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MICHAEL MONROE: STRAIGHT UP ROCK N' ROLL - INTERVIEW BY PAUL HASTINGS

It is something of a tragedy that Michael Monroe isn't a name that every single rock n roll fan instantly knows. This is despite the fact that he was in band called Hanoi Rocks that really influenced the whole eighties glam/sleaze rock genre. After their tragic demise, he has also released a number of outstanding solo albums and formed another fantastic punk rock band called Demonstration 23. He is still showing no signs of tiring and has in fact released one of his best albums ever, Horns and Haloes, which was recently reviewed here in Mudkiss Michael  was kind enough to speak to me about the new release and his upcoming UK tour.

PAUL: Having reviewed the new album I absolutely loved it, how would you describe it to someone who is totally new to your music?

MICHAEL: Well, thanks a lot, that's great to hear. For this album I have got a really special band together and its definitely a band album. In terms of the style, it is straight up rock n roll that is played from the heart. It is pure and simple and just the real deal!

PAUL: I actually described it as being the best solo album since Not Fakin' It

MICHAEL: Well I am happy to hear that I am still producing good stuff, I have just been trying to get better and better with each release, right through from the solo stuff and Demolition 23 release. In some ways it is kind of ironic that it's in my own name, as it really is a full and proper band effort.

PAUL: It obviously means a lot to you, to be in a band rather than just a solo artist.

MICHAEL: It is really the best of both worlds in many ways. The difference is that as a solo performer, with a group of musicians you just pay, its always just about you and they never really put their whole heart in to the music. It is totally different with this album, as we are a real band who have given their all. Even when we did the albums and tour with the re born Hanoi Rocks, it wasn't the original roots of the band as it was (Michael emphasised it was a reborn and not reformed Hanoi Rocks as there would only ever be one original Hanoi Rocks). With a band there has to be a chemistry and each member must be able to be self sufficient. I am fortunate in that I am not really egotistical or a control freak so,unlike some, I want the band to be creative and free. It really runs as a democracy.

PAUL: The line up includes Dregen, formerly of Backyard Babies, how did he influence the band?

MICHAEL: He is such a great, great guy and added a lot to just make the vibe so good, and he has just such a great attitude. He also gave it more of a punk feel but also brought a blues influence as well. He is also a really great live performer.

PAUL: You are clearly really proud of the band?

MICHAEL: There is nearly always one wanker in every band, he's the one who just walks in to the room and just puts everyone else on edge and makes them uncomfortable. In this band everyone gets along and it is just really nice to have such a great vibe. It is also great that we all have such a wide range of musical knowledge and influences. Even with this, we are still always introducing new bands and songs, like I recently introduced Dregen to The Ruts. That actually resulted in the song "Soul Surrender" on the album where you can hear their influence in the reggae sound.

PAUL: That song is one of my favourites and actually made me think of The Clash with their reggae influence

MICHAEL: (laughing)  It does have a clash sound, but this is the real story about that song. It started with Dregen and that Motorhead style riff. At that point our drummer, Karl, wasn't in the studio so I was playing the drums. Now I haven't played the drums for a while and I was just so tired that when it came to the vocals, I only had the energy for that reggae style vocals! - but the whole thing turned out cool.

PAUL: That's not surprising as the album sounds very spontaneous and there is the feel of it being great fun to do.

MICHAEL: Yes that's true, we really felt we could let go and that something cool could always happen. The recoding itself was very simple, just two guitars, drums and a vocal with not a load of over dubs. It is really just the sound of the band as if they were in front of your face.

PAUL: You have announced a UK tour for late November/December will it feature songs from throughout your career like the last one?

MICHAEL: Yeah we have eight dates all confirmed from 27th November and ending in London on the 4th December. There are always songs that people want to hear and would be disappointed if we didn't play them. I want them to leave happy so yeah, we will play those. However, we've been playing some of those songs for quite a while now, so we are really looking forward to playing some new stuff so you can expect plenty from this new album.

PAUL: I loved hearing the Demolition 23 songs as I never got to see that band, did you even play in the UK?

MICHAEL: We only played one gig at the Astoria but even then the guitarist Jay Hening couldn't get a work permit so Nasty Suicide stepped in. We only got to do one rehearsal so the show was really on the edge. This band has that same on the edge feel because we are all over the world. Actually Karl has recently moved to Stockholm and Dregen is there as well, whilst Sammy and Steve are both in New York so actually that's about the closest we've been! It still means that when we recorded the album it was a case of doing the US tour and then fitting in demos, studio time and songwriting whilst we tour.

PAUL: You have been a huge influence on many bands, most famously Guns and Roses. In fact, when I met James Dean Bradfield after a gig in the early nineties and talked to him about Hanoi Rocks he gave me a picture of you that he had been carrying in his pocket!

MICHAEL: That is really cool to hear, I am chuffed we influenced some bands. I heard a couple of the guys in that band were fans. It really is flattering to hear you have influenced someone, especially if they have their own sound and copied the attitude of Hanoi. Some of the bands, however, seemed to think it was just about the big hair and the make up rather than the music. That was never the case for us, it was all about the music. I always said it was about the way you held a guitar and not a can of hair spray! It's really flattering when they also grow and develop their own style and sound. The Foo Fighters are a great example of that, they are huge fans of Hanoi and actually personally asked us to open for them in Helsinki. It would be really cool if this band could open up for a big band like them or Slash on a worldwide tour, as it would give us the chance to reach a wider new audience.

PAUL: Of the bands you have influenced which ones are your favourites?

MICHAEL: Well I love the Foo Fighters and Slash and Duff McKagan are sweet hearts and I love them both. In fact, Guns N Roses were always cool, they constantly mentioned Hanoi Rocks in their press articles, whilst some of those other 'hair metal' bands didn't have a clue about the music and hadn't even heard of us! I am just glad that I was part of the source, yeah I had my own influences, but I always had my own style. The really great records are those that really stand the test of time.

PAUL: Speaking of which, do you actually ever listen to the Hanoi Stuff?

MICHAEL: Only really when listening to them when we are going to perform one of them again. "Two Steps From The Move' is really the one album where I can listen to it all without skipping one single song. "Oriental Beat" was also great, but was really let down by it's production.

PAUL: Playing live is clearly really important for you?

MICHAEL: That's what I am, mainly a live performer. Record sales never reflected what Hanoi were about and I am probably still one of the best kept secrets in Rock N Roll! We never sold millions of record so record sales were never as important as the live shows and the fans.

PAUL: So after all these years, what keeps you going?

MICHAEL: Well what else am I going to do?? I need to make a living! I have always been critical of myself, perhaps too self critical at times, but I always want to do better. Even after a live show I come off stage thinking of what I could have done differently or better.  I just want to feel good about what I have done and want to get better and better.

PAUL: You must be satisfied with this album?

MICHAEL: Yeah, both this and the last album, Sensory Overdrive, are really great albums. I can actually listen to both of those and appreciate them and not feel there is really anything wrong with them. So that is really great as there is normally something I would change, even back in the day Andy McCoy would come up with a lyric and my first thought would be how can I sing that! I am just so happy with this album as all I want to do is make sure that every new release has its own identity and this one certainly does.

Michael Monroe (and his  band!) have certainly delivered an album that adds to what is already a catalogue of brilliant music. From the first listen you can tell that it is indeed Rock N Roll that is played from the heart, with a passion that is just so rare in this day and age. From speaking to Michael it is clear that his enthusiasm and desire is still strong and, to top it all, he also comes across as a genuine and nice guy which is perhaps even rarer. One thing that is for sure is that the UK dates will be unmissable and will be a chance to experience a legend in the place where he is both at home and at his best. If you are a fan of rock n roll there is no excuse for not getting a ticket now!!!

Interview by Paul Hastings
Photo by Melanie Smith