An Interview with Tom Collier of Held Hostage

All images courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing & Management/Image credit: F.M.P. Studios


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Held Hostage’s founder and frontman Tom Collier represents a rare breed in an industry rife with bloodsuckers and money-grabbers.

Since the ’80s, Collier has gone about his business differently, putting heart and soul above fame and fortune, resulting in a catalog on which the veteran rocker can hang his hat.

Collier’s humble origins have bred his brand of success. His endearing nature and altruistic vision have only added to his particular brand of authenticity through hard rock and heavy metal music.

For his latest effort, Great American Rock, Collier has once again teamed with Tim’ Ripper’ Owens, putting together a record to be dutifully proud of. Through songs about life, and loss, Collier pays tribute to fallen friends and bandmates, conjuring heartfelt memories of past accomplishments and fall rock soldiers.

Collier recently took some time with me to discuss Held Hostages’ latest single, “Rise,” digging into its intensely personal meaning, as well as his history, songwriting process, and more.

Andrew:
Tom, thank you for taking the time. As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?

Tom:
First of all, thank you for doing our video premiere. All of us in Held Hostage appreciate it. I have always had an interest in music from a young age. My mother always had music going in our house when my father was working. She loved to dance and sing. I guess that is where I decided I wanted to learn to play music. I started as a drummer, then decided I would teach myself guitar. We had so many different singers over the years, so I said, “Well, I can sing. I might just as well be the lead singer also, and that solves a problem.” I think music has always been a big part of my life since when I was a toddler.

Andrew:
Who were some of your earliest influences that first shaped your style?

Tom:
I have many influences. My earliest ones, I would say, are Tony Iommi, Ted Nugent, Randy Rhodes, Ross’ The Boss’ Friedman, and Angus Young. They kind of all shaped the path of my music career and my writing styles. There are so many great players. I am a lover of all kinds of music, from metal to hard rock, blues, you name it, I enjoy it.

Andrew:
How would you say that style has evolved as you’ve moved through your career?

Tom:
That is a great question. A lot of people in the music world (friends of mine) always say to me they have seen a transformation in my music. When I hear that, I say to everyone, “If you want to continue writing, your music has to evolve.” I have found myself writing more and more diverse songs than I have ever written before. I will write a rock ballad one minute and then a metal song the same day. Over the past few years (three albums), I have found myself being more and more inspired to write new music. I have already written the next Held Hostage record. Doing interviews over the last five years, I get the same question; when Epic was out, they said, “How are you going to top that album?” And now, with Great American Rock, they are asking the same question. My response is the same every time: “The best is yet to come.”

All images courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing & Management/Image credit: F.M.P. Studios

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of Held Hostage.

Tom:
When I formed this band in 1984-1985, I started with the intention of helping people through music. I wanted to do benefits and was not looking for fame and fortune. I knew I had to do covers to get started, and I wanted to have fun, but from the start, I always intended to do my own music. In the beginning, there were three guys: Myself, Paris Hansan, and Mike (Bonz) Murphy. We actually would jam in the wintertime in the back of my truck. I had a cap on it, no heat, but we were determined to have a band.

Our first rehearsal hall was an old pig slaughterhouse. We called it “The Shack.” It is actually in one of our songs, “Stand Back.” We started playing live, and then we moved to an old one-room schoolhouse my family had converted into a honey house. We were honey beekeepers growing up and rented this building. As the band became more successful, I bought the schoolhouse, and to this day, we still rehearse in it. We actually recorded our Fallen Brothers album in there with my digital 24-track recorder. Some of the former members’ ashes are in the building. They requested some of their ashes stay there, and I honored it.

Andrew:
What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?

Tom:
Held Hostage had a colorful beginning, and one of the first gigs we got booked were places no band should play. [Laughs]. When we first started, we were doing covers of Judas Priest, Maiden, and Sabbath, and we got booked in a country western bar. It was the little hole-in-the-wall bar right in the middle of nowhere, and we get there, and they won’t move the pool table so we can set up in the corner. Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart” is blasting on the jukebox, and the owner gets there, and I said, “Hey, we are not a country band; we are a rock band.” The owner says, “Ah, just give it a try.” I said, “Are you guaranteeing our pay?” So, he said, “Yes,” and we decided to go with it. 

So, we come out to do our first set, and there was a drunk guy named peanut; it was his birthday. So, I grabbed peanut and said, “Hey, how would like to sing a song with us for your birthday?” He’s like, “Yeah, do it.” We do two chords, C and G, and he just keeps screaming over them. And remember now peanut’s drunk, but it was a lot of fun, and we got the whole bar chanting it. By the end of the night, the crowd loved us, and they were rocking to some Maiden and Priest, hooting and hollering. They helped us load our gear and invited us back. I said, “Yes,” with no intentions of ever returning there. [Laughs]. It was a memorable gig, for sure.

