most powerful label in America. I was in an actually unenviable position of having two separate record deals with them. One for Planet P Project and one for Tony Carey. They had success with Planet P Project. But with one stipulation...that I couldn't use my face to sell two products. So I'm not in any of those Planet P videos if you've noticed. There was a reason for that. My nemesis was a guy that ruined the music business in the '80s as far as I'm concerned. I won't mention his name...but he was the head of A&R for Geffen Records.
When I played him, "A Fine, Fine Day"...he hated the title. And he also wanted to cut the whole bridge out. Now, granted this guy was instrumental. He's the guy that brought additional songwriters in for Aerosmith when they had their undeniably successful comeback albums like "Pump." And then the one right after that. This is the guy that did all that. And Aerosmith was a self-contained Boston rock and roll band. They were great. They had drug problems. Then they weren't great. And so he collected them all. He says, 'Well, here's what we'll do. We bring in hit songwriters.' Aerosmith went along with it. I mean, they're not stupid. But it's the kind of thing that I'd never go along with. So anyway this guy said to me, 'Well, this is great. It's terrific. But you've got to change the lyrics to two songs.' Both of which became top 40 singles. The other one was called, "The First Day Of Summer."
"Some Tough City" (1984)
There's a short story from the '40s called, "The Girls In Their Summer Dresses" and it made a huge literary splash. And it got my attention when I was a kid. The whole literary image of the song, "The First Day Of Summer" was like..."...on the first day of summer, the whole world knows your name." I thought that was fantastic. It's New York City. All the secretaries are walking up and down the streets. And he notices that they're not wearing overcoats anymore. They're wearing summer dresses. He knows that the seasons have changed. Youth is in the air. Fun is in the air. Whatever. And that was exactly what I wanted to say. And so these two songs..."The First Day Of Summer" and "A Fine, Fine Day"...he said, 'Yeah, they're great, but you gotta change all the lyrics. We hate the lyrics.' I said, 'No!' (laughs) And on the basis of these two songs, they traded me to MCA. Like a sports team trading a baseball player. That was the last time I ever talked to them. Fuck'em.
Casey Chambers: Laugh last, right? MCA released "Some Tough City"...and both of those songs ended up becoming pretty huge.
Tony Carey: Here's the thing. When I said this guy was the most powerful guy in the record industry in the '80s, I wasn't kidding. "A Fine, Fine Day" was #22 with a bullet. Then it stopped. And it was #1 in the rock charts. In the AOR airplay charts. Number one. And in the Billboard Hot 100, it was #22 with a bullet, and then it stopped. This is a guy who can make calls to radio programmers and say, 'Kill this record.' And I'm sure he did. Both of those records. So, no laughter changed hands.
But you know, I tell you what. I didn't actually care. Still don't. I mean, what would you call it? What would you call, "A Fine, Fine Day?" Would you call it "Slippery When Wet?" Would you call it, "Love In An Elevator?" What would you call it? It was a story song about a fictional uncle getting out of prison and the mob is after him 'cause he kept the money or whatever, and it ends badly. Or "The First Day Of Summer" which was a road trip from New Hampshire to California. It was a true story with two kids from my high school band. And on that first day, we're young and free and happy and..." the whole world knows your name." I thought they were perfect literary references. The pop industry doesn't care about literary references. They never have, and I completely get that. So I'm not...I don't care. (laughs)
"The First Day Of Summer" - Tony Carey / "Some Tough City" (1984)
Casey Chambers: But "A Fine, Fine Day" did hit #1 on the rock charts anyway despite their indifference, and that had to feel pretty good.
Tony Carey: I wasn't looking at the charts every week. I was in the studio. From '82, '83, '84...those three years... there was always something for me in the radio charts. "I Won't Be Home Tonight." "Why Me?" "West Coast Summer Nights." "Static." If you're in it or close to it, there's nothing to really celebrate. Businessmen with their wall of fame and pictures shaking hands with Bill Clinton. Or getting an award for citizen of the century or some shit. I never cared about that at all. I have about 60 gold and platinum records from the States and the European stuff I've produced you've probably never heard of...and it all basically goes gold. They're all out in the shed next to the lawnmower. I really do have a different kind of view. Although Slash left his Grammy in the back of a taxi cab and laughed about it, so...
Casey Chambers: Planet P Project was a whole other basket of eggs that you were juggling. Good stuff. How did this alternate universe Planet P all come about?
"Planet P Project" (1983)
Tony Carey: I didn't start off as a singer. I was doing lots of different music before Planet P. I had left the hard rock band in '77. Rainbow, if you will. And accidentally migrated to Germany. I came over to do a piano session for a guy and met my second wife. Started having babies and there wasn't any going back. I had access to a recording studio 24/7 and recorded hundreds of electronic music pieces that were just the polar opposite of hard rock. And more in the line of maybe Tangerine Dream. And before I ever sang on an album, I recorded and released five instrumental albums. Very, very basic Euro-electro pop. I was just learning by doing. They're on Spotify. You could find them.
This was over 40 years ago. I'm trying to chronologically arrange this in my head. Before the album "I Won't Be Home Tonight," (1982) somebody asked me to write a song for a band that was a girl group. The whole thing was phony. It was four models. They weren't even going to sing on it. They had a professional singer in L.A. and it was junk product. Anyway, the producer for Boney M, who was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, lived about half an hour from where I was living. He was catastrophically wealthy and a really down-to-earth guy and I played him a cassette of these five songs I'd written. The tape had "I Won't Be Home Tonight," "West Coast Summer Nights" and a few other songs. And he says, 'You're going to give these away? These are hits! You sing great. You're an idiot if you give these away.' So I thanked him and gave it some thought and recorded them myself.
