INTERVIEW WITH TONY LEONE OF DIRTBAG LOVE AFFAIR (AND EX-21ST CENTURY GOLIATH)
Date: February 23 and March 5, 2016
BACK IN EARLY NOVEMBER 2015, 21ST CENTURY GOLIATH’S FOUNDER AND GUITARIST SCOTT ROBY ADVISED THAT THE BAND’S LONG-TIME FRONTMAN TONY LEONE HAD BEEN FIRED IN THE MIDST OF THE GROUP’S TOUR OF THE USA. LEONE NEVER RESPONDED PUBLICLY TO HOW THINGS WENT DOWN UNTIL NOW. INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, 21ST CENTURY GOLIATH HAVE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT THEY ARE NO LONGER AND A NEW BAND BY THE NAME OF PRÖWESS HAS BEEN FORMED. YOU WILL NOTE THAT THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST CONDUCTED ON FEBRUARY 23, 2016 BUT LEONE INSISTED THAT THE INTERVIEW ONLY BE PUBLISHED AFTER 21ST CENTURY GOLIATH’S SCHEDULED GIG IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA ON MARCH 4, 2016 SO AS NOT TO STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT FROM HIS FORMER GROUP. I FOLLOWED UP WITH LEONE AFTER THAT GIG WITH ONE MORE QUESTION.
Sleaze Roxx: I guess the first order of the day and a question that a lot of people are wondering is what is your side of the story with respect to your departure from 21st Century Goliath?
Tony Leone: Right off the bat, huh?
Sleaze Roxx: That’s right [laughs].
Tony Leone: [Laughs] I stayed pretty quiet during the whole ordeal. Hmmm. Really, it probably had been building up for awhile but you just kind of think when you’ve been in a band that’s had some of the success we did, you can get through certain struggles. At the end of the day, Scott’s [Roby] version of us getting into a fight on the road wasn’t wrong. We did roll around on the ground somewhere in the middle of Tennessee. People broke it up and I just got up and just yelled “I quit!” Life is too short and rock n’ roll doesn’t pay any money to be fighting with your bandmates. I thought if he apologized to me — and the rest of the band for that matter — ’cause you know, it was pretty aggressive towards us all, than it could be salvaged but from what I thought, the whole band was over. I really kind of had that feeling. I don’t know at what point they decided to go on without me but you know, I’m too old for rock n’ roll sake – in my early 30s – to be getting into fights. That’s the moment I realized that this is not fun anymore and it had nothing to do with how many people were in the crowd. I played empty barrooms for a very long time and I foresee that there will be plenty of those in my future. Nothing ever goes your way in this business but [sigh] when it comes down to that, you better be having fun in this and it just quit being that way.
Sleaze Roxx: How long had it not been fun for you?
Tony Leone: [Long pause] Man, that tour was stressful. It was an absolutely fucking bullshit tour. You know, I’ve booked better runs not knowing what the hell I’m doing than what we had done. We were in one city, had to drive ten hours north, skip a Friday night by the way to be an opener in the middle of nowhere, and drive back down to the city that we were just in ten hours back south to play the same venue. So, what are we doing? It did not make any sense to me. That was a source of contention I think. People believe that I probably was not as invested in it and I was just [sigh] frustrated. And you know, the other part that Scott is right about is that yeah, I have a wife at home. I’ve got a family that I’ve rather be with. I’d better be playing shows every night and at least on a good part of the bill and playing our asses off instead of being stuck in a bus for most of the week and not playing shows. I think that is really when it was a breaking point.
Sleaze Roxx: Had you thought of leaving the band before the tour?
Tony Leone: No. I never thought of leaving the band before the tour but I did feel like if it did not produce any festival gigs, it was time to take a step back in that our brand of music just wasn’t meant to be popular. And that happens a lot. I am sure that people have read the stories where rock n’ roll is tough and where you are not playing some Five Finger Death Punch bullshit, then it’s really tough. It’s just really tough to make a living at it, right? So we had kind of snipped it a little bit by being on Carolina Rebellion early last year. That would [lead] to go on the road and show everybody that we could be on the road and than hopefully get some more festivals. You know, it fell apart. I guess at the end of the day, it was the first time that all five of us had really put in any road time and we weren’t compatible.
