TONY DOLAN - Venom In The Veins
January 6, 2004, 15 years ago
I know: "Tony who?"
Not a familiar name in metal circles, to be sure, but Dolan does have a noteworthy history. Those readers just shy of or past the age of 30 might better remember Dolan under the name of The Demolition Man, the guy that replaced original Venom vocalist Cronos for the Prime Evil album in 1989 and hung around for two more, Temples Of Ice ('91) and The Wastelands ('92), before the band imploded. Big deal, you say; Venom without Cronos wasn't Venom. Fair enough, but considering what Dolan has on his plate at present, his is a career worth watching. Not only did the man snag a role in the latest Russell Crowe film Master And Commander - playing ship's carpenter Mr. Lamb - but he will reappear on the metal scene in early 2004 with former Venom guitarist Mantas and a solo project that features members of Destruction, Morbid Angel, Venom, and quite possibly Cradle Of Filth.
Having just returned from the LA premiere of Master And Commander, Dolan sat down with BW&BK; to talk about how a metal singer ended up becoming a big screen actor in a multi-million dollar production."I started my career as the singer of Atomkraft in '79," Dolan begins, "and just as we were making some serious headway things just fell apart. I had known the guys from Venom for a couple years as a result of Atomkraft having toured with them, and at the same time Atomkraft was falling apart I got a call from Abaddon and Venom's manager Eric Cook asking me to meet them at a local pub to talk. Abaddon had been doing some tour-managing for us and Eric some management, so I figured it was about Atomkraft. They told me that Cronos had left Venom and that they needed a bassist/vocalist, and I was the only one they could think of. I knew what Venom was about, I knew the material, and they knew me as a friend. I was offered a good amount of money and the chance to play big shows as the singer of one of my favourite bands; it was like 'Where do I sign?' (laughs)."
"Of course, what I didn't know at the time was that Mantas wasn't in the band (having been replaced on '87's Calm Before The Storm), and he was one of the reasons I joined, thinking he was back in," Dolan continues. "I had written about four or five songs for Prime Evil when I found out, and I told the guys that it was going to be hard enough without Cronos; without Mantas and Cronos, Venom was fucked. I told them I couldn't do it unless Mantas was involved because nobody was going to take us seriously. Basically, Abaddon and Eric asked me to talk him into coming back to the band, and that's what I did (laughs). He decided that if I was involved he'd be in, and we had a blast doing the record and the tour that followed."
Prime Evil was the Venom album that saw the band return from the realms of more traditional sounding rock-edged metal, going back to the days of the classic Black Metal era."When I joined Venom, I told them that the best thing about Venom was their past, and that they'd lost touch with what they were," says Dolan. "What I did for Prime Evil was focus on the first two albums, which is how I came up with songs like 'Carnivorous', 'Prime Evil' and 'Insane'. People thought Prime Evil was a bit clinical and bit more produced, but it was much closer to the Venom of old."
Dolan's victory was short-lived, however. His second album with Venom, Temples Of Ice, failed to live up to his and everyone else's expectations. It was all downhill from there."Things just didn't happen with Temples Of Ice, and both me and Mantas started to lose interest," says Dolan. "By the time we did The Waste Lands, that was it for me. I guess my problem was that I'd expected we'd be playing huge shows like the original line-up, but we were doing clubs. I mean, we did a show opening for Sacred Reich in front of 300 people and I remember thinking that nobody was taking us seriously. It was like, if this is Venom why aren't we headlining the Dynamo Festival? The real Venom would be. We were being accused of selling out, largely because I wasn't Cronos. And so, of course, after I left and they did their reunion album with Cronos some years later, what's the first thing they do? Headline the fucking Dynamo (laughs)."
