Blacklist Union’s Tony West has seen more than his share of tragedy over the course of his lifetime. After an abusive childhood and a move to Hollywood at age 13, West had to overcome personal adversity, drug abuse and much more in order to rise to the top.
Through luck and hard work, West managed to make a career out of music. Although his is a true story of rock and roll in the streets, it’s an upbringing he certainly wouldn’t recommend to anyone else.
Blacklist Union’s most recent album, 2012's Til Death Do Us Part, continues West’s trend of honest, high-energy rock. With its guest appearances by Wayne Swinny (Saliva) and Jon E. Love (Love/Hate), the album’s killer riffs, combined with West’s thought-provoking lyrics, create a powerful wall of emotion.
West dedicated the album to former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr, who died in 2011. As a result, Til Death Do Us Part becomes more than just a tribute to one of his longtime friends; it’s therapeutic art and a constant reminder that life is fragile.
I spoke with West about Til Death Do Us Part, his own life and what’s next for Blacklist Union.
GUITAR WORLD: What’s the process like when it comes to writing a Blacklist Union album?
There’s really no set in stone process. We’ve written songs together as a band in rehearsal, and sometimes I’ll get music handed to me and I’ll write something to it. Then there are times where I’ll just sit down with a guitar player and write out the record. There’s no one set way of doing things.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Til Death Do Us Part, starting with "Diggin’ 4 Gold."
I wrote that song with Todd Youth who’s now playing with Ace Frehley. He played with Danzig for years and also played with a band called D Generation back in the Nineties. He called me up one day and told me he had this great riff that he wanted to play for me. Once I heard it I said, “Oh man, that’s killer! Let’s do it!” It’s basically a song about the whole LA deal where everyone wants to make sure there’s something in it for them before they even say "yes" or "no" to a situation.
It’s a song about being forced to watch your friends die from drugs and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of dealing with that several times and was lucky enough to have gotten out when I did years ago. All of those people are now either sick, at the point of no return, dead or in jail.
That was written about my ex-girlfriend who was a catalyst for my demise for a while. I actually got on psychotropic meds after we had broken up when I should have just dealt with it. The fact is, 10 days after we had released the album After The Mourning [which was a tribute to Bianca Halstead, the lead singer of Betty Blowtorch], my first wife Tracy died, and I was thrown right back into this mourning faze. Instead of dealing with it, I pushed it out and began immersing myself in doing records, tours and keeping busy. I never dealt with all of that unresolved emotion. After my ex left me, all of it just came pouring out.
What was it like working with Wayne Swinny and Jon E. Love?
I’ve known Jon and Wayne for a long time. They’re both pros and there are no egos attached when you work them. Everyone just works for the cause.
You dedicated the album to Mike Starr. Describe your relationship like with.
I first met Mike back when I was 17. He had a great heart and we were very close. When he died, that’s when I decided I was never touching these [psychotropic meds] ever again. Unfortunately, his death was what it took for me to really wake up.
When did you realize music was going to be your calling?
In the very early Eighties, music began to make an impact on me. I remember I was 5 in 1981 when my uncle took me to see AC/DC at Madison Square Garden. He was also into Bowie, Ramones and a lot of punk rock at the time, but as soon as I saw AC/DC I knew what it was I was going to do.
You also did a short stint with Tracii Guns. How did that come about?
Tracii was a fan of the Blacklist Union and the two of us became friends and started writing songs together. He got into a situation where the new singer he had suddenly quit mid-tour. I remember he called me up and asked if I could play, and I wound up doing 13 shows with them. He gets a bad rap sometimes, but he’s really a great guy. In fact, there was a point where I once considered quitting music over all of the frustrating stuff that had happened, and he was the one who reignited the spark in me.
You're also working on a new Blacklist Union album. What can you tell us about it?
With us, it’s guaranteed to be high-energy, kick-a-- rock and roll with authentic lyrics of real life. Nothing contrived. We’ve already demoed two songs and are still writing. We hope to have it out by the summer. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that my songs have helped them through some really dark times. Whenever I hear that, it makes me feel that I’ve done my job.
For more about Blacklist Union, visit their Facebook page.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.