Michael Monroe / Hanoi Rocks
On the phone with Philip Anderson - October 2000
Of all the hard knock rock 'n' roll stories out there, you can't get one as tough as Michael Monroe's life. Here is a singer who has always been primed for the limelight but, for some reason or another, has always been shoved off the lift at the most crucial moments and had to start over again. As lead singer for the infamous "cowboy glam" Finnish rock band Hanoi Rocks, Michael Monroe was a focal point whose face could be seen practically everywhere. His spiky blonde mane and glam accessories could not be ignored as wild eyes peered out from album covers, posters and magazines. In addition to this, his look was one of asexual femininity - adorned with feather boas and scarves, sporting wild long platinum blonde hair - while his voice roared and growled with low testosterone-infused masculinity that only then served to confuse many. Here was a man who sounded nothing like one might expect by appearance. Michael definitely came from the advanced school of androgeny as did an early Mick Jagger and David Bowie.
All looks aside, what many people might not have ever realized is that, aside from being a frontman, here was a true all-around musician who had talent - and the intelligence to craft thoughtful lyrics. Mr. Monroe is a true Renaissance man and a one-man band.
The death of drummer Razzle, at the hand's of Mötley Crüe's singer Vince Neil brought about the demise of the seminally popular Hanoi Rocks. Devastated, Michael then pushed forward with his own project which eventually created the album "Nights Are So Long". Things could have looked up from there but, due to the ever-present legalities in the recording business, the album was pretty much locked up after the first pressing and has not really been available since.
Death has not been uncommon in Michael's life as, outside of his first album being basically squashed and also losing friend and bandmate Razzle, Michael has had to experience the deaths of two other friends - Stiv Bators [of the Dead Boys and Lords Of The New Church] and Johnny Thunders [New York Dolls]. It would almost appear as though his life is jinxed in some strange way. Nonetheless, Mr. Monroe has kept at it and never let it get him down. The pain and agony of it all has only inspired better and better songwriting, as is the case for many musicians.
We had the chance to finally get to speak with Michael Monroe as he prepared for a new tour of his latest album. After all the years of waiting to meet him, Michael turned out to be a very charming person who loves to talk and is world-experienced enough to have plenty to talk about. His humbleness shines through as well in such a way that is rare amongst many rock performers - and certainly is the opposite of the "prima donna" rumors that some others had circulated before. We spoke about his past as growing up and joining Hanoi Rocks through his current projects and even about some philosophies. Aside from any stage persona or hack media comments, Michael is a real person, down-to-earth through and through.
With so much information to cover, we tended to jump around a bit from subject to subject as thoughts came to mind. He likes to interject some trivial information from time to time to give a proper timeline.
K2K: To get some history about you, when did you actually decide to get into the "business of making music"?
MM: Well, since I left home. I was 17. I was born in 1962, so it was around 1979. 1962 was when the Rolling Stones were born too. In 1962 in the same summer as Marilyn Monroe died. Marilyn Monroe died a couple of months after I was born.
K2K: So, are you the last remaining "bad boy" of rock?
MM: (laughs) I wouldn't say that. There are a lot of worse guys than me.
K2K: I don't mean that in a bad way, just with the wild persona and all.
MM: I'm not a soothsayer or a prophet. I take it as a compliment and I'm pretty fucking bad, ain't I.
K2K: Bad to the bone.
MM: Yeah, but not a bad man.
K2K: I just read that you were called the most aerobic or acrobatic rock 'n' roll performer.
MM: They said that I was most athletic at a festival in Finland this past summer. Well, I do move a lot.
K2K: Aside from the word "rock", how would you describe what you do?
MM: Just rock 'n' roll. When people start categorizing music, it's usually for record companies. They want to be able to call it "metal" or whatever so that they can market a product with a name on it. I think that as soon as you call it something, like "grunge" or whatever, then it's over. They then come out with a million other bands like Nirvana or somebody and try to recreate that thing in order to make a safe investment.
K2K: Which it always ends up killing the industry anyway.
MM: Yeah, it eats itself up. Exactly. They're wasting their time. They call us heavy metal and they call us punk, with Hanoi Rocks. Finally they came up with the glam thing. We grew up when at a time when there were other bands like the Faces and Mott The Hoople, The Stones and all these bands.
K2K: So, it would be more "glitter" rock.
MM: Slade, on a couple of albums. Mott The Hoople
K2K: David Bowie.
MM: Yeah, and the Alice Cooper band. That's my favorite band. "Killer" and "Love It To Death". That was my favorite band then.
K2K: Well, the closest description that I could come up with for Hanoi Rocks was "cowboy glam".
MM: Yeah, yeah! That could be. We had a thing with Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls and we were called the Trash Cowboys. I had a Monday night at The Grand in New York. I was doing every Monday at The Grand in New York and it was called Glam Trash Punk. I would just call it rock. The glam and the heavy or whatever, I've never really considered myself heavy metal.
K2K: You have a lot of variety though.
MM: Yeah, it's pretty hard but it's not "hard rock". I don't know, I guess you could say it's hard. It's rock. High energy rock 'n' roll.
K2K: Rock 'n' roll with louder guitars and more distortion.
MM: Yeah, and more energy and songs that say something more than the usual superficial crap.
K2K: So, when did you first decide that this was what you wanted to do?
MM: When I saw Black Sabbath on TV in 1970. I was 8 years old. That was Live In Paris. It was after "Master Of Reality" had just come out or something.
K2K: So you were influenced by Black Sabbath?
