Intervju med Michael Monroe.
Finlands störste rockhjälte besökte nyligen Stockholm för lite press. Hans senaste giv "Horns and halos" har fått överlag lysande kritik och belönades nyligen med guldskiva i Finland.
Michael ger alltid ett väldigt positivt intryck. En pratglad finne med mycket humor och som absolut inte tar sig själv på så stort allvar.
Jag satt ner med honom på Scandic Malmen och vi snackade bl a om nya plattan, men även om hans saxofonspelande och hans gamle partner in crime, Andy McCoy.
The title, ”Horns and halos” makes me think of those old cartoons where the character´s got the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other one.
Michael: Yeah, for sure. Everybody has them. It was just a great title because it covers everything, yin and yang, black and white, angels and devils, light and darkness. Dregen suggested it and I thought “Nobody´s ever used that before. That´s genius!”. I thought of it as the name for the album right away, but then I thought that maybe it was sort of religious, but as it turned out when all the rest of the songs came together, Steve brought it up again after we´d thought about all these different titles. He said “I think I´ve got it! How about horns and halos?”. So at first I thought it was too obvious to consider or too religious, but when you think about it, the album has songs like “Eighteen angels”, “Soul surrender” and “Ritual”. Stuff like that with a kinda religious connotations.
Are you a spiritual person?
Michael: There is some of it of course, but not in a religious sense. Religion to me is just another government. The church is a government and they wanna keep people ignorant so they can control them and that´s the way government acts. I know there´s a god force behind all this, but you believe what you wanna believe. I just know it, but it´s certainly not a god like the church describes it, one that punishes people. Only people punish people, so nobody has to burn. That´s what the lyrics say.
The album´s been a huge success. Number one in Finland. When your making an album, is that something you can get a sense of? That you really have something going here?
Michael: Well, for this record we just decided to write some music and see what came out of it. We´ve been touring a lot the last couple of years and writing songs over a period of time, like a year or so. Whenever the band was in the same place. Someone lives in New York, another one in Amsterdam, Dregen in Stockholm and me in Finland, so whenever we were gonna tour, we booked some extra days before and after the tours, to write some stuff and play some demos. Before the American tour, we went to Steve´s rehearsal place in New York for four or five days. Wrote some ideas and laid down some demos and after the tour, we finished at the Whisky A Go Go in LA and then we had four days in a studio there. Eventually the album started shaping up and I love being self contained as a band. That´s how the songs came about and we chose the songs we thought were best suited as a whole. I think we did pretty good.
Having a band with members spread all over the place, does that have anything to do with yourself having lived in different cities and countries?
Michael: Yeah, I´ve made friends all over the world and I lived in New York for ten years. I´ve gotten to meet some great people along the way. These guys, I´m very happy to have in my band. It´s really rare and doesn´t happen often. You have to give to get and receive. Of course I could stubbornly try and do everything by myself, but I think the end result is better when you have more people involved. A collaboration is more fun and I know what I can do on my own. It´s more fun and productive with other people´s ideas. You have to have perspective on everything. As long as you have a clear perspective on the whole picture… like if someone has a better lyric than I have. On this album I had lyrics written and Steve had some too. I said “Steve, let me see what you´ve got?” and his concept was better than what I had. It´s wrong to think that just because my name is on the album, I have to write all the songs. I allow a lot of space for the band to flourish and evolve and they really came through. I love walking into the rehearsal space and having the guys jamming on a riff that is almost already a song. I love it! No egos involved, that´s the first thing. These guys have no egos and there´s no egos getting in the way. I´m an exception to the rule I guess, as a singer, because I don´t have much of an ego. (laughs)
When you´re working on an album, are you the kinda guy that records a whole lotta stuff and then picks from that?
