Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Conversation with Tony Gaynor

Millions of fans know Tony Gaynor as the original, founding narrator with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. After their initial tour in 1999, Tony fronted TSO's West Coast touring company for the next decade, warmly telling the tale of Christmas Eve and Other Stories.  For the last couple of years, Tony has continued working with his close friends from TSO, writing and recording their own songs in their new group The Kings of Christmas. I caught up with Tony as he and The Kings were preparing to tour this year with the Wizards of Winter.
Dan Roth:  Before we get into your work the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and The Kings of Christmas, I wanted to ask a bit about your background.

Tony Gaynor:  My first exposure and interest in entertainment was when I was in military school. I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn - Bed-Stuy. My mother didn't have much confidence in the public school system, especially in those neighborhoods. So many in our neighborhoods eventually ended up in jail, on drugs or dead. My mother came to me one day and told me that she was sending me to the New York Military Academy upstate. I started there in the Fifth Grade, and it turns out that for all of the protest that I put up about going, she couldn't get me to come home on the weekends; that's how much I enjoyed it. I was going to school with diplomats and ambassadors and learning to ride horses.
DR:  That couldn't have been more different from the streets of Brooklyn.
TG:  Very different. From playing skelly or stickball in the park in the projects. [Laughs] Here I was playing lacrosse, was on the swim team, even became the quarterback of the football team. One year we were putting on the play Treasure Island and I was cast as Captain Smollett. We put on the play and I had a lot of parents complimenting me and asking if I had ever done this before. This was really my first time acting.
For my senior year, I came back to New York and went to the High School of Fashion Industries. I had this one substitute teacher who also moonlighted as an actor. He had us work on this exercise of going on a job interview, he gave me the role of the hiring employer, and I was to work with this other girl in the class who was playing the applicant. After class, this teacher took me aside and complimented me on how I really took control of the scene and was very believable as this employer. He asked me if I had ever thought about pursuing a career in acting. I don't recall his name - but this substitute teacher was the one who really encouraged me and got me thinking about this seriously.
I started doing a lot of Black Theater around New York City. I worked in the Negro Ensemble Company, which is where I first met Samuel L Jackson. I grew up in the Baptist church, singing in the choir. My mother had me doing poems for stadiums of people. I still remember one from when I was 8 or 9 years old, standing up on the podium:

"Here I stand, Books in my hand
Today's black child, Tomorrow's strong man
The hope of my race is to mold the place, in Amercia's magic land
American am I, None can deny
He who oppresses me, He who I defy"

I was doing a lot of regional and off-off-Broadway plays. Eventually, wanting to work on developing my craft, I enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I studied acting, speech, and movement.
DR: What were some of your first professional roles? Did you get involved in voice over work at all?

TG:  I think my first job was actually a voice over spot for the Donahue show. I did a lot of voice over and commercial work as well as regional theater.
DR:  You had a role on As the World Turns as well?

TG:  Yeah, I was a day player on there. I came in for in extra role and ended up doing this character called Mad Dog. I never got to star in the show, but it was a nice little role.
DR:  But you did star in the musical Another Chance.
TG:  I joined the cast in a leading role when the show was running at the Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick, NJ; my character was named 'Ace'. The show was about three young black guys that had grown up together and were up to no good .One of the guys, played by my good friend Neko, meets up with the daughter of a pastor and turns his life around to get with her.  It's based on true story from the playwright.
DR:  Were you making a living as an actor by this point, or did you still have a survival gig?
TG: I didn't do the usual bartending or waiter job that a lot of actors will do while auditioning. I got a real good job driving - I got my Class 1 license and this is what I did at night. I really liked this job and driving eventually became my backup - when things were slow in the entertainment business, I could jump in a truck and still support myself. I left this for a time though, in 1997 when Neko and I went to Los Angeles to look for acting work out there. 

