Michael Monroe, Frontman of Hanoi Rocks
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan and Alex Kotziamanis
Venue: Dressing Room, Sheffield Corporation
Date: Thursday 25th September, 2003
(All Photos by Glenn Milligan)
Michael: Well we actually did a secret gig in London last night at a club called La Scala - somewhere near King's Cross. That was like an album launch party that we had at the Finnish Embassy. The whole place is like total phoney b*llsh*t.
Now after all these years they say they are going to support rock 'n' roll. When we were starting out they thought it was junkies, faggots, whatever who sang - who are these guys. Then we got recognition outside Finland, like abroad which is where we were going. Our first motive was to get out of Finland, Scandinavia so then we got a name and respect everywhere else and people started saying,
"Oh, it's our boys out there in the world".
Now they are saying like they are gonna support rock, they never helped us and we never got a grant or anything like that. From the state, the society, the government never supported us whatsoever and now they are saying they support rockers is a little bit too late and we can do without their help, thank you very much. So I finally understand that we are getting rewarded for 25 years of bad behaviour.
Glenn: On your new album, '12 shots on the Rocks' you've got a thank-you list that includes 'The Muppet Show' and Motorhead?
Michael: Oh that's the drummer (Lacu) because he loves 'The Muppet Show' drummer, you know, 'Animal' that's Lacu's favourite drummer and Motorhead are friends of ours.
Glenn: Yeah, you played with 'em in Sweden didn't you?
Michael: Yeah, we played The Sweden Rock Festival. And even Cheech and Chong (are on the thank-you list) because I do 'Up in Smoke' (at the end of the album). Did you notice that?
Glenn: Yeah, the little bit at the end, yeah.
Michael: There's like one verse and a chorus I did as a joke. I love Cheech and Chong and they are my favourites. 'Up in Smoke' is a classic song.
I always wanted to do that so I figured I'd do a little part of the song. So it's just for fun.
Glenn: What's your key for looking so damn young because you have not aged?
Michael: Oh yeah?
Glenn: No, you don't seem to have aged at all.
Michael: Well I don't believe in aging. I just keep a firm strong mind and it's all in the mind I believe. I just don't think, I mean I just don't believe in certain ages really. Women believe that they get menopause at a certain age and they are reading all these f*cking magazines and really if you worry about getting wrinkles then you are gonna get wrinkles. People under-estimate the power of the mind.
Glenn: Yeah. Who came up with the idea of having 'Hanoi Rock's Skateboards'?
Michael: It was Andy's idea. It was Andy's idea pretty much - he's done skateboarding before. Somebody suggested it of course originally but I thought why not because it was a bit different. We don't have t-shirts or badges and stuff for sale on the website and everybody else's website is full of shirts.
Glenn: I was on the website and I noticed a couple of t-shirts for sale.
Michael: Yeah? There's a couple of t-shirts now for sale? Because I don't have any and ha ha ha. I'd like to get the t-shirts myself. I'd like to get t-shirts for us to be on sale at the website. I mean it's amusing when people hear about the skateboards - someone's trying to say, (puts on a deep gruff voice) 'Oh yeah, look at those guys, just selling out, cashing in' what the f*ck, if we were selling out, our website would be full of stuff.
Alex: You would have changed every style of the genre of music that you were doing before you were selling stuff.
Michael: Yeah ,yeah We would have already compromised, yeah, 'we're gonna kiss ass' - we would have done it.
Alex: But you kept exactly to what you were doing.
Michael: That's right. No compromise - no regrets.
Glenn: Would you say that there's much difference now between the old days and now regarding like your albums, your tours and your socialising aspects?
Michael: Well I was never really sociable. I never really actually liked to hang out with people partying and stuff because I don't like drinking. It's not fun listening to drunken people talking when you're not out yourself. I was more seriously into just being with one or two people who were good friends and quietly working things out with me and we used to sing harmonies and have a lot of fun. It's no fun hanging out with a bunch of people who all want to talk at the same time - everyone's all out of it and whacked out and you can't even tell an intelligent conversation.
Alex: Some of the bands these days they haven't got that energy tonight that you produce - what's the secret to that?
Michael: Mmm. Well. Well the secret to that is they have too much drinking and I concentrate on the gig. That's why I don't hang out at night and party like they say at all, drinking - I don't drink. I just concentrate on the gig and that's what you are here for.
Glenn: So where did the influence for 'New York City' (from '12 shots o the rocks') come from?