Fast forward, I had made the decision in 1987 to go all original, and most of the members said, “No way,” and moved on to different bands. As you can see, I never looked back and have always felt it was the right decision. It worked out great.

Andrew:
Let’s dig into your newest single,” Rise.” Tell us about its inception and meaning.

Tom:
“Rise” is very near and dear to my heart. The story behind “Rise” is that Held Hostage has had a few former members commit suicide. I think everyone in this world has been affected by suicide, either directly or indirectly. When I found out they had taken their own lives, it was very troubling to me. I thought to myself, “Why would someone do that?” I had left the music business at the time (for ten years) and was a single father raising my son on my own. One of them stopped at my house, and we hung out and talked about old times. He asked if he could stay the night at the schoolhouse for old times. I said, “Sure you can, or just stay here at my place.”

In the morning, he came over and had coffee; he spoke like everything was fine. He asked me if I was ever going to go back into the music business. I said, “Yes, when my son is older and on his own. Right now, I am focused on being the best dad I can be. I will return when the time is right.” He gave me a hug, left, and I took my son to school, went to work, and got a phone call later that day he had committed suicide. I saw the signs. That is one of the reasons writing this song is so important to me. I was sitting home one night thinking about those guys, watching the T.V. and seeing what an epidemic suicide had become for all ages. Young kids, adults, elderly people, people of all ages, and from all walks of life.

Suicide doesn’t discriminate against who it affects. “Rise” is a song of hope and inspiration. I have said all along; that I do not care if I make any money on the song. If I can help one person choose to live because of my song, then I will consider the song to have gone multi-platinum.

All images courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing & Management/Image credit: F.M.P. Studios

Andrew:
Beyond “Rise,” from a songwriting perspective, how have your collective experiences affected the music?

Tom:
I have to say the majority of my songs have true life meanings. I have used life experiences in most of my songs. Whether it’s a night out partying, having fun, touring, meeting new people, or old loves in your life. I also take on serious subjects like PTSD with soldiers and how they were treated when they came home – especially Vietnam Veterans – through my song Show Me the Way Back Home.” I donated money from CD sales and did free live concerts to help them build a memorial for the heroes who never returned home in Cayuga County, NY.

Andrew:
Speak on your working relationship with Ripper Owens. What’s the division of labor like?

Tom:
I would say Ripper and I work together very well. He is one of the hardest-working guys in music. When he does his vocal tracks, he always sends me like 10-12 tracks per song. We have great respect for each other. I write all the words and music and send it to him. The first record (Epic) he sang with me. He kind of sang it the way I did but added his own twist to it. With Great American Rock, Ripper asked if he could have free reign on the vocals. I said, “Absolutely,” and he came up with some great vocal ideas. In the song “Rise” (stop suicide of all ages), in my opinion, his vocals are some of his best works. Everyone thinks Ripper is just a screamer, but Ripper is one of the most melodic singers in the world. What he does at the end of “Rise,” to me, is amazing. He combines the post-chorus with the chorus (an almost impossible feat; they are in different keys) and creates a choir with his voice. I love what he did there. Every song Ripper sings, he gives it his all. When we play live with him, he is the same way. He walks on stage, and we sound like the record.

Andrew:
How about the production mixing side of things? Take me through that process and how the final sounds were honed in.

Tom:
The way I have Held Hostage record our albums is a little different than most. I record the album live with click tracks. We are all in different rooms but can see each other and play together at the same time. I like the sound and feel of a more live album. I try to capture the energy on the record. That is why I made the decision to record that way. Once I have all the tracks recorded, I send them to Ripper with all the music and vocal scratch tracks. He does his vocals in his home studio. Ripper has been fantastic about giving advice on how he thinks his vocals should sound, and every time he sends me his tracks, he sends notes with them. I would mix them and send them back for his input. I would say Ripper on this record produced the vocals, and I mixed and produced the overall record, but Ripper had a lot of input in it. I would send him the final mixes before mastering. I also had a great engineer, Ron Keck. I have used him on the last two records.

Andrew:
Will the material get any time on the live circuit?

Tom:
Yes, we are geared up and playing live now. We are heading out to support our record. We have been getting a lot of radio airplay; we have been on the billboard mainstream BDS rock charts the last three weeks in a row (hoping to continue), as high as No. 212. We are very proud of that. We are in the Grammy selection rounds this year in five categories. We are also very proud of that. We are giving our fans everything we can.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for you in all lanes?

Tom:
What is next for Held Hostage is we are going to continue rocking at the highest level possible for as long as we can. I have written a new record which I plan on starting this fall in the studio. We have many up-and-coming concerts. I will be a special guest guitarist for a few well-known bands and maybe join them on stage for a song or two. I would have to say the sky is the limit. I have to thank Michael Brandvold for all his hard work and belief in Held Hostage and all our fans, friends, and families. 

All images courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing & Management/Image credit: F.M.P. Studios

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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