With the release of their third album, English Rockers Dante Fox are poised to take their brand of heavy metal to another level. Led by lead singer and co-founder Sue Willetts the band has created a very mature sounding record that is sure to garner much attention. After playing shows throughout Europe with ELO, Vixen and Enuff z nuff, Dante Foxx is ready to make their mark on the metal community. Here’s how our interview with Guitarist Tim Manford unfolded.
What was it exactly which led to the formulation of the idea for Dante Fox and furthermore to the group’s name?
Tim: I was playing in a melodic rock band called Express who at the time was receiving some good press from Kerrang! journalist Derek Oliver who had a column in the magazine called “Wimpwire” which is now regarded by some as legendary. Derek Oliver shortly after went on to become A&R manager for Atco records and went on to sign bands such as Dream Theater and Vixen. After a while of trying to sell a band to labels and to be constantly told that the material wasn’t commercial enough and the lead singer didn’t have the right image I decided to call it a day with Express. As it happens Sue Willetts and I were very closely in a relationship and she was writing what was to become Dante Fox. She always had the kind of voice that suited my songwriting ideas because of her killer range and we felt that the time was right to work together. We then started to write together and came up with a set of songs that had a rock edge but were instantly memorable and radio friendly. In the beginning we used the musicians from my old band Express to record our first demos and live dates. As for the name of the band, I have always liked the double barreled names such as Def Leppard or Led Zeppelin that don’t mean anything but just sound good and are original.
When playing together and ultimately recording this album, did you find that you could each express yourself creatively enough?
Tim: Absolutely! This being our third album now, we really wanted it to sound like a band that plays and interacts well together but more importantly a band that has in a way “Come Of Age.” We wanted the songs to be more mature with plenty of hook lines, which I think there are but we really wanted to play and stretch out as artists and I personally wanted to inject some of the lead guitar work that has been in our live shows for quite some years into the heart of this record. The entire band has played out of their skins on this album and we are very excited about the opportunities it may bring us.
Many of your songs are so hard and intense that I’m sure they translate well into a live environment taking on a whole new life in front of an audience. How does it make you feel when the emotion or power which you envisioned when recording a song comes to life when playing in front of a crowd?
Tim: Yes you are right there is an intense felling running through the veins of “Firing Guns” and “Lucky One’s” that is very exciting to play. We love playing these songs live and even in rehearsals no one can stand still. The important factor in this is all the members of Dante Fox all have a very strong live background and the energy they produce is staggering. We really surprise some people when we play live because of the intensity. When we first wrote the songs I jammed with our drummer Mick Hales and he is the bench mark that helps to take the songs where we really want them to go. This process really helps Sue in the writing of the melodies and lyrics and it definitely pushes her to reach greater heights. This process really works for us and it helps to keep things fresh.
Different groups have unique ways of writing their songs. How do you guys go about writing your music? Is it a collective effort (i.e. rehearsing and jamming together) or is it more of the efforts of one particular member of the band?
Tim: There are a few different processes that we use. Sometimes I may have a guitar part and an arrangement that because of its style it may need Sue to work on the vocal straight away and then present it to the band to work on. Another way we go about it is if it’s a guitar driven riff (which most of the new album is) I tend to jam with our drummer because he has such an inventive style he has a great way of injecting some dynamics into the arrangement. Sue likes to work on her vocals live with the band and when she has an idea that she’s happy with, she then works at home on the lyric and hooks. The song that we are most proud of on the new album is the title track “Under The Seven Skies” this being the epic on the album was a different writing process again. The intro riff was something that I’d had for quite sometime but had never used, the verse was written by Sue and our Keyboard player Roman on the hottest day of the year in June 2006 and the chorus was written by Sue and I lifted another old riff which is really Jimmy Page-esque to complement it. We then pieced it all together in rehearsal. Sue spent quite some time thinking about the theme of the song which then led to the lyrics of “Under The Seven Skies” being born. The idea’s came to her while being on vacation in Cornwall in June 2006.
Every band has its musical influences. What are some of the other bands or artists which have greatly influenced you guys and your music?