Michael: I wrote that a long time ago. It was about three years ago or something - in '99. It was just living in New York. I just wanted to write about New York and why I left there and stuff and I had everything I needed in this delhi right down the street. And I tell you, every other delhi out there, they are fonts. I don't know - New York City, the feel out there - it's my life you know. I always had a feeling that something bad was going to happen - I thought there was going to be a race war but I never imagined there was gonna be that kind of thing (9/11). That's just heavy sh*t and I'm glad I don't live there anymore but there's some cool guys and it rocks to me even though not as.. just like the same rocks the weekend punks, the big generations and all that kind of thing, god bless 'em but hey, come on.
.......A quick mad interlude......
Andy McKoy walks in.
Alex: And here we have a great guitarist here
Alex: Who his absolutely incredible and has loads of energy as well.
.......End of mad Interlude.....
And back to the rest of Michael's Answer
Michael: Well work-wise, I just wanted to bring out some feelings about New York - it's that once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. It's part of me. You just stay away from - you can't get away from the fact they think that. I mean, I lived ten years across the street from the Hell's Angels Motorcycle club and for my debut, gee, I got a Hell's Angels Rock party on 4th July in '97. With the American flag and the Hells Angels of New York City and it was staged there and it was cool. It was fun living there because it's a certain feeling about it so New York's the City of Cities of all time.
I live in the City and I would like to live in New York as the main city in the world but no.. I'm happy living where I live - I live in Finland in a city called Tortouse which used to be the capital. It's very calm and peaceful. I got a great flat there by the river, right by the river and very private. I can rehearse, I can play sax and I have no neighbours so it's cool.
Glenn: What's your thoughts to some of the bands that you've influenced now like Hardcore Superstar and Backyard Babies?
Michael: Backyard Babies - they are a good band, Hardcore Superstar too, they are good. I like working with 'The Backyard Babies'. They are big fans of Hanoi Rocks and I am glad that they are spreading the word a bit. Backyard Babies had me come up and guest with them a few times and then they asked me to play some Sax on their album on a song called 'Rocker' which I did and then ended up doing 'The Jack of Hearts' and they went, 'Yeah, Yeah' and then the singer asked if I wanted to sing it and I said, 'OK' and then we got to re-write the lyrics a bit - so we worked on lyrics. It was like about six in the morning in the studio and they are like 'Arrr!!' and I said, 'Yeah, No, no, no - let's put some though into this' and I came up with some fun lyrics. So I re-wrote that song with them and we sang it as a duet - sort of like I did with Axl in '91.
Michael: I thought it turned out really good. So they are a good rock band - their guitarist is one of the best guitarists in the world.
Glenn: What's Axl like to work with?
Michael: He was fun with me. It was very easy and he's always been very cool with me. I haven't talked to him for a long time and I hear all the stories about him being difficult and stuff but he's faced with a very difficult decision - I don't envy him at all. He's got so much money. I think it's just a case of too much, too soon. They don't work together at the moment - him and Slash. He was always cool with me. I have had no problem with Axl ever. God bless him.
Glenn: What originally turned you onto Saxophone?
Michael: Little Richard records and The Coasters.
Michael: I wanted to play the sax since it I decided I liked Rock 'n' Roll. So I just played it when I started playing. I had flute lessons for a year - classical flute which helped a little, starting the sax. If you play Sax before first and then you go to flute, that's not gonna help much - the other way round it sort of helped a bit but really I'm a self-taught Sax player, self-taught guitarist and a self-taught harp player.
Michael: Andy (McCoy) bought me my first harp when we met. It was on an old harp - I was 14 or 15 and I started blowing on it and he (Andy) showed me a couple of riffs and I'm way past him now. Actually in the last couple of years. I play blues-puck. So there.
Glenn: Would you say that there are any other instruments that you fancy conquering?
Michael: Well, I play pretty much everything I've wanted to play except trumpet. I didn't know that the mouth playing for the trumpet would be a mouth-piece (imitates a trumpet sound) - you know I haven't practiced that. That's one thing I can't do yet which I'm not looking forward to. It's not my ambition but, if you are asking if there's an instrument that I don't play - that's one of them. Huh, but I've tried everything like violin - it's cool.
Glenn: What would you say your favourite songs of the new album are?
Michael: My favourite stuff from the album is 'Bad News' for one. I like 'Bad News', I like 'Obscured', I like 'A day late, a dollar short',
'In my darkest moment' I think is a kind of a masterpiece even if I do say so myself - it's a reflection - the death of my wife a couple of years ago. 'Whatcha Want' and I like 'Are you lonely tonight' and 'Winged Bull'. They will be my favourites on that one. But people like me have heard 'em so much.