Sleaze Roxx: And frankly, in terms of the five of you going on the road, there were a few new members as well so it really was sort of like a first time for all five of you.
Tony Leone: Absolutely, I mean, the only two people that had been on the road any length of time – remember — was Adam and I ’cause Scott was incarcerated for the… We did a 25 date tour that spanned over like 40 days. We went to California and back, and did South By Southwest. We did some really fun cool gigs and that was to keep the band afloat while Scott was in jail. So [sigh] Grayson [Flippin] had left since then and he was on that tour. And Cam [Ayers] had left since then and he was on that tour. So it was a totally different chemistry I guess. Not that I envisioned that it wouldn’t work but I guess that it’s hard to know until you give it a shot, right?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. For sure. Scott suggested in his interview, which I am sure that you read, to paraphrase, that your head wasn’t in the game even long before the tour. What do you have to say about that?
Tony Leone: Well, I don’t know what he expected of me. Scott, for all his positive traits and flaws, I will say that he is 100% invested in that band. I mean, it’s his baby and if anybody… Or I would say if he does not perceive anyone giving it what he expects to get from it, than your head’s just not in the game. The reality of was that for me to write songs, I need to be inspired by the music. I would get sent riffs and nothing inspired me. Not to say that they were bad riffs but I just couldn’t come up with something. We would get into the band room and there was no song development. I’m the lyricist and the singer so my part in writing songs isn’t that important until we start working through songs — until we have something to write to. And that was kind of the magic of the whole thing. The guys would come around with ideas and we would be able to write a song but I was just having a tough time with some of the new material being inspired by anything. I’m not a person to push it and Scott is the opposite. He’s someone who will push, push, push until he makes something come out of music. I get inspired and have a flood of words and ideas come at one time ’cause I feel a certain amount of inspiration in a moment.
Sleaze Roxx: That makes sense. I am actually very much the same way when it comes to writing reviews. Now, I am going to switch gears a little bit and talk about Dirtbag Love Affair. I understand that you are reuniting with your old bandmates. But before that, I noticed that Dirtbag Love Affair had two albums under their belt and I was wondering why you left that band in the first place to join 21st Century Goliath?
Tony Leone: I think one reason was Devin [Holiday] the guitarist moved to Atlanta [Georgia, USA]. I’m here in Charlotte [North Carolina, USA] and that’s well over four hours south of here. We were going to try to make it work with the travelling but the reality is that he had two bands that were every bit tour worthy and trying to write, record and play dates on the east coast like we try to do here, it’s really tough to commit. And sometimes you have to be a little more flexible in a band and be able to pick up a gig at the last minute if it’s a good gig. At the time, I had been with Dirtbag for a while and I really liked the material that I was hearing which was the ‘Radio Destroyer’ material. I just made a decision to give 21st Century Goliath a shot and you know, I am happy I did.
Sleaze Roxx: So what made you decide to reunite with Dirtbag Love Affair?
Tony Leone: [Laughs] We never stopped being friends for one thing. It’s probably no secret to a lot of people that know me from Goliath that if you get into my rock n’ roll taste, it’s… I also like real old school punk rock n’ roll, street rock n’ roll… And I had gone to London [England] to see Michael Monroe and Hardcore Superstar, and just fell back in love with the performance, the songwriting… I am a huge fan of both of those bands anyways. But I was going “Oh my God.” This is sort of the arena that Dirtbag was in. Maybe a little more punk rock but that’s what Michael Monroe is too. I just called Devin when I got back and I said, “Man, let’s give this another shot.” We had written a great album called ‘Good Riddance’ ’cause we broke up.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Tony Leone: [Laughs] I mean it was calculated and I just said, “What are we doing? We’re still friends. We have two albums of material. We still like to write music. We don’t have to stress out about the business. We’ll just write music, perform songs that we know and just try to do it again.”
Sleaze Roxx: Is Devin still in Atlanta?
Tony Leone: Yup! He just takes the Megabus, which is a couple of bucks to get here [laughs] and we’ll make it work.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! So what are your plans going forward for Dirtbag Love Affair?
