Michael Monroe on ‘Horns and Halos’ and the key to happiness.
Time erases a lot of things. It is, as William Faulkner once put it, the mausoleum of all hope and desire. I don’t remember everything about my teenage years. There was a lot of loneliness, a lot of anger and a lot of confusion. Sometimes it feels so unreal it is like it didn’t even happen at all. One thing I don’t think I can ever forget is the first time I saw a picture of Michael Monroe, the reigning prince of my newly found obsession in music: glam rock. I was a romantic kid, lovesick over a rock starlet wanna-be. She had put Michael Monroe’s photo up on her MSN Messenger and I was enthralled by this perfect creature in all his golden blonde, teased and dazzling star power. Was it a man? Was it a woman? I couldn’t care less. Whatever it was I loved it. So I asked her about it and that, ladies and gents, is how I eventually discovered Hanoi Rocks. I gathered bits and pieces, everything that I could get my hands on while I was growing up. The girl came and went but the music stayed. It was among other things so different to what all my friends were listening to: it was melodic, it hit you like a supernova and the lyrics – wow, they were always beautiful. No sex, no booze, no drugs, no fights, no loudmouth self-proclamations of badassness….
They were songs I could relate to and just like that: the angry, lonely kid wasn’t so angry or alone anymore. That is all a true story. After Hanoi Rocks were finally put to bed in 2009 Michael Monroe went on and formed his own band with former Hanoi Rocks member, Sami Yaffa, and other legends such as Dregen of Backyard Babies and the Hellacopters, and Steve Conte of New York Dolls. The band released the wildly successful Sensory Overdrive album in 2010 which thrilled audiences worldwide, proving that Michael is still the furious, loose-jointed and energetic king of the stage. In 2013 the band released their new album Horns and Halos and lo and behold! The kid got to meet one of his heroes and believe me; I don’t have many. I couldn’t feel my feet and I’ll surely remember the meeting my whole life.
Andy (HMA): Hi, Michael. Thank you for taking the time to talk to Heavy Music Artwork.
Michael Monroe: My pleasure!
Andy (HMA): Let’s start off with ‘Horns and Halos’. This is your ninth album and it is number one on the Official Finnish Album Charts. How does it feel? Did you expect it to be instantly successful?
Michael Monroe: Oh I never expect anything. I hope for the best and I’m happy when it happens. The album entered number one on the charts, so did ‘Sensory Overdrive’. With this one actually, it went gold in four days which never happened before. So it entered number one on the charts in Finland and in the UK it was number nineteen. It’s great. I’m very pleased about the reaction, fantastic reviews, people seem to love it and we made a different record, we didn’t try to re-create the last one even though it was so well received. This one has its own thing and a lot of people say they like it even better than the previous one, so – can’t be better than that.
Andy (HMA): You’ve said that the title is a reflection of the duality of human nature. Are you a spiritual person?
Michael Monroe: Yeah I am but you know it’s the universe, the basic facts of life to me. Ying and Yang. The two opposites. The two extremes. Covers the whole scheme of the universe so it’s a great title. At first I thought it might be a little bit too religious but then when we ended up looking at the track titles we had on the album, we had songs like ‘Eighteen Angels’ and ‘Soul Surrender’ and ‘Ritual’. Just very spiritual connotations. Dregen came up with the album title. I thought it was a really great name of the album but as I said, maybe a bit too religious. It actually took us a year before we came back to it. That’s just how it is, sometimes you have to work your way around the block and come back to things.
Andy (HMA): The album has all these different flavours. This time the whole band was much more involved.
Michael Monroe: Well there’s a little bit of everything for everybody. We just started writing some songs and we figured we’d see what comes out of them. Everyone lives in different parts of the world so for us it was kind of like – it was hard to have everyone in the same place at the same time, so we had to take advantage of the time we did have together. For the U.S. tour, we booked five days in New York at Steve’s rehearsal place. We started laying down some tracks and recording some demos. And at the end of the tour, we ended up in L.A. and booked four days in the studio there. The actual album we recorded in November last year in less than three weeks in Stockholm, that’s where the actual recording took place. With the demos, most of the songs were the same tempo so like in ‘Ritual’ that evil solo that Steve does. There was something magical about the solo in the demo; just a single take we thought was special. So we could take the best of everything and work with that.
Andy (HMA): Do you have a favourite track off the album?
Michael Monroe: Ah so many of them. I like ‘Ritual’. ‘TNT Diet’, I really like. ‘Horns and Halos’, everyone likes that one. ‘Soul Surrender’, ‘Child of the Revolution’ and ‘Eighteen Angels’…. I like so many of them that it’s hard to say. But the ones I just said are definitely some of my favourites.
Andy (HMA): ‘Ballad of the Lower East Side’ feels like a trip down memory lane. What do you miss most about New York in those days?
Michael Monroe: The good old bad days! Nah I don’t miss them. I was there and today I feel better than ever, I’m happier than ever in my life. I feel like these days are the best days but yeah, there are some fun memories, cool stories and things that happened back then. It’s all history, I’m just glad I was there and a part of it and I’m glad I survived it. [Knocks on wooden table in dressing room.] New York City has changed a lot. It was different and some of the fascinations was the seedy side of it but it’s been cleaned up, which is not a bad thing, just different. It is still one of the greatest cities in the world. The song reflects those old days and that fascination that is in the past now.
Andy (HMA): ‘Stained Glass Heart’ is e a beautiful song, it has especially beautiful lyrics. What does the song mean personally to you?
Michael Monroe: Yeah, I really love that one. Steve wrote the lyrics. He really came through as a great writer. I have lyrics for most of the songs myself but I liked Steve’s lyrics better. To me, the song is about being fragile and at the same time having the strength to go on. We’re kind of like that in the band too. We have things we don’t let out but we’re all connected to one another and to the audience. We’re all together in this and we’re gonna soldier on. I’m like the song in a way. I’ve always been kind of fragile but then I have a tough side.
Andy (HMA): Once again the album cover design is awesome. This time it is more minimalist than ‘Sensory Overdrive’. I know it was a collaborative work. The photos are by Ville Juurikkalla and the logo concept is by Dregen. Could you tell me a bit more about how it all came together?
Michael Monroe: Dregen suggested that every band wants to have something memorable like the AC/DC logo. That is genius. Or the heartagram by H.I.M. That’s what Dregen was going for. I think Sammy also had a part in deciding the logo with the MM and the horns and the halos. Dregen really pushed for that. It really came out great. I thought: “Finally we’ve got some kinda logo we can use as the Michael Monroe band logo, something people hopefully in the future will recognize.”
Andy (HMA): So it’s going to stick with the band?
Michael Monroe: Yeah I think it’s a good one. Do you like it?
Andy (HMA): I think it’s very cool. It also reflects that side of you and I guess of everyone: that we’re all good and bad. Horns and halos.
Michael Monroe: [Laughter]. Yeah! Angels and devils. Two extremes that will always be at odds.
Andy (HMA): The music video for ‘Stained Glass Heart’ was shot in an amusement park?
Michael Monroe: More like abuse-ment park. Cool place and doesn’t look like it does in the video. Ville transformed it through cool shots. The weather was really perfect as well: foggy and rainy. When Steve plays his solo on the rollercoaster the rain is natural.
Andy (HMA): How has the tour been? You were in Japan, you’re here now, you’re going to Finland next.
Michael Monroe: Yeah Japan was fantastic as usual and we had some great shows here. Some say the promotion hasn’t been good here so we call it the ‘word of mouth tour’. [Laughter]. It happens.
Andy (HMA): I know you’ve put Hanoi Rocks to bed but as someone who has grown up with your music, I have to ask, do you ever miss those days?
Michael Monroe: It has been put to bed but you know…. In the ’80s. The original Hanoi Rocks. I’m just glad we’ve maintained that integrity of the band. That was more important to me than anything else. Then the rebirth was just to see what we could do with Andy after so many years. Then again I’m glad we put that to bed as well. The final gigs were a nice tribute to everything we had done. By the end Andy had learned to respect me as a songwriter, it was cool to see what we could do if we’d actually been equal partners. It ran its course and it is in the past now.
Andy (HMA): Michael, I think you’re a genuinely wise person. What do you think is the key to happiness?
Michael Monroe: Thank you. The key is appreciating what you have and not always be looking for something more, and being miserable because you’re not getting it. I’m easily pleased. I think the key is appreciating what you have and not focusing on what you don’t have. And also staying true to yourself, don’t compromise your integrity.
Andy (HMA): What is the one piece of advice you’d give young artists – not just musicians: writers, film-makers, painters and poets – that might help them achieve their dreams?
Michael Monroe: Stay true to yourself. Develop your own personality. That is the strongest part of you. Integrity is what it is all about. Doing it for yourself and on your own terms, and if people like it, and you get successful that is great, that is a plus on top of it. First you gotta do it for the right reasons. Don’t sell your soul or try to please someone. Don’t do this or that just because you think someone will like you more or you’ll be more successful. The right motivation would be to create good art from the heart. That is what I would encourage people to do. Play, write, paint from the heart and then you have that special thing; no one can take it away from you. That is true happiness to me.
Andy (HMA): Thank you for this wonderful experience. You are one of my heroes and it was an honour for me. Kiitos.
Michael Monroe: [Reaching out and giving me a hug.] Kiitos! Thank you too!
Copyright 2014 © Interview by Andy Starz, Heavy Music Artwork. All Rights Reserved.