An interview with Tony West Of Blacklist Union

Los Angeles rockers Blacklist Union have been around quite a while now and are deep into their fourth album Back to Momo which was released last July. Front man Tony West formed this band in 2004 and has been hitting the scene hard ever since. He was the temporary lead singer of Tracie Gun’s L.A. Guns from 2011-2012 and his voice stops you in your tracks. He’s continuing to create and put out amazing music with Blacklist Union; music that takes some serious real life shit with lyrics that put things into perspective whether it’s through the speed of the rapid beats and sound or through the subtler tones. We face these problems with him, knowing deep down that all of us are affected. Easily, I compare the undertone to a sound similar to Guns & Roses as Tony lyrically and phonically expands on and delivers a sound that encompasses his emotions. He demonstrates his bad boy persona in a suave and stylish fashion that makes him intensely intriguing as he vocalizes the melodies. The current album has given yet another means to infect their loyal fans while rapidly gaining new ones. This Georgia girl had a blast talking to Tony today as he laid out some of his past and his thoughts for the future right out on the table.

An interview with Tony West Of Blacklist Union

By Leslie Elder Rodgers

Metal Exiles: Back to Momo has been out almost a year now and is getting a lot of attention. Why do you think the fans love this album so much?

Tony: It’s an authentic, real album. It’s just kick-ass rock and roll and that’s what people want. I mean, Appetite for Destruction was out for a year before anybody ever heard of it, ya’ know. The same with Nevermind by Nirvana and the first Alice in Chains. That’s just the way it works. It takes time to catch on.

Metal Exiles: I’ve read that the title of the album has specific meaning. Tell me about that.

Tony: It’s kind of a pun almost because I grew up with sexual abuse and I had some sexual addiction issues for a long time. I always fought having a deep connection with a woman and there were things that stopped me, having a terrible relationship with my mother was one of them, and having sex at 13 because my father bought me a hooker and that was before I’d even kissed a girl. I got some bad messages about sexuality, sex, what love was, what intimacy was, at a very young age. At 6 years old, my father started showing me porn and would ask me what happened to my body. I didn’t know something was going to happen but I was just a kid; a baby. I had all these issues; I was inadequate, I was unlovable, blah, blah, blah. Back to Momo is a whore house in LA, and yeah, I’ve gone there. I’ve been caught going there by my ex-girlfriend but it’s not something that I wear with a badge of honor. It’s like saying, “oh man, another failed relationship…ok it’s back to momo”. I mean, I am a grown ass man. Men need sex. I’m gonna pay for it one way or another so I might as well just go pay for it and be done with it. That’s pretty much the whole philosophy. I grew up like a lot of men grow up thinking it’s macho and it’s cool and it’s manly to cheat on your girl and that’s a big bunch of bullshit. It’s a huge lie that a lot of young boys and men are taught so early. It’s such a rip off for themselves and for the women. I know in rock and roll you don’t hear that too often but even Ozzy just went to rehab for sexual addiction. That’s public knowledge. These are things that not only rock and rollers deal with or actors deal with, but everyone deals with these things. So it’s almost like making fun of it, Ah shit, back to momo, you know what I mean?

Metal Exiles: You take on a lot of personal issues when you write, like the song “Evil Eye” being about the abuse you suffered from your mother as a child. How does this affect you when you sing the songs live?

Tony: For me it’s like casting out darkness. Music is like magic to me. It has the ability to cast things out and to help other people relate. I’m not the only one who had an abusive, shut off, cold ass mother. At the same time, my mother loved me the way she loved me and that’s all there is to it. I can run with the story that my mother tried to drown me in a bathtub when I was 5 years old. There’s a lot of stuff but that’s learned behavior. I don’t think she was a little girl and said, “I’m a mom and I’m gonna try and hold my kid under water in a bathtub”. Something happened to her along the way. I’m empathetic to a fault and I think a lot of people are and they get super jaded after a while and they don’t make themselves vulnerable but then they rip themselves off from life. Believe me, I did it for a long time, but music is very healing for me and for others and that’s why I’m in this.

