A Conversation with Tony Vincent: Part One

Tony Vincent headshot

Tony Vincent has electrified audiences with his astonishing vocals and superb portrayals in rock musicals such as “RENT,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “We Will Rock You” and “American Idiot the Musical.” (Photo provided by Tony Vincent)

By: Jacob Elyachar
While many Americans were formally introduced to him on season two of NBC’s hit show The Voice, Tony Vincent had a packed resume that was filled with multiple accomplishments in the entertainment world.

After recording a five-song EP during his time as a student at Belmont University, he received a contract from EMI Records and released two solo albums that contained six number #1 hit singles.   Looking to challenge himself, Tony moved to New York City and began to seek out another record contract.  However, things began to shift for Tony when he landed a role with RENT’s first national tour that lead him on a journey to conquer rock musicals.

As a cast member of multiple shows including Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You and American Idiot: the Musical, Tony astonished the audience with his superb vocal range and impressed entertainment industry leaders including Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Queen’s Brian May and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

In part one of this two-part exclusive interview, I talked to Tony about his musical inspirations, recording his first CD and his times working as a Broadway actor.

Jacob Elyachar: When did you realize that you wanted to work in music?

Tony Vincent: I knew that I wanted to be a part of the music industry when I first heard A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles from my father’s extensive record collection.  I wanted to have music as a big focal point at least in my younger years and it sort of dominoed after that moment.    I was a drummer when I was seven-years-old and it just progressively turned into songwriting, playing keyboards and taking organ lessons and silly things like that which actually gave me a good foundation of music theory.  It then evolved to playing in bands but that was the earliest moment of my desire to work in music.

JE: Who are your musical inspirations?

TV: I think that the Beatles had a total positive effect on me. Like I said that one record was pivotal in me wanting to do music.  They continue to affect my songwriting.   I’d be surprised if current songwriters did not reference them all the time.  They really created pop music as what we know today and they also grew too.  You could see a clear trajectory from their initial songs, which were kind of writing simplistic three-chord songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” material all the way up to the epic songs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band types of songs.  They continue to inspire me.

I am very influenced by British music specifically British pop/rock out of the mid-1980s and early-1990s and continue to be.  I am not really influenced by the current day pop music but more of the authentic bands out of the U.K. and even some stuff from Germany— the guitar-based or straight-ahead electronic bands.  I am always seeking out what’s going overseas.  They (the U.K.) get music that we never see or they are ahead of the curve and we get it eight months later.

JE: You recorded your first album when you were attending Belmont University. Could you tell my readers about the recording process?

TV:  I had been in a couple of recording studios back in my hometown of Albuquerque but I really did not know what I was doing when I went into the studio on campus.  It was a very finicky way of recording because I was trying to sync a computer up to a two-inch 24-track tape machine and there was still a lot of bugs using time-code.  It was really frustrating but exciting at the same time because I was learning through the trial by fire method and I tried to make some sense of it.

I was trying to a record at the time that at least nobody around me was doing.  I wanted to create something that was dark, introspective and I had guitarists come in to play on a track and it was similar to how I recorded my most recent record In My Head and I had this vision with the songs already there.  I produced the thing myself and obviously this being my fourth project that I have done I know a lot more what I am doing in digital audio and this was way before digital audio was happening.   It (the album) was very synthesizer based but was not digital because everything was in the analog domain at that time.    But I had a certain vision and that’s what got the attention of a management company that ultimately lead to my first record deal at EMI.

JE: What made you transition from music to theater?

TV: I was living in Nashville going to school in Belmont and did two records with EMI and I had some substantial radio success.  I had four number #1s and two additional Top 10 songs on two records and that’s something to be very proud of and I really am but creatively I was not being challenged in the surroundings that I wanted to be.   So I moved to New York and it was a matter of three-and-a-half to four weeks, I had the chance to audition for a little show called RENT.   I had actually seen it with the original company in it before I moved there to New York.

Even though I moved to New York to do or to find a rock-focused record deal, I wound up auditioning for this show and had a shot on being the first national tour.  It was something that was so exciting and I could not say “No” because the show touched a lot of hot buttoned issues in society.  It dealt with drugs, AIDS and all of the under-the-carpet issues that the grand scope of America was trying to avoid or at least ignore.   I don’t believe there had been another musical that dealt with social issues since West Side Story that dealt with social issues (then between the Puerto Ricans and the Italians).  This was something I wanted to be a part of musically but what it stood for in the challenge against the norm of theater.    It was not my goal but it ultimately set up my pop-rock theater journey.

JE: The next step on your musical journey was in the 2000 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar.  What was it like working on that show?