L.A. turned out to be not as grand and not as rewarding as I had hoped. We struggled out there. I got a quick lesson in how things worked out there, especially when it came to acting. So often I would walk out of an audition feeling as if I had really done well, only to find that the role went to the cousin of the Director. Also, at that time, because of California's laws, I couldn't use my Commercial license to get a job driving out there; I would have had to have one of their licenses. So I got other jobs, but it was a real struggle. It got to the point that I was homeless, living in my car behind a Rite Aid in Hollywood. Things improved a little bit, but Neko and I eventually managed to get an apartment in North Hollywood, but we had no furniture, no TV, no radio. It was bad, but we knew that we were paying our dues, pursuing our dreams.
DR:  It really makes you value the roof over your head.
TG:  It makes you value a lot of things. That's really where I learned to be humble and have faith. For the times that we starved and struggled out there, when I needed help, He stepped in and provided somehow. It was rough, but we didn't go without. But this experience did make me want to start looking into writing or working on my own material, working behind the scenes.
It got to the point that I became a target of a gang. There was a guy who didn't know me but made two attempts on my life. I would be working on my car outside and would see this guy watching and following me, while wearing a goose down coat in the middle of an 80-degree day. I knew something wasn't right and I later found out that he was someone who was joining a gang, and the initiation was to murder someone he didn't know. That someone was me; I started having to park my car at another end of the complex and taking different routes back to my apartment as this guy was targeting me.  After a while, Neko and I were preparing to move back to New York. One day I went out to get an oil change so we could drive back cross-country. I came out of the apartment and started walking up the block to where I had parked the car and I get this feeling, I turn around and the guy is running up behind some bushes holding "something". I jumped in the car, took off and called Neko - I told him to pack up the rest of our stuff. When I got back from the oil change, he threw our stuff in the car and then I kept on driving. I drove about 48 hours straight, stopping only for gas. When we reached New York, I kissed the ground.
Once I got back to New York, I got an audition for the TV special for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I came in to do that movie in this old theater in New Jersey and that's where I met Tommy, Al, and the rest of the group. That was the beginning of TSO.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow
DR:  So you auditioned to perform on the special, not to be the tour narrator? 
TG:  Exactly. My audition song was "Music Box Blues" and Paul [O'Neill] told me that I had beaten out 3,000 others. Singing was never my main thing - I always just wanted to perform and be an actor. I came in to perform for the special and did it in one take. Paul had us do two more takes for close-ups and that was it. I was done.
DR:  How was filming that television special different from work that you had done before?
TG:  You know, it was quick for me because we knocked my part out. But once I saw it being broadcast on TV, I felt really proud.
After that, I was asked to go on tour. Paul told me that he got a lot of good comments about my performance and he was impressed how I knocked it out on the first take and he said that he felt that I had a strong stage presence and a real command of the stage. He said that was when he got the idea of having a storyteller during the show. So he called me in and had me read the story in David Krebs' office. I was still hesitant because I wasn't sure what we were getting into - I wanted to be an actor. I didn't know about going on tour with this longhaired rock band. [Laughs]
Paul called me down to the studio and convinced me to take the job. He told me that he understood that this wasn't my goal or what I wanted to do, but he said, "This will be something that your kids will be proud of; This will be a real family tradition." That's when he sold me. When he said those words to me, I really thought about it.
I knew early on that I wanted to do a body of work that was positive, especially having a young daughter at that time. I didn't want to play anything derogatory; playing a pimp or a pusher or something like that. I turned down a role (of Collins) in the Broadway run of Rent because I didn't feel true to myself portraying that kind of character night after night; I had that moral ground that I didn't want to step over.
DR:  But what Paul was offering you was a role that fit you?
TG:  When Paul told me that "This will be something that your kids will be proud of; This will be a real family tradition.", I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I believed in the message and I believed in the vision. I really thought it was something that had that potential.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow
DR:  So that first TSO tour went out in 1999 and the talent assembled on stage was a real melting pot, as there were singers and musicians from the musical theater world, from the rock and metal scene, and even from an R&B background. How did you fit in with this collection of performers?

TG:  I didn't know what to expect with going out on this tour bus. Guy [LeMonnier] didn't either, as he came from the musical theater background. Tommy and Al knew what to expect, as did some others. But we all gelled right away. A lot of us had bonded during the filming of Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Tommy was the funniest character I had ever met. But everybody got along well....[Chris] Caffery, Daryl [Pediford]...  I think us getting to know each other for the movie made the difference.
DR:  Did you get a lot of direction early on in regards to how to deliver the story?

TG:  Taro Meyer and Paul worked with me a lot early on with how they wanted it presented and delivered. But after that first year, I would change things up and add in my own take on it, but still keeping it with how Taro and Paul wanted it.
DR:  So you had some freedom to add your own creative input back then?

TG:  Yeah. It was pretty much, "Guys, go out there and do your thing. Sell it, Let's build it". I really didn't get too much flack  - occasionally Taro would pull me aside if she thought something wasn't working, but they pretty much left us to our own devices to sell the show.
DR:  How long did it typically take you to learn the script?

TG:  About a day and half to learn it and have it down off-book. I always had a pretty good memory; you see how I threw out that poem from when I was 8 years old! [Laughs]
DR:  In the one section of the narration: "Like Belfast and Burundi, Rwanda, Palestine; The only decorations here had been awarded for their crimes", the city of Darfur was eventually added during the 2007 tour. Can you comment on that change?
TG:  That was Paul's idea. He told me about it right before a show one night. He told me that when I do that line, to put Darfur in there. He said, "There's a lot of things going on there right now and it's relevant." And it stayed in there from then on.
DR:  In my interview with vocalist Michael Lanning, he mentioned that he was called upon to fill in for you for one show on the 2002 tour. Was that the only show you had missed during your tenure with them?

TG:  It was the only one show I had ever missed. I will never forget - I woke up that morning and got a phone call; my mother told me that my grandfather had died. When the office heard about it, they insisted that I skip the show and go to the funeral. So I did the show that night, and then flew home, attended the funeral, and flew back the next day so I could make the next show.
DR:  After so many years of performing the same role and the same show, did you ever start feeling stuck or bored?  What kept you coming back year after year? 
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

TG:  Yeah, the script was the same, but really, every show was different. I was having a ball on stage. For instance, Jane [Mangini] and I had our own private jokes going on up there. It really became so much like a real family that it didn't feel like work. Towards the end of my time, it started becoming more routine, more like work. But on the first few tours, we were having the times of our lives. Also, so much of the audience became like an extended family. Hearing from them about how they were looking forward to us coming back the next year was very motivating.

In those early years, when nobody really knew who we were, Tommy and I would go out on excursions; we would go to some filthy rich neighborhoods with these million dollar homes and we would go in there like we were shopping for a house. [Laughs] We would go to places when we were out in the West and Midwest and no one know who we were, but they knew we weren't from around there - Long-haired Italian guy and a black guy with a Brooklyn accent [Laughs]. We would get into conversations with people who would ask what we were doing there and tell them all about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. We would take their names and go call the office. "Are we sold out tonight? No? Well can we get 4 tickets or 6 tickets for these folks we met?" The office would shoot back "No, we can't give away tickets". We would then ask, "Would you rather have empty seats or fill them?"  We would eventually get our hands on the tickets and get them to these people we were meeting. And at the end of the shows, there were these people in the signing line with armfuls of merch. They would thank us for the tickets and then we would see those same people the next year with 6, 8, 10 other people that they were bringing to the show, and they were all buying merch. This kind of word of mouth is what helped us grow.
And the whole thing of saluting the military during the show came from us as well. Michael Lanning started to notice the military who would come through the signing line. He would tap us on the shoulder and say, "Hey, there are a lot of folks from the military here; we should thank them" and Tommy would direct us to stand up and really thank them not only for coming, but for their service. Paul eventually took notice of what we were doing and so the TSO military tribute began.
DR:  That West Coast touring cast - particularly the performers involved in the first five or six years of touring - really became known for their chemistry and rapport with each other. As the narrator, did you get in on that?

TG:  Absolutely. A lot of people think that The Kings of Christmas came about because we parted ways with TSO and we wanted to compete or get back at them. Honest to God, that is not the way it came about. On those long drives as we traveled all over the West and Midwest, we really bonded and respected each other as performers and as people.
Around 2004, Tommy and I started talking about coming up with something that we could do where we could work together year 'round. Since TSO was only doing Christmas, we were looking for ways that we could work and perform together the rest of the year. I actually wrote a television pilot that involved a few of us. I also wrote a musical play that involved all of us. In 2006, when Maxx Mann came back and Guy was still with us, we bought cameras and started filming and recording stuff that we would work on together while on the bus. We were looking for an outlet to work together because we all enjoyed it so much. That's where the birth of the idea for The Kings of Christmas really came from. We would sit up for hours on the bus and sing old songs and we were really looking for an avenue to work together.
It just so happened that we finally acted on it when we had all been let go by TSO. We were known for Christmas, we were attached to so many families' lives around Christmas. We thought, "Why would we need TSO to get together and perform?  Why not do a Christmas album and do what we are known for?"  And this won't be the only thing we are working on. There are a lot of things that we have talked about that you'll be hearing about in the near future that doesn't involve Christmas.
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow
DR:  Your delivery style - the way you presented the story - was very different from how Bryan Hicks delivered it with the East Cast touring company. Was there ever a discussion to alter your style to come closer to how it was being done in the East?

TG:  The year that I was let go. After all those years it was brought up to change my style to do more of what he was doing. What Paul wanted me to start working on was a style of speaking that is called "Standard Stage", which is similar to what Bryan does. After the 2009 tour, Paul signed me up for speech lessons with a coach in New York. Even after going for those lessons, I found out before the 2010 tour that I was let go anyway.
My take on it is that when you are telling a story, you are engaging people; you don't want to deliver it in such a manner where you are projecting at them. Bryan just has a different style. Just because it is theater, doesn't mean that you have to speak as loud as you can, especially when you are mic'd like that. You let the soundman do his job. The way I perceive it is that when you are telling a story, you don't project it to the back of the room. [in Tony's storytelling voice] "Hello kids, would you like to hear a story?". You invite them in and make it intimate for them. Over the years, I think that's what a lot of fans did like what I did with it. On the parts that needed to be a little more softer and intimate, I made it that way. On the parts where I was really bringing home a message, I took it there. I never kept it here on this monotone level, I took it everywhere. You're trying to engage them and have them hanging on every word. If you do it more intimately, the fans will lean in and really pay attention.
"An Angel Came Down" - Live in Concert 2006
Tony Gaynor - Narration,  Guy LeMonnier - Vocals
[Original TSO East narrator] Tim Cain had that stronger, deeper delivery. He had that Darth Vader presence [Laughs]. That was his take on it. Not mine. And then Bryan came along and he had his take on it.
DR:  After 11 years of you delivering the narration in this style, were you surprised that they wanted you to change?
TG:  I was surprised. I sacrificed and helped build TSO to what it is today. The way I did the narration worked and it sold. We doubled, tripled and quadrupled the audience while I was narrating his story that way. I was surprised that now, after all of those years, he was not happy with it. I was not surprised about being let go though.
DR:  No?
TG:  No. We had seen what was happening with the singers, being let go one by one. Tommy and I started this and were there from the very beginning and we watched as our friends and performers that built this were being let go. He and I always thought he was going to be let go before me. It just so happened that it turned out the other way around.

Photo Courtesy of Charlie Gow
DR:  I have had the pleasure of interviewing some of the popular performers that helped build TSO. Michael, Tommy and now yourself. All of you, and others as well, were let go at some point, and the feelings and sentiments expressed afterward about how TSO handled things have not painted a rosy picture. I can certainly understand the fans being disappointed, as you guys were the foundation and some of the most popular performers they had. But a devil's advocate might say, "That's just show business". Can you comment on that?

TG:  Like I
mentioned earlier, I never wanted to go this direction. I wanted to be an actor, do film and television. What sold me was that conversation I had with Paul down at SIR studio. He was convincing me to do this, and I had no intention of doing it.  But when he told me about things like, "If we do this right, this will be a family tradition. This will be a job for life. Your family will be proud of you.". I bought it. I believed in the message and what he said to me. So after all the years of doing it and sacrificing, yeah - absolutely that's show business. I have no problem with being let go or telling me that they want to go in a new direction. But that's simply not what happened.
I can honestly say that I do not regret my time with TSO. I do believe that I probably did stay too long. I believe now that after parting ways with them, that they actually did me a favor. You had asked me if it ever became routine or boring. No it didn't. But - I now realize that I became lazy. I grew accustomed to having the big show at the end of the year. It paid well - not as much as promised, not as much as the agreement in the beginning - but I did all right. But I became complacent. I stopped auditioning. I stopped being that guy living in his car in Hollywood, going for every audition. I stopped being that guy. I didn't realize that until I parted ways with them. It made me wake up and say: maybe this should have happened years ago. Honestly, in my heart, I believe that they did me a favor that they don't even realize. I have no ill feelings about being let go - that is show biz. Part of being in show business is always trying to reach the next level. Being with TSO, I wasn't reaching the next level. Maybe the show and the lights were reaching the next level, going to the next plateau. But me as an artist, I wasn't. That's never going to happen to me again in this lifetime. That situation has jolted new life and a new hunger in this business for me. Again, I say "Thank You"!
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow
There are two things that did bother me though. The first was the manner in which I was let go. I just felt that an excuse didn't have to be made up and I didn't have to be tested to see if I would take the time and do these classes. If I had said "No", they would have said "sorry, we can't use you next year". But I did take the time - I actually lost my trucking business doing it because I couldn't do both and I had to give up a lot of my contracts. After putting in all that time and making the sacrifices and always being willing to go the extra mile for the organization, the least they could have done was tell me. They could have picked up the phone and told me, or invited me to dinner or down to the office and just told me.

DR:  In my interview with Tommy Farese, he mentioned that he wound up breaking the news to you, without him realizing that he was doing so. Is that how you found out?
TG:  Yeah. I never should have heard it from Tommy. After all of those years - my kid grew up without me there for the holidays. I bought my home and I never had a Christmas in my own house. I never woke up to a Christmas morning in my home until the year that I was let go. After all of those years, I was owed a little more respect.
The second thing that bothered me was discovering the true faces of some of the so-called friends and fans. During the whole building of TSO, Myself, Tommy, Michael, Guy and many of us would go the extra mile with the fans, in particular the "d group" (ed. note - an online discussion site for some TSO fans). We really gave a lot of ourselves to these people. We would be out there with the autographs, pictures, hugs, chatting, talking with these fans, meeting some for lunch or dinner, while the office wasn't on board with all that. There were a lot of times in the beginning that the office wanted nothing to do with the "d group", in particular certain members of this group. TSO had a business to run - for them it was about the bottom line: time and money. We were the ones who really spoke up for the fan group, as we saw that they helped sell tickets and they maintained a presence on the internet for us (ed. note - this was before TSO launched their own online fan site).
To hear some of the hurtful things that these folks said after the fact, and about us forming The Kings of Christmas - there are some people who should just be ashamed of themselves. I've forgiven them; it is what it is. But they know who they are.
There was no reason to take sides. There is enough stuff in this world that people should really be worried and focusing about; this is trivial. When you leave your job, are you going to try and find or create another job in that same field? Or are just going to go work at McDonald's? Why would you begrudge anyone from doing what they love, what they are known to do, and what they are good at?
DR:  Bryan Hicks got the Beethoven's Last Night narrating gig, both live and studio. Were you ever in discussions to be involved in that?

Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

TG:  From the very beginning. That was the whole premise. We loved what we did and loved working with each other every year, but that was supposed to the plan from the beginning. Again, all that talk that we bought into, "were going to do all of this together, were going to be doing this and that, when it all comes together it will be you guys". I was supposed to be doing Beethoven 13 years ago. But when it finally came about, you know what happened. That carrot was always being dangled. There were supposed to be films and other projects promised.
For me, it wasn't really about the money. I do what I believe in. I have turned down jobs if I didn't believe in them.
DR:  Yeah, you mentioned you turned down that role in Rent.
TG:  Exactly. Broadway. What actor turns down Broadway? I got blacklisted for doing that. When I turned down the role and gave my reasons, my phone stopped ringing. That's when I decided to go to LA and you know what happened there. I suffered for my craft. I have no problem with that, but the fun is in building it; going out and doing it and watching it grow. That's what TSO was, until somewhere down the way, the message got lost and it became the bottom line and not the message.
DR:  You are listed as contributing backing vocals on the Night Castle album, which song are you on?
TG:  "Night Enchanted". Everyone was on that.
DR:  You shared the stage with so many great vocalists and musicians with TSO over the years, any stand out to you as favorites?

TG:  Sophia Ramos. Also Jill Gioia, and of course Michael Lanning, Guy LeMonnier and Tommy. Daryl Pediford is definitely missed. And Maxx Mann's voice and enthusiasm were great on stage. And in terms of musicians, Jane Mangini for sure.
DR:  Once the tour groups were split, you were always the voice of the West. Did you ever want to do the East coast tour?

TG:  I would have loved to have done the East tour at least once so my family could have seen it, and also to play New York!  I would have loved to play at Madison Square Garden. I also would have liked to show the East coast fans what the West coast guys could do. [Laughs]
DR:  Much has been made of the change in the size and scope of TSO's show, How did moving the show from theaters into arenas affect you as a narrator?
TG:  It affected me a great deal in the beginning. I will never forget the first arena we did - I had no idea about the slap back. I was used to the stage with the side fills and the sound coming back to me. It was weird to have the sound slap back to me. It's great to play in the larger arenas, but me personally, I loved it when we were in the more intimate setting of the theaters.
DR:  Can I ask you what your relationship with TSO is now? Have you stayed in touch with anyone, other than Tommy, Michael, Guy & Maxx?

TG:  Nobody will talk to me. I have spoken with [TSO Manager] Adam [Lind] a couple of times. It's unfortunate because I hold no ill will towards anybody. I don't see why we can't stay in touch. My father passed two years ago and I didn't even get a 'Sorry for your Loss' note or anything. To this day, I cannot understand why there is this whole separation and the side-taking that has happened.
DR:  I want to talk a little about The Kings of Christmas. I'm going to put you on the spot a little with this one. When you guys were working in the studio on recording this album, one of your engineers was keeping an online blog about the progress of the band. She used somewhat-vague names in place of your real names, but I want to read this excerpt from that blog and then ask you to comment:

"So when Hood (aka Tony Gaynor) received a call from the TSO management, he came running into the recording studio all a dither. (Which is hard for a man of his natural suaveness…) Boom Boom (Tommy Farese), Yoda ( Dave Silva ), and X Man (Maxx Mann) naturally thought someone had died and/or they had finally hit a high point and had hit stardom (without even releasing a record!).

However when Hood put the phone on speaker the guys were tossed. Abba (a representative from TSO) had said that the pay due to Hood would not be given since it would go towards a “competing project” and that lawyers were on the line to go through contracts signed. It was also said that Hood could not do Christmas music with anyone ever again.
TSO had received word from another promoter about the project and the advertising on the public relations and booking agent site. They had previewed the 45 second snippets and had seen the bios of the people working on the project. Along with this, since the call came into the public relations firm, came the unsaid threat of pulling venues out from under the boys booking"

Is that all 100% true?

TG:  It's 80% true. There are two things in there that are not true.

DR:  You are not naturally suave? [Laughs]

TG:  [Laughs] No, that part is true.

Two things are false in there. I was already in the studio when the phone rang, so I didn't come running into the studio. And the phone was never on speaker. I was speaking to the person that called from TSO right outside the door, but they could hear what was going on. For the first time, I kind of lost it. When the comment came over the phone that "I can't do Christmas", I took offense to it. This is my holiday; I'm a Christian. I just found the comments ridiculous - they told me that it would be no problem if I was doing this in a bar or a club, but because of whom I was doing this with and that we were doing Christmas - that was a no-no and that I couldn't do that.

Again, I spent twelve years with these guys, we've grown accustomed to and love working together, and this is what we do. That was probably the first time that people in the organization saw me out of character.

DR:  What is your role with The Kings of Christmas?

TG:  I sang back-ups on all of the songs. I sang the high parts and falsettos that made up the harmonies. At the end of "Letter to Santa", that's me and Guy doing that whole angelic part, that's me on the "We ride" part of "Sleigh Ride" that Guy sings.

DR:  And "Henry the Horse", that's you on lead?

TG:  That's me.

DR:  That is such a fun song. I love the story in there. Who is doing the voices in there?

TG:  The horse voice is Tommy and the Rudolph voice is Maxx. A lot of people don't know, but Tommy has a sense of humor that you wouldn't believe. [Laughs]

DR:  Where did that song come from? It's a little different from the rest of the album.

TG:  I remember when we were working on this one. Me, Tommy, and Guy did the lyrics in my apartment one night and Dave Silva played the guitar. Once it hit the studio, Maxx had his input with the sounds and effects. We were looking for a kid's song to do. Originally, we wanted Michael Lanning's "Benny the Christmas Tree" and Tommy wanted Michael to write a little more. But Michael was on Broadway at the time and we just couldn't connect our scheduling to make it happen. One day, Tommy comes running into the room and says, "Listen, I had this premonition about this horse" [Laughs]. So he came up with the original concept about a horse disguising himself as a reindeer, and then we all got together and wrote it.

You know, with The Kings of Christmas, we didn't know how things were going to go. We just knew that we wanted to do something together, making our own sound, and it not be TSO. Some probably thought we were going to try and rip off the TSO sound, but we knew that was exactly what we didn't want to do. We were confident that between us we were going to come up with some good stuff. From the very beginning, we would sit in a room just like this with some acoustic guitars and a digital recorder and just wrote some songs. We came up with about 20 different ideas and songs from those meetings.

DR:  Some of your narration for this album appears on the Kings website. Will we get to hear the full script when you tour the album?

TG:  Oh yeah. We will have the entire narration for the tour.

DR:  So now, you, along with Guy LeMonnier, Tommy Farese and Michael Lanning are going on tour with the Wizards of Winter.  Can you tell me a little about the show?

TG:  I am one of the team here. We are collaborating and putting this thing together, together. It's been a pretty good open forum between the two groups. We rehearse together; we all have some say into the songs. If one of us has an opinion on the tempo or an arrangement, we have our say and try things out. It is completely different from TSO, where the direction comes down the pike with "this is where you stand, this is how you will sing...". It is more in tune with how we did The Kings of Christmas, where not one guy makes all the decisions. We bring whatever we have to the table to make this a great project, a great show and a great situation to be in.

DR:  You guys seem to be having a blast in rehearsals. Are you looking forward to hitting the stage with the shows?

TG:  Absolutely. We are having so much fun; it reminds me of the first few tours of TSO.

DR:  Can you talk about the future of The Kings of Christmas? You had the aborted tour in 2011 and then didn't make it out in 2012 with Tommy getting hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

TG:  The past couple of years we had things happen that prevented us from going out, and we were anticipating going out in 2013. While we were planning things, this opportunity with Scott [Kelly] and the Wizards of Winter came about. They wanted to grow as a band and asked us to be involved this year. Once we met them, rehearsed a bit and got to know them not just as musicians but also as people, this just made sense. Why not collaborate, join forces and see what happens?

DR:  Is there still a plan to go out on tour as The Kings of Christmas and present your album in concert?

TG:  Yes. We are planning it now for 2014. We have a great bunch of people that are getting behind us to help present the tour. And fans should also pay attention this season, keep your ears open because you will be hearing "Sleigh Ride".  And "New York Christmas" was used on the Live with Kelly and Michael TV show.

DR:  Other than working on The Kings of Christmas, what else have you been working on lately?

TG:  I write a lot. I'm in the middle of finishing off a novel. You know, we have been losing so many people to substance abuse. Even recently, Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith and countless others that struggle with it. That's something that's been weighing on my heart. What I have been writing about deals with this, particularly how we as performing artists often fall into the trap of addiction. It's not a new story, but it's something I felt I needed to get off of my chest.

DR:  Can you tell me something about Tony Gaynor that fans would be surprised to learn about you?

TG:  I could have gone professional as a bowler. My bowling average is 274!

DR:  Wow. Very nice. Well, thanks so much for taking the time and discussing so much. Is there anything you would like to add?

TG:  In closing, I just hope that a lot of our friends and fans take a moment to open their eyes and open their hearts and not be so quick to judge or jump to conclusions. There is so much happening in the world; TSO and KOC are so trivial in comparison. No one stays at their same job forever. You may go off to start your own company doing what you do best. There shouldn't be anything wrong with that. There are no sides. I can't tell anyone how to live their lives or what position to take - if they choose not to pick up the phone anymore, that's fine. I just want to let them know that I still love all of those guys. I am proud to have been part of it. I am proud to have played my part in it. What happened cannot be undone - myself, Tommy, Guy and all of those guys were there, were an instrumental part of TSO. It's a fact and it's just not the case now. We are moving on and that's OK.

For whatever happened, I have long since forgiven every single person in the TSO organization and I wish everybody the best. Take care and start worrying about the things that matter, like us eating and surviving. It's getting bad out here. We should be building each other up and not putting each other down. I am a man of faith and that's what I go by. I go on faith alone, because I've been there. I told you one incident out in LA, there were others. If I told you the others, your mouth would be on the floor. I'm not supposed to be here right now, but I am. I'm here for a good reason. I'm never going to give up and fulfill my purpose and I hope everybody else does the same thing.

In the end, I want people to walk away from The Kings of Christmas experience knowing that this is all about us doing something that we love to do, and do with each other. None of this comes from having a vindictive attitude or soul. A long time ago, I made a promise to myself and to God that the day I can't be humble, take it away. I always look back to Matthew 16:26 that basically says "What profits a man to gain the world and lose his soul." and I live by that.

Tony Gaynor, surrounded by Guy LeMonnier, Tommy Farese and Michael Lanning
on tour with Wizards of Winter 2013

For more information:
The Kings of Christmas:
The Wizards of Winter:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra Fan Site: