Finlands egen Mick Jagger är tillbaka med ett riktigt bra album, “Blackout states”. Vi passade på att ringa upp det finska energiknippet för att stämma av läget. Som vanligt sprudlade orden ur Michael och det är påtagligt att han trivs väldigt bra ihop med sina bandmedlemmar:
“We´ve really established a great chemistry and a great vibe that is really rare. You don´t see that every day and it happens once in a blue moon, so I feel very lucky.”
”Blackout states” is a great sounding album. Chips Kiesby must´ve done wonders with it?
Michael: Yeah, he was a great choice. Sound wise, for the first time as far as I can remember, when we were mixing we didn´t have to enhance the drum sounds with any samples or anything, because Chips had miked them right. He´s very good at that. The songs were pretty much together and he was also cool enough to know that there was no need to rearrange anything. He´s our generation and he has the same kinda taste in music and he was reasonably priced. In this day and age you don´t wanna go over the top and pay some big hotshot producer, who´s gonna charge tens of thousands or Euros and then just sit there and go “Yeah, that sounds good.” (laughs) He was great to work with and I like his band Sator. Mind you, I like the album that nobody else likes, “Musical differencies”. It´s a fricking masterpiece. Chips told me that the critics slammed it and nobody liked it. It was experimental and different from their usual stuff. I did a tv-show in Stockholm once when they were playing too and they gave me their record. It´s like the “Sgt Pepper” of their band´s career. Chips said it´s pretty much out of print. He had some in a box somewhere and he gave me some copies. My cd was so worn out, so he gave me a few copies and I gave Steve Conte one, because I knew he´d appreciate it.
Did you learn anything from working with Chips?
Michael: Nothing significant. We just like to have a producer and to have an extra pair of ears and someone who has another perspective on things. We´ve all produced album ourselves, but we´re not producers. You learn some things about working with him, that if we´re gonna work with him in the future, we know even better to how to go about it. It takes a lot to get to know a person and how they work. We haven´t decided anything and we just take one step at a time, but I wouldn´t object working with Chips again. It was a good choice and he wasn´t trying to change anything for the sake of changing. It was just right and we got sounds. The studio in Gothenburg was his choice and it was a good place. Maybe not the flavor of the month in this day and age. I´m sure the studio had its heyday some years ago, but it´s still a great studio and it´s got a lot of vintage gear, like old microphones and amps. Stuff I´ve never even seen before.
You´ve recorded in numerous studios over the years. Can the vibe of a studio in some way ruin a recording?
Michael: Actually, I think a person can ruin the recording. It all depends on who you´re working with. If you have the wrong producer, somebody who´s giving the thing a bad vibe, that can ruin it more than the place. You can make pretty much any place your home. This studio obviously had a great vibe and the smell and the feel of it was as such so as soon we walked into it we were like “Ok, this is homey.” I was doing a thing with The Boys guitarist Honest John Plain a few years back, I played some sax on his solo album and we did it at Rockfield Studios and the vibe was really cool. I heard later on that so many great records were recorded there. There´s definitely a vibe and you can tell when you play, because things just flow. But the vibe… you´re actually right about that.
After all these years, when you come to the point of releasing a new album, is there any nervousness involved in any way?
Michael: Well, it´s more like excitement. I think I´ve always tried to make records as good as they can be and never put any fillers on them. If a song wasn´t strong enough, I won´t put it on the record and my motto is “All killers, no fillers.” If I can live with the record and I feel good about it, then it´s kinda exciting to see what everybody else thinks of it. I´m pretty sure the fans won´t be disappointed and it´ll just be interesting what the critics and different types of people will say about it, but I´m never worried about whether people are gonna like it or not. When I know it´s for real, authentic, honest and done for the right reasons and not just to put something out to make money and it has all the ingredients required for a great rock and roll record and I´m 100 % happy with it, then I´m not really that concerned what other people think.
Do you read reviews?
