Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 80 - Interview with Michael Monroe

MICHAEL MONROE

Interview by Dawn Osborne

The man that is the human dynamo on stage, Michael Monroe, releases the first 'Best Of' featuring songs from his illustrious solo career. One thing is immediately clear ̶ there is much more to this charming vocalist than the songs of his former band, the legendary Hanoi Rocks.


Michael Monroe - Interview

Your newest albums have been some of your strongest releases ever, so you certainly haven't run out of ideas. Why did you choose to bring out this retrospective compilation in 2017?

Because it's been thirty years since my first solo album came out. 'Nights Are So Long' was released in '87/'88 and there's never been a Michael Monroe compilation album. The Demolition 23 album has been out of print since it came out in 1994, so that hasn't been available and there are four songs from that on this new release. I think it was a good time to put together this collection of songs summing up my career, the old part on the first CD and the newer period on the second, while also including bonus and previously unreleased tracks. There are at least four previously completely unreleased songs and very rare tracks like the Stiv Bators duet 'It's A Lie' which was only out previously as a bonus track on album 'Peace Of Mind' in 1999 in Germany and America. There are completely unreleased outtakes from the last album 'Blackout States', 'Fist Fulla Dynamite' and 'Simpletown'.
'Get On' was a Japan only bonus track on 'Horns And Halos'. It's by a Finnish band the Hurriganes, who were originally the baddest ass Rock band in the 70s. In '74 they put out this album 'Roadrunner' which had some killer stuff and this song 'Get On'. Their guitar player Albert Jarvinen is dead now but he was one of the best Rock n' Roll guitar players of all time and there's incredible playing from him on the original. 'Get On' is like a national anthem in Finland and so we covered it and are releasing it now. Then there's our new single 'One Foot Outta The Grave' on this record. We're gonna make a video for that song next week. Cheryl Cooper was in our last video for 'Going Down With The Ship' in her nurse outfit. We were at Alice's show in Swindon and we were doing the splits together so Rich Jones got it on video ̶ it's just for a few seconds. So that was a great honour... I asked her permission, of course.

'Dead, Jail Or Rock n' Roll' is probably the finest Rock n Roll anthem you've ever written; I think it's got a great timeless quality. Are you happy that songs you wrote thirty years ago still sound fresh and exciting to a new generation?

Yeah, I'm very happy about that. The test of time is the ultimate test. If something sounds as good and fresh as it did when it came out thirty years previously, that's the best you can hope for, it's great!

Axl Rose was on the video for 'Dead, Jail Or Rock n' Roll' and there's another Guns N' Roses connection with the new album. Tell us about that...

Oh yeah, Slash was doing 'Magic Carpet Ride' for the Coneheads movie soundtrack and he asked me to sing on it. I had a new arrangement idea for it, so we tried that too and we decided to do two versions. The new arrangement ended up on the movie soundtrack, but the other version, closer to the original, never came out anywhere and I had kept the tape for all these years to myself and I never played it to anybody except some close friends. So when this compilation album time came I was thinking about what I could use for bonus tracks for it and I remembered that song and that version. I emailed Slash and said it would be a shame if that never came out in any shape or form and I thought, "It's probably gonna be impossible to get this. It's too much trouble and it's probably gonna involve all these lawyers and lots of money", but Slash is the coolest, the biggest heart in Rock, the sweetest guy. He said, "Hey man, all you have to worry about is paying the songwriters for the publishing. You can use it.' I said, "God Bless you, thank you, I love you." What a guy! Like I remember similarly when we did 'Ain't It Fun', the Stiv Bators song, as a duet when Axel wanted to do that. It was so cool to have Stiv's name on that Guns N' Roses album. I didn't want anything for that song. I said if you can just have 'In memory of Stiv Bators' on the album, I'm happy.

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Stiv's so important to you, because you were looking at a cover of a Stiv Bator's album when you had a spiritual experience that inspired you to be a vocalist in the first place. What's the background to the duet you do with him on the album, 'It's A Lie'?

'It's A Lie' is a song by Jimmy Zero, the other guitar player in the Dead Boys. Stiv had the demo that he played to me and Andy (McCoy) and he offered it to Hanoi Rocks, but Andy said no, so Hanoi never did that, but when I moved in with Stiv in '85 and Hanoi was breaking up, CBS asked me to make some demos for them to decide if they wanted to keep me as a solo artist [Hanoi was signed to CBS worldwide] and 'It's A Lie' was one of the demos we made back then at Redwood Studios in London. As we were doing it Stiv realised the lyrics were really about him leaving the Dead Boys. So that tape was magical and when we sang it together in the studio you can't really separate which is which voice. I'm singing the lead at first, but when Stiv comes in he continues with the lead, so I'm going up in harmony then and it's hard for even me sometimes to tell who is who. The version on 'Nights Are So Long' is not nearly as good as this one on the new compilation.

Demolition 23 had some great songs, in fact you almost play as many of those in your live set now as you do Hanoi songs. Why have you included four Demolition 23 songs on the album, but no Hanoi Rocks?

Obviously no Hanoi Rocks because this is my solo career, nothing to do with Hanoi in that sense. Demolition 23 is one of the greatest records of my solo career and it's also for Stiv Bators. When Stiv died I sat down and wrote the lyrics to 'Deadtime Stories' which have about fifteen Stiv song titles in them as a tribute thing, like Stiv did for the Dolls on the first Lords of the New Church album, 'Little Boys Play With Dolls'. Also I had those chords when I was living with Stiv and he started humming the melody back then, so when I heard he was dead I sat down and started playing that song. So it's important to me to have that track on the record. 'Crucified Me', 'Hammersmith' and 'Nothing's Alright' just had to be there too.
The record is a double album and the fact that most of the material is from after 2010 shows the strength of your new material. Songs like '78' and the 'Ballad Of The Lower East Side' are just as good, if not better, than your stuff from Hanoi Rocks.
Yay, thank you, great! That's nice to hear.

I love the Pink Gibson guitar work on 'Stranded'. What's your favourite guitar work on the album?

I think my current guitar players. Steve Conte is an incredible, exceptional guitar player. So is Rich Jones, so was Dregen, so was Ginger ... that's some of the greatest stuff, and Phil Grande, who played on the 'Not Fakin' It' album and plays on 'Dead Jail Or Rock n' Roll' ̶ there's a guy who really was amazing. I remember when that album came out, Slash pointed and asked, 'Who's playing the guitar on that record? That's killer guitar!' Phil was really something else. He came out with the line 'Rock like Fuck', he said it in the studio. I said, "Wow, that's my slogan from now on." And of course Jay Henning, God rest his soul, from Demolition 23. He was really special. It's a big shame he's not with us anymore.

You've had some real characters in the band. You mentioned Ginger and Dregen. Is it ever exhausting being a leader of a box of frogs?

No, it's a challenge. Most people would tell me Ginger would be hard to work with. Even Lemmy asked, 'How are you holding up with that guy?' and I said 'Fucking great! He calms me down. He has a calming effect on me.' And actually he does, I love the guy! He's a sweetheart and we get on great. There was no problem, no craziness ... so I have an effect on people. I influence people in a different way. It's what you put out comes back.

What do you hope somebody new to your work will get out of 'Best Of'?

I hope they will get what I do in terms of music and lyrics, what I have to offer and I hope they can relate and feel the joy of Rock n' Roll when they hear these songs. It's a good sample of everything I've done in my solo career, a good presentation of what I do. I hope they'll get the vibe and feel.

Looking at the Compilation what do you think are the musical influences that have stayed with you and which are most obvious in your work?

Little Richard, Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper ... so many. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Mott the Hoople, The Faces, punk stuff, the Ruts, the Damned, the Pistols, Iggy Pop, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Stiv Bators, Dead Boys, Motorhead, UK Subs, Dave Edmunds, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, ZZ Top, blues, reggae...

When you get compliments about your music, whose comments mean the most to you and why?

People who understand my music: musicians, fans, those who are aware of most of my work and know other people's work and points of comparison, friends I trust and people I know. That's usually where I get the best ideas of what I'm doing. If I ask for opinions when I'm in the process of working, I always ask certain people and it's not necessarily what they say that will make me do what they think is best, but I know how they think and that helps me make up my mind what I'm actually gonna do.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who never sold their soul, who maintained their integrity, who went all out, did authentic Rock n' Roll, no compromise and somebody who had a good heart and was a good person. I never hurt anybody, at least on purpose, and I'd like to be remembered as somebody that did something good with their life.

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