Michael Monroe is more than the Elvis Presley of Finland. Michael is a rock and roll statesman, a LEGEND and a hard rock pioneer. I interviewed his fellow HANOI ROCKS cohort Andy McCoy many years ago and have always wanted to get a few minutes to talk to Michael. The fact that his latest album, SENSORY OVERDRIVE, is probably the best thing he has ever released is just icing on the cake. To see Michael and his band (who are pretty amazing in their own right) kicking this much ass at this stage of the game is simply inspiring. Michael and HANOI ROCKS pretty much created the template that every Sunset Strip rock band and frontman rode to the top and it is extremely satisfying to see that his band and his music is still finding new audiences and touring the world. Every song on album (released last year) is wicked strong and I talked a great deal about it to the man himself as well as taking a few moments to ask about the recent Hanoi Rocks reunion last decade and a few other things. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking to us Michael. You’ve pretty much defined my version of rock and roll for decades now and I am especially glad to finally be interviewing you following the release of your last album, “SENSORY OVERDRIVE” which to me was one of the highlights of 2011 hands down. How is 2012 treating the band and what are your plans for touring and promotion going forward?
Michael Monroe: Thank you so much. 2011 was good to us and 2012 has started out pretty good! The band and I will still be touring in support of “SENSORY OVERDRIVE” while we work on new material for the follow up album.
LRI: I may piss some people off here but I think that the album is easily the best overall album you have made over a career that spans many, many releases. I think it sounds better sonically and has the best set of songs you have ever put together. I think that if someone was a kid just checking out your career they could easily START with this album and go backwards. I enjoy your albums with Hanoi Rocks of course but think that the production on this album is also one of many reasons I like SENSORY OVERDRIVE so much. I think this