Anyway, I had also been writing all this electropop and getting spacier and spacier. I was definitely into prog so maybe there's a little Pink Floyd influence. Definitely a Yes and Genesis influence. But I was definitely into straight-ahead rock too. So I mixed them for what was to become the first Planet P album. I wanted to write something dystopian. "Why Me?" is about an astronaut that changes his mind at the last second and has a panic attack. (laughs) "Static" is a guy who comes back from a 9 million light-year cryogenic sleep-induced interstellar voyage and he can't pick up a radio signal. And "Armageddon" is the same thing. "Power Tools" is a vacuum cleaner salesman in another galaxy. He's a salesman in a spaceship and he says, 'I give'em Gomer Pyle on the video. They go crazy.' (laughs) It has a bit of a "Mad Max" vibe and all a little tongue-in-cheek. I played most of the instruments myself. I played the bass, keyboards. A lot of the drums and guitars. And I got some fabulous musicians to do the stuff that was beyond my capabilities.
"Why Me?" - Planet P Project / "Planet P Project" (1983)
Casey Chambers: I remember a midnight threefer from this album coming on the car radio and the music just drove me home. Amazing.
Tony Carey: I used to spend 20 hours a day in the studio if I even went home. I used to basically live there. There's a lot of trial and error. A lot of making right and wrong decisions. In those days, we were trying to put a hundred tracks on a 24 track tape machine. You bounce between one machine and the next machine and combine things. We had tape loops running around the studio. Real quarter-inch tape loops. And the length of the passage we were trying to loop could be 30 feet long. Strung around mic stands, under the kitchen, and back into the control room. Experimental stuff at the time. There was no internet, we didn't know. (laughs) On the song, "Top Of The World," from the first Planet P album, there are about 60 background vocals on that one alone. On a 24 track tape, you have to make the decisions as you go. And if you fucked it up...if you don't like the balance, if the middle voice is too loud, if you don't like the harmony blend, if they don't land right...you have to redo all the steps. You have to keep up the paperwork. Keep a log. And then you go back and say, 'Wait a minute. There's that piece of tape with a mixer, fly that back in again.' It's called flying it in. And you redo and redo. It took two years to do "Pink World." Two years in the studio. Double album. And it took at least a year to do the first Planet P record.
Casey Chambers: Your latest album, "Lucky Us" is being re-released in a deluxe edition and is going to be available on vinyl, as well.
Tony Carey: It's as far away from intricate prog-rock as I could possibly get, but yeah, it's great. This was very much autobiographical. The early years. And it's basically piano and myself with cellos, violins, french horns, woodwinds. A couple places where I sing some harmony. And three spots, where I had a good buddy of mine play trumpet. I also added live versions of two tracks that I quite like. It was from my last show, so I put them on there. As I said, I don't really write literary pieces or historical pieces anymore. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt. "Lucky Us" is personal. I'm taking orders at my website right now.
"The Wind" - Tony Carey / "Lucky Us" (Deluxe Edition 2021)
But the trouble with vinyl is all the supply uncertainty. I guess either covid or whatever fuck-up's going on in the world is causing a backlog. It won't come out on vinyl until hopefully sometime in April or May. There are only two real major vinyl manufacturers in the United States. One of them is Disc Makers in New Jersey and they've got a six-month backlog. Everybody in town wants to do vinyl. I wish I had them today. I always thought they made a great ashtray if you heated'em up and bent it. (laughs) But I know people do like vinyl and I'll get the albums out as quick as I can.
"Lucky Us" - Tony Carey (Deluxe Edition)
Casey Chambers: That's good to hear. I'll leave a link for fans to get their hands on it. Finally, would you mind sharing an album or two from other artists that you've enjoyed along the way?
Tony Carey: Oh, there are thousands. An album that knocked me out was Miles Davis..."Bitches Brew" in 1970. It not only knocked me out. It changed my life. It says, 'Oh, you know what? You don't have to play arrangements when you play. You can just play.' You don't have to rehearse a band for two weeks and play everything note for note. 'Cause, that's boring. You can invent a song every time you play it, which has been my motto my whole life. Sometimes a song...I mean Rainbow did a double album with only six songs on it. ("On Stage") Four stacks of vinyl. (laughs) This was in '76 when we recorded that album. In '77, it came out. And I had that very firmly ingrained from listening to Miles. I was a junior in high school when "Bitches Brew" came out and that changed my life.
Another that really impressed me a lot...a lot...is Greta Van Fleet. Their first couple of albums were very, very, very Led Zeppelin. Too Zeppelin. And they caught a lot of slack for that. But they've advanced light-years and now it's the best rock I've heard since Led Zeppelin. And they're just kids in their early twenties They have completely their own vibe now. Absolutely awesome.
Adele, of course, knocked me over with her new single, "Easy On Me." It's just sublime. She's one of the best pop singers we've ever had. But this is so funny about this modern world music. Adele is not auto-tuned. You don't do that to Adele. Adele's human. And there are YouTube discussion groups and webchat forums asking...'Is Adele singing microtonally?' Whatever the fuck that means. (laughs) No, sometimes she's flat. Sometimes she's sharp. That's called human. "Easy On Me" broke almost every streaming record within 24 hours of its existence. Adele is fabulous. I've heard interviews with her. She says, 'Yeah, I'm pitchy. If you don't like it, don't buy the record.' (laughs) Just very down to earth. And the record is so good. Adele's great. So yeah, Greta Van Fleet, Adele, and Miles Davis. You can't find three more different examples of artists that I think are cool.
Casey Chambers: Like Sam Kinison said to Dangerfield in "Back To School"..."Good answer. I like the way you think." (laughs) Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me today. This has been a real treat.
Tony Carey: Oh, cool Casey. It's my pleasure.