Tony Leone: Well, the industry is changing and we are going to try to change with it in the sense that it is very difficult to — and not that it usually affects your resources to record full albums at the moment. If you look at many of the bands that are doing it right now, they’ll put out a single, maybe do a video or just promote that single, and stack singles on top of each other so they stay in front of their fans over the course of a year. I think that is what we are going to try and do. I love writing full albums but it’s a lot of stress and expenses. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way the market is. So I think that the goal is to record new music as soon as possible, put out a single and just get back out there.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! So I noticed on Dirtbag Love Affair’s Facebook account, there are two dates that are prominently displayed – April 29th and April 30th. Are you going to tell me what those dates are for?
Tony Leone: [Laughs] Yeah. So we have floated out a teaser about us getting back together. When Dirtbag was around, it was more of a Myspace world so our Facebook traction is interesting but we’re going to be getting back together. One of the nastiest sleaziest rock n’ roll bands in North Carolina will be getting back together and joining us for these couple of shows. They’ve done it from, all the way to Texas – South By Southwest – to Europe. They have been around the block. I think that people are going to be excited that the whole gang will be getting back together. On the Friday night [April 29th], we will be in Asheville, North Carolina with legendary sleaze rockers Crank County Daredevils. On the Saturday night [April 30th], we are playing Charlotte, North Carolina with Rough Francis, family members of the legendary black punk band Death. We will be playing after a private screening of the film ‘Before There Was Punk, There Was A Band Called Death” and after a question and answer session with the director. Details will be on our Facebook page.
Sleaze Roxx: I also noticed for Dirtbag Love Affair’s Facebook account, it looks like the band was together from 2008 to 2011 but there’s nothing on you Facebook account! Have you removed everything from it?
Tony Leone: Yup! Wiped it clean!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Tony Leone: [Laughs] In all fairness, we were actually a shit show! You could get very different versions of Dirtbag Love Affair on any given night. I mean, we were… We partied hard. Not to protect ourselves from that but this is kind of a moving forward thing. Not that we are any clearer or better, you are who you are at the end of the day but we want to try to also create some new memories. The people that were there in those dirty ass clubs hat not and us playing all over the place, those memories will always be there but it’s time to kind of try to make new ones. We don’t want to give people false ideas that we look the same as we did in 2008. We are just going to come out and do what we do best and you know, see what happens.
Sleaze Roxx: Is it still the same line-up that it was back then?
Tony Leone: It’s pretty much the last line-up consisted of Devin and Davey Dirt on bass and Scotty Padge on drums. That was the ‘Good Riddance’ line-up. We did like a little tour — a couple weeks tour just before we broke up. So that was still the touring line-up. Everybody’s in. I guess that when we got back together, we practiced a couple of times but things fell right back into place, which is kinda nice.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! How did you guys come up with the name Dirtbag Love Affair in the first place?
Tony Leone: [Laughs] That was Devin Holiday’s baby. He had kind of come up with the name and logo. I think it came — something about a song or he heard two songs back to back. I can’t remember exactly the story but he just said, “It came to my mind — Dirtbag Love Affair.” Listen, we were that cliché — just dirty rock n’ roll. We dated strippers. We got really rowdy at shows. I mean, it was just… We lived up to the name as much as possible. When I tried out of the band, the name Dirtbag Love Affair was there. I tried to live up to it and I am pretty sure [laughs] we succeeded at it.
Sleaze Roxx: I know that you have moved on from 21st Century Goliath but looking back, what were the highlights for you when you were in that band?
Tony Leone: Well, I got a new perspective on rock and roll, on what to do and what not to do. You know, I learned a lot of the business side of it more and I hope to carry that in into Dirtbag part. You know, you can’t trade some of the experiences like being in front a sold out crowd opening for Slash, or doing the Uproar Festival. I mean, there are just some experiences that you can’t replace. I never thought that I’d be onstage and looking out at seven or eight thousand people but it happened you know, and I got Goliath to thank for that. You can’t dwell on how it ended. I definitely like to think of my time there as special. It definitely did not end the way I wanted to but the good side of that is that I think I’m back to playing rock and roll I really love.
