Michael Monroe Interview

Date: October 8, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden




Sleaze Roxx: Hello?

Michael Monroe: Yeah hi! Michael Monroe!

Sleaze Roxx: Hi Michael! How are you?

Michael Monroe: I’m pretty good! How ya doin’?

Sleaze Roxx: I’m very well thank you! Thank you for doing this!

Michael Monroe: My pleasure. Thank you.

Sleaze Roxx: I’ll start right away. As a fan of Hanoi Rocks, it is a pleasure to speak to you. It’s funny, or possibly not, but I recently had a huge break-in at my home. The thieves stole many of my guitars and a ton of vinyl. One of the vinyls was a mint copy of ‘Not Fakin’ It.’ I was quite upset to lose that one. Luckily, the Hanoi box set wasn’t taken.

Michael Monroe: Oh shit. Do you think it was somebody who knew you?

Sleaze Roxx: I don’t know. That was what my wife and I speculated, but you really don’t know. I lost a Les Paul. A Strat. A Telecaster.

Michael Monroe: Oh shit!

Sleaze Roxx: They didn’t take any amps. They didn’t take my Marshall. They didn’t take my Fender. Just a bunch of acoustics as well.

Michael Monroe: So they probably knew what they were going for?

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I think so! Anyways, it is what it is. I was able to find another copy of ‘Not Fakin’ It’ on Discogs. It’s coming in the mail. Hopefully it will be here soon. I love that album.

Michael Monroe: Well, thank you!

Sleaze Roxx: Anyways, let’s talk about you and your latest release ‘One Man Gang’. I must admit, this album is a great eclectic mix of styles and I really love it. There’s a Hanoi Rocks vibe on some of the stuff. As always, you did not disappoint. From your standpoint, what can you say about this album?

Michael Monroe: Well, I think we managed to make an album that’s got a lot of variety. I even expanded my horizons as in singing in new dimensions. I always try to go for something new. For example, “In The Tall Grass”, that song is about the end of the innocence and all that. So I was trying to sing the verses like an innocent child. I surprised myself even how it came out. It’s a new kind of sound where I’ve never sounded like that before, so that was nice to be able to do and accomplish. For example also, the “Wasted Years” song, that one also had like a new style of singing. I went for the laid back approach. I had sung that song already and I was thinking something was missing. It was too stiff. Then I figured, “Hey, this needs to be more laid back like Jagger!” Jagger can sound like he’s just gotten out of bed you know. I figured it should be more behind the beat and more relaxed. Just that kind of approach. That worked out and that was the key to the vocals on that one. There’s a lot of variety. It still rocks but it’s got a lot of different dimensions. It’s got different styles of songs like “Heaven Is A Free State” for example at that point of the album, instead of having some slow ballad or some quiet song, it was cool to go into a different kind of musical world. All of a sudden, it’s almost like mariachi band. I think it’s a good entirety as an album. We had 18 songs that we recorded for it. I chose 12 out of the 18.

Sleaze Roxx: Will any of those songs that were left off be released as b-sides?

Michael Monroe: Well, two of the leftover tracks are going to be bonus tracks in Japan and one of them is going to be a bonus, somewhere later. The other ones were too good to be bonus tracks so we’ll save them for the next album.

Sleaze Roxx: Fantastic. So obviously of the 18 songs, there was a lot of really good material?

Michael Monroe: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of creative energy in this band. There’s a lot of talent and I encourage everyone to write. It’s really like a band situation. I like to collaborate with people and I think it’s more fun that way. The end result is always better. Everybody’s allowed to write and I actually encourage that. I don’t want to stifle anybody’s creativity in the band. That way we get the best — the best songs make the album regardless of who wrote it. Luckily, I don’t have an ego that would get in the way. Also, I am not a control freak, so that’s easy.

Sleaze Roxx: That was actually going to be my next question. As I was reading the press release of the album, it was mentioned that everyone in your band had input or collaborated with you in the songwriting department. Would you say that that could be why there is so much versatility? The fact that everybody’s coming together and having their input that’s creating that sound.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, I think that definitely helps even though we all like the same kind of music. We all have similar tastes in music and our outlook on life, you still get a lot of different influences that way. It takes a lot of pressure off of me and having to write everything myself. Some of the guys like Rich [Jones] and Steve [Conte], they write lyrics too. When they write lyrics, they’re kind of inside my head. I can see stuff that they’ve written, I’m going, “Wait a minute! I can stand behind every word!” It’s like I was talking myself. It’s great that they put themselves into my place. We know each other so well now. We’ve been together for almost ten years with this band, so it’s a really tight unit and a great positive vibe. We’re the best of friends. It works great that way.

Michael Monroe‘s “Last Train To Tokyo” video (from album One Man Gang):

Michael Monroe – Last Train To Tokyo (Official Video)

“Last Train To Tokyo” is the second single from Michael Monroe’s dirty and dangerous new album “One Man Gang” available to pre-order NOW on CD, Coloured Viny…

Sleaze Roxx: That is awesome and there is something to be said about that. That is hard to find, right?

Michael Monroe: Yeah!

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of that, I think it’s great that yourself and Sam Yaffa have remained friends and bandmates for many years. What do you attribute that longstanding relationship to? Music?

Micheal Monroe: Music and we’re just like blood brothers. We grew up together. We got to know each other at a young age. We were 15, 16 years old when we started Hanoi Rocks. The first half of the year, we moved to Stockholm from Helsinki. Me, Sammy and Nasty Suicide. The three of us were in the streets. There was a bond that was born from a time that really never goes away. It’s always there. Him and Nasty — although Nasty doesn’t play professionally anymore. He’s a pharmacist. He’s got a straight job. He rebelled against being a 24/7, street credibility rock n’ roll rebel. He rebelled against that and became a straight guy. He had to get away from the environment because I think because of drinking and stuff. It’s always a temptation when you’re around the rock n’ roll scene. There always seems to be drinks. I think it was good for him to get away from that environment. I don’t know if he had a problem with that. He seems much better off like this. He comes to our shows and plays every now and then. He jams with us. He comes to play with us on the 19th of October. We’re playing at Tavastia Club in Helsinki and he’s coming to jam with us.

Sleaze Roxx: That actually led into the next question because he plays on “Wasted Years”.

Michael Monroe: Yeah. He does play the guitar solo. It’s great.

Sleaze Roxx: Was this a song that when it was written, you thought that possibly Nasty would be a perfect fit to play on? How did that all transpire?

Michael Monroe: We were talking about who we going to have guest on the record and because Nasty’s played at a lot of our shows, we figured why not invite him to the studio and have him play a solo on a song or two. He did come out and we just figured that song was suitable for him to play a solo on, which it was and he just came in. It was so cool. He did it in one take. I said, “Oh that was it! Just do another one for the hell of it! That was great!” The song was called “Wasted Years” which was of course has a connection to Hanoi. “All Those Wasted Years” — so we didn’t even think of that when we had Nasty playing the song. It was inadvertent that it happened. Afterwards I figured, “Wait a minute, Nasty plays on a song called ‘Wasted Years.’ That’s perfect!” You know it was unplanned. It just happened.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s like it was meant to be. That is amazing. That is one of my favorite all-time live records. I love that album.

Michael Monroe: Thanks. Okay, that’s nice to hear!

Michael Monroe performing “Wasted Years” with Nasty Suicide on guitar in Helsinki, Finland on October 19, 2019:

Michael Monroe, Wasted Years (NEW)( feat. Nasty Suicide,) Tavastia, Helsinki 19 .10 .2019

Michael Monroe´s brand new song Wasted Years from the new album One Man Gang!

Sleaze Roxx: This might be a funny question, “Last Train To Tokyo” speaks of the Orient. There always seemed to be an admiration for that part of the world. Was this something that you made a conscious effort to do, or was it just something that came naturally? Tokyo, Hanoi, Bangkok, Saigon etc. Was this just an obvious thing to do?

Michael Monroe: [Laughs] Well I mean, Japan was always — the band was called Hanoi Rocks and I always liked the Japanese culture. I liked the Japanese writing and stuff. When I had the rose tattoo made, I had a guy writing Hanoi Rocks in the Japanese kind of style. It became our logo. It was the coolest name of any band I could imagine. Japanese culture, I always loved. I love the geisha girls. I love the colors, the komonos. We always had a really warm relationship with Japan. The rest of the far east — actually the album title of the first Hanoi album — ‘Bangkok Rocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks’ — that was Jim Pembroke, who was a member of the band called Wig Wam, who were kind of a prog-rock band from Finland in the late ’60s. They are one of my favorite bands actually. So, Jim Pembroke was the keyboard player and wrote most of the songs. He heard our band was called Hanoi Rocks and he said right away, “Bangkok Rocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks.” We said, “Hey, that’s a great title for the first album.” So that’s where we got it from. We didn’t end up playing in Bangkok. We played in India and all these weird places. Not so much the central Europe. which you would have thought would be a little greener. Never played in Italy, Spain or France. In Germany, only a couple of gigs, which was strange because it’s only the biggest market in Europe. So for some reason, I don’t know why we didn’t play in central Europe that much.

Sleaze Roxx: Now, you guys were in Canada at some point I believe? You recorded in Toronto?

Michael Monroe: Yeah, we were making the last album. “Two Steps From The Move” was recorded there. Partly in New York as well. We rehearsed there with Bob Ezrin. We did the pre-production — some of it in London, then the rest of it in Toronto. Then we recorded the bass tracks in Toronto. I think we came to New York to record at The Record Plant. Part of it was done there, then we went back to Toronto and recorded the rest. Vocals and everything at Phase One Studios in Toronto. So we spent a lot of time there. We even did a couple of gigs during that time, but we were recording there. It’s kind of like Finland there. Wintertime.

Sleaze Roxx: So tell me, what is a “Helsinki Shakedown”? That’s a pretty clever title.

Michael Monroe: “Helsinki Shakedown”? Well, it’s really basically about the daily life of going on the road. Boring, sitting around. Wasting the years of keeping yourself occupied with the long bus rides and waiting around for a lobby call, then sitting on the bus looking out the bus windows. Then everything goes crazy, wild for about two hours or one and a half hours, however long you play. The travelling and all that. Actually, I noticed on this album, “Hollywood Paranoia”, “Helsinki Shakedown” and “Last Train to Tokyo” — we even have a lot of songs on the previous albums, they have a lot of names of places. That’s just the way it goes. We do go to a lot of places.

Sleaze Roxx: I was recently at a Tora Tora show in Detroit and there was a guy wearing a Michael Monroe t-shirt from 2011. I thought, “Oh, that’s cool! I have an interview with him next week!” It was ironic I guess.

Michael Monroe: Cool! That was probably the ‘Sensory Overdrive’?

Sleaze Roxx: Yes it was! I noticed it right away.

Michael Monroe: Cool! With my eye in extreme close-up.

Sleaze Roxx: That’s right. Oh, it is your eye?

Michael Monroe: It is my eye.

Sleaze Roxx: That’s a very interesting cover.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, I like that one. It’s one of my favorite covers.

Sleaze Roxx: I love the ‘Not Fakin’ It’ cover as well. The way that they did it was – I am not sure what you would call that, but the photography and the way it stands out with the colors. It’s just a cool cover.

Michael Monroe: Yeah it was. I was thinking of “Clockwork Orange” when we took that photo. It was a poster that really caught your attention. It was like, “Hello you fucks! Here I am!”

Sleaze Roxx: There was the other album that came out, but it didn’t come out in North America. The one before ‘Not Fakin’ It.’ That was you being back as a solo artist. I went out and got it right away because I wanted to check it out. I was excited for it.

Michael Monroe: That was ‘Nights Are So Long’!

Sleaze Roxx: Yes. I do have the Japanese CD.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, that cover was like I was still in the shade. My face wasn’t quite clear. With ‘Not Fakin’ It’, I was ready to go. “Hey Motherfuckers, here I am!” That was kind of my thought behind it. ‘Nights Are So Long’ only came out in Japan and Scandanavia. I used it as an international demo kind of to get signed worldwide. It was on Polygram Records. I still had a lot of covers on that album and I wasn’t quite confident about my own stuff yet. By the time ‘Not Fakin’ It’ came out, I was ready so to speak.

Sleaze Roxx: Is “Shakedown” on that album?

Michael Monroe: That’s on ‘Not Fakin’ It’.

Sleaze Roxx: There is a tune off of ‘Not Fakin’ It’ that is on ‘Nights Are So Long’?

Michael Monroe: Yeah, that’s “She’s No Angel.” That’s the first song on ‘Nights Are So Long’ and the third song on ‘Not Fakin’ It’ which was a cover song originally done by The Heavy Metal Kids. We did stuff with Casino Steel from The Boys. Gary Holten and Casino Steel — they made four albums. The first one is my favorite. They also covered “She’s No Angel.” I think it was the second album.

Sleaze Roxx: You like to dive deep into the obscure music, which I think is amazing because it’s better than doing covers that everyone already knows. You dig in a little deeper than most would.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, I like to present good bands, good songs that nobody ever hears of anymore. Kind of present them to a new generation.

Sleaze Roxx: “Low Life in High Places” has a very early Hanoi vibe. I love your execution on the vocal. In spots, you almost sound like there is desperation in your voice. Was there a conscious effort to possibly give the fans something reminiscent to Hanoi? Or is it just coincidental? It’s you, so it may just sound that way.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, it’s me because I wasn’t thinking of Hanoi at all. It was just a coincidence I guess. It’s cool to hear that though. The explosion at the end of that song was a mixture of Stiv Bators / The Dead Boys. It was a tribute to Stiv Bators. The Dead Boys’ first album ends with that bang at the end of “Down In Flames.” That was mixed together with Stiv Bators, The Wanderers album that he made after The Dead Boys and the “Disconnected” solo album. He had this band The Wanderers. They made only one album called ‘Only Lovers Left Alive.’ The last song on that album is called “There’ll Be No Tomorrow.” At the end of it, there’s a nuclear explosion. That was mixed together with The Dead Boys end of the first album plus a thing I did with my mouth in the mike with a little echo. When I did the vocals for the demo at home I made this explosion myself. It was like, “Crrr” you know. Echo and reverb. That was all mixed together at the end of the album. With the explosions, it’s just an inside thing triggered to Stiv.

Sleaze Roxx: I was going to talk about Demolition 23 because that album was dedicated to Stiv Bators as well.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, “Deadtime Stories” was dedicated to him. Pretty much the whole album was Stiv and Johnny Thunders. Heroes like that. “Deadtime Stories” was about 15 titles from Stiv’s songs — The Dead Boys to his solo stuff.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m just looking at that CD. I’m going to have to listen to it again. I haven’t listened to it in a while. I have it here in my hand. I have a Japanese copy of it.

Michael Monroe: Cool. Yeah, that’s one of my best. ‘Not Fakin’ It’ and ‘Demolition 23’ — they’re the two best albums from the past in my opinion.

Sleaze Roxx: I also have the Jerusalem Slim album here.

Michael Monroe: Oh forget that. That was a mistake. That was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Usually I get the quality of my stuff with that being the most important thing for me. I don’t care what, just as long as the albums I make are great. When Steve Stevens approached me and wanted to work with me, we made some demos for about a year. It seemed like it was going in the right direction. The guy looked the part and he’s a great player but then I was kind of concerned about him doing that two hands on the neck and noodling. He can play the Chuck Berry style too. So he did. I wanted Little Steven to produce that. Steven produced the Demolition 23 album. That’s why it’s such a great record. If Steven had produced the Jerusalem Slim album, it could have been good but then the record label wouldn’t go for that. Polygram wanted Michael Wagener, this German metal producer, who was the flavour of the month at the time. He had mixed Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘No More Tears.’ They thought he was the flavor of the month. Them two together, it just turned to shit. The whole record. I tried to stop it, then I couldn’t. My manager didn’t support me.

We were in L.A. doing guitars and it was supposed to be two weeks and it turned into three months of hell. My A&R guy was in New York and I just couldn’t stop it. It was my deal with the record label. We came up with a name, Jerusalem Slim, so it wasn’t a Michael Monroe record. I suggested they call it Michael Monroe, ‘Fakin’ It’! [Laughs] The label wouldn’t go for that. I said “Hey, the band is called Jerusalem Slim” which Sami Yaffa suggested. It’s slang for Jesus right? It became so anal retentive, complicated and stripped the soul of the album. Of course, Michael Wagener is encouraging Steve to play all these solos a million notes per second. I couldn’t stop it and it ended up costing over $700 000. I would have rather given that money to the homeless. I already owed for ‘Not Fakin’ It’ because they pulled the plug on that record too when I asked them to stop that commercial they had on TV. It said, “Michael Monroe — The brains behind Hanoi Rocks!” Hanoi Rocks had no brains. That was the best thing about the band. I didn’t want to be misrepresented. They said, “You don’t like the commercial?” I said, “No” and they said, “Okay, you want us to pull it?” I said, “Yes!” So they pulled the commercial and they pulled the plug on the whole album. I thought they were going to make a newer commercial but they said, “When you sell millions of records, then you can make demands like that!” I said, “If I’m not presented right, I’d rather do it on my own terms than not at all!” So therefore, I ended up owing there label about a million dollars at the end of Jerusalem Slim. All I could do was get off the label. It took me over a year.

That whole project kind of ruined my career. The worst thing I think was that they put out the album. Then the thing was that at the mixing stage, when I had already just given up all hope, Steve Stevens comes up to me and says, “Hey Michael, Wagener’s mixing it all wrong!” I said, “What? You guys had something in common. You knew something that I didn’t know! Now you’re having a falling out with him?” I said, “Forget it. This album was done wrong from scratch. We recorded wrong. It’s produced wrong. Everything’s wrong with it! We had some songs that could have been good, but it was all wrong!” So he says, “Well, the only thing we can do to save it is to start from scratch”. Which he agreed to do. He said, “Okay, let’s start from scratch!” We went back to New York and we were supposed to start over. We even had this other guy mix one of the songs. It sounded better, but then Steve just disappeared.

Next thing I know, I saw [Steve] playing with Vince Neil, the Mötley Crüe singer, [who was] starting a solo career. I saw the MTV awards ceremony on TV and Steve was playing with Vince Neil all of a sudden. He disappeared and ended up playing with him. As I looked at him, I said, “Well, forget about this!” The worst thing was that they put out his album and that was the worst thing that happened to me. Really that whole thing ruined my career. It took me over a year to get off the label. My deal was points for like ten years, but then a little over a year into it. One day, my lawyer called me and said, “Look, Michael they dropped you!” I said, “Alright! Fantastic! Thank God!” I called Little Steven and said, “Steven, I’m free! Now we can make a record that I always wanted with you producing!” And he says, “You know Michael, it’s great! One day, you make a million and next day you don’t!”

Sleaze Roxx: I always thought that Steve Stevens did Vince Neil before Jerusalem Slim. I didn’t realize it was before he went the Vince Neil.

Michael Monroe: Oh no, yeah, it’s the other way around. He took a song — there was a song we had called “Down With The Mobile”, that had a chorus that said, “Can’t have your cake and eat it too!” We wrote the song together with Steve. Steve took it to Vince Neil. They changed the melody, but the chorus was the same. “Can’t have your cake and eat it too!” It’s the same song basically.

Sleaze Roxx: Did you get any credit?

Michael Monroe: Steve took credit. I got no credit. He credited himself and to Vince Neil. Even my label, Polygram, they had my merchandise, publishing and everything. I said, “At least you have a case now! You can clearly see that they ripped it off!” I should get credit. They have half of my publishing. “Now you have a case. Do something about this!” They didn’t do anything. I said, “Okay fine!” I was just so glad to get off the label. After that, with Little Steven, we made the record that I always wanted. Everything that went wrong with Jerusalem Slim went right with Demolition 23 musically. That’s a great album. We just didn’t have a big label. It came out on Music For Nations in Europe. It never came out in America.

Sleaze Roxx: I got it on eBay. Mine is the Japanese copy as I stated previously.

Michael Monroe: Europe and Japan, but it never came out in the States.

Sleaze Roxx: I think how I ended up with it was that it popped up on eBay. I didn’t even know it existed. I was actually buying something else and there it was. I bid on it and I won.

Michael Monroe: Wow! That’s a great record. That one and ‘Not Fakin’ It’, in my opinion are the best work in the past. In the old years.

Sleaze Roxx: Before I let you go, back in the late ’80s, I was mesmerized by the early Hanoi albums. There was something that always drew me into the band. Up until the late ’80s, those early albums were hard to come by. When Geffen re-released them on the Uzi Suicide label on colored vinyl, I had to have those, but in Canada, the vinyls were hard to come by, so I settled for the cassettes. How was it that these recordings ended up being released on the Guns N’ Roses subsidiary label? To this day, I have still not gotten one of those colored vinyls.

Michael Monroe: Guns N’ Roses wanted to release those albums [on the] Uzi Suicide label because they truly wanted to make people know about Hanoi Rocks because they liked it so much. Frankly, they took the right thing about Hanoi — the attitude. They still had their own thing. I’m always thankful for them for speaking so highly of Hanoi. There were a lot of bands in the late ’80s — hair metal bands that missed the whole point. It was all about big hair, posing and partying. Not so much about the music. To us, it was all about music, playing, the attitude, more punky. There’s a lot of bands that ended up selling a lot of records too, but their songs were stupid. It was phony rock n’ roll. They played the hairspray cans better than the instruments. Thank God for Guns N’ Roses and thank God they got so big because they had the right attitude and style. They’re for real. Slash is a great player. A great guy. It’s the right style of guitar. Duff McKagan. They’re really sweethearts and they’ve still got the right attitude. They released a back catalog of our Europeon catalog on Uzi Suicide in America. Those records were not available so they just wanted to spread awareness of Hanoi Rocks. I am forever thankful for them.

Sleaze Roxx: I have the Deadline box set, but those colored vinyl’s are hard to find.

Michael Monroe: Yeah, they can be hard to find. I really appreciate you being such a fan. It’s really great. I think Hanoi’s style was not leather or anything like that. We had a unique style. Pretty classy in my opinion if I do say so myself. No bands looked like that. They always had more like the leather and the rougher kind of look. We had five guys and we all had really strong personalities. It’s a shame that the band never got bigger than we did. With the style, it would have influenced more bands in a cool way as opposed to what came out afterwards. Whatever can’t be changed no

Sleaze Roxx: Was the expectation when you did ‘Two Steps From The Move’, that that album was going to push you guys a little further?

Michael Monroe: Oh yeah! That’s when we first starting touring America. Our first American tour and then the accident happened with Razzle. We were definitely on the verge of getting into something big at the time. That was also the first album — I thought that was the best album we made so far. The first album that I would be able to listen to all the way through without skipping a song. Previous albums always had songs that were a little corny to me, like “Lick Summer Love” from ‘Back To The Mystery City.” I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was really stupid, It was Andy’s [McCoy] kind of thing. I always skip that one when I listen to it. The first album, yeah, “Don’t You Never Leave Me”, the new version was so much better on ‘Two Steps From The Move.’ I couldn’t even sing when the first version was recorded on the first album. That was definitely the best album that we did as an entirety that we had made. It was a really strong record. That album was on its way and that would have been a big record if the band hadn’t ended before we got a chance to tour. That was the first American tour and from there we were going to tour big on that one. There were big plans, hopes and expectations. Of course, at the time nobody could imagine that something would go that wrong. It’s just bad luck you know!

Sleaze Roxx: I used to listen to that album constantly. I love that album. To me, it wasn’t the norm of what was coming out at the time. Hanoi Rocks had their own style. It was that distinctive style that you had drew me in. Some people didn’t get it and there were people that really got it. The guys in Guns N’ Roses got it. Sebastian Bach loves Hanoi Rocks. Anyways, Michael I think that’s all I’ve got. I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Michael Monroe: Great. Definitely. Thank you so much. It was good talking to you!

Michael Monroe‘s “Man With No Eyes” video (from Not Fakin’ It album):

Michael Monroe – Man With No Eyes(1990)

This is the Hanoi Rocks lead singer Michael Monroe’s single called Man With No Eyes, enjoyyy!!!