Interview conducted September 17 2019
Interview published October 26 2019
"There's so much creative energy in this band
that it would be a shame to let it go to waste."
Metal Covenant met up with Finnish
rock legend and charismatic frontman Michael Monroe
to hear about his views on his new effort One Man Gang. [Out October 18th.]
Tobbe: You've got another rock 'n' roll
record coming out. Tell me about it.
Michael: Well, I think it's a bit of a masterpiece,
mate. What else? I wouldn't expect anything less. [Laughs] No, actually
it's a very good record. It's a really strong record. An entity unto
itself, like the last 3 records before this, that we've done with this
band. [Sensory Overdrive, 2011, Horns And Halos, 2013, and Blackout
States, 2015] But this record and the last record have something in
common. Rich Jones, the other guitar player. It's the same exact lineup
on this record as it was on Blackout States, the previous one.
Before that we had Dregen and before Dregen there
was Ginger Wildheart. But this lineup is the best, for sure. Hands down
the best lineup for this band, with Rich Jones, on the other guitar
Steve Conte, Sam Yaffa on bass and Karl Rockfist on drums. But yeah,
it's got a lot of variety and still has a nice common thread and a sound.
sound of the album kind of reminds me of all my favorite bands, like
Mott The Hoople, The Clash, The Damned, Stiv Bators and all that. The
style was really going to a certain direction that I really liked. It
has, of course, some hard-hitting, hard rocking songs, but as a needed
break you always need some kind of dynamics, like something not that
Instead of doing a corny ballad or something
like that, we have different musical worlds like Heaven Is A Free State,
for example. It's totally a different kind of canvas. It's got a Mariachi
kind of sound. You can imagine some Arab riding on a white horse in
a desert. It's like a different world of different colors of music,
which is a nice break, you know, from all the hard-hitting stuff, and
then you're ready to rock again. So it has got a lot of dynamics and
a lot of strong songs.
Tobbe: I like that first line on the record
when you start up with that extended "Well".
Michael: I did that "Well" when we
were in Tokyo just now and played the Summer Sonic festival. I decided
to keep it long and "I'll just hold 'Well' real long.". I
counted later. I saw the video - 11 seconds! But that wasn't all. I
had to sing the following line without breathings too. But it [the title
track] is really about P.M.A. - Positive Mental Attitude.
What you concentrate on, what you focus on, usually
tends to multiply and of course you wanna rather have positive things
happen than negative. And everybody's pissing on their own parade. People
are voting for things like Brexit and Trump and then wonder why everything's
screwed up and then complain about how everything sucks. But they voted
for those people and those things. You know, you brought that shit on
yourself. Come on! What are you whining for? I ain't walking on water
like Jesus, but I know a trick or two. I got a couple of tricks on my
own up my sleeve. But yeah, that's cool. That was a good first, I think,
video single, right? First song I came out with.
And then Last Train To Tokyo, the second single,
was just filmed a few weeks ago in Tokyo when we were in Japan playing
the Summer Sonic festival in Tokyo and Osaka. We also played a little
club gig before those two gigs, which was not advertised with our name.
It was just Electric Eel Shock who were advertising it as their show
+ special guests. We just wanted to film the song a couple of times.
We had one camera guy filming it professionally. And then at the Summer
Sonic festival we played the song live too and we got to use some of
that footage as well. Then we filmed as much as we could; all of us.
decided to get as much stuff as we could with, you know, the cell phone
cameras. The scene where I'm sitting on a train, and all this scenery
is going by, Sam Yaffa [bass] actually filmed it on the bullet train,
where you have to be really quiet. So I had a little speaker in my pocket
and whispering the words, but it looks good with, you know, the scenes
from Japan. And that club date was in a 150-capacity room, at the most,
and 300 people were packed in there. It was a really amazing gig. It
turned out really cool.
We played the song a couple of times and then
we did a whole set. We finished there around midnight, 1 a.m., and then
we went to Shinjuku, the area where they have the neon lights and everything,
and we were shooting stuff. That was the only time we had to go and
make the scenes of us in the streets, singing the song, me walking around
there with the scenery. Same area where I filmed the video for Man With
No Eyes back in the day , you know. It was cool.
So we got the video done. Against all odds. At
the last minute we came back and had the footage from Summer Sonic and
everything. There's a guy in Finland, in Helsinki; his name is Toni
Tikkanen, an edit guy who has edited videos before who were shot by
Ville Juurikkala who directed it. We didn't have much of a budget, so
we just figured we'll shoot as much as possible and then we'll have
this guy Toni, 'cause he's a great editor, finishing it. A couple of
weeks ago, Tuesday was the deadline, and if you don't meet the deadline
the single's gonna have to be pushed back and the release date is gonna
be changed and everything is gonna fall apart.
I had this little session I was doing that morning
with Lordi and he asked me to play saxophone on a song. So I went through
the sax solo, and got that done in less than an hour almost, and then
went straight to the video edit guy and in 3 hours we were done. You
know, on Monday, the day before the deadline day. So "All right!
We made it! There's a video for you." and everyone was going "Awesome!
Looks great!". It really turned out good actually. It has a good
vibe about it.
Other songs on the album: Junk planet. Very timely
lyrics also, commenting on the environment and everything and that's
self-explanatory, I think. That's more like an album track. It's probably
the only song on the album that hasn't got a big chorus that opens up.
It more kind of dives down. It's very unusual. But it's a good album
track and I like the riff. It's hard to write a simple riff like that
one. You know, it's harder to write simple stuff than complicated stuff.
So that's a cool, simple riff that works good and it's one of my faves
straight to Midsummer Nights, which definitely has to be a summer single,
especially in Finland and Sweden, right? Midsummer Nights is kind of
poppy, but also has its own thing. It's good to have guitar players
who also sing great, like Steve Conte, he's a lead singer as well in
his own project / solo band [Steve Conte NYC]. Rich Jones also. The
guys are great singers. Steve actually had a problem with his wrist
once and the doctor told me "He can't play guitar for a year.".
So Steve started taking singing lessons from Katie Agresta in New York,
and he's a really fantastic singer, apart from being a great guitar
Just when the solo comes up in Midsummer Night,
the middle eight, we sing together and you can hear our voices sound
great together. And then he does his solo, very short and sweet. I don't
know how long it is. It can't be more than, you know, 10 seconds or
something. It's really Queen, with harmonies and stuff, like "Say
little and say it well.". Short and sweet, and that's it. No noodling
and no two hands on the neck and not a million notes a second. Just
stylish and tasty.
Tobbe: When you built this album with so
many, kind of, different songs, did you have some vision before you started
Michael: Hm, no. [Laughs] We're just like "Playing
a hand and see where it falls.", at first. We pretty much look
at what we have. Everybody has a freedom to write in this band. And
luckily I am not a control freak. I don't have a huge ego that would
get in the way. 'Cause you get so much more out of it. I like collaborating;
working with other people. I think the end result is always better and
stronger, the more people you work with and it's more fun that way too.
So we wrote songs on our own or together. Some
of us, two of us, three of us together, depending on the situation.
But we just started looking at what we had and, like, 4 or 5 songs that
I was gonna have on the album I took out because Rich Jones came up
with some great stuff. And not only good songs, but the style that he
was writing was just like Mott The Hoople, The Damned, Stiv Bators,
The Clash and that kind of stuff. You know, all the influences. I liked
the direction of the sound and he was clearly on a roll, so I said "Okay.
This one of mine goes, 'cause Rich's is better.".
Funny enough, the song Heaven Is A Free State,
I wrote that by myself. Believe it or not. It's very different, but
I've had that verse and B-verse since, like, 1986 or something. So I
never did anything with it. I thought it was too weird, but now, for
this album, it was time for it to flash out. Sam Yaffa right away said
"I love it!" and Steve was kind of like "Oh, I don't
know. What is it? Hava Nagila?". But it turned out good. It's very
different and it's refreshing.
The Tall Grass is very different. I sing differently on that one 'cause
it has sort of like an end of innocence concept, It's open to interpretation,
but it's really about growing up in your teenage years when all of a
sudden nothing is safe anymore and you're kind of like out in the world.
Therefore I sing the verse kind of like a child, thinking of Alice Cooper
in some second coming about a Dwight Fry or Steven. He has got that
character kind of thing.
So I was going for a sound and afterwards I was
actually surprised when I listened to it. Really different. I never
sounded like that before, so. It's really rewarding doing stuff that
is expanding your horizons and still do new stuff. It's challenging
and you evolve that way.
Tobbe: And what might trigger your inspiration
and creativity today?
Michael: Well, good stuff like music and people.
Mick Jagger, for example. The song Wasted Years, which Nasty Suicide
plays a guitar solo on... The title of the song has nothing to do with
the reason that Nasty is on that song by the way. But that song is a
good example of
At first I didn't get it. I had done a vocal on
that track and I listened to it and I thought it really wasn't doing
anything to me. It was too stiff and too on the beat. You know, I wasn't
really inside the song yet.
So I was on my own in the studio with Petri Majuri,
who recorded and mixed the album and who has mixed the previous 3 albums
as well, and I thought "Wait a minute! This has to be more laid-back;
more like Jagger.". I envy Jagger, 'cause he can sound so laid-back
and cool, like he has just gotten out of bed. That attitude and the
style is so cool. So I was going for that kind of approach for the Wasted
Years song. You know, I redid the vocals and I decided to go way behind
the beat and more laid-back. And I think I have succeeded pretty well.