Michael: I don´t have the luxury of doing that. I mean, these days you can record almost anywhere. We did a lot of pre production ourselves before we went into the studio to actually record the album. We recorded it in Stockholm in two and a half weeks altogether, but before that we had some stuff from the demos we did… we had decided pretty much what songs we were gonna do before we went into the studio. The last song on the album, “Hands are tied”, was not gonna be on the record. It was like a jam, but then there was a song called “Happy never after” and a song called “Don´t block the sun”, which didn´t end up on the album. In the end I decided that “Hands are tied” was the kind a jam not any band can do. “Happy never after” is a good song. It´s a safe rocker and the kinda thing I´ve done before, so this one was different for me, so we ended up putting that one as the last song. We had two or three songs where we had a pretty clear idea of what the songs were gonna be like, before we went into the studio. I like doing it that way, because I don´t like to muck about too much in the studio. I like to be well prepared before we go in and then capture the performance of the band. I think we succeeded on this album. Better than we have on many records before it. It was like, keep it simple and not too many overdubs. Like on the song “Horns and halos” when Dregen goes into the solo, there´s no overdubbed guitars. It´s just him, Steve playing the rhythm and bass and drums. Then Steve joins him in the solo and there´s only bass and drums in the background. I always wanted to have that simplicity.
Do you look at this album as your best one so far, or one of the best ones?
Michael: I think it´s one of the best for sure. It´s hard to compare albums with other albums, because it´s a different time and they´re all different in their own way. This one is definitely its own entity in itself and so was the last one, “Sensory overdrive” but there was no point in trying to recreate that and playing it safe and writing another one like that. No way! Quite the opposite. We decided to not have any pressure and just write some music and see what came out of it. The further we went, the better it felt. There was a lot of enthusiasm and creativity flowing and a really positive kinda vibe, so it just happened naturally.
Looking back on your career, are there albums you feel you´d like to have been able to redo?
Michael: I would like to not have done the Jerusalem Slim album at all. I wish that one would´ve been stopped when I tried to stop it. It was the worst thing that happened to me. But positively thinking, my favorite albums from my solo career are “Demolition 23”. That album was great and I love that one. “Not fakin´ it” was great and it still stands the test of time and then I would have to say “Sensory overdrive” and “Horns and halos”. Of course there´s always something you can do better, but you evolve and that´s what I try to do. That´s what keeps me hungry and I try to get better at what I do. I´ll never be good enough and that´s what´s keeps me going. There are several records where you could have done something better, but there´s no dress rehearsal. It´s live, one take and that´s all! The best you can with the knowledge you have at the time. You can´t change the past. Whatever is gone is gone. The most important thing to me is that I have retained my integrity and I never sold out. I never took the easy way out, quite the opposite. My stubbornness made things more difficult for myself some times. (laughs) But rather that than selling out. I can feel good about my career knowing that I´ve stayed true to myself.
And you also learn from the things that didn´t work out, like Jerusalem Slim for instance.
Michael: Yeah. After that I did the “Demolition 23” album. Everything went wrong with the “Jerusalem Slim” album. Everything possible went wrong. The wrong producer and the guitar player turned around and wanted to go totally the other way after we had agreed on a certain style. After the disaster was over I was almost a million dollars in the hole. Since it was my record and my deal, I owed Polygram close to a million. It cost $700.000 or something. I tried to stop it after a couple of hundred thousand. Then after that, I got to choose my own producer. I wanted Little Steven to produce “Jerusalem Slim” and even “”Not fakin´it”, but the label wouldn´t allow it because they couldn´t control him and he wasn´t the flavor of the month, or whatever. He´s only produced minor acts like Bruce Springsteen. (laughs) Then finally after this whole thing, and it took me about a year to get off the label, I was free to choose the producer and the band and I decided on Little Steven. We put the band together and Steven was my best friend in the world during those years and Sami Yaffa was my partner in crime. With that record we did everything right in every possible way. I learned from my mistake and then did the perfect rock and roll record and something to feel proud about and good about for the rest of my life.
What made you pick up the saxophone in the first place?
Michael: I just thought it was part of the rock and roll sound, like Little Richard. I actually took flute lessons, classical flute, for a year. When I was five my mother made me take piano lessons. My grandfather was a cello player and he played some sax at the jazz clubs just for fun. I just wanted to see what it was like. I bought a sax from a second hand store. It was in really bad shape and it was hard to play and when I got my first real one, it was so easy to play and I thought “Well, I´m not as bad as I thought I was.”. It was something different and it added some color to the sound. You put on a sax once in a while. Not every singer does that.