Metal Exiles: Matt Zayne, famous or working with people like John 5, Zakk Wylde and Orgy, directed the video for “Evil Eye”. It is an emotional video. I read that it was hard for you to record at certain points because your own son played your part as a child. How do you feel Matt contributed to the success of this video?

Tony: I love Matt. I ran into him over the weekend. I mean, we genuinely like each other. It’s so cool to work with people that you genuinely like. What I like most about him is being in LA where it’s always drama and pretention and he’s no bullshit. He gets the job done. I’m the same way; it’s time to work and we get the job done and come out with a great product. We’ve done this 3 times together now and I’m loyal to a fault. Why would I go to anybody else at this point? The way he brought “Evil Eye” to life man. I told him what my vision was and he brought it to life so much that it was like looking into a time machine. I got emotional. I cried a few times because it was so real. My son playing me as a little boy in that; my 9 year old son. As a dad, watching it from the outside, I would never allow that shit to happen to any kid, never mind my own flesh and blood. I get a lot of healing through my son, vicariously, I’m able to heal myself through him. I’m not perfect. I’m a dad and sometimes I’ll lose my cool but I quickly clean it up. I don’t belittle him. I don’t hit him. None of that shit. Matt, “Evil Eye”, it’s really real and it’s great. If you need a video, Matt Zayne is the guy.

Metal Exiles: So you’ll use him from this point forward for your videos then?

Tony: Unless David Lynch comes along and says “Hey dude, I have this brilliant idea” (as he laughs). I love to collaborate with people too but see, Matt brings a certain quality and we’re shooting for the best. We’re shooting for A-game, so…

Metal Exiles: You are a brilliant writer and it shows in the lyrics that you produce. Do you ever find it hard to put the right music to the lyrics for the song to have the impact you desire?

Tony: I literally have trunks full of lyrics. Some of them are from dark ass times in my life like when I was strung out on drugs or living on the street. I still have stuff from then. The process of writing for me is that once the music is arranged, I have the melodies and usually the title will come to me and then subject matter. Then I kind peace it together. It’s like looking into a history book with my backlog of lyrics, like a puzzle that I put together. I write the melodies and then apply the lyrics. When I was younger and first starting, it was the exact opposite but as I’ve evolved and progressed, this is what it’s turned into. It works well.

Metal Exiles: Based on your sound, it definitely has that Guns & Roses feel. When I listen, it takes me right back to the 80’ and early 90’s; music from my growing up, the hairbands that were my favorites. You give off that same vibe. How would you classify the identity of the style of “Blacklist Union”?

Tony: One of my biggest influences was a band called Mother Lovebone. They used to call themselves love rock. We call ourselves street rock. I never liked the hairbands. I was in school. I was young. I was into punk rock. I was into hard core and metal. I loved the hard rock like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Zeppelin, but I never was a fan of the Wingers and the Warrants. I felt like it kind of made rock and roll a joke. We have elements of punk rock. We have elements of Seattle, hard rock, blues; it’s kind of all mixed up in there. It’s what shaped me over the years and I think the influences just kind of show. One thing about that era, regardless of what I was a fan of or wasn’t, that music touched, moved, and inspired people. That was the important thing. You want to touch, move, and inspire and that’s my goal.

Metal Exiles: How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist over the past 12 years since Blacklist Union got its start?

Tony: It’s night and day. Since I was 5 years old, it’s all I ever wanted to do. I started using in-ears about 5 or 6 years ago; in-ear monitors, which really changed my game. I practice and practice and practice. Friday I sang 20 songs. Saturday I sang 23 songs. Sunday, I could only sing 7 songs because I was exhausted. I had to take a couple days off because my voice needed to recover. I have to pace myself. I want to practice vocals everyday so if I want to do it every day I have to do about 12 songs a day tops. It’s my body. It’s not like I’m playing guitar, but from where I started to where I am now, even as a person, it’s about evolving. I’m definitely not the same person I was 12 years ago. Some people stay the same but I’m looking to grow and get rid of the ties that bind me, enjoy my life, and concentrate on positive things. It’s a much different conversation than it was 12 years ago.

