I was working at a ski resort in San Bernardino about 4 hours away from Santa Barbara when I read about an acoustic show Tony was doing in February 2011. I did not even own a car since I was only going to be there for four months and I didn't need one (actually I did but well...). So the day of the show I decided I just couldn't miss it, i live in Argentina and the possibility of him bringing his acoustic set to my home country was pretty much zero. I rented a car and I went all the way to SB. I got there really early so I walked around, lucky me I was in a really pretty place so I didn't mind. I remember seeing Tony with a couple guys in a bar a few yards away from the venue, but I was just too shy to go say hello or anything. I was like "he is with his friends hanging out and chilling before a show, I'm not gonna go bother him like that!" Anyway, when the venue finally opened I got in and Tony was in a corner with the merch guy just talking and sharing a beer. I breathed deeply and went over, I bought the solo record [12 Song Program, he was finishing Sad Bear at the time] and asked him to sign it for me. I really needed some sort of token to take back with me so that I would never forget that night. Of course I never will. Anyway Tony was super sweet and kind and we chatted for a few minutes before I got too embarrassed and went back to my stool. Once the gig started he asked the audience what we wanted to hear, there was only like 20 of us and I think I was the only one that sang all the songs that night. What I will truly never forget is when he started playing Let It Slide because I was just gonna ask him exactly that. It was as if he had read my mind. When the song was over I yelled "thank you, Tony, I was gonna ask you to play it!" and he looked at me and said "sure, no problem, told you you could ask anything you wanted to hear, see?" I was numb.
NUFAN and Tony's music was such an influence for me during my late teenage years and ever since I keep finding new meaning to his songs. A huge part of my processing and coping with all the crap I've been through has been thanks to his songs and the simple yet poetic way he conveyed his thoughts in every song. Gosh this is turning into a whole book. I just needed to share my story, it's short and sweet and I'm making it neverending.
When I read the news of his passing I was on my way to the airport to fly to Boston and later on to LA. I was so sad I couldn't stop crying even when I was about to get on the plane. I still cry sometimes. It all seems so unbelievable... I can't even imagine how sad his family must be if I feel like this.
Tony, you touched many people's hearts in all corners of the [cornerless] world. We will never, ever forget you.
After we lost Tony, I kept thinking about his daughters and my own daughters and then I remembered that Tony actually had a song about his daughter. That's the kind of songwriter he was, not cryptic, more autobiographical. I spent some time listening to "For Fiona." The lyrics really jumped out at me and took on a different light now that he was gone. Lines like "we could make believe this world would never end" and especially the line "I'm always here" really hit me hard. In my version, I end the song on that line as opposed to finishing the final chorus, it leaves it sort of open ended and thinking about that line and what it now means.
I happened to be vacationing in Fort Collins at the time, where Rise Against record our records with Bill Stevenson and where NUFAN recorded their "Feel Good Record Of The Year", so I called up Bill and asked if he'd record a version of the song with me. He graciously donated his studio and his time. I had no real intention, this was way before Fat approached me with the comp idea, I just knew I wanted to sing this song and pay tribute to Tony and what had happened. I called up Jon Snodgrass from Drag The River and asked if he would sing it with me. Jon has shared many more miles with Tony than I ever did, and I felt like it was important to have him on the song. I wasn't close as close with Tony as Jon was. Jon didn't say yes right away, I think it was all too soon for him to process. But on the day Bill and I were working on the song, Snodgrass just walked in unannounced and delivered some great vocals.
Bill and I knew the songs lyrics, but we kept coming back to this one line where it sounded like he was saying "but i wouldn't give it up for nothing free" and when we looked it up, most lyric sites on the internet confirmed that's what he was saying. But it didn't make sense, and Tony's lines always made sense. They were always buttoned up and neat, no ambiguities. I remember Bill behind the glass and me in the vocal booth and both of us not saying anything for awhile, just thinking about it. Then Bill looks up at me with an ah-ha face and says "B...Blythe !" I have a daughter named Blythe, but we all call her B, and Bill kept saying "B…Blythe!" and then he says "Fi…Fiona! I wouldn't give it up for nothing, Fi." I'm sure somewhere Tony was laughing his ass off at us as we were deciphering his lyrics.
I ended up playing the song every night on tour for a few months to a slideshow I put together of pictures of Tony. I wanted our fans to hear it, and I also wanted to create a place for people to mourn. Some nights I was on autopilot, and some nights I was choking on words as the reality kind of settled in. NOFX opened for us once in Corpus Christi. When I finished the song and walked off Fat Mike grabbed me and just came undone on my shoulder. The whole NOFX band and crew were crying, which was so jarring especially because those guys are always such goofballs. They were so much closer to Tony than I was. They were like brothers.
I am thirty five years old. I still remember going to my first show at the age of 12. I love this music. It is a part of my soul. I feel like I lost a friend when Tony left us. I feel like we grew up together on a certain level. Never met him, but we shared a part of my life. He wrote songs that made me go through every emotion possible. That was the beauty of his style. It takes a great musician to be able to make people feel the way he was able to. I miss you Tony.
For Fiona with Tim Mcllrath, Rise Against
On the Outside with Dead Peasants
International You Day with Scorpios
I got a text from Mike at FAT while in Milan with Scorpios. It said "I need you to do a country type song. With band." Well, I was in Europe and my country band Drag The River was in Colorado. Then the next message said, "Do, On the Outside, for sure It will make a perfect country song." He was right. So, ok. I had an idea. I sent a Hail Mary pass to Chris Shiflett. He had a country band, a studio and was a super bud that actually played on the No Use For A Name original. He and his band tracked the music in California and I tracked the vox w/ Nessie in Berlin. She happened to be a mutual friend of mine, Tony, and all the Scorpios, so it was perfect. Joey helped. I'm glad he was there. I was nervous. He said it sounded like "country Leonard Cohen." I like country and Leonard Cohen. So, good. I hope we did the song well. The crowd vox at the end of Scorpios International You Day were also tracked that night in Milan. That's a song we had performed with Tony countless times. As for Fiona's song, Tim McIlrath & Bill Stevenson called me one day to do that. So, I walked down the street to the Blasting Room and did it. Thinking and wondering the whole way what to do. I've NOT sang on that song countless times. I never thought it needed anything. I'm glad I found some space in there. I love Tony and his whole family. I am fortunate to know them. I'm proud to be involved in this.
Not Your Savior
There were a few songs I'd have liked to have done for the comp, but Not Your Savior was the first one I really thought of for whatever reason. I just always liked the opening guitar riff and vocal melody. It had always stood out to me as one of the best songs from the NUFAN catalogue. I decided pretty early on I'd like to do an acoustic version of one of his songs, so I'd started arranging in my head long before we were in the studio. The thing that really got things going, and cemented the direction we'd go in was my wife saying that that opening riff would sound great with strings. I agreed (obviously), and I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I'm also just really happy this all came together, as I think the greatest tribute a songwriter can have is to have his peers play his songs. Tony was one of the good guys, and I respected his songwriting as well. One of the best tours the Utters were ever a part of was with No Use in Europe in Oct/Nov '97. I think we played something like 40 shows in 42 days. It was epic, and we still tell stories of that tour all the time. A good Tony memory from that one was him constantly playing Beatles songs on an acoustic guitar on the bus. I'm not good with remembering lyrics, but I guess he was, as he knew them all. Tony, Chris and I also sort of "wrote" what would maybe be part of a stupid verse, and an even dumber chorus for an overblown hair metal power ballad called "Geneva." I'm guessing we were in Geneva. Maybe Chris and I will get together one of these days and record that one for another comp!