MICHAEL MONROE INTERVIEW:
August 26, 2011
After Hanoi Rocks disbanded indefinitely for the second and final time in 2009, frontman Michael Monroe wasted no time in getting his solo career back on track. He put together a great new band that includes formerly Backyard Babies and Hellacopters guitarist Dregen (who recently replaced Ginger of the Wildhearts), guitarist Steve Conte, former Hanoi Rocks bandmate Sami Yaffa on bass, and drummer Karl Rosqvist. The band went into the studio and recorded a fantastic new album entitled ‘Sensory Overdrive’ which was issued abroad several months ago and was finally released in North America on August 23rd. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Michael Monroe, who is gearing up for a North American trek that kicks off on September 30th in Philadelphia and ends in Hollywood on October 20th, for a no holds barred interview with the almighty youthful one. Enjoy the interview and give us your feedback.
Sleaze Roxx: Your new album ‘Sensory Overdrive’, which been available as an import for several months, was just released in North America. What took so long for the album’s release in North America?
Michael Monroe: We wanted to set up a tour to help support the album first — that was the main reason. The album was originally slated for a May release, but we pushed it back because we didn’t have a tour in place. Since we have a tour of the States lined up we released it now.
Sleaze Roxx: There are so many great songs on the album — you co-wrote a song with Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, “Debauchery As A Fine Art”, which he also performed on and you brought in Lucinda Williams for “Gone Baby Gone.” How did you get them to guest on the album?
Michael Monroe: Lucinda Williams is an old friend of Steve Conte’s — he had her contact information because he had done some sessions with her. Steve and Sami Yaffa had met her before when they were in the New York Dolls. She came down last March to our show in Hollywood and she was raving about our show afterward. She came backstage and told us how brilliant she thought the band sounded. We were in the studio recording “Gone Baby Gone” and we thought it would be a good idea to have her sing on it since it does have the ‘Stonesy’ vibe to it. Steve sent her an email and she was very into the idea, so she came to the studio and it was brilliant. We gave her free reign to do her thing on that harmony chorus. Her voice gives me chills — I think it turned out amazing.
Lemmy I’ve known since the early ’80s. I wrote a song called “Motorheaded For A Fall”, which we had been doing live, and when it came time to do the album I asked Lemmy if he wanted to sing on it. When Lemmy came in to do the song I let him know he could rework the lyrics if he wanted. I liked the original but I thought the chorus needed some work because it just repeated itself over and over. Lemmy came in on the first day of recording in the studio so we had to set up quickly because he was going on tour the next day. It was great that we were able to get him on the record. Lemmy is holy so to speak — he’s sacred. I was honored to have Lemmy and Lucinda on the album — they are the coolest guests.
Sleaze Roxx: You brought Jack Douglas in to produce ‘Sensory Overdrive’, why did you select him?
Michael Monroe: We didn’t have that many names on the list of potential producers. I knew Jack’s work and I thought he would be great for us and I was lucky that he was available at the time we were going into the studio. Sami and Steve were familiar with him because they worked with him when they were in the New York Dolls. We got in touch with him and we sent him the demos and he got back to us and said that he’d do it.
Sleaze Roxx: You made a brilliant move in selecting “’78” as the lead single for the album. It’s got a great balance of punk rock attitude, melodic hard rock and power pop. There are so many good songs on the album how hard was it selecting ‘the song’ that would launch the CD?
Michael Monroe: We really thought that this was the best song to start with because it really represented the band the best.
Sleaze Roxx: I also love the video, it’s a great performance clip, and it captures the energy of the song very well.
Michael Monroe: Well thank you. I felt that the kind of clip that would best represent what we are all about was a performance video. I think it turned out great.
Sleaze Roxx: You have put a great band together, although Ginger will be absent from the North American tour this fall because he left the band. What were the circumstances behind his departure?
Michael Monroe: Basically he was at a point where he didn’t want to tour as much. He has a four year old at home and he wants to spend quality time with his kid and pursue his solo career. Between his family situation, a solo career, and doing this, it was too much. I’ll be honest, I was very surprised when he joined that he wanted to be a part of this. He has been the frontman in the past and here he was in a supporting role. I asked him pointblank, “Are you going to be cool being the guitarist in this band?” Ginger said, “Oh, yeah.” I talked it over with Sami and he agreed that it would be cool to have him.
A few months ago he started asking about the length of the album’s touring cycle and I let him know that I wanted to tour for a year. That didn’t work for Ginger so I asked him to hold on until we found a replacement. I called Dregen, from The Backyard Babies and The Hellacopters, since the Ginger thing had runs its course.
Sleaze Roxx: How is the relationship between you and Ginger? I read in an interview were he hoped to help write the next album. Is that something you’d be receptive to?
Michael Monroe: Right, we are still good friends and we will be writing together in the future. Ginger is a fantastic songwriter and I do want to work with him again. Originally he was just going to help me write this record but he joined the band. Now it looks like he’ll just help write in the future.
Sleaze Roxx: You brought in Dregen as guitarist to replace Ginger. How did you go about selecting him and what does he bring to the table?
Michael Monroe: I called Dregen — he was the first guy that came to mind. I asked him if he wanted to be part of the band and he said, “Let me think about this over night and I’ll get back to you in the morning.” I waited and I got a call the next day from Dregen who said, “Hey Michael, let’s do it!” It was hard to find a guy to replace Ginger with his talent, looks, style and attitude, but I think Dregen is the only choice — absolutely.
Ginger and Steve are both lead singers — the harmonies on this record are great. Ginger is a great guitar player whereas Dregen is more of a punk style player so it takes him a little longer to learn the parts. With Dregen we just needed to practice a little bit more than with Ginger, but we’ll be just fine. As far as a guitarist Dregen is a bit more punk, and trashier, than Ginger. We’re not going to have Dregen sound like Ginger — he has his own style. Dregen is a wild man on stage — it’s a great fit because he’s hyperactive like me (laughs). Let me say this, people who saw us before didn’t think things could get more energetic but with Dregen we have. I’m very happy that he was available and happy to do this.
Sleaze Roxx: When you tour North America what are you looking at lengthwise as far as a set?
Michael Monroe: I don’t know what our contract says yet, but we’ll play a full show. We do a 75, 80, or 90 minute full show… it will be at least 75 minutes since we’re not a support band on this tour. We’re working hard at coming back to North America next year as an opening act on a bigger tour — I’d love to play to a larger audience. We’re in touch with our friends in other bands so we’ll see what happens. We have a lot of ground to cover and I haven’t done a proper tour of the States in a longtime.
Sleaze Roxx: Your live album ‘Another Night In The Sun’ was released last year in Europe. Are there plans to release it in North America in the near future?
Michael Monroe: That’s a good question — I’m not sure about that, I’ll have to ask about it. That’s the album that features a live version of “Motorheaded For A Fall” that I was talking about earlier. I’d love for it to be released in North America because throughout my whole career a lot of my albums have only been available as imports. I don’t like fans having to pay outrageous prices for the albums.
Sleaze Roxx: Why didn’t Jerusalem Slim, your band with Steve Stevens, make it?
Michael Monroe: (pauses) Oh… well. (pauses) That was an idea that looked good on paper and the idea died of loneliness (laughs)! Steve Stevens and I made some great demos and he’s a very talented player. On the demos he was playing stuff that I liked — it was a very early rock ‘n’ roll leaning sound, more towards the Chuck Berry style of two hands on the neck type of thing. The record label brought in Michael Wagener as producer — he’s a heavy metal producer who, together with Steve, took the album in a completely different direction. It became a heavy metal guitar-hero type record and it didn’t work — the end result was totally wrong for me. I tried to stop the project half way into the recording process but no one supported my idea. There are fans that have told me that they liked that record, but to me it’s the worst record I’ve ever done in my life. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me pretty much. It ruined my career in the United States. It was a complete catastrophe and that album cost me $700,000! I should have just donated the money to the homeless (laughs)! It was unfortunate… Next?! (laughs)
Sleaze Roxx: Axl Rose is admittedly a huge Hanoi Rocks fan and he even made a guest appearance on your “Dead, Jail Or Rock ‘N’ roll” video. What’s your relationship with Axl these days?
Michael Monroe: Axl’s doing his own thing — I don’t have his contact information. I said hello to him through Sebastian Bach at the end of 2009 when Sebastian was on tour in Finland. He sent a text to Axl saying hello along with a picture of Sebastian and I together. Axl replied with the message, “Doesn’t that guy ever age?!” (laughs) — which was a great compliment. I have nothing but cool things to say about Axl. He was very good to me and Hanoi Rocks as he released our European catalog on Uzi Suicide Records. God bless him. He knows where to find me if he wants to talk.
Sleaze Roxx: When Hanoi Rocks disbanded the first time in 1985 how much of a role did Vince Neil play in that happening?
Michael Monroe: (long pause) There was a car accident where unfortunately our drummer (Razzle Dingley) was killed. That was one of the reasons that Hanoi Rocks disbanded. As far as Vince Neil I have nothing to say. It was an accident that surely all of us would like to put behind us already. I would never blame anybody for an accident — you can’t. What happened happened, and I can’t change that. Everybody suffered from this and we’d like to put that behind us. Unfortunately for Hanoi Rocks we couldn’t keep it together after that happened, it was major blow for everybody. Let me say this, it wasn’t just that Razzle died, but Sami Yaffa left the band — we had no bass player and no drummer. The band was so much like a family, we were so young and close, that with those key losses we couldn’t keep it together after that.