Interview with... THRILLS

In the early 80s the American band THRILLS released two great AOR/Radiorock albums. Around 1982 they recorded a third album which never got released. A shame, because a tape of this recording has been circulating in the AOR scene for many years now and this unreleased third album is a pure AOR classic.

This third album is eventually going to be released early 2000, and so we can all enjoy this third album after all. Especially if you dig the first SPYS and TOUCH, this will be a must to have. I got in contact with THRILLS vocalist/keyboardist Tony Monaco who I interviewed and found out a lot about THRILLS. Let's see what he has to say…

Can you tell us about the start of your career and the things you did before you formed THRILLS (possible other bands)?

I guess the thing that is amazing to me now is how young we were when this all took place. We were just out of high school when we put "Thrills" together. We had all been in other bands but for some reason, this foursome just felt right. Just prior to
"Thrills", Dave and I were in a 7-piece horn band. We did music by Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and even some of
Dave's original material. When we decided to do some heavier material, we scaled down to 4 pieces and realised we needed a harder hitting, rock & roll drummer. That is when Dave heard about a guy named Rob Owens. He was supposed to be a real heavy hitter. Once we jammed with Rob, we knew he was the man. Then, while we were working Rob into the band, we realised that our bass player didn't share the same vision as the rest of us. Right about that time, Rob met a bass player named Bill Gilbert at chess club in high school. After some discussion and a very informal jam session, we decided to bring Bill into the band. The first night we rehearsed, we put about 20 cover songs together. It truly was magical.

Tell us about the beginning of THRILLS?

When Bill joined the band, we felt the time was right to change our name. That is when we decided on "Thrills". Up until that point, we were "Bad Company"(We had to change the name for obvious reasons). Even though we were doing mostly cover tunes at that point, it was the birth of "Thrills". We began playing high school dances, and then we graduated to lots of college fraternity parties until we were old enough to play in bars. That was how we met Tom Ingegno, our manager. He was our agent in the Pittsburgh area (our hometown) but he was originally from Long Island, New York. Tom was afraid that we would become "big fish in a small pond" if we stayed in Pittsburgh so we decided to give New York a try. The music scene there in the late 70's was booming and we fit in perfectly. After a few months, it was evident to us that we needed to be there full time. Once we moved, things really began to roll. Within the first year, we were voted the #1 band on Long Island. Shortly thereafter, Tom, Dave, and I began collaborating on more original material. That was when Tom got Mike Frenchik involved as our producer and co-manager, as well as another songwriter. At one point, we released a single on our own label, First Step Records. Other than that, we just kept on performing, writing and recording until we were fortunate enough to get a deal with G&P Records.

In 1980 you released the first album 'First Thrills', can you tell us about that album?

Actually, "First Thrills" was technically our second album. We had done a 10-song demo that was being shopped as a finished master. Although, it was never released in it's entirety, some of the songs did make it to First Thrills ("Not Gonna Run" and "Dream Away") and one even made it to "Front Page News" (Explorer Time). When we finally signed the deal with G&P records, they were willing to release that original recording. However, we decided to cut some of our more recent material and then narrow the field for what would eventually become "First Thrills".

When "First Thrills" was released, we had some success on Long Island and we received a decent amount of airplay. That was when we hit the road for the first time. We went out for a couple months with Steppenwolf. We also were the opening act for many artists like Foreigner, Quarterflash, Nick Lowe, and Donnie Iris. We were being received very well at the live shows. Radio interviews, lots of good press, in store record signings; it all seemed to be right on track. "First Thrills" had actually made Billboard magazines top 200 (#198). While it didn't sell all that many units, "First Thrills" was successful
enough to allow us to do our second album, "Front Page News".

One year later you released 'Front Page news', can you tell us about that album?

In some ways, I think it was our best album. It had a spontaneity that the others didn't. It was truly an honest performance
captured on tape without many overdubs. There was a very evident maturity in the sound, the material, and the production. We recorded it at Smoke Tree Ranch, which was just outside Los Angeles. Our producer, Mike Frenchik hooked us up with that studio mainly because the owner/engineer, Doug Parry was genuinely into what we were doing and he wanted to help take us to the next level. The result was a more mature sound and production. Also, I believe that we had written some really good songs. It was by far our biggest commercial success, especially in the tri-state area near our hometown of Pittsburgh. There was a radio station in Pittsburgh known as 96KX. They got behind one of the songs that Dave had written called "Tonite" and placed it into heavy rotation. I will never forget being in my car and hearing us on the radio for the first time! Once the airplay began, it really snowballed. In fact, it did so well that it held a top 10 status for over 10 weeks! We couldn't believe that this was actually happening! At that point, we really felt that we on the brink of "making it". The next thing we knew, we were back out on the road.