MM: Yeah, not many people know this. It turns out that, a while ago, I started thinking of who really got me started, but then I got into the Stones and Little Richard and everything. First thing that really got me thinking that I wanted to be a singer was when I saw Ozzy Osbourne leaping about on that show in 1970. I thought, "I want to be like that guy and go nuts on stage." Then I also bought all the Sabbath albums, as a kid. Whenever I had money, I went to buy the newest Black Sabbath - up until "Sabbotage". Then I left home. I always loved Black Sabbath and not many people know that. I'm not interested in heavy metal otherwise. You've got it all there in Black Sabbath. Yeah, you've heard all the Metallica records and everything when you hear Black Sabbath. All you need is the first Black Sabbath record - or the first six. I used to listen to them all day long, each album, one after the other. My mother loved it, I'm sure. (laughs) With the bass on full.
K2K: As far as your image, how much were you influenced by Mick Jagger or even, say, David Bowie or New York Dolls? Who actually influenced you for your image?
MM: I was going to say New York Dolls were one of my favorite bands but you get tired of the two albums and wish that they had made more. Not as much the Dolls as Johnny Thunder's Heartbreakers, when we started Hanoi Rocks. "Chinese Rocks" was the first name that Andy [McCoy] suggested. I said that that was too close to Johnny's song and we couldn't have that. He said, "How about Hanoi Rocks?" I was like, "Oh, right!" I saw the past, present and the future. I went, "Wow! That's the name. I know that's the name."
K2K: Where you the only one who dressed so effeminately or did the whole band dress up?
MM: I think I was the most [flamboyant]. I could pretty much get away with anything. Andy and them weren't so feminine. Nasty [Suicide] even wore lipstick. I didn't wear lipstick except the first few years. In Hanoi, I wore lipstick the first few years and then I stopped. People thought that I always wore lipstick. It's just the way my lips are colored. The coloring of my lips is such that people think I'm wearing lipstick when I'm not. Nasty put on a lot of makeup in the early days, and Andy too, but they weren't wearing, like, the feather boas and stuff.
So, I would say that my biggest influence, Little Richard was the first one who started wearing makeup and doing his hair like that. He was the first one who inspired me. He was so crazy that I loved him. From the Alice Cooper band - "Love It To Death" up until "Billion Dollar Babies" - that was one of the things. The Dolls influenced of course, Thunders. The Rolling Stones, yeah, for sure. I've always loved the Stones. And the Faces.
K2K: Yeah, Rod Stewart. OK. I see a lot of Mick Jagger in you with you being tall and with your movements and all.
MM: You do? I'm curious. I don't have any problems with that. I know I have my own "schtick". I got ya.
K2K: Did you get any kind of hassles for how you dressed and looked?
MM: Yeah? I always got hassled for how I dressed. I always got stared at.
K2K: Did you dress that way even off the stage?
MM: Yeah. 24 hours, man. I lived this shit. Ian Hunter told me, "I don't know how you do it. You do it 24 hours. I only visit that area of the rock thing." That doesn't mean that I'm getting fucked up and having parties. I never liked to hang out with more than a couple of people at a time. I got a lot of trouble for the way I looked in the early days with Hanoi when we started in Finland. The fashion was like American Graffiti. It looked like the '50s in the States. It was totally nuts with people - anybody who looked different got beat up. You couldn't go to the Central Station in Helsinki on the weekend. It was like suicide if you had long hair. We wore makeup and stuff.
One weekend we walked through there and Andy had this Teddy-Boy getup. Pull up Creepers and all that. They were intolerant. I think that Hanoi Rocks helped to make Finnish people to become more open-minded.
K2K: How hard was it to start in Finland?
MM: Well, the first thing that we wanted to do was to get the fuck out of there. We didn't really start there. We put the band together and went to Stockholm. The first drummer was Swedish. We lived in Stockholm for the first year and a half and then moved to London. We were in the streets. Me, Nasty and Sammy lived in the streets in Stockholm for the first half of the year, with nothing. Hanoi was totally poor.
In the early tours, like in Finland, there was this gang after us. I woke up on the tour bus one night, we were stopped at a gas station. I woke up with the window knocked out on top of me. Somebody had smashed the window from the outside. I looked down the aisle of the bus and all of the windows, one at a time, were busted in. They were trying to get us. The roadies kind of looked like us and they were trying to get the one more roadie out of the gas station. This gang would have killed us if they got us. It was ten guys with crowbars. They smashed the bus so bad that we couldn't continue. We had to get a new bus and continue the tour.
K2K: Why were they so pissed off?
MM: They were pissed off because they thought we were junkies and faggots. Just because of the way we lookedight? The bus was demolished. We took it to the cops the next day, in the local village. The cops said, "Oh, I know. That was our boys. They weren't serious. They were just fooling around. They were only kidding."
Nowadays, in Finland, everybody recognizes me. I'm like a national hero. (laughs) They're all really happy to see me. In this city, if anybody becomes big, they usually move out of here. I'm like somebody who conquered the world and came back to Turku. It's a big city though.
K2K: You like living in Turku?
MM: Yeah, it's nice and peaceful and I've got a nice flat. I live right by a river and have no neighbors. I had two summer houses and both had mold in them. Mold is a big problem here.
K2K: I've heard about the mold in Finland. Has that always been a problem?
MM: In the last few years it's been a big thing because they've discovered it in a lot of houses. It's dangerous and can be [fatal]. Little babies can die. It's become a big thing with a lot of lawsuits and court cases against landlords. They still try to keep it hush-hush.
I know from a guy who came to check my house, all the buildings in Finland, or about 70%, used this stuff in the ceilings or roofs. It's something that is made from bone marrow or something organic. It's fine so long as it doesn't get wet. If it gets wet, it produces this totally lethal mold that will kill you. It hasn't become that kind of problem yet, but if it does, it's fucked. Anyway, that's why I moved out of my last summer home because there was no fresh air and it smelled like shit most of the time. I had my old well, in which the water was undrinkable because it was in the middle of a field that my landlord - a farmer - was fertilizing and it would go in the water. So, the countryside is nice to visit, but not to live permanently. I'm still having problems just surviving. Just to drive to the nearest store, nothing was open past seven o'clock. To get anything, you had to drive half an hour to get to a store. I couldn't get up the hill to get to rehearsal. To get up a hill took two hours because of the ice. I had to cancel a flight to New York once because of a snowstorm. Stuff like that. I started wondering why I'm bothering.