Sleaze Roxx: And you know of course that I am going to ask you this but what are some of the lows during your time in 21st Century Goliath?
Tony Leone: [Laughs] The really shitty part about it was now that I look back on it, I feel that I was never in 21st Century Goliath.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you mean by that?
Tony Leone: I was just in Scott’s band. And even though I felt like I was his devil’s advocate for a lot of decisions, at the end of the day, it was always going to be kind of trumped by how he wanted to operate the band. And not that it’s good or bad, it got us to a lot of places. All those accolades we got, charting on Billboard, I mean that was Scott’s direction but I think it kept getting further and further from what I would have wanted it to end up being musically and just the way we operate. I was pretty simple when it came down to it. A lot of people are more complex.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough, just a couple more questions for you. One of the questions — and I am not complaining in any way by the way — but your timing of the interview is interesting because 21st Century Goliath are going to have a big gig in Charlotte [on March 4, 2016]. Was that on your mind at all when we booked this interview?
Tony Leone: Ummm [laughs]. No, I mean no. I’m not that… Listen, I was silent during all the bullshit that was going down on purpose but I would never purposely time it like that. It was more about wanting to be out there, letting people know, because people had been asking me a lot, “What is going on, man?” I mean, “What are you doing?” And they expect me to be out there. And I would just say, “Sit tight. I am going to figure out what my next step is.” So really it was more or less, I know that people care about what I did and I really appreciate that. At the end of the day, I was the face of a band that a lot of people liked. They’s sing the words that I wrote and I really appreciate that! So the opportunity to talk to you, I know that you reached out to me after the last interview you did with Scott [Scott Roby’s interview on November 9, 2015] for a rebuttal and I declined. I was not waiting you know for a certain timing but now, before we go ahead and announce anything, I wanted to talk to you about it.
Sleaze Roxx: I appreciate that a lot. Any last words on what you want to do in the future with Dirtbag Love Affair?
Tony Leone: I think we are going to have a long… The thing is we came to a pretty cool understanding. At the end of the day, rock and roll is a shitty business to be in right now so it’s not like any of us didn’t try our best. Could you take a left when you should have taken a right? Yeah, maybe but you can’t predict the way certain things are going to work. We’re under the belief right now let’s just have the best time ever. We’re all rock and rollers at heart. Devin and I just got back from seeing Michael Monroe again in New York and so I feel that we are a little bit inspired. We are going to stay a band for a long time and not let any of the bullshit worry us so we’re just going to have the best time of our lives!
Sleaze Roxx: [March 5, 2016] 21st Century Goliath have just changed their name to Pröwess [or as Scott Roby later pointed out, 21st Century Goliath are no longer and Pröwess are a new band]. I think it’s a smart move to distance themselves from your shadow and forge a new path. What do you think of the change?
Tony Leone: [March 5, 2016] Yeah. So Scott called me Friday [March 4th] morning before the show and told me what was happening. It’s the first time we had really talked other than tying up some business stuff since I left the band. He said I think you should be there to see this thing we built together be sent off. Needless to say, I was surprised. When you asked me if I had any regrets and I said “not realizing I was in Scott’s band and not 21st Century Goliath”, I was referring to how I felt as if I was somewhat irreplaceable because I could never picture a 21st Century Goliath without Scott or myself. Turns out Scott at some point felt the same way. So yeah, I think it’s a good move, and one that I personally appreciate. They are a different band now. The name was just the last thing to change. Things will probably never be the same between he and I, but the mutual respect is there and this goes a long way to hopefully having a friendship in the future. He enabled me to have experiences I probably would have never had otherwise, and I hope he feels the same. Pröwess will be fine — different but fine. And I think that’s the point. At the end of the day, those guys can still compose great music and Dalton is a fine frontman.
The surprise was getting me onstage for a final song. It took some convincing but the whole band was gracious about it, the fans appreciated it, and Scott gave Dirtbag a nice shout out. It was a tough night. I didn’t stay to chit chat with the guys. We’re not there yet. But they played a great show and I wish them, and Dalton of course, much success moving forward. At the end of the day, fate pulled me in a different direction and I can look back on those days with a smile on my face.