MICHAEL MONROE: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Speaking about glam metal, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott claimed that Hanoi Rocks were the only band that “pulled it off.” And while Def Leppard is now lumped with glam bands like Poison, and are currently touring with Motley Crue, that doesn’t make his assertion any less true. Hanoi Rocks were originals. That angry, shithead punk mixed with the New York Dolls/Bowie glam sound that Guns N’ Roses did so well would not exist without Hanoi Rocks. “Paradise City” is actually a mix of different Hanoi Rocks riffs, and Andy McCoy, guitarist and co-founder of Hanoi, has claimed it’s just a slowed down version of “Lost in the City.” Their influence ranges far and wide, from Manic Street Preachers to Alice in Chains, and Michael Monroe was one of the original two founding members of the band. He and McCoy were the guitarist/lead singer duo that would’ve outshone even Jagger/Richards… had they got the chance.
In 2007 Hanoi Rocks released Street Poetry, but only two years later, McCoy and Monroe announced that they’d taken the band as far as they could. After playing farewell shows in Finland and Japan, Hanoi Rocks disbanded for good in 2009. It’s a shame that they’re known more for the fact that their drummer, Razzle, infamously died in the car accident where Vince Neil drove headfirst into another vehicle while inebriated, than they are for their music.
But while the band may be no more, Michael Monroe is certainly not done yet. Backed by a stellar group of musicians including Sami Yaffa (ex-Hanoi Rocks), Steve Conte (ex-New York Dolls), Dregen (Backyard Babies), and Karl Rockfist (ex-Steel Prophet and touring drummer for Danzig) ,he’s released Sensory Overdrive under his own name just this year. Michael was nice enough to take a few minutes to talk about what he’s been up to these days. In fact, he was so nice he called me before I was supposed to call him.
Hi! It’s Michael Monroe!
Oh — I was just about to call you, actually.
Were you supposed to call me?
I thought so — but it’s cool! I’ll just get right to it. So! You’ve released a new-ish album under your name. Can you talk a bit about how that came to be and the whole process?
Uh…[overwhelmed-sounding chuckle] Yeah, sure.
Briefly! You don’t have to go into super detail.
This band came together in a really cool way. At the beginning of last year, we started working on putting the band together. Me and Sami Yaffa started the band and it ended up being Ginger Wildheart and Steve Conte on guitars and Karl Rockfist on drums. We started writing songs together. Some of them the four of us [worked on], some of them maybe three, some were just by me and Ginger, some Steve and Ginger, and Ginger wrote a couple by himself. We kept writing all year — in 2010 — and then we went into the studio in August and got in touch with producer Jack Douglas who we wanted to produce us. He heard the demos and was into it and then we went to LA because he wanted to record in LA. We recorded the album in September of last year; did some pre-production for five days and then recorded it in two weeks and that was that. The mixing was done in Finland, though, in December at the Seawolf Studios by this guy called Petri Majuri. I was there with him mixing it and by New Year’s we were done with it. So that’s how it came together.
You also got to work with Lemmy and Lucinda Williams. How did that come about? I bet it was really fun on both counts.
Oh, that was great! Lemmy is a good friend and he came to sing on that song “Debauchery as a Fine Art,” he came right to the studio. It was the first day of recording actually, and we had to lay that track down very quickly because Lemmy was going on tour the next day. So we had to put the basic track down and I did a quick guide vocal, it was about ten minutes before he showed up and then he did his part. And you know, Lemmy is the coolest [chuckles]. He did a cool harmony thing there, it was very unusual and I mean, his voice can be recognized anywhere and it was a great honor to have him on the record. We went on tour with them for three weeks in the UK after that and that was really cool, too. Steve Conte knew Lucinda and she was at our show at the Viper Room in LA last year in March. She came backstage after the show and was totally raving about the show. She loved it, loved the band, the whole performance. So Steve thought it might be a cool idea to have her sing o, “Gone, Baby Gone,” because it’s kind of a Stones-y, country kind of thing. She came over and she was just fantastic. Told her to do whatever she wanted and she just sang a beautiful harmony. Her voice gives me chills, it’s simply amazing. So that was a great honor, too. Two of the coolest guests we could have I think, Lemmy and Lucinda.
They’re both great songs. You mentioned that Ginger not only worked together with you on a few songs, but he wrote some on his own, too. But earlier this year, he left the band. Do you mind me asking why?
Yeah, yeah of course. We’re still friends with Ginger and we’ve been talking about writing the next album together as well. I mean, he was originally supposed to just be writing with me but then at the end of 2009 he showed up at the Alice Cooper show in Helsinki and he came up to me — Alice invited me onstage and I got to sing with him, that was very cool — but after the show Ginger came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me, just the two of us. He said he wanted to be a guitar player in a band; he was tired of being the leader and telling everyone what to do. And he sort of talked himself into the band. I brought it up to Sami and we thought either it’s going to be a disaster or it’s going to be great and it worked out great. But it ran its course and he got kind of antsy and restless. I could tell last spring that he seemed not very happy and he needed to have his solo thing as an outlet as well and he just wasn’t happy being a guitar player in a band. He was trying to soldier on and I said you know, nobody’s forcing you to be in this band and there’s also his kid — he has a four-year-old kid — and he wanted to spend more time with his kid. He started asking how long is the cycle for an album, for touring? And I was like, why are you asking? Well, you know just wondering how long we’re going to tour on this album. And I said look [chuckles] if you don’t want to go why don’t you just hang in there and we’ll start looking for a replacement and as soon as we find one, you’re free to go. That’s what we did and luckily we found Dregen and he’s the only person I could think, that I could imagine, could fill Ginger’s place because Dregen’s also… well, he’s got it all. The personality, the attitude, the image, the style of playing, same kind of music as us, everything. He’s a bit more punk and he’s a bit more metal-ish player, you know. Dregen has got his own style but he fits the band perfectly so it turned out good.