Michael: I think one should allow people to have their point of view. To some people it will sound like something else and somebody else will say “What are you talking about? It doesn´t sound like anything like it.” It´s all opinions and points of view and everybody have their own and luckily we´re all created differently. 9 out of 10 times I don´t care what it says. A lot of people look at me in different ways and there´s all this categorization that I always try to… Hanoi Rocks was great because we defied all categories. It´s always been rock and roll. It was never glam or punk or whatever. I guess our music was more punk than glam. You call The Roling Stones just rock. What I´m trying to say is, sometimes I read reviews and sometimes not. We always laugh at “sleaze rock”. We still don´t know what it means? I´m not a sleazy kinda guy. I never screwed around and I´ve never been with a groupie in my life. I´m not a sleaze ball and I really don´t identify with that at all. Something that used to annoy me about reviews, but I kinda laugh at now, is that seldom do you get to read a review that is 10/10. Critics should be people who are into the band and know the band´s history and really like it and that way they know what they´re talking about. If it is a great record and there´s nothing wrong with it, why not give it 10/10? But they always wanna seem like they´re a little bit above the regular people and that they know something more than others. But I do read reviews out of interest and in recent years we´ve really gotten great feedback from all areas and people really seem to appreciate what I do with this band. I´m pleased about that.
There´s a song on the album called “The good old bad days”. What were the good old bad days?
Michael: Well, it was good to be bad. (laughs) That´s when music had more business in the music business. The song is pretty much saying that there could be more of that. Those days, in the 60´s and 70´s and the 80´s, bands weren´t thinking that much about the business and the record companies. There was no term like heavy metal even, until the early 80´s or something. Nobody thought about what genre or trend it was gonna be or what it was gonna be called or how much it was gonna sell. People just did their own thing and bands had more personality for that reason and the motivation was making music and creating something interesting and exciting. Like me and my band today, we don´t think about that stuff, but the business has become more about how to market things and package it. When something has a name, like grunge or punk or glam, it´s over in my book because that means there´s like a group of bands or artists that are trying to sound the same. For example, Nirvana came out of the blue. A brilliant band and they became huge and then there was like 1000 bands trying to sound like them, thinking that´s the ticket to success. They´re not gonna sound as good as them, but they´re gonna sound similar and the record companies encourage this, because they can sell the package and market it as the latest thing. That way, everybody starts sounding the same and not as good as the original thing and that kinda kills creativity. Greed has really taken its toll on the quality of music and rock and roll especially. There could be a bit more of the punk stuff and the good old bad days. I´ve never played it safe. We still got it and we´re still doing it the same way. That song just came to me one night and I had to get out of bed and put the idea down otherwise I would´ve forgotten about it in the morning. It was a stream of consciousness that came out really easy.
Does that happen a lot?
Michael: Sometimes. It all depends. Whenever that happens it´s great. It´s my favorite thing when the song comes together really easy, like that one did. Sometimes you have to work harder at it and it requires more work. It´s harder to write a simple song as opposed to a more complicated one. To keep it simple requires skill and patience. The song “The bastard´s bash”, that song I had the music for and the melody and everything, but no lyrics. I had maybe seven different titles and lyrics for that one and I just wasn´t happy with it. We were in the studio recording the basic tracks and I said to Steve Conte “Feel free to suggest anything if you have any ideas.” Then we worked on it together and we finished the lyrics together in the studio. There´s a lot of creative energy I this band and a lot of great writers and Rich Jones has brought a lot. Soundwise I think it has to do a lot with him. The sound is a bit more punky, like The Clash and The Boys type of punk.
Seems like you´ve got a really great band now and there seems to be a strong creative force within the band.
Michael: Absolutely. It´s a great band and I couldn´t hope for a better bunch of guys to play with and we´re really the best of friends and we have a great time together. That´s really essential in this day and age. If you´re gonna go on tour and live with these guys and basically live on the tour bus month after month, you better have a good atmosphere. It only takes one guy to ruin the whole vibe, Ginger (The Wildhearts) used to say “There´s a wanker in every anchor.” (laughs), but I refuse to accept that. I don´t think you have to have that and I refuse to put up with a situation like that. I´m very pleased with this band. Sami Yaffa and me were the ones who started this band and it´s been the same since 2010 and only the other guitar player has changed, from Ginger to Dregen (Backyard Babies) to Rich Jones. We´ve really established a great chemistry and a great vibe that is really rare. You don´t see that every day and it happens once in a blue moon, so I feel very lucky.