I'm quite happy with the way it turned out.
You know, having that kind of Jagger approach
to it was the key to have it more laid-back. Jagger has always been
an inspiration. I think he's underrated as a singer. He's such a great
singer. He really is. Even if some of the songs aren't strong on all
the albums his vocals are always safe. So he's really amazing. My favorite
Rolling Stones song is Fingerprint File, the last song on It's Only
Rock 'N' Roll . Well, that's one thing that inspires me.
Rolling Stones, The Ramones, and Little Richard.
You know, it's not a sign of old age when you say things used to be
better in the old days. Actually music was made for the sake of music
in the '60s, '70s and early '80s. The music business hadn't taken over
so much. There came a time when I realized "Wait a minute! Music
has no business in the music business.". It's all about business.
Money, money, money. And the record companies love it when there are
of the greatest things about Hanoi Rocks is that we defined all categories.
They tried to call us heavy metal, or punk, or whatever, then they finally
came up with the glam thing. We never said we were glam. It was just
one attempt to categorize us. We were just a rock band. And funny enough
there was this whole resurgence of glam, or whatever style, in L.A.,
which I was blamed for. I said "Don't blame me for that stuff.",
you know. The bands who played their hairspray cans better than their
instruments didn't do nothing to me anyway. To me, my solo stuff is
always about the music, songs, and playing, before anything else.
So many artists in America, especially guitar
I've seen so many interviews where they're asked "So
how come you started playing? What inspired you to start playing guitar?".
- "You know, chicks, man. Dude! You know, party, chicks!".
I said "What? Jesus Christ! Is that your motivation? Okay, I'm
not gonna listen to this guy 'cause he's got nothing to give me. That's
So it's incredible. People have such different
visions and points of view. For example, I learned in Hollywood that
I was a weirdo for being a lead singer and not into that sleaze scene,
like groupies. I never could imagine being with groupies, and one-night
stands, and stuff like that. Getting all messed up. You know, that's
not fun to me. I had my time when, you know, I had to through a lot
of stuff. My demons and stuff, and it wasn't about getting messed up.
It was more about soul-searching and learning about yourself and expanding
your horizons, your knowledge and your consciousness.
So that was my kind of thing. I was very serious.
Drugs weren't the thing for me. Learning experience
As long as
you didn't get stuck on one thing. You move on, you learn something
from it. I had some interesting moments. But the main thing was that
music came first. Anybody can do drugs and drink. It's no trick at all.
It's nothing to admire. Quite the opposite. In this music business a
lot of it is around. It's a temptation and some people got to get out
of the business, otherwise they can't stop drinking. There's always
some around, but to me it's about strength and discipline. It's all
about discipline and all about integrity to me and not compromising.
Tobbe: It's takes a long time to learn stuff
Michael: Sure! I'm still learning. Many years
and still you're never ready. We're here to learn, I think. I think
we're on this planet and this place to evolve and to learn and when
this physical form comes to an end, then you move on to the next thing.
It's obvious. I mean, to me it's a no-brainer. Obviously I can feel
it. I've had an out-of-body experience. The soul continues to move on
after this status, after this movie is over. It's just I don't believe
it; I actually know it. Maybe I'm just telling myself that? Like "Okay,
fine! Tell yourself what you want.". [Laughs]
It would be rather disappointing if it just would end!
Michael: Yeah, but then you wouldn't be there
to know it, right? If it ends and just goes black and nothing happens,
well, you won't know that, because you won't be there, right? [Laughs]
That's the tricky part and that makes you think "Okay, maybe I
don't know enough to even make an assessment of that situation.".
People are easily self-centered, especially thinking that the Earth
is the only planet where there's life in the universe. It's such an
unlikely possibility that this would be the only planet where there's
People, or human beings, are so self-centered
and wrapped within themselves that they are the center of the universe
sometimes. I like to look at myself from the outside, as a cartoon character
at times, and I've built this, you know, character in a way. And I wanna
like what I see. Like I said, I don't have a huge ego. A lot of singers,
or rock stars, do have an ego, and they have big arguments and fights.
You know, to keep a band together you got to
be a diplomat, you got to be a shrink, sometimes you got to be a lawyer,
you got to be this and that, but I think to me it's really important
to have great people to work with around you. One guy can ruin the whole
vibe. One asshole can ruin the whole
I won't put up with that
anymore, ever again. I'm never gonna work with anybody
care about how good, what they can write, or do, or play. It's not worth
it, having one guy ruin the whole vibe.