A saxophone can be really cheesy in a way and on the other hand it can be a lot of rock and roll.
Michael: To me it was the rock and roll sound. Little Richard songs. I started playing along to stuff like that and The Coasters. The sound in the 50´s, the Wanderer… and Clarence Clemons had that sound and he was also a big influence on me. That´s my style. I think I´m a better harp player than sax player. I haven´t practiced for a while. This album has one song with a sax solo, “Hands are tied” and “Eighteen angels” has a horn section with a baritone in the bottom and three tenors. To me, it´s one of my trademarks and one of my specialties. It´s a great heritage. My great grandfather was oboe player and he took lessons in musical theory from Sibelius. They wrote letters to each other and he had an oboe that belonged to Sibelius. It´s a musical family, even though my grandfather told my mother “Get a real job and then you can play as much as you like!”. My mother played the piano and she worked at the radio. I didn´t take that advice. I left home when I was 17 and came to the streets of Stockholm. “I started out with nothing and still got most of it left.” (laughs) Whoever said that, it´s a pretty genius line. I figured I´d make a living with this band. I didn´t have an apartment. I had nothing more than a cardboard box and a suitcase and a rock band. Still, it was one of my happiest times. I had nothing to lose and no worries, carefree and wild. We just wanted to conquer the world.
It takes a special kind of courage and a certain type of person to do such a thing at a young age? Most of us just go for what is “safe”.
Michael: Yeah! I never felt safe going the safe way. I felt more insecure not knowing what was out there. I had been safe up till then and that made me insecure. Emotional ties to your family is another thing. I was the youngest of three kids. I have two older brothers and my mother definitely didn´t wanna let me go at 17. Legally, she could have stopped me with the cops, but I said “If you call the cops, you´ll never see me again!”. But of course it was hard for me too and it certainly was no piece of cake for my family. My parents got divorced when I was really young and I grew up with my mother and my grandmother and my brothers, but I just left and I knew that was the right thing to do. I had to go check it out and had I not done that, I would´ve regretted it for the rest of my life. I had to try that path and I had a feeling that it was something special. I had a band that I knew I could make a living off. I didn´t want much and I never asked for much. It´s all about the attitude. We all get certain cards dealt to us and you play your hand and sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. (laughs)
What are your plans for touring now?
Michael: Hopefully we´ll be touring as much as possible. We´ve got some dates in England and some in Finland. There are some dates in the States coming up and South America is in the works. Sweden for sure. Early next year, I think. We´ll be touring with the “Horns and halos” album for the next year or two. Hopefully more people will catch on. I can see that people like this kinda rock and roll. You don´t hear it every day and when people hear it they love it.
Final thing. Are you still in touch with Andy McCoy?
Michael: Final is the word! (laughs) No, we´re not in touch because we have no reason to. I haven´t actually heard from him since the last farewell show with Hanoi Rocks. We did a tour in the UK and Japan. We did eight shows in six days in 2009 and the last one was recorded and taped. A two hour show. I was proud I got through it. The last couple of days I couldn´t talk much, but of course they recorded the last one. (laughs) But no overdubs, it was what it was. Since then, I haven´t seen Andy. Good luck to him! He´s doing his thing and I´m doing my thing. It was good as long as it lasted. It ran its course. I was ready to keep going and commit to it for the rest of my life, but it just got to a point where it wasn´t going any further and it wasn´t that much fun. It was best to leave it alone and put Hanoi Rocks to bed, finally and permanently, with its integrity intact and without any shit slinging in the press or publicly. Just in a cool way and honorably discharged. (laughs) I´m happy with the band I have now. I love it! There´s a saying; “There´s a wanker in every anchor.”(?). There´s always one difficult guy, but this band has no wankers. (laughs) Every person is just really sweet and nice and there´s no mental problems. It´s a pleasure working with everybody.