About the “good old bad days”. Are you nostalgic in any way?
Michael: No, not really. I mean, there are good things about the past, but I didn´t know as much as I do now. Life doesn´t necessarily get easier, but you get better at it and you´re better at handling it. You evolve all the time and that´s what keeps me hungry. You´re never good enough and there’s always room for improvement. I´m having more fun now than I ever did before, so I´m not really longing for the good old bad days. I´m not really pining for the past or longing for the old days. There were good times and bad times. This band is the best I´ve had since I started my solo career.
How do you feel about fame? Is that a necessary evil that comes with being a musician?
Michael: A necessary evil is right. Maybe not that evil, but it comes with the territory and it´s part of my job description. Depending on what country I´m in, people will recognize me and ask for autographs and stuff. They often say “Sorry to bother you. You must ne tired of people asking for autographs?”, but I never complain about giving autographs. I actually carry cards with me that are already signed and I always have a pen with me. If nobody asked for my autograph it would be a bad thing, as far as my career goes. It´s part of my job and I´m an entertainer and I wanna make people happy.
Do you get a lot of people telling you that your music has saved them or helped them through rough times?
Michael: Sometimes yes. It´s nice to hear that some lyrics have brought up some questions or thoughts that people would normally not have thought of and that´s what I always try to do. I think that lyrics are tools for positive action. I like to tell the truth and be honest and I also have to have some meaning in my lyrics in order to sing them with conviction. I can´t just sing about any superficial crap. There has to be some kind of message. Nothing too meaningful, political or heavy, but something people can relate to. The whole thing about the punk thing was that it was a kick in the ass to all these rich rock stars who were living in their castles totally out of touch with reality and just making selfish albums that no one was really that interested in and trying to be serious musicians. You wanna write stuff that people can relate to. We´re all in the same boat and we´re all going down with the ship. (laughs) The other thing is that I like to leave things open to interpretation. You don´t wanna be too specific about your lyrics. There was this song I wrote, “Always right”, which is about how I`m always right even if I´m wrong. A fan came up to me and said that it really changed their lives and this person explained a completely different concept for the lyrics and I was like “Really? Cool, that´s what I meant.” (laughs) Nobody can have exactly the same experience as you´ve had yourself, so I always like to leave room for interpretation.
You´ve worked with a lot of musicians through the years. Is there any certain musician you would like to work with one day?
Michael: This band is who I like to work with right now. People have asked me that recently, who I would like to work with if I could choose anybody? Little Richard would be cool. It would be cool to say that I´ve worked with him or The Rolling Stones, but as I said, I´m very pleased with the band I have and if I had all the musicians in the world to choose from, I would choose these guys.
Have you ever met Little Richard?
Michael: Little Steven took me to his 60th birthday party. Little Richard looked at me from head to toe and just said “Oh my!” (laughs) I got his autograph.
Of all the gigs you´ve played, are there any that stick out more than others? Any fun ones?
Michael: Well, there are several. A great one was with Guns N´Roses at Milton Keynes (1993). They flew in Ronnie Wood do to “Honky tonk women” and I played on “Knocking on heaven´s door”. That was a great day and I got to hang out with Ronnie. It was really cool. My grandmother had just passed away and I was in Finland when Slash called me and flew me over. When we played the song, Axl (Rose) just said “Have fun, Michael!” and I did a long solo and then later on I realized “Of course, my grandmother, knocking on heaven´s door.” That was a special night and one of the coolest shows. I ended up playing on “Honky tonk women” too.
Do you have one valuable lesson you´ve learned throughout the years?