K2K: So, are you going to stay or move again?
MM: Right now I'm staying here. I like it here. We'll see in a month or two.
K2K: Now, you moved out of New York because it became stifling to your career?
MM: Yeah, there was no reason to be there.
K2K: Why didn't you move to Los Angeles or something?
MM: Because I never liked L.A.
K2K: I don't blame you.
MM: I like to visit there but not to stay there. For one, I have no car. Also, the first time I went there, Razzle died. The first time that I saw the Hollywood sign was when I went to go look at his body.
(We got to talking just a bit about the incident of [Mötley Crüe singer] Vince Neil's drunk driving accident which resulted in the death of Hanoi Rock's drummer, Razzle. To note: Michael had, and has, never met Vince. Razzle had only met Vince in London, once, with Andy [McCoy], the previous year to go have a drink. Unlike previous stories made public, Mötley Crüe was not the "great friends" with Hanoi Rocks as people are led to believe. In Michael's humbleness, he says only that he wishes no ill will against anybody.)
K2K: To get into your multi-levels of talents, what else do you play aside from singing, saxophone and harmonica?
MM: I played guitar on the last two albums.
K2K: Which I thought were brilliant, by the way.
MM: Thank you. That means a lot to me. Not many people noticed that I played guitar on those albums, except now on "Life Gets You Dirty", it's getting a little more known.
K2K: Your guitar playing is very good though. I'm surprised that you hadn't played before.
MM: Oh, thank you. I didn't play mainly because Hanoi had two good guitar players and, live, I don't want to play more than one song as a special treat to others and myself - because it takes away from being the frontman. You can't move the same.
K2K: I was surprised that you did play as well as you do. Have you always played?
MM: I've always played but I never practiced. I just had a feel. I didn't practice before the record because my guitar was in hock.
K2K: I know that feeling right now.
MM: (laughs) Yeah, that's the difference between professional musicians and amateur musicians because the amateur always has money and the professional is always broke - because he doesn't have a day job.
K2K: Who are your influences for guitar?
MM: Well (reflectively), for guitar, I really hadn't thought about it. Keith Richards is one of my favorite guitarists. Johnny Thunders. Angus Young in the early, Bon Scott, days. Him and Malcolm Young together.
K2K: Well, things change [in regards to AC/DC], but they don't.
MM: I think they changed their music a little heavier - and half-tempo. It isn't as rocking as the earlier stuff. In guitar players, I'm forgetting someone. I like the Alice Cooper albums - Glen Buxton. I don't know, I heard that on the early albums, they used some other players. Even Rick Derringer plays on some. There was Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. They played on "Welcome To My Nightmare" and then on, but apparently had done some session stuff early on. They used to play with Lou Reed. I also liked Mick Ronson, mainly with Ian Hunter. I wasn't really into Bowie. I didn't hate him, I just wasn't that into it.
K2K: I know Mick is legendary but, as a guitarist, I never got what the big deal was about Mick Ronson. Fill me in.
MM: What I say is, look at Ian Hunter's first solo album. The one with "Once Bitten, Twice Shy". The band that had a hit with it, The White Whale?...
K2K: Oh, Great White?
MM: Yeah, that. One of the "W" bands. At one time there was Warrant, Whitesnake... The "W" bands, I used to call them. However, the first Ian solo album has such a great sound. Track number six on the CD.
K2K: Do you enjoy recording the instruments on your albums or having others do it?
MM: Well, if the band works great, then that's great. I don't have to have to play all the instruments. I just had a bass player and drummer. That's all I needed. I got tired of showing guitar players how to play. They always get a stick up their ass. No one likes to be told what to do and I don't like to tell people what to do. I'm not a control freak, but I am a perfectionist. Rock 'n' roll has to be perfectly flawed. Some mistakes are usually the best ideas that you get by accident. Some things you have to show them by hand. Nasty, any guitar player I've worked with, wouldn't like it when I say, "Play like this." When you do it yourself, you don't have to fight with anybody. I enjoy doing the guitars. I've spent a lot of time by myself, in the studio. When the engineer left, I would stay up all night recording guitar or vocal. It was hard work, but it was fun.
I mostly enjoy making demos at home. Then it's the final thing when you're creating a song. I wish I could afford an 8-track. I've got a 4-track and a drum machine. I like doing it in the studio too, but then you have the pressure of having to live with it for the rest of your life.
K2K: In songwriting, your first language was Finnish, right?
MM: Well, it depends on how you look at it. I've spent most of my life living outside of Finland. Now that I'm here, it's kind of evening up.
K2K: You were born in Finland, right? When did you learn English?
MM: I learned English since before I was in school. Since I was a kid, I watched TV and they had subtitles. I would watch Archie Bunker in "All In The Family" and detective series like "Columbo" and Frank Cannon. That's how I learned. Then, when I got into rock 'n' roll, I got into the lyrics.
K2K: So, you're actually quite an educated guy. Not just a rock star, but also educated.
MM: (laughs) Yeah! Black Sabbath records, Alice Cooper, whoever had the lyrics printed, I would check it out. To me, rock 'n' roll has to be sung in English, or American if you will. It can't be Finnish. Finnish doesn't suit rock at all. The same thing for Italian or Spanish. Finnish is good for a tango or something. Not rock 'n' roll.
K2K: So you're childhood is summed up with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and American TV.
MM: Yeah. It doesn't sum up the whole childhood, but it does language-wise.
K2K: OK, I have a title for you. Moomin.
MM: Yeah. They call it Moomee. It's actually a Swedish person who had written a children's book about the Moomin family. They're these creatures that look like a cross between a hippo and an elephant.
K2K: Did you used to watch that on TV?