Glenn: What made you make 'Gypsy Boots' so bluesy?
Michael: Well the lyrics are about Andy.
Glenn: Is 'Designs on you' like a tribute?
Michael: It's dedicated to my wife 'Joanna' (who is sat down in front of him). What did you think that it's a tribute for? For love?
Glenn: Yeah, it's like a really, attractive, heartfelt song that's really nice.
Michael: Yeah it is. It's true. It's from the heart - that's why it sounds like it. So it's dedicated to my nearest and dearest. My Wife Joanna. But I'd sooner keep my private life to myself. I don't wanna talk or think about that side. That's why you don't see me going around with my wife. There's a lot of sick people out there and I wanna protect my private life. As private as it can be at this point but besides that - yeah it's a special song and the new version with the steel guitar and everything is so much better.
Glenn: Andy has written a book called 'Sheriff McCoy' - have you got plans to write one yourself?
Michael: No concrete plans but maybe sooner or later I'll write a book. I already have enough stuff to write two books but I figured a little bit more in - that I have more funny stories to tell. I've written some chapters 'n' stuff that are ideas for the music business and how crazy my life is.
Glenn: Your memories?
Michael: I mean mine has always been the exception to the rule and Hanoi Rocks has always been an entity unto themselves etc. None of the usual rules apply and something like whatever happens, it's like everyday it's just like 'expect the unexpected'. Let's put it that way. But my life is so crazy and people think - well a lot of people have illusions about me having a glamorous life, like swimming pools and limo's and stuff - which is not really - doesn't make a person happy these days.
Glenn: And it's pretty costly that sort of stuff.
Michael: Yeah, yeah but it's not like something that you dream about and it's not like a fulfilment of life's purpose for me. It's like, actually that's dangerous because you get complacent and lose touch with reality so that's why I like to live in New York because reality is in your face there and you can't fool yourself. Some people say 'life smiles'. To me, my life's laughing right at my face.
Glenn: How do you go on with choosing the live set as you have so many songs to choose from?
Michael: For live use, that's a good problem to have I'd say. With having too many songs to choose from, we just have to be cold blooded and get rid of some. We so many so songs that it's cool because we can changing the set.
Glenn: Was the sound loud enough for you on-stage?
Michael: It was OK.
Glenn: What would you say some of your best tour stories have been over the last 20 odd years?
Michael: Well I guess it was in the old days when we were in Israel when Nasty and Razzle were drunk and they threw our table and chair out the window and it landed on a car - a Mercedes and there was a Taxi Driver outside and he was next to it and it could have killed the guy. The guy came up and woke up the Hotel Manager.
Those guys (Nasty and Razzle) were like partying it with broken glass on the floor and Nasty was on crutches because he'd broken his leg before in London falling downstairs. We did like five shows in Tel-Aviv and the sound-checks took like four hours or something and there was a bar there and the guys just kept taking booze there - they were drinking 24 hours!! - something like that.
The Hotel Manager then came into the hotel room and was banging on the door - nobody heard him so he opened the door with his own key and comes right in, steps on the glass - he was barefoot and goes 'Ow'. Then Nasty gets up and picks up one of his crutches and says, 'Who the f*ck are you?' and whacks him over the head with it. Bang like that.
Next morning I was the one who noticed nobody was serving any breakfast or anything and he (the Hotel Manager) was looking at me like that (pulls a nasty expression). I'm thinking 'What the f*ck went on?' and Andy's all beat up there because he decided to see what'd happen if they'd jump head-first out of the stairs from the club or whatever and they'd all got bruised and stuff. He's like all beat up, he's got a black eye - he's sitting outside the hotel. I said, "What the f*ck happened?' and these guys are being like, 'They did that with the chair and tables'. We got deported from Israel. We never got back again. We were detained and at the airport and it took ages - four hours or something and finally they let us go. We could have been just stuck in jail or whatever. So that's like one of the few times that the guys had done something stupid.
I mean, Nasty came in, once in Norway, he came into the room and Sammy and Razzle were watching TV and he just threw a bottle right though the TV screen jut for nothing, so there. He had to leave his own guitar as collateral to make sure that he paid for that thing - damage you know. We couldn't afford to break hotels and nobody was in their right mind who does that. It's stupid to break hotels. It's a cliché and it's boring. It's not sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
(Starts shouting gobbledy
That's what it's like out there. Whatever, the funniest road stories - for me I always went to bed early and stuff because I don't like drinking as I said, I always wake up in the morning and get treated like sh*t because the guys have done something.
Glenn: So you always take the flack for it?