Metal Exiles: Your tours always have rave reviews. What do you hope to achieve each time you face the fans live?

Tony: Again, I’m hoping to achieve touching, moving, and inspiring people. I was the kid that needed music to survive. I’m the kid that learned more about eating right and politics from punk rock than I did from any teacher. Of course as human beings you want people to like you, but some people just aren’t gonna like you. That’s just the way it is especially with social media and everyone having access and having a voice. There’s haters out there everywhere but I gotta go where the love is and that’s it. I just really want to move people. If I give out a CD or someone buys a CD, like the new one, Back to Momo, here’s the disclaimer: “It may make you have sex harder, drink harder, and drive faster”.

Metal Exiles: Did your experience (good or bad) with LA Guns change your perspective on what you wanted to accomplish with Blacklist Union? Did it cause’ you to change anything about how you write, produce or record your music?

Tony: Tracii is a friend of mine. I love the guy. We’ve written songs together but he is the one that kept me going because I’d been through so many personal struggles. I kicked psychotropic meds. I was on all these meds and I went nuts. I wanted to give up and Tracii told me “Dude, rock and roll needs a band like Blacklist Union. You have to keep going. It’s your obligation.” He inspired me and that tour inspired me. People loved me out there. There’s this one funny story about their song “Crystal Eyes”. I literally had to learn 8 songs in one night and sing them the next day in Georgia I’d never heard the song “Crystal Eyes” before, but it was a big hit or something. I remember we played Houston and Tracii told me on “Crystal Eyes”, I was a little pitchy. I didn’t take it as an insult and I didn’t get butt hurt. I took it as a challenge and thought “well that’s not going to happen again”. So the next night in Dallas, we played that song and this kid comes up to me and Tracii at the end of the night and said “you know man, I’ve heard “Crystal Eyes” sung by 3 or 4 singers in Tracii’s LA Guns, and you sang it the best I’ve ever heard”. I looked at Tracii and gave him a sinister laugh. It’s those kind of moments. Not an ego trip moment, just a fun kind of moment. Those are the things that inspire me to keep going because I saw what an impact me opening my mouth had on people. It’s usually positive. It’s my job to open my mouth and share what’s real to me.

Metal Exiles: Are there any bands that you would love to see Blacklist Union on tour with?

Tony: Of course, Aerosmith and SIXX:AM. I would like to do something with Destruct or Saliva who are longtime friends of mine. We just want to be on the road. I’ve been a fan of Saliva for a long time. They’re great guys too. We wanna play for anywhere that there are crowds. By being a do it yourself band, although the records is doing well in the press and online, it’s still a challenge to get clubs to book us and pay us, and then promote the gig without having any label behind us or any kind of push. We’re gonna tour anyway but it makes it difficult and challenging because some nights you have 300 people and some nights you have zero. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s just baffling. We’re better off going out doing direct support for an established band. I tried to get on some Guns & Roses shows. That would’ve been perfect for us but me and one million others bands want that gig too. The difference is that you gotta have the bands that have the hype and the delivery. How many times do you hear bands that have all this hype and then you listen to it and think “Awe, man, I don’t really like it”? I proudly say that we have the hype and the delivery and there’s not too many out there like that. I mean, they are out there, but… We just want to be out there on the road and playing every night and that’s what I’m creating.

Metal Exiles: What’s in a name? How did you come up with the band name Blacklist Union?

