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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.

The 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 hard.

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.

We 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 [1989], 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 actually.

And 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 player.

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 building it?

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.

In 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 [1974]. 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 categories.

One 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 players… 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 for sure.".

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 about yourself.

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]

Tobbe: 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 life.

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… I don't 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.

So 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 record.

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 worth

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 show.".

I 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 to be.".

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 in.

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