I was going to add that I knew Dregen from his work with Backyard Babies he did sort of add a more garage punk sound to the mix?
Well besides yourself, and Dregen, there are a number of talented individuals in the band all know for their own work as well. Would you call yourself a super-group of sorts?
I wouldn’t call us a super-group but just a bunch of talented and very strong individuals, but the press has been calling us a super-group and I don’t know…
Oh, the press.
Haha, yeah! They can call us what they want. But it’s just a great band, really strong.
That’s a good way to put it. So, you’ve toured pretty extensively throughout Europe and you’re about to head on over to the States, are you excited?
Yeah, it’s going to be great to play there! Haven’t played there in such a long time. The tour is starting at the end of this month, 31st is the first gig, or it’s the 30th, whatever. And it ends on the 20th of October so it’s a good three weeks.
Are you going to be sticking to mostly newer stuff? Any Hanoi Rocks on the set list? Or are you trying to separate yourself from that?
Oh no, no need to separate myself from that [laughing] especially because it’s part of me, part of my history, and anyway, Sami Yaffa is in the band, too. Of course we’re going to play a couple of old Hanois! We’re going to play “Motorvatin’,” and we’ve been playing “Tragedy,” and “Malibu Beach Nightmare.” As well as my solo stuff, Demolition 23 stuff, and the newer stuff.
Great! That sounds like an excellent mix, it should be really fun.
Yeah! It’s a great set, very, very powerful.
Speaking of old Hanoi stuff, though. A bunch of the younger sleaze metal bands like Hardcore Superstar and Crashdiet name you and Andy McCoy and Hanoi Rocks as their biggest influence. What do you think about all them?
Okay, is that what sleaze metal is? Because we’ve been always wondering, what’s “sleaze” metal?
Uh, honestly, I’m not quite sure. I’m going with the wave of glam-punk bands from Scandinavia, mostly. I mean, I’ve heard Hardcore Superstar be called thrash sleaze and Crazy Lixx is more glam sleaze, and there are so many, sub-sub-genres and I’m assuming most of them are a little made up. Probably by that damn press again.
[Laughing] Yeah, yeah ok.
I guess it’s the over-arching banner they’re all under; sleaze metal.
Okay, okay! Well, I know Hardcore Superstar. We did some shows in June in Japan, three gigs together. I did a guest appearance on their record on a bonus track, we did Alice Cooper’s “Long Way To Go” in like 1999 or something like that. But yeah, they’re nice guys. For them to quote me as an influence, or Hanoi, it’s always nice. It’s flattering to get recognition like that. Yeah, makes me feel nice!
I managed to catch one of the last Hanoi Rocks shows, and you had mentioned you couldn’t make it to the States with the group mostly because of Andy?
That was the reason that Hanoi — the new Hanoi Rocks — never came to the States. We thought that was a temporary problem but apparently it was more serious than we knew. That’s really the reason why I haven’t been able to play in the States for all that time, it was because of Andy. I had no problems getting into the country. That was the reason the new Hanoi Rocks never played the States and [sighs] it was unfortunate and a lot of years went by and it was one of the main reasons why I wanted to finish what we started [with Hanoi Rocks], but as it turned out Andy cannot get to the States. That also had some part in my decision to finish the new Hanoi Rocks. I didn’t want to be stuck playing Europe and Japan only.
How do the audiences compare?
Well, a great audience is great everywhere and for us, people seem to like rock’n’roll and this kind of rock definitely has a place in the world. But American audiences have always been into that kind of guitar rock like the Stones, Aerosmith. That kind of sound, you know, like AC/DC. So I think if we can get a decent break, especially in the States, to expand our fame a little I think people are really gonna enjoy it. I think there’s great potential for this band and looking at things as they are; I’ve always been a live performer, had a live band. We have great, high-energy rock’n’roll and good songs, good melodies. I think we would be perfect for American audiences.
So you definitely have plans to keep recording and performing and going on with the band?
Yeah! I mean, [laughing] what else am I going to do? I got the best band in the world now, I’m totally happy. Definitely, we’re going to keep going.
Any other plans? I mean, Andy McCoy wrote a book. Do you think that’s something you’d ever do?
Writing a book?
Well, actually I’ve been working on a book with this guy who did a Hanoi Rocks book.
Oh, no way!
Unfortunately, it’s not translated to English yet. It was called Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and only came out in Finland. It was a best seller in Finland and it is the real story about Hanoi, because Andy’s books don’t really represent Hanoi as it was.
I think they were more his reflections on certain events.
Yeah. I haven’t really read that much of them, but a lot of people tell me that they’re really inconsistent and hard to read because they’re not very well done.
I was trying to be tactful, but, yes, those people would be quite correct.
Bit all over the place, you know. It’s a shame that we haven’t been able to get the Hanoi book out the world, but the guy who did that book has been working on a book about Michael Monroe for almost a couple years now. We’re just finishing it because the deadline is next week on Tuesday so that’s why I’ve been running around like crazy trying to finish that, amongst everything else! So yeah that’s going to be the Michael Monroe book and it’ll be easier to have it translated and get it out in the world. First it’s going to come out in Finland at the end of October. October 27th it’s going to be released.
That’s pretty exciting. I look forward to the English version or I’ll get a friend to read through it for me and translate!
Yeah! I appreciate you being such a fan.
Oh, I don’t talk to anyone I don’t already like or admire. There’s no point, I don’t think.
Exactly! I agree! So I’ll try to get that book out and translated as soon as possible. And I’ll see you at a show!