Tony: Well, there’s some promoters in LA that are really notorious scumbags. They single handedly imploded the music business in Los Angeles with the hate and the gossip and the rumors and even steps beyond that. I grew up with the bigger the outlaw the singer was, the bigger I wanted to be that guy and it just so happened that I became that. I met Dave Navarro, and the third time I met him he said to me “Aren’t you Tony West”? I said “How the hell do you know who I am? You’re Dave Navarro. You’re famous”! He said “Yeah, but you’re infamous”. I was like “Yeah, well, that doesn’t exactly pay the bills”. We had a good laugh. I think rock and roll to me is about putting yourself out there, whether people like you or not. Let them talk shit. Let them hate on you. Just go to where the love is. We’re not afraid to say “fuck you” is there’s a promoter jerking us around or anyone else. You’re from the South. You know about respect. I mean, I’ll give people respect but I expect respect in return. I’ll be the first one. I’ll take the leap of faith and be respectful and even swallow my pride many times over but then it just gets to the point that it’s like “fuck you”.

Metal Exiles: What’s next in line for the future with Blacklist Union…tour, 5th album in the works?

Tony: We’re shopping this one around. We’re gonna do the tour. We’re gonna do a couple more videos. “Super Jaded” we’re gonna do a video for next. It’s gonna be our next single. We’re starting to get music for our next CD. We’ll start demoing over the summer. We’re still working Back to Momo. It’s got quite a few singles on there we want to work. It’s getting really good feedback and we’ve just gotta keep on pushing and keep going. Like I said, Appetite, and Alice in Chains, and Nevermind from Nirvana took a year to get the train really rolling.

Metal Exiles: When y’all get to touring, do you plan to hit Atlanta?

Tony: Oh yeah. We love Atlanta. We played at that notorious strip club in Atlanta. It has the hotel above it. It’s super ghetto. It’s a legendary club and even Aerosmith played there. It has obese, old lady strippers. It’s called the Clermont Lounge. We played there the last time we were in Atlanta. It was out of control. It was awesome. They have this one lady, probably has to be about 60. She’s a black lady with blonde hair. She crushes cans with her boobs. I asked her one time to play a Motley song. This is why I don’t drink anymore because afterward she came up to me and said “You know, I played that Motley Crue song and you didn’t tip me”. I said “Maybe it’s because you’re big and fat”. My friend grabbed me and said “ohhhkay, time to go Tony, come on let’s go”. So I have to be careful. This is why I don’t drink anymore. Plus, I’m so blessed to wake up and not have to recover for 3 days or something. I really enjoy my life and I don’t need that stuff anymore. I’ve done a lot of healing and it’s pretty cool that I can get high on being a dad and working out and making money, hanging out with my kid and playing music. It’s a much more satisfying way of getting high.

Metal Exiles: You hear that a lot now in rock music. A lot of people are trying to break free from that stereotypical rock star, always drunk, always high persona of what people “expect” from rock stars. It’s refreshing to see so many people taking this approach. With so much talent, you don’t have to be “that”.

Tony: You’d really be surprised how many sober musicians there are nowadays. I know plenty of legit rock stars that tour the world and don’t cheat on their wives. They don’t drink and use. Those actions separate the men from the boys and that’s who I strive to be. I’m a kid that was influenced and my life was shaped by music so you can’t tell me that all these songs about bitches and dope and slinging guns and violence and shit, that is rubbing off on people and they think it’s cool. There’s nothing cool about it. It really just grows, especially in the south. It’s like an epidemic. It’s sad. It’s not just black people. It’s white people. It’s all people. There’s only one race after all. The human race. That whole black and white thing is just fucking stupid. They’re getting messages that it’s ok to use women but you say anything about their mother and you’re dead. It makes no sense. I say if you can’t make sense, you can’t make dollars. I like to put positive things out there; healing and all. My father was a terrible womanizer. I got high the first time with him. I got a lot of bad messages as a really young kid but I don’t have to live that way. I found the exact opposite is the most satisfying way to live.

***Now go buy this record. Listen to the music. Hit up a tour when Blacklist Union comes to your town. You won’t be let down.

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