Michael: You learn all the time as you go along, but what I´ve learned is that I´m glad I´ve maintained my integrity and stayed true to myself and never compromised for the wrong reasons, even though I had a lot of pressure, especially from the labels. I stubbornly stuck to my guns and my principals. Even to a fault, where I stopped myself from selling millions when I could´ve. For example the “Not faking it” album. They had this commercial on TV and they showed it all the time, like on the commercial breaks for Headbanger´s Ball on MTV. It said something like “Michael Monroe is the real thing. He´s the brains behind Hanoi Rocks.” And I was just like, “the brains behind Hanoi Rocks”? Hanoi Rocks had no brains and that was the best thing about the band. It was misrepresentative and I said that” If I´m gonna be famous and make it big, I wanna do it on my own terms.” I called the label and asked who approved the commercial? It made it feel like Hanoi Rocks was all calculated and we were spontaneous, which was one of the most important things. They said “Well, when you sell millions of records like Bon Jovi, then you can make demands like that.” I just said “I don´t care and I want you to take it off the air.” So they pulled the plug, but at the same time they pulled the plug on the whole album and it died. That’s for being stubborn. I don´t know how much it sold altogether, but somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. It was on its way to becoming a huge record and maybe I didn´t have to so stubbornly stick to my principals, but I still feel good because I didn´t compromise my integrity and today I can look at myself in the mirror and feel good about what I´ve done with a clear conscience. My sleep is untroubled. (laughs)
Where do you think your stubbornness come from?
Michael: Probably being Finnish I guess. (laughs) Finnish people are kinda like that. Maybe it´s that or maybe it´s just my nature. Finnish people are like “Million dollars or not, I don´t give a shit.” My values are more important than to make a quick buck. Even if I would become a millionaire and become one of the biggest names in the world, it wouldn´t be worth anything if I´d turn into an asshole in the process. That was always the most important thing when I started my career. I could be one of the biggest stars in the world, but it wouldn´t be worth anything if I sold my soul.
What does Finland mean to you these days?
Michael: Well, I live here now, in Turkuu. I was born and grew up in Helsinki and at the time when Hanoi Rocks started, the first mission was to get out of Finland. To get as far away as possible. We moved to Stockholm, which was better. Back then people didn´t beat you up for the way you looked, but in Finland it was crazy. There were these James Dean kinds and everybody looked like Fonzie in “Happy days” and they kicked our asses. There were gangs that beat people up for looking different. There were no tolerance for difference. It was like a cross over between the Teddy Boys and the skinheads and it was pretty scary. People got beat up real bad and some even died. The railway station in Helsinki over the weekend was like suicide walking through there. The way me and Andy (McCoy) looked, they couldn´t categorize us. The hippies were hippies and the punks were punks, but Andy had the coolest jacket. Red with leopard skin and lapels and his hairdo had different colors and I had these electric blue pvc pants and a jacket from a mental hospital. My hair was blonde on top and it was almost down to my waist and they were just like “Huh, what the hell is this? Who are these fucking freaks?” We were too much even for the James Dean kids. A couple of times I had to run though, because there was a big gang after me. When Hanoi Rocks became the biggest band in Finland, one of our greatest accomplishments in my book, was that we forced the Finnish people to change their attitudes and become more open minded. First they hated us, but as soon as we became a name abroad, like in England, then they changed their attitude. We never got anything back from Finland until we made ourselves a bit of a name abroad. That´s the way it is. You can be really popular in other countries in the world, but when you come home, people don´t give a shit. Nowadays, people really appreciate my work, more so then ever and I´m really happy with the current situation.
How do you feel about getting older?
Michael: Well, it´s a state of mind and it´s just a number. I think that as long as you keep a fresh, young mind, you can stay young forever no matter what. I believe your attitude has a lot to do with it. My profession requires me to stay in pretty good physical shape, so that´s a good kinda curse. I can never let myself go too far to be able to do what I do on stage. I think your better with age and we all get older. I even forget how old I am. All I remember is that I was born in 1962, the same year The Rolling Stones were born. (laughs) I really don´t worry about it. I´m happy and every day above ground healthy, is a good day. I try to live like every day could be my last. Life is good and I enjoy it.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Ville Juurikkala (promobilder)