Dolan's move from the metal stage to the silver screen was more or less accidental. Days were spent working in theatre, the nights devoted to Venom until he decided to leave the band, at which point he signed on for a 15 month world tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company for A Comedy Of Errors. That experience led to working on the Queen tribute theatre production We Will Rock You in London, giving Dolan the best of both worlds. Then in 2001, an off-the-cuff audition for a "big Hollywood production" led to further auditions, meetings, and a huge first step into a new line of work (discounting a bit part in Judge Dredd that got hacked to pieces)."When I auditioned for Master And Commander, I was told it would be a five month shoot in Mexico with 20th Century Fox," says Dolan, "so right away I knew I didn't have a fucking chance because it was a Hollywood production that was bound to have some mega-star in it; there's no way they were going to give it to me. Two weeks after that I got a phone call saying that the director Peter Weir wants to meet me. We met, I did some improvisation on video for him, and I came out thinking I'd made a complete tit of meself. I decided that I'd just keep on with what I'm doing, a bit of music on the side. The day before I was to sign a contract for a 12 month run of We Will Rock You, I got a phone call from my agent saying that I had the job on Master And Commander."
"At that point I didn't know who was going to be in the movie," Dolan continues, "and I figured I had nothing more than a walk-on bit part. But no, they wanted me there for the whole five months. I was on the plane flying over and I was told Russell Crowe was the lead, and it was like 'Yer fuckin' pullin' me leg! Fuck me!' Sure enough, the day after I got there we had a script meeting and out walks Peter Weir with Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind), Billy Boyd (Lord Of The Rings) and Russell Crowe."
It's a known fact that Crowe is musically inclined, having started his career as a James Dean wannabe in Australia named Russ LeRoq and currently has a rock band called 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts. Dolan admits there was the occasional jam sessions featuring himself and Crowe."We actually did jam quite a bit," Dolan reveals. "I take a guitar with me everywhere I go, so he found out pretty quick I was a rocker (laughs). He offered to jam with me and a few of the other guys, and he had all kinds of equipment shipped in on a Saturday. I mean fucking everything; amps, drum kit, piano, full P.A., and put it all in our rec room. Russell and a tech guy spent the Sunday plugging everything in, I show up on the Monday and it was like, 'Oh my God! Heavy metal heaven!' (laughs). We eventually had to move the stuff to two trailers set up back to back - we soundproofed 'em ourselves - because people were complaining about the noise (laughs), but me, Russell, Billy Boyd, and Paul Bettany would go down and play whenever we had the chance. Drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and jamming to Thin Lizzy, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, anything. It was fucking great."
"Russell is a very generous guy," Dolan adds, "and I'm not saying that lightly. He's one of the boys, not the high and mighty movie star that's always making waves like the Hollywood press wants people to believe."
Dolan admits that he didn't mention anything about his Venom past to the other cast members, simply because he didn't think it would be a big deal to anyone on set. Turns out he was wrong."Yeah, I walked in one day and they had Venom blasting. Everybody was sitting there with big grins on their faces, just staring at me," laughs Dolan. "One of the crew had gone up to LA and went around to all the record shops and picked up every single album I'd ever been on. From then on they were playing Venom all the time, trying to drive me nuts. They thought it was great, but then people on the lot started complaining. They were shocked to find out it was me..."
Since returning from the Master and Commander shoot, Dolan has turned his attention to playing bass on the upcoming Mantas album and putting together his own solo album. Another big movie role is in the cards but he refuses to elaborate for the time being. He describes the Mantas album as being "much more aggressive than anything you've heard from Mantas. It's nothing like the other albums he's done. This one, I kid you not, has a really, really aggressive punch, sort of like Slipknot. I was blown away when I heard the new songs for the first time."
As for his new solo work, due out in early 2004:"I wrote all the material for it, and did all the bass and guitars myself. I'll have lots of guest performers on the album - Mike (Sifringer) from Destruction is recording a solo for a song called 'Dead Again', for example - but it's not a Probot kind of thing, so no comparisons please. I should have all the recordings completed by the end of January. As for how it sounds, it's thrash, more like late Atomkraft than my Venom stuff; I think it's much more user friendly than either of those bands were. It's not nu-metal, nor is it death, black, doom, hardcore or grindcore. It's just good ol' thrash."
"This is the first time I've been able to make artistic decisions without having to compromise myself to any lesser ideas," Dolan adds, "so if the album is shit it's because of me. Of course, if it's killer then that's my fault, too. I just need a great label that will believe in it and get behind me on it."