How do you feel about these two albums now?

I am very proud of everything we have ever done. We always made the most of what we had to work with. When the budget was small, we were just cutting our teeth in the studio. As we grew both musically and personally, so did the budget. As a
result, you can hear the progression leading up to "Thrills 3". The memory of recording "Front Page News" encompasses the final effort of the original four members. That was one of the best times of my professional life. These guys are like my brothers and the memories we have and often share are priceless. This was really evident after the "Front Page News" tour when our drummer, Rob, decided it was time to pack it in. Needless to say, we were very upset but we re-grouped with another dear friend, Linda Mackley, on drums. With the addition of Linda, we began pre-production work on "Thrills3".


You almost joined SPYS as I heard from recent rumours…

As far as the Spys thing, I was good friends with Ed Gagliardi and we did discuss the possibility of me being part of the band when it was in it's infancy, but that was even before 3 was recorded. It never got very serious.

What happened when you finished recording the third album that never got released?

My opinion of what happened is that our record company, G&P, simply ran out of money. They did not seem willing to
weather the storm any longer. In their defense, it was really hard for independent labels to keep investing without a getting a quick return. All of this took place just prior to the MTV era. The only way to promote a band in those days was to hit the
road, which was very costly. Had they been able to use video to get the band exposure, things may have been different. It was a tough time for all of us. We all went our separate ways although we remained close friends. Dave, Linda, and I went to work with various local bands. Bill wasn't interested in doing a local circuit. We all got day jobs and went about our lives. At one point, Dave, Linda, and I were in a project that did some writing and recording, which we produced and financed ourselves. Unfortunately, it was too just too much to handle. The music was great but needless to say, the project didn't last long. We ended up "selling out" and doing cover tunes again to make some cash. That's pretty much the way it stayed for about ten years.

Nowadays, we (Dave, Bill, and I) all live in South Florida and for the first time, none of us are working together musically. That is really weird, especially for Dave and I. We have been together in various bands for the last 25 years! Who knows, maybe we will all get together and perform again. As I have said before, we will have to see what happens.


About that third THRILLS album. Everyone who has heard it says it is your best album (I agree), can you tell us first about the time you were recording it?

We knew that we were going to do something very different than we had done in the past. This time we really wanted to "use the studio". The sound was a departure for us. We took advantage of Linda's voice in the harmonies and we pushed the
arrangements to the max. Lush vocal productions, lots of keyboards, huge guitar sounds, etc. We were as polished as we had ever been and we set out to make a record that would hopefully define the 80's sound.
Only now do we realise just how close we had come.

The third album is almost the perfect 80s AOR record. What do you think would have happened if it had been released back then?

I really believe that it could have brought the band to a national level. That was what upset us so much. How could G&P stop now? We were so close! We didn't know what to do. I believe that it was the stress of over ten years of hard work ending so abruptly that broke up the band. We could have made some better decisions but at that point, we were not thinking clearly. If I could do it over, I know I would have handled it differently. I can't speak for the rest of the band.

I would describe the third album as the perfect mixture between AOR (SURVIVOR), Radio rock (PREVIEW) and Pomp rock (the first SPYS album). Which bands influenced you making such a killer AOR album?

Everyone in Thrills had very diverse musical tastes. We listened to everything from jazz to hard rock, and everything in
between. We were all into Chicago, Kansas, Styx, Billy Joel and even artists like Gino Vanelli. At the time, we were all into the production style of ASIA. Their first album was released just as we began recording "Thrills 3". It seemed as though that type of very produced sound would be what defined the 80's. We felt that we wanted a very big sound like they had but we didn't try to copy them musically. We just got in the studio and went to work.

The album contained many keys, harmony vocals, repeated catchy AOR choruses, etc. How could you ever make such a perfect AOR record and not have it released? It is such a shame that we had to wait so many years and now we have to be glad it is going to be released. Can you tell us about how it came to this release?