Tim: We have always been influenced by the great American rock bands such as Journey, Heart, and Boston because of their superior songwriting skills and all these bands have one other important thing in common which is, a really strong melodic vocalist which for me is a must for my music. Sue’s personal influences would be Ann & Nancy Wilson, Barbra Streisand, Steve Perry, and David Coverdale which I think shine through in her style. As a guitar player in the early days my biggest influence was Gary Moore who played with incredible passion and fire, Neal Schon, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes who are all fast and emotionally charged players.
Rock and heavy music in general has recently begun to make quite a comeback in the mainstream. Even though Dante Fox technically happens to fall into this category, do you guys actually want to be considered part of the mainstream?
Tim: Yes even though Dante Fox belongs to the hard rock family we definitely also fall in the mainstream category. “Under The Seven Skies” is chock full of harmony vocals (which we try to produce live), inventive hooks and commercially catchy chorus’s that would be at home on radio. I’d also like to think that we would be embraced by the younger harder rock/metal fans who have taken to female fronted bands such as Evanescence and Within Temptation.
What does the near future hold for you guys as a band?
Tim: Well we are fully rehearsed and ready to go out on the road to support this new album. We would love come over to the USA to play because of all our favorite artists are from there and we would love to make our mark on American audiences. We would also like to get out to Europe and in particular Germany because the press for the new album has been great so far. Our manager Dean Swet from Paramour Group who is based in USA is currently contacting promoters regarding tour supports and headline shows. We are also writing songs for the next album and there are some really nice ideas coming out which we are really excited about.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Tim: The release of the new album is top of the list because we are so pleased with the songs and also Sue and myself really had to manage the whole process from the writing to planning the recording times and planning our individual parts through to the photos and the incredible artwork from Carl Andre Beckston in Sweden to the mixing and securing the deal with Frontiers Records. We also hold fond memories of our tours and dates with ELO, Enuff Z Nuff, Mitch Malloy, Vixen, Stan Bush as well as our tours to Holland and Belgium in 1997.
How has Under the Seven Skies been received by your fans?
Tim: The album has had some great reviews in magazines such as Powerplay & Fireworks in the UK to internet sites such as melodicrock.com and aordreamzones to name a few. We have been on the playlist on Pandora’s show on Radio Caroline (in the UK) received airplay and been on the Playlist on ARFM which is a major internet radio station which recently has had artists such as Styx, David Coverdale, Joe Lynn Turner and the famous producer Ritchie Zito all live on the “Steve Price Show.” We had the opportunity to appear live on ARFM for a acoustic set and interview in April 2007. We played some dates with US singer Danny Vaughn (ex-Tyketto) in May 2007 and we received a fantastic response from both fans who had the album and wanting it signing to brand new supporters of the band who had never seen us before.
Any plans to tour the States at all?
Tim: As I said we would truly love to tour the USA and our manager Dean Swett is looking at various options at the moment. He is the tour promoter for UK legend Glenn Hughes and has just arrived back after two sold out dates at the Whisky a go in LA and BB Kinks in New York. Dean has a wealth of experience and we are very proud to be part of his roster.
You recently added some new members to the band, bass player Mike Dagnell and Keyboard player Roman Wieckowski. How has that worked out for you guys as a band?
Tim: Very, very well! Roman is a definite asset to Dante Fox. On the new album I didn’t want a keyboard player to just come in and fill in every gap with harpy keyboard parts. What I wanted was someone who could add to the song and be gentle with the textures and really add something classic sounding to what we already had which was ten classic rock songs with great hook lines. What Roman created was proper string arrangements which run through the heart of the album and really help to give it the timeless factor. Just listen to tracks such as “Under The Seven Skies” and “Goodbye To Yesterday.”
How do you feel your live shows differ from your CDs?
Tim: Generally we play the songs exactly the same as the album versions because when someone buys the album they want to hear the same solos and harmonies and we make sure we deliver that. We are also far more powerful live and the songs really lift to that environment. Also we try to put on a show and Sue really stalks the stage portraying all the emotion within each lyric. [ END ]