It's very imperative that I have good people
around me and a positive vibe. Like this band. Even if we're, you know,
in jail or something, we always laugh and have a good time. You know,
wherever we are, wherever we go, it's just such a positive good vibe
in this band. We are the best of friends and we really have fun. And
I've done everything I can to make it a band situation where there's
democracy and everybody can write and everybody pretty much do. There's
so much creative energy in this band that it would be a shame to let
it go to waste.
the more you give, the more you get, so I'm happy to present this freedom
to everyone I work with. The band is flourishing and all the best ideas
are coming to
The songs that make the album are the best songs
and it doesn't matter who wrote them. We recorded 18 songs for this
Tobbe: So you've got a lot of bonus material?
Michael: Actually at least half of them were
too good to be bonuses, so they're gonna have to wait for the next album.
All I can say it's guaranteed to be all killers, no fillers. I won't
put out anything less. Why put a filler on an album, you know? Every
song has to be as strong as the other one and therefore I like to say
that the last 4 albums, including the new one, have some of the strongest
stuff I've done in my solo career, and a lot of people tend to agree.
Tobbe: How are you able to capture the moment
and the atmosphere when you're standing in a room with just a microphone
in front of you?
Michael: Well, you just throw yourself into
it. It's like "How are you gonna do a show every night on tour,
when you certainly not gonna feel at your best every night?". Nobody
does. There's about to be some nights when you're like "Oh, God."
and not the first thing you wanna do is get up on stage and do your
thing. But you just go and you just do it and that's the difference
between an amateur and a professional. I learned that from working with
Bob Ezrin. That was a big learning experience, doing that Two Steps
From The Move album [Hanoi Rocks, 1984].
It was a huge learning experience and he was
a great guy. Very smart. Yeah, you got to just muster up the energy
and you get into that head, 'cause when you're on stage you're kind
of almost superhuman. You do a lot of stuff that you feel afterwards
when the adrenaline is not pumping. When you're lying in bed you're
like "Oh, maybe I should not have done that.". You know, you
feel the aches and pains.
But you just sort of enter a state of mind. It's
like life or death. It's like going to war, you know. I kind of think
like I'm a superhero when I'm out there. And that's what people like
to see too and that's why you got to be in good shape to do what I do.
I like to put on a show as good as possible, so people get their money's
Like with Hanoi, you know, we put on a good
show and we don't wanna just stand there with our backs to the audience
in dirty jeans and greasy hair playing 20-minute solos like a lot of
the bands at the time were doing. They were like "Are you guys
trying to be rock stars?" - "No, we're not. We are. We're
rockers and we're giving people their money's worth. Give them a good
give everything. As much as I can. I admire bands actually where some
singer just stands there, but has the presence to have people paying
attention. That's actually to me even more impressive than me running
around like a crazy man and climbing up all over the place.
Tobbe: It's just different styles of doing
the same thing actually. I guess you're just doing what comes from within
and if it works it works.
Michael: Yeah. I think it's, you know, high-energy
rock 'n' roll and especially with this band behind me the energy comes
when we hit the first note. We can't do a bad gig with this band. We
have such a strong chemistry. And these guys are such great players.
We hardly ever rehearse, except for maybe some soundchecks and stuff.
A day here and another one there, 'cause everybody lives around the
world, you know.
Steve Conte lives in New York City. Rich Jones
lived in Berlin for a few years, but now he's back in Toronto. Sam Yaffa
has a place in Mallorca and in Helsinki. Karl Rockfist used to live
in L.A. and that's where we found him, but he grew up in Stockholm and
his father is Finnish and his mother is Swedish as it turned out and
it was just by chance that we found him in L.A.. He'd been living there
for 15 years. Now he lives in Stockholm, which makes things easier.
Actually when we started this band in 2010, in
January, we rehearsed for 3 weeks in L.A. and the drummer that I was
gonna have was Jimmy Clark who played on Demolition 23 [Self-titled,
1994], but at the end of the 3 weeks Jimmy calls me and says "Look
Mike. I'm sorry Michael. I can't commit to this to a 100 percent."
and I was like "Okay. Thanks for telling me now. We got one day
before we're supposed to finish and be ready for everything.".
But then Karl Rockfist came in the next day and
we told him to quickly learn, like, 3 songs. And he came in and he was
phenomenal. He was a great drummer and he was a great guy and as it
turned out he was born in Finland in a place called Karjaa/Karis. Grew
up in Stockholm, Finnish father, Swedish mother; what are the odds finding
a guy like that in L.A.? You know, it's like "Okay. This is meant
Tobbe: When you're telling me this I'm thinking
about how the world is really getting smaller nowadays.
Michael: Yeah, that's true actually. With the
internet you can keep in touch and keep in contact with the rest of
the world easily, so it doesn't really matter where you live. Me choosing
Finland and the city of Turku, after Stockholm, London and New York
City. 10 years in New York City and then of my own will I wanted to
move to Turku, Finland, and this speaks very highly of the city I live