Michael: Oh yeah - but that always comes with the territory when you're in a band like that.
Glenn: Do you ever see much of the ex-members?
Michael: Well I worked a lot with Sammi in New York on demos that were meant to be for an album that was originally my solo album but it ended up being the last time I charted by name. So for the record, we were seen as Producing which is always what I was. I still think it's one of the best albums I've done in my solo career. So Sammi plays bass on that and then a great guitar player called Jay Hemming who is dead now - he took his own life. But he couldn't get out of America so I had Nasty replace him. Nasty came on tour in Europe and Japan and said he wanted to stay in Japan. As it turned out he was just getting himself a solo deal in Japan, so he left, he said he was gonna quit playing - he lied to me and I went, "What the f*ck?" and we were just about to happen, you know.
Even having seen him for the UK Tour I kinda got bummed out. I've thrown him around back 'n' forth, London and New York, trying to support him because I always thought he was in Andy's shadows. He was a good guitar player and he was an alcoholic but I tried to help him and one day me and the guys saw him together. He was in London and he was still together and I was really impressed. He had got in to Thai-Quando and he had stopped drinking and he was like, "How did you put up with me, I was such an arsehole back then?." I said, "Well this is my reward seeing you so together now."
But after that day, that string, I kinda got p*ssed off and Sammi also, he left Hanoi' when Razzle died so we were. If he hadn't have left it might have been more possible to stay together. We should have taken a break back then anyway. He left us at the worst possible time so it's not the kind of loyalty you want and it was a really messed up time. Then what happened was, Sammi, he was meant to play on my solo album 'Piece of Mind' and he was coming over. I had talked to him and in winter '96 I had written the songs for 'Piece of Mind' and Sammi was supposed to come and play with me on the record and he said, 'Oh, you've got the songs ready, OK I'm coming to play with Nasty on the Tour", because he had played on Nasty's album then.
So I said, "Hey, you coming around the same time that I am doing my record, you doing the tour with Nasty", for once I can get something back because I'd chanced the thousand dollars I'd spent on Nasty over the years, so I thought, 'Hey, they've already bought a flight ticket'. So as it turns out Nasty's wife was some kind of a lawyer I guess - she'd studied Law and she said, "Michael will have to pay half of Sammi's ticket if he wants to used Sammi in the studio".
So I called Sammi and said, 'I can't believe this soap opera is going on here". And he said, "Yeah, I think it's really f*cked up that you guys are fighting. I think. You know what I think. I think you really should pay the ticket." I said, "What the f*ck are you talking about, I didn't ask for your opinion. If I wanted your opinion, I'd squeeze your head, Motherf*cker - go ahead, have a good time with Nasty, I'll play the guitar and I'll play the bass myself". So I did. I was talking to Sammi not too long ago and he's playing with Joan Jett now. I'm glad he's playing in a rock band or it's the waste of a bass player because he's one of the best rock playing bass players in the world and it's a shame that he should be playing this kind of weird stuff that he does in his own project 'Mad Guana' or whatever he's doing - this ain't even rock -it's like weird, weird stuff. So glad he's playing rock too now with Joan. He's gonna be there in Japan when we go and play at Budokan in October, something like that or November.
Glenn: Would you say that there's a difference in Japanese, British and your Finnish fans?
Michael: Nothing - they are just completely different (he jokes). No, No - people in Japan are very polite and they've got more freedom there now. In the past they weren't even allowed to stand up. The Finnish, they go nuts but they are mainly drunk at the festivals in the Summer. Not only drunk but out of their minds but not as much as they used to be. We used to play in the Countryside and people would be like falling, on all fours and puking and stuff - it's not fun. But, you know, Finnish audiences are very good for us too because we are kind of Massive heroes there. In fact, the English fans are really great - they've always been the greatest but we are here for so long that the London crowd is kinda totally like awesome and tonight (in Sheffield) was nice but I could see that half the audience kinda chickened out like the Rock Police were here.
Glenn: Is it the 1st time that you've played Sheffield?
Michael: 1st time? 1st date?
Glenn: Yeah - the 1st time in Sheffield.
Michael: No. We've played here before in the old days. That was '83 or '82 maybe I think we played here.
Glenn: What are your plans after the tour?
Michael: Getting the album out in the United States and then we're gonna go and tour there. Yeah, that's the idea - we're gonna get the album out everywhere in the world and then we're touring it. But apart from that I'm also working on new songs and stuff.
Glenn: For the next solo album?
Micheael: No no - not solo - Hanoi Rocks. We are getting this one out and to the rest of the world and then keep on doing our thing and try and do it better all the time.