TV: I think he flew his entire company over here because it was his first show that landed him on Broadway in 1971.  Jesus Christ Superstar was a concept album way before it was a theatrical show.  I was cast to play Judas literally during previews when the guy who was originally the Judas character blew his voice out and Andrew Lloyd Webber came in and saw the shows and stated: “Fire him (original Judas). Hire him (Tony). I’m out of here and you deal with the pieces where they fall and you better get the show together.”

Basically I had to learn that role in four days before we opened and it was an amazing experience playing the role of Judas because it is one of those iconic male roles that I am really proud to be a part of lineage of singers who tackled this role.    It requires you to be full on (singing) for the whole show and it was exhausting.  But one of the most artistic gratifying things is that even though it is a fictitious story it is based on Biblical principles and idioms in the Bible but being raised in a Christian home and playing that role was an interesting challenge for me because it made me want to make the Judas character much more human than at least the average Christian would think.  I wanted to bring more of his humanity into my performance than making him just the bad guy.  It’s very easy to play evil and bad.  What’s difficult is making that evil attractive and having the audience give that character sympathy which was the biggest and exciting struggle and accomplishment for me.

JE: What attracted you to audition for Queen’s We Will Rock You originally?

TV: I had a record deal with Sony for about two years and I was flying all over the world with incredibly talented writers and producers.  It’s the same story of the record company wanted me to be a different artist than I was and it was interesting because whenever a record company signs somebody, 99.9-percent of the time they see the person perform live.   It was a disturbing to me where they could be questioning what I did but what I do as a normal artist that resides within inside of me.   They wanted the next George Michael but I wanted to be the next solo Liam Gallagher from Oasis.

Long story short: the reason why I wanted to audition for We Will Rock You because Bernie Telsey, who casted RENT and a lot of youthful directed or cutting edge theater, was brought in the running of casting the show because they could not find anybody that could sing Freddie Mercury or tackle the acting role as well.  So they opened up video submissions to Bernie Telsey’s office and coincidentally I happened to be in London on a writing trip anyway so it was literally around Christmas where I had the chance to audition for the band in person where everybody else that Bernie had approached to do this thing had to submit videos.  It was one of those right place, right time stories where I was literally cast within days of leaving London.

JE: What were some of your highlights from working on the show?

TV: You are working with one of the biggest bands that has ever lived and Queen is one of those iconic bands where every member of that band has written a number #1 song on their own.  While working on the show, I enjoyed learning the stories and history of the band plus starting a working relationship with Brian May and continue to have a relationship after all of these years and those were the moments that were exciting to me.

I was breaking ground with one of the greatest bands of all time and getting the chance to perform away from the show with them whether on the BBC or the Queen of England’s Golden Jubilee celebration, these were performance moments that anybody I think knows what Queen has done to the (music) landscape…. basically they did anything they wanted to but it also changed a lot of people’s perspectives of “you have to be one thing” and Freddie could be anything he wanted because he was one of the most electric artists.   He was magnetic in personality and was so sure in what he did, he could have read the dictionary and people would have bought the record.

JE: Another musical that you have worked on was Green Day’s American Idiot the Musical! What was different about that musical than any previous production that you had done?

TV: I think the biggest difference is when I was cast in the role of St. Jimmy; they did not know what this character was really about.  The director did not know how we were going to approach this.  We were sitting on one of the best rock records ever recorded but we were asking: “How do you bring it to life and make this record an actual story?”   Even though it is a concept record, there’s a lot of ambiguity that is all meshed together.  So (director) Michael Mayer worked intimately with Billie Joe (Armstrong) on the storytelling.   The show had song after song that was linked together with very few pieces of dialogue or journal entries out of the central character.  We let the songs tell the story along with the choreography.

One of the most exciting things that I never thought to expect was given free reign of whatever I wanted to do with this character.  Billie Joe trusted me a lot by my audition and what I thought this character was about.  I wanted him to be incredibly dangerous yet sexy and androgynous and its something I truly believe apart from Billie Joe playing the role after me that I am proud of because I don’t think anyone could do the role like me.   The director was unsure of my portrayal but Billie Joe Armstrong, who wrote the record thought I was the right guy for the job.

Part two of my interview with Tony will focus on his experience on the Voice and his latest record will be released later on this week.

To see Tony Vincent rock out with Queen and the cast of We Will Rock You, click here: http://youtu.be/QHAFxWqLM5g

For more information about Tony, visit his website: http://www.tonyvincent.com/pages/latest_news/

Comments

  1. http://Erika%20Stoll says

    What’s up! I log on to your blogs on a regular basis.
    Your humoristic style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!

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