MM: Yeah, yeah. The cartoon wasn't on then as much. There was also this family who lived in the same building as we did when I was a kid. They were actors, all of them. They were the Moomin. They would be Papa Moomin, Mama Moomin and the three kids. They would dress up in these suits and they had a series on TV too. So, I used to watch them too. (laughs) Do you know them?
K2K: No, someone had me ask you about them.
MM: Yeah, I know the Moomin. Pretty much everybody in Finland does.
K2K: OK, here's a question off the cuff. What is your real name?
MM: Michael Monroe.
K2K: That is your real name? That is so not Finnish.
MM: That is as real as a name can be. My mother didn't give me that name. (facetiously)
K2K: OK, you got me on that one. What was the name that you were born with?
MM: I was named Matti Fagerholm. That's a Swedish name, actually. I'm Finnish, but there are a lot of Swedish names.
Finland used to be ruled by Sweden before the Russians took over. When Finland was under Swedish rule, Sweden was another official language here. All the street signs and stuff are in Finnish and Swedish. They translate everything. Then the Russians took over and Finland took its independence after that. They've always been ruled by somebody. You can feel it. The shadows of the war still hang over things. But not so much anymore. I think that Hanoi Rocks cheered things up.
I was never called Matti. I was called Makke.
K2K: How did you get the name Michael Monroe?
MM: With Hanoi, we decided to have names. Our names were Finnish and most people would have problems remembering or pronouncing them. Nasty Suicide was Jan Stenfors. Andy McCoy was Antti. That's the same as Andy. His last name was Hulkko. I think it was originally Russian.
Anyway, we decided to come up with English names. Somebody called me Mike, this guy in Helsinki, he was the son of the Ambassador of Venezuela. His name was Johnny. He asked me my real name and I told him. He said, "Can I just call you Mike?" So, he called me Mike and everybody started calling me Michael. Anybody who calls me Mike is from the Hanoi days or doesn't really know me, I guess. I don't mind being called Mike except that it sounds like an English worker. You know, "Hey, Mike." When I became solo, I began to make it Michael Monroe.
Actually, Andy was going to be Monroe and then he became McCoy and I became Monroe.
K2K: Where did you get Monroe from?
MM: Marilyn mainly. It was Andy's idea. I was thinking American movies and movie stars.
K2K: What was it like working with Andy?
MM: Working with Andy? It was cool. It was different times. I was discouraged to write. He always used to say, "Oh, I have a better song here. Let's do this one." He wanted to be the only writer. What happened was that I sort of stopped writing songs and had no faith in myself as a writer. The way Andy thought of me was to be the frontman and singer. It was kind of depressing. Up until I met Stiv Bators in London, he helped me to see things and helped me as a songwriter, arrangements and stuff. Then I realized that what I could do best was arrange and stuff.
I did write some lyrics and stuff and some parts. Andy took a part from me in the song "Cheyenne" on the first album. He took a part from an old song of mine, like (sings) "sweet, sweet rock 'n' roll playing on the radio". He would still get the credit with "musical assistance on Cheyenne by Michael Monroe" with the credit. I said, "Thanks a lot, man." I didn't know what publishing meant back then. I didn't care about the money, I just cared if the song was good enough. As I learned about arrangements, I would go to Andy with "All right, great song, but..." He had a lot of good parts and stuff, but he would try to fit too much into one song. He would start a song with an obvious B-section of a verse, then he'd go into the chorus, then he'd start the first verse. I arranged them the best I could without becoming too formula or boring. I would do a lot of good and crazy ideas.
K2K: Well, your stuff now compares to anything that was done then and certainly stands out.
MM: Yeah. It would have been great to have had Andy encourage me to write more. It's funny because on "Life Gets You Dirty", there's a song called "What's With The World". That was written on piano. I wrote that when I was 14, musically. I had the whole music there and wrote the lyrics before the record, when I was doing demos. I used to play it for Andy. He would say, "Oh, that's a great song. We've got to do that. One day. One day we'll do it." I never did lyrics on it until not too long before I went into the studio. I wrote it with Jude Wilder, who co-writes lyrics with me too. Another song was "Always Never Again". That chorus was musically written on piano when I was 14.
K2K: You know, for all that you've done, it's amazing that you are able to stick to your guns. You've had a jinxed life in some ways with so much crap happen around you.
MM: That's true. I used to wonder if I was a shit magnet, but no. It's not my fault. You can't change the world. You can only control your reaction to it.
K2K: When looking back at Hanoi Rocks - Did you ever think it would be as big as it was?
MM: I knew it would have been. We would have been probably bigger than Guns 'N' Roses. Axl [Rose] said that to me. He said nobody would even know about Guns 'N' Roses or even Mötley Crüe if we had stuck together. I was aware of it at the time. When Guns 'N' Roses came out, it proved that people were ready for this kind of band. But [in regards to Hanoi] it had been a little too soon, at the time, for the record label. They didn't have a clue and didn't give a shit about us. They didn't know what they had. We were ahead of our time in that sense. If Razzle hadn't died, we would have stuck together.
K2K: How much of the Hanoi Rocks image was drugs and alcohol?
MM: Not that great a deal at all.
K2K: Well, we all know how media screws with stories and causes rumors. The stories about the band were about major heroin addicts and major alcoholics and everything.
MM: (laughs) And then some. (sarcastically) I'm surprised that there would have been any left for you. We did all the drugs in the world. (laughing)
K2K: What was the final deciding factor that pulled the plug on Hanoi Rocks?
MM: Well, I was watching what it would have become if it had stuck together. Johnny Thunders had just moved in with me - I was living with Stiv Bators who was on tour in the States - Johnny moved in for a couple of weeks. I didn't even go to the studio. They were making some demos and I just stopped calling. Andy had asked Johnny to produce the demos. When Johnny and I went to the studio, Nasty was there with this drummer and bass player - neither of whom I got along with. I disliked the bass player very much. He always hung around Hanoi and was kind of like a "ligger" - the English say "ligger".