Glenn: Do you have plans to come back to the UK again?
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We could do a festival next Summer if all goes well. So I think we're just starting in the UK for this power making and balancing it up and people getting more aware of the album that's out. You know - try and make it a little nice - do world shaking on our part. In the States of course - a big thing - it takes a lot a lot of support which we've never had and planning and stuff but it will be cool to go out to the bare life and flashes to say we've done everywhere and whatever - that would be a great tour and Slash has been there too - I've been with him in the studio.
Glenn: He's a great guy Slash.
Michael: No Ego. He's a real nice guy.
Glenn: A very quiet guy and just sits with you talking away.
Michael: Yeah Slash is cool. I'd like to tour with them (Velvet Revolver). There's not many rock bands you know, around. They (the media and the music biz etc) kind of wiped out Rock 'n' Roll systematically I think. It's a business - it's just money. It's not creative. The record companies are not creatively involved - there business affairs just wrapped around albums.
Glenn: Is the record company you've got now is that like your own label?
Michael: Yes it's like our label. The thing is - business is always business and there's a lot of bullsh*t involved and politics and sh*t and politics and rock don't mix. So that still had us setting up the business side of things - it's got to be the biggest challenge there is - getting the business to work because we've always been kind of screwed up by it. People's incompetence or deviousness or dishonesty. This music business is full of crooks. 97% of people
Glenn: Are out to get what they can out of you and if they can't then they don't want to know.
Micheal: Well yeah - somebody's out to steal and you gotta watch your back all the time and you gotta have all kinds of f*cking lawyers and sh*t and it's got nothing to do with rock 'n' roll. I just want to come here and rock - that's what I'm here to do and we gotta take care of some of the business because you don't wanna be kicking yourself. We ain't got no pension or any kind of paying-in plan and we get so much each. We may not be able to . Sh*t, I mean look at The (Rolling) Stones - they are still doing it but we'll have to take care of ourselves to the end. There's no I ain't gonna stop rocking until I drop. But as I said, we don't have any security or stuff like that, any pension plan that will take care of us in our older days. So you've gotta strike while the iron is hot.
Glenn: And keep going, yeah?
Michael: But we're just planning to get better as ourselves as we are already. It's exciting to see what me and Andy can do these because after all the years of experience, as much as we've evolved over years, I think it's fun to see what kind of stuff we can accomplish now. I think we've done pretty good so far - it's a good record and I'm happy with it.
Glenn: I'm glad you got back together. It what we need.
Michael: So am I. It just happened. It wasn't something that was hard - it just happened like that. I never thought of a possibility. I was never gonna do a reunion and still haven't for the money.
Glenn: And it's just bullsh*t isn't it.
Glenn: It's like selling your soul and your pride and everything else.
Michael: Exactly. I think that there should be one band with enough integrity not to do that and I think Hanoi' is that band.
Glenn: Yeah. You're like the sleazy equivalent of The (Rolling) Stones?
Michael: What? I don't know about Sleaze.
Glenn: You know what I mean. You're sort of like a sleazy, glammy..
Michael: Let's put it this way - it would have been very suitable to me if we were in a position that we would have been opening up for The (Rolling) Stones. That would have been fun. Because I think The (Rolling) Stones have always been a big influence with us, you know, so they are significant - they represent something. I mean everyone loves The (Rolling) Stones but The (Rolling) Stones have a special place in our hearts. It's good to be compared to them - a brilliant band.
Glenn: So that's the band that if you had a chance, you'd love to go and tour with?
Michael: Yeah, The (Rolling) Stones - that'd be great - I'd love to or Alice Cooper for example. Alice Cooper invited me on stage when they played a couple of years ago in Finland. He invited me up to do 'Under My Wheels'. I've always loved Alice's early stuff - especially the early stuff.
Glenn: Have you heard the new album 'The Eyes of Alice Cooper'?
Michael: Yeah, I heard about it. Bruce Dickinson told me about it on his show.
Glenn: It's really good. It's like he's gone back about a good ten years or more.
Michael: So the new one is great. I must get that. Anyway, we must go - it's been good to talk you man.
Glenn: Thanks Mike.
Thank-you's go out to Roland @ Work Hard PR, Mikke (Hanoi Rocks Tour Manager), Steven Stanley (of Solid Entertainments - Promoter), Mark Hobson (Manager of the Corporation), G (on the Corporation Door), Garry Jackson (Corporation Photographer), Lee and Andy (Corporation Security), Clare Pproduct of Anti-Product and Alex Kotziamanis for his help.