Was the Dils the first band you guys were in? What’s the story with how you formed?
Yeah the Dils was our first band. We got started in 1977 playing in Carlsbad, California. At the time we had musical tastes that not too many people in our high school shared. We liked the New York Dolls and The Ramones and things like that. When we started playing together and writing songs, it all started happening. We started reading magazines, and buying singles by bands. We were reading about the Sex Pistols and realized, “hey this is Punk Rock! That’s what this stuff is called!” When we first heard the Sex Pistols, that sounded like the New York Dolls to us — a band we loved. So we realized that there was a kind of outsider movement happening that wasn’t like anything else that was happening at the time. And there it was, it had a name, it was Punk Rock. A lot of people don’t realize that back then there was no place to play. All the night clubs either had regular bands that were already signed, or they had local bands doing sets of covers. If you were a brand new band starting out and you were doing all your own material, there was literally no place to play.
Calling yourselves Communists probably didn’t help. Could you tell me a little bit about that? Were you guys making a serious political statement, or were you following Malcolm McLaren’s lead from the ending days of the Dolls… when it was just for shock value?
I actually was a Communist for about a year and a half. I bought the whole thing, had friends like Peter Urban who were into it, he was our first manager. Back then your manager was just a friend of the band. And we’d sit around and talk about all that stuff and theorize about it. When I wrote the songs, I tried to put a lot of that feeling into it.
What happened after that year and a half?
I bagged the whole Communism thing and became an agnostic Anarchist. After that, I just let all of that stuff go.
Why did you use the Tony Nineteen moniker? Was it because your brother was in the band?
Yeah, for some reason I thought the whole brother thing was weird. There were only three guys in the band so I thought it would be neat if we all had different names. That really only lasted for two weeks (laughs) and then I let it go, but Chip still calls me that, some friends still call me that.
It’s remained in the history books! I wanted to ask you about Jeff Scott who I guess never recorded with The Dils but I’ve read was your original singer; collectors know him from the records he made with the Hitmakers.
Jeff was a high school buddy of mine and Chip. The stuff that me and Chip were writing just turned out to be in a different direction than what Jeff wanted to do. So Jeff left and formed the Hitmakers, and me and Chip started singing.
So it was an artistic vision kind of thing… did you remain friends?
Yeah we did I guess, but we never saw him anymore because we ended up moving to San Francisco.
In 1978, you guys made a cameo in the infamous Cheech and Chong movie “Up in Smoke.” How did that happen?
Our manager Peter was living up in L.A. and we were still living in Carlsbad… we had only played a gig or two at the time. He heard Rodney on the ROQ announce that Cheech and Chong were filming a movie at the Roxy and they needed Punk bands to be in it. So Peter called the number that Rodney gave out on the air to see what was happening and they said it was too late, that they had already booked like 40 bands. After that, Peter called us and said “why don’t you drive up there anyhow and we’ll see what we can do.” So it was a real guerrilla movement kind of thing. We drove up to L.A. And pulled up in front of the Roxy. There was a huge long line of bands already there with all of their gear, waiting to audition. We parked, got our gear out, and literally walked right up to the front where there was a production guy who said “OK, who’s next?” We said: “We are.” And we walked right in and set our stuff up. They filmed a lot of bands that day. We were onstage for a minute or to, and they had us sign release forms, and that was it. Our drummer at that time was Andre and we had never all played together onstage before. When we were playing it was really loud and he couldn’t hear anything. He was hitting his drums so hard to hear them that he actually drove his mounted tom through the mount on his drum set. He actually stopped halfway through and said that he couldn’t hear anything, but the production guy just said to keep playing. So we just thrashed our way through it for awhile. We were only playing for two or three minutes. It was fun. Then later we got checks in the mail and found out that we ended up in the movie.
They paid what was called “scale.” It wasn’t huge, but more money than we had ever seen. I think it was two or three hundred dollars apiece. It was fantastic. And all these years later, people still watch the movie.
There’s little doubt that every weekend thousands of potheads inadvertently get exposed to some Dils footage!
[Originally appeared in MaximumRocknRoll #215, April 2001]
I’ll eventually type up the rest of the interview where we talk about some of Tony’s projects after The Dils, like Blackbird, Rank and File, and Cowboy Nation.