It all has to do with the Internet. We had been contacted a few times on e-mail by a few hard-core fans and through
correspondence, we got together with some people who do limited releases on material like ours. The details are presently
being worked out and I believe that it should be available around the first of the year.

In all those years, since it was recorded, did you always feel that the album would have been successful if it had been released and how many times have you thought about that unreleased album you worked so hard on?

I always wonder what it would have done had it been released. Every once in a while, I'll grab the tape and listen in the car or play it for someone. They are almost always blown away. It is one hell of an album that I believe would have been successful. The production stands up even today. I guess that it has always been an unanswered question that we have all had to live with. Maybe this release with give us some answers.

You already told me that THRILLS is now having some sort of GLOBAL INTERNET CELEBRATION! You're all very excited about the release, but does that also mean you are going to reform THRILLS or you just stick on this release of the third album and see what happens...?

I do not know of any formal celebration but I'm game! I know we had many loyal fans that would get a kick out of knowing
that there is a buzz about us again. We may have to get a web site once the CD is released so they would have a way to correspond. As far as a formal re-grouping, we are all in different places in our lives so while it is unlikely, it is not impossible. I can tell you that it would be a hell of a lot of fun. It would also be interesting to see how well we could pull it off. It will obviously depend on the demand for the band to perform live. We are going to have to wait and see how it all plays out.

If THRILLS will reform (which I really hope), please tell us more about it?

Right now, I know that Dave and I have material that we could experiment with. In a recent conversation, Tom and I were
discussing the possibility of writing together again. I just think that so much time has gone past and all of this is now happening so fast that we do not really know what lies ahead. We will just have to take it one step at a time. As far as any of us wanting to return to the music business, it is where all of our hearts are. It is all we have ever wanted to do. Mike and Tom are still in the entertainment industry. Mike has a studio in Los Angeles and Tom is an agent with offices in NY and LA. Dave is actively writing material in the country-pop vein and I am currently working on an original project with another friend of mine in my home studio. Linda Mackley still lives in New York and she is always doing something new musically. Rob Owens, our original drummer, lives in Pittsburgh. Bill lives here in Florida near Dave and I. We are just normal guys with normal jobs, families, and nice homes, etc. All in all, things are really pretty damn good. It certainly would have been nice if we would have "made it big" but I think we all count our blessings. We may have all gone separate ways musically but we are more than former band mates, we are family. We have always been and always will be.

Since the split of THRILLS, a lot of things have changed in the music business. Do you (as a pure AOR performer) think the music of today is any good and more importantly, do you also agree with me that the third THRILLS album is 1000 times better than anything that is in the charts right now?

I think our albums are easily as good. Better is a matter of opinion. Sounds and styles may change, but we definitely had an
identifiable, marketable sound. It is so great that people like you are so passionate about our music. We can only hope that the loyal fans of yesteryear will somehow find out about the release of "Three". I guarantee that most of them would pay just about anything to get their hands on a copy. Also, I would like to think that if response to the release is strong, we would get some amount of airplay. Only then we will see how well it competes. As far as today's music, I really do like some of it, the rest I will reserve comment on.

Finally, what are the future plans for THRILLS and other plans you may have?

We just want to see how the release of "Thrills 3" evolves. I have always felt that we were very lucky to have gotten as far as we did back then, let alone have all of this happening now. A new life has been given to a part of our lives we were believed was over. This whole thing is dreamlike. Just a couple of months ago, we had no idea that anyone even knew or cared about what we had done so many years ago. Now that we have all this interest again, we are trying our best to stay grounded and not get too excited. We will surely be watching and waiting, along with our friends and families, to see how it all goes down. Hopefully, we will get second chance to make our mark, leave a legacy, if even a small one. It's just like my hero Billy Joel once said, "Don't forget your second wind". I guess this is just another lesson in life that proves it isn't over till the fat lady sings. From all that has been happening lately, she hasn't even begun to warm up…. and that is just fine with us.


First thrills (G&P Records/1980)
Frontpage news (G&P Records/1981)


Dave Fullerton - Guitars
Bill Gilbert - Bass
Linda Mackley - Drums (on the upcoming third release)
Rob Owens - Drums (on 1 and 2)
Tony Monaco - Lead vocals, keyboards

(A special thanks goes out to and Stephen B. Allen and Tony Monaco himself for making this interview possible)