Me and Johnny went into the studio and I played him some harmonica parts. He said, "That sounded great. Let's put it down right now." We went into the studio and Nasty and these two guys were rehearsing. Andy wasn't even there. These guys were rehearsing some song over and over. I said, "Excuse me. Could you take a little break so that I could do this harp thing here." They were like, "We're rehearsing. Get out of here." Johnny said, "Come on. Mike's going to do his harp part here. It will only take five minutes." They were like, "Why don't you just fuck off." Nasty and those guys, they were so high or something.
K2K: Aha! So it was the drugs that did it.
MM: No. The drummer was there, he was straight as an arrow. He was a vegan. The bass player was the one guy who turned Andy on to smack [heroin] in the early days. That was maybe the first time that Andy did it. That was not a problem within the band. Nasty must have been high though to tell Johnny to fuck off. Johnny just said, "Mike, I'm out of here." I said, "I'm coming with you." Those guys were such pricks and they weren't even in the band. I couldn't even fire them because they weren't even hired. I was not going back there anymore. I waited to see how long it would take for them to call me back. Nobody called for days. I finally called one of my managers, the Finnish guy, and told him I was leaving. That was it. It was going to be Andy and everyone else keeping going to sort of make a good buck. It was not the same. That was not what Hanoi was about, about money. We never did things for money.
K2K: What about [original Hanoi drummer] Gyp Casino?
MM: He was never looked upon. He was not the right type of drummer. He was OK, but he had mental problems. As a drummer, he would have been OK, but he didn't have the same attitude. Razzle had the same attitude. He kind of kept the band together. When he joined, the band was about ready to split. We were at a real low period. He came in and brightened things up. In Hanoi, I wanted to stop the band. In the spring of 1985. To me, the band ended when Razzle died. In spring of 1985, I told the band that they would not go on using the name. It was because I wanted to keep the good memory of Hanoi and not ruin it by some sell-out thing.
K2K: I love that video of Hanoi from the Marquee in England with Razzle singing and you playing drums.
MM: Oh, right. Yeah, I play drums too. When you asked me earlier, we mentioned guitar but never got into the rest. I play drums. I played bass on "Peace Of Mind", the previous album. I play saxophone, flute, harmonica, pretty much everything - except violin, I never learned to play. And trumpets and instruments with that kind of mouth piece. I never got that mouth thing.
K2K: You're the all-pro musician then, aren't you?
MM: (bashfully) Well, yeah, yeah. Multi-talent, for sure. I don't mind. Prince does the same thing though, doesn't he?
K2K: It's nice that way though because you have more diversity and don't get so stifled. You don't need someone to do your ideas for you.
MM: Yeah. That's right. I can pretty much do it for myself. I like to have a drummer at least. I like to have a drummer and a bass player and, guitar players, at least live.
K2K: How tall are you by the way?
MM: I'm 182, so 6'3".
K2K: It was funny watching you behind the drums on that video.
MM: I look big in there? Tall?
K2K: Yeah, with your knees sticking up on the sides, like you're driving a small car.
MM: I guess I was taller than Razzle. Yeah, yeah. That's right. Everyone was, pretty much, tall in Hanoi too.
K2K: What is everyone else from Hanoi doing these days?
MM: I don't know. Nasty is a pharmacist. He was studying and now he works for a pharmacy. He finally found a way to take drugs legally. I'd say, when you asked about how big drugs were in the Hanoi image, I don't think it was that much. In 1984, they were pretty much drunk every day. I didn't drink though. People thought I was so out of it. When I was totally straight, people thought I was out of it. It's because I looked so funny or something. I don't know.
K2K: In taking with you, you seem completely different than what I imagined based on previous media impressions - such as being aloof or on smack or something.
MM: (laughs) I hated smack. I've always hated smack. That's what Johnny Thunders said, "There's two things that break up bands - smack or girlfriends."
K2K: Johnny was into smack though.
MM: Yeah, well he knew what he was taking about. It took him ten years to realize that he was so far. It was kind of sad. He was always trying to kick it. He was on methadone or whatever. When he was living with me, he was telling me that he was getting better. He really wanted to live. Anyway, he was one of a kind and one of the most important people in rock.
Anyway, drugs didn't play that big of a part in Hanoi. We weren't doing something all the time necessarily. Drinking was the biggest problem, I think, if any.
K2K: As with any good Scandinavian. (laughs)
MM: Yeah, alcohol is one of the worst drugs there is. That's why it's legal, I'm sure. That's why people take it and don't realize how dangerous it can be. I remember Andy got this idea for these clothes, when he was in London, taking acid or something. He was tripping and had this vision about these clothes that influenced our clothing style. We had these pants and all these scarves that were every color under the sun and stuff like that. That might have been drug inspired, but it wasn't that big a thing. Besides, I'd be a fool to start advertising drugs because I don't recommend it for anybody and everybody should work their own thing out. I just know that alcohol is one of the worst drugs there is.
K2K: Are you a health nut now?
MM: I'm not a health nut. I look after myself and exercise and such, pretty regularly. Not to build muscles but to keep in shape. On stage, you don't want to look like you're huffing and puffing. It's more fun when it's easier. You need a good, basic stamina. I play harp and sax and I sing and I move all the time, pretty much. You can't be out of shape for that. I don't drink at all. Some guys take a beer before going on stage. No way!
I do sit-ups the correct way, about 250 every morning. I do straight-leg kicks and all. This guy who was a Black Belt in Karate showed me this good exercise routine that I've pretty much done. I love swimming too, even though I don't get to go out swimming. I haven't been swimming in over a year now. I like to keep myself in shape, but I'm not a health nut. I don't like sports particularly. I don't watch ice hockey or anything like that.
K2K: Guns 'N' Roses - would you say that they were good for your career by re-releasing your old Hanoi albums?
MM: Hanoi was kind of dead by that time. I was really thankful that they did pay homage to Hanoi and quoted Hanoi as one of their main influences. That set the record straight because a lot of bands tried to take the look and didn't realize that it was the attitude that was the main thing. These were the bands who pretended like they didn't know who Hanoi was. I think it was too bad that bands like that got big because it gave a bad name to rock 'n' roll.
K2K: Are you a fan of KISS?
MM: KISS? Kiss my ass. (laughs) I think they're OK. They were a bit of a joke when they started in New York and nobody thought that they would get as big as they were. I wasn't in New York at that time. Then again, everyone thought the New York Dolls were going to be a big thing and then...
K2K: Yeah, Ace can't really play guitar though.
MM: Yeah, that's the most funny thing of all and he was the most fun guy of them all. I saw an interview of a video from TV where they were all dressed up and saying how they're from different planets and who is the God of Thunder and who is what. Ace came out and said, "Hi, I'm Space Ace." with that laugh. When I met him, he was a funny guy. Paul Stanley was OK.
Gene Simmons, at the Limelight, when they were touring as the reunion - Ace Frehley's band had this bass player, John Regan, "Skinny Regan" they called him, he played bass on a couple of tracks of [Michael Monroe's] "Not Faking It" [album]. He [Regan] invited me to the Limelight and said that he was playing with Ace. I was watching the band from the side and they were going to have this reunion with Ace and Gene and Paul, for the first time, without Peter Criss. All these bodyguards start pushing me aside saying, "You're too close to the stars." It was Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. I said, "Well excuse me, but I was invited to be here."
My friend Sonda, who made clothes for me in New York, she was a tough chick and was wearing this cap. Gene Simmons comes up and starts playing with her cap. She said, "Don't touch me you fat, ugly pig! You're disgusting!" and started talking Spanish very quickly. He went onstage and they were going to play and do the reunion. He went up to Skinny Regan and said, "OK, give me your bass." John said, "Hey, what do you mean? You didn't ask nicely. You didn't say 'please'." Gene said, "Come on. Give me your bass." John said, "Get your own bass." So, they had to go through a lot of time and trouble to find a bass guitar for him because Skinny Regan wouldn't give him his bass, because Gene didn't ask nicely. He just walked up and demanded it.
Aah, God bless them and whatever. I'm not a big fan. They did some good work with Bob Ezrin. "Detroit Rock City" was pretty cool.
K2K: What was the truth about your Steve Steven's recording fiasco?
MM: That's the truth. It was a fiasco. I didn't like what started happening in the studio when he started doing his guitar. He got a little carried away. We had the wrong producer. The producer was Michael Waggener. He was a metal kind of producer but he was the flavor of the month. The record company insisted that he be the producer. Him and Steve Stevens together, forget it. They would do five solos. The first couple of solos, I would think that's it. I thought it was good. But, he wasn't trying then. Then Michael Waggener would say, "No, we don't have the EQ right yet." So then he turns the knob about a millimeter to the right. Like nothing. "Now we have it right, now we do the solo." Then Steve would start wailing and Michael would say, "That was great! More of that." [whammy bar noises]. Then they would do five tracks and I would think that was it for sure. "Oh, now I do a comp." [comparison] That would take an hour or so. The pompous, stupid, heavy metal, how-many-million-notes-can-I-play-per-second solo. Then, I said, "Can we move on now?" "No, now we're going to have dinner." Dinner took about two or three hours. It was fucking wasting money.
I was calling A&R to ask them to quit wasting money. It took a long time to make demos and it was pointed in the right direction, but then in the studio it took a totally different turn. It didn't work out and it turned to shit. I wish the record never came out. It had gotten to the point that Waggener was going to mix it. The funniest thing of all is that, in the end, Steve and Michael had a falling out. What was supposed to be two weeks in L.A. to do guitars ended up being three months in hell. It was an unbelievable waste of money. It was, like, $700,000. The CD that came out...
K2K: Who came up with the name of the band, Jerusalem Slim?
MM: Sammy. Sam Yaffa. He was the bass player. He suggested it. I thought it was pretty balsy to take Jesus' name, but... It was OK, but it wasn't that great.
K2K: Is there anything worth listening to on that CD?
MM: "The World Is Watching", I thought was cool.
K2K: Tell me about Demolition 23.
MM: That was a great band. The album was supposed to be my solo album, originally. I was having Little Steven produce it. I wanted to have Little Steven to produce me before. The record company always objected to it. They didn't like Little Steven because they knew that he knew their bulls*** and they couldn't fuck with him. He was his own man. He'd seen the business inside out and knew what to do with it. I had Steven producing it and he always thought I should have a band name and finally talked me into it. I thought, "OK. We'll go with a name." I would give it one more chance to have a band. We did the record kind of stripped down and punky. I thought it was a cool sound to the band.
We had this great guitar player, Jay Hening. He had had a broken leg. He got hit by a car and it took a long time to recover. He just shot himself a couple of years ago, but that was after the band was over. He had a problem when he couldn't get a passport to leave the country when we were supposed to go on tour. He had to stay in the States and I had to replace him at the last minute with Nasty. We were playing a gig in London and it worked out good. Nasty decided to stay during a press conference in Helsinki. He said, "Actually, I'm a permanent member." I thought, "Oh, that's nice to know." I wasn't going to say "no". He left anyway, at the worst possible time. In England, we almost had as good a chance as Hanoi Rocks did. He left before we could do the tour of England. He wouldn't even sit in. That was the end of the band.
K2K: What will it take to finally make things work out right and make you happy?
MM: Yeah. It's working for me fine. It's the rest of the world. I'd say, for me, I've made it already. I've mastered what I've set out to do. I'm doing this the best I can and trying to get better all the time. That's what keeps life interesting.
K2K: What do you write about lyrically?
MM: Life. Like I said, Jude Wilder is my co-writer. We live together and share a similar type of humor. She's written a lot of cool stuff. She came up with the title "Life Gets You Dirty". She had some journals that she had kept over the years. The lyrics for "Always Never Again", on the verses, are directly from her books. I just wrote the chorus there. "Life Gets You Dirty" is about being in Finland in the countryside in winter. I broke my ankle and I was shoveling snow there. There was two of us stuck and we had to have a guy come with a big tractor to empty the sewer. One morning, I had to get up, and for three hours I was shoveling snow to make space for this tractor. It got pretty dirty when we were pushing the car when it was stuck in the mud.
Then, after the second mold house, I had to take the laundry out to the laundromat. I was fooling around in the laundry and got into the laundry basket and Judy took a photo of me. That reminded me of the title which she had suggested a couple of times. Then and there I thought, "Life Gets You Dirty". That's the name of the album.
K2K: Tell me about the "Sun City" album. What exactly was the problem with Sun City?
MM: The problem was that the bands went there to play and supporting the racist government. They were getting paid huge amounts of money, but at the same time saying it was OK to be racist. The song was to make people aware, and bands, so that nobody could pretend that they didn't know what was going on.
K2K: Have things changed since?
MM: Yeah! Mandela was released. It was just released at the time to make people aware not to play in Sun City and to not support the white racist government. I think it worked. After that, nobody could go there with a clear conscience. Since then, it might have changed completely.
K2K: Have you played around the world?
MM: Yeah, I've played pretty much everywhere except in France and Italy. I haven't played in Australia. I've played in Japan and Hong Kong. Hanoi played in Hong Kong. We played in India, in New Dehli. We were the first rock band to ever play in New Dehli. I just played in Germany, opening for Iggy Pop. I just got back two weeks ago. I've played pretty much around the world.
K2K: What about Russia?
MM: Russia we've never played. I would not even want to play there. I'm not even interested in going to that side of Finland at all.
K2K: What about Latvia or the Baltic States?
MM: Possibly, if it would be a good gig. Somebody asked me to play in Tallin [Lithuania]. But, they asked me to do only Hanoi Rocks songs. I said, "I don't think so." It was some club owner. I'm not interested in going to that part of the world. Russia has always given me the creeps. It's a miserable place. It's full of misery.
K2K: Are you going to have any videos for the new album?
MM: Right now, I'm trying to tour the States, so there's nothing now except the stuff I've done on TV in Finland. The "Peace Of Mind" album had one video for "Make It Go Away", which is me playing every instrument. I'm the drummer, bass player and guitar player, as well as the singer. That was a fun video. That was only shown in Japan. I gave a copy to my label in Germany, when I was just there, so they may be spreading it around. I have no videos for the new album, officially, yet. There could be. I would like to.
K2K: Are there any videos available still of Hanoi Rocks?
MM: Yeah, the Marquee live and the TNT - The Nottingham Tapes. They are available in Japan. There is the Hanoi Rocks Story. They interviewed me when I was there on my solo thing. That was the first time that I talked about Razzle and stuff. The next time I went there, they gave me this video. I said, "What is this?" They called it the Hanoi Rocks Story. It was just me talking and they showed some videos. I didn't know it was going to be a video. They just smiled and said, "Hai!" That's the way they do things. It doesn't mean "Yes." It means "I hear you."
K2K: If you had a chance to put together the ultimate band of musicians for you to be in - dead or alive, who would be in it?
MM: (laughs) Me, myself and I.
K2K: You've already done that video. (laughs) No accounting for ego then.
MM: No, no. Only my beauty surpasses my modesty. (laughs) Ah well.
K2K: So, for the ultimate collection of musicians, who would make up your ultimate band?
MM: I don't know, Keith Richards. Angus Young, from the Bon Scott days. It's hard to say because my favorite bands are not together anymore, these days. I would have Johnny Thunders because he was such a cool guy. What I would rather have is have Hanoi. If Hanoi would have been allowed to stay together. I would love to do what I can do now, knowing what I know, with those guys.
K2K: What do you listen to in your off-time?
MM: Cheap Trick, the first album, "Heaven Tonight" and "All Shook Up". I love that band. They were great. Thin Lizzy I like a lot. Warrior Soul. AC/DC with Bon Scott. Ian Hunter's solo albums and Mott The Hoople. Alice Cooper. Dead Boys. Aerosmith, "Get Your Wings".
K2K: Are you hooked up with Angel Air Records in England? They do a lot of releases of rare Mott The Hoople, British Lions and other classics. There are a lot of live albums and demos.
MM: I'm not as crazy about live albums. I like listening to original songs. I listen to Gary Holton and the Heavy Metal Kids. They did the song "She's No Angel". That was originally them. I rearranged it. I like Alice Cooper's new album.
K2K: Brilliant album and heavy too.
MM: I like the title track and "Little Things". I love Nazareth, one of my favorite bands of all time. The first four or five Queen albums. The Ramones. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Sometimes I listen to Zeppelin, but it's all so played out everywhere. Never "Stairway To Heaven". It's like "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple. It's been overplayed. Any song, no matter how brilliant, when it's so overplayed, you get tired of it.
K2K: What would be something that people might be surprised to know about you?
MM: Pink Floyd, I love. Especially the last couple of albums. "Momentary Lapse Of Reason" and "Division Bell". "Wish You Were Here" is also one of my favorites. I think there is some great work with David Gilmour. I think that they are better without Roger Waters. Do you know the band, The Ruts? They made two albums in the late 1970s. All the other punk bands hated them because they were such great players.
K2K: Is there anything that we can talk about today that doesn't have somebody's death involved? (laughs)
MM: In rock 'n' roll, unfortunately, it's common. Now, unfortunately, it doesn't sell as many records because too many people are dying. It's not special anymore. Roxy Music. The Police - "Regatta de Blanc".
K2K: It's so funny to hear all the stuff you're into after trying to picture it for so many years.
MM: Yeah, Graham Parker. The Sparks albums. Are you surprised?
K2K: I have a huge collection of vinyl - in the thousands, so no one knows what to expect here either.
MM: Wow. I like early ZZ Top. Oh yeah, Billy Gibbons is the other guitar player I was thinking of. Billy Gibbons on "Deguello" and the early albums. Those were great. Billy Gibbons is one of the best guitar players. Oh yeah, and the Sparks. Do you know the Sparks? Back in the 70s, "Kimono My House". They are in my "must have" collection here. Slade, I like Slade. Sweet had one great album, "Sweet F.A." Sweet Fanny Adams. I liked that one album.
K2K: Our band used to cover "Ballroom Blitz" the correct way.
MM: Did you check out on "Not Bad For A White Boy"? There's a part where I'm playing the "Ballroom Blitz" guitar and I'm talking about dreams of glamour in the gutter. It was just an accident. I was playing "Ballroom Blitz" while singing glamour. Glam rock, eh?
K2K: What is home life like for you? Wild or domestic?
MM: Home life for me is sitting in front of a 4-track machine and playing. Since I've started playing guitar, I write more and more. I mainly like working.
K2K: Have you ever done movie soundtracks?
MM: No. I was going to do some music with Andy for the movie about Andy.
K2K: "The Real McCoy"?
MM: Yeah. I had a cameo in it too.
K2K: When is that film coming out?
MM: It's out in Finland right now.
K2K: Is it coming out here in the States?
MM: No. I think, maybe not. It was in Europe in some film festivals. It's out on video in Finland so you should be able to get it one way or the other. I've never even watched the whole film. It's weird. It's part documentary and part not. It's got to be funny for you to see if you like Hanoi. It's weird because he fell over the balcony and broke his foot into many pieces. It looked like he wouldn't be able to walk again. We went to the hospital and he looked ridiculous. He was wearing one of these rubber caps to keep his hair out of his face. He had a black eye because he had hurt himself. He looked all fucked up. It was kind of tragically comic.
K2K: Have you ever thought about going into acting?
MM: No, because I could only act as myself in a movie. I don't think I could be a character in some movie. I think it would take away from being a rock singer too much.
K2K: Well, you could act as a rock singer.
MM: Well, I am a rock singer. I could play myself, Michael Monroe, but I wouldn't want to become known as someone else. The guy who played "Vampire Lestat". When I met Keith Richards in New York, at Beacon Theater - Little Steven took me to go see Keith - at the same party, Brooke Shields was there and I didn't even know who she was. "What's your name again?" She said, "Brooke." I said, "Oh, I see. OK." Little Steven was embarrassed. He said, "Michael's from Finland." She was more relaxed talking to me. She was a lovely person.
Do you know David Keith, the actor? He was hanging around Brooke. He came up to me and said, "You are Vampire Lestat. You've got to take acting lessons tomorrow. They're making the film 'Interview With A Vampire' and you are the guy. You are it." I said, "Oh really. I'm a rock singer, not an actor. Did you take acting lessons?" "Oh, I never had any." "Oh, OK. So I have to take acting lessons, not you. OK." So, thanks anyway, I don't know what that means, but... I was there. I didn't even consider for one minute to consider being some character in a movie. Mick Jagger managed to remain a singer even though he was in the movies.
K2K: Is that your biggest concern is being confused by the public?
MM: Yeah, now that I think of Mick Jagger, it's not so bad. He's still Mick Jagger. Even in a film, he's still Mick Jagger.
K2K: You know who is a brilliant actor is David Bowie. Especially "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence."
MM: Yeah. Right. I think I saw that one on a video once. I don't know if he's a rock singer or what. I don't know. I might like acting. I was talking to Jon Bon Jovi this summer, in Tokyo, just to say 'Hi'. He had just done a movie about military ships or Navy or something. I thought it was amazing. Wow. "What's it like acting? Do you have to wait around a lot?" That's what you do, you wait around. He said he doesn't mind it. He enjoyed it. Apparently he is very good. I'd like to just be "the singer" and do my thing.
K2K: With your height, you'd make a good imposing figure on screen. It could make an interesting film role.
MM: Well, there might be a movie one day. I'm not saying that I won't do it. Just right now it's not the thing to do.
K2K: What is next for you?
MM: Next for me is a tour of Spain. The America tour is planned for right after that, but that is not confirmed yet. I'm going into the studio next week to record one new studio track and one new live track for a mini-CD for Japan and later for the rest of the world. Then I'm going into the studio after December to start making a new album. I've got about twenty songs now. Half of them are great, I'm sure.
K2K: Ultimately, what would you like to be remembered for?
MM: For being a good person, I hope. What I'd like to be remembered for? I'd like to be here. I'd like to be now. I want to be alive. I would like to be remembered as someone who didn't compromise and believed in what he was doing, never sold out and had some integrity - and not a bad person at all. I hope I didn't hurt anybody too bad. For some significant part of something, I was a rocker. Yeah, a rocker! But I'm still here. I'm a rocker and will always be a rocker.
And with that, we had talked for quite a while and Michael had other interviews to get to. The best way to sum up this particular rock 'n' roller is - Crisp and clean with no caffeine. Michael is a dynamo, one of the most active frontmen, who does it addiction-free and with full belief in himself. Although it has been a while since many people have had a chance to see him live, this is one musical artist who should not be missed. More than just a "rock star", intelligence and integrity rule his world. Don't miss him live and check out his latest CD, "Life Gets You Dirty".
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

All rights reserved © KAOS2000™. No portion contained herein, either text or graphics, may be reproduced anywhere or reposted on any other website for any purpose without the expressed permission of the publisher. All violations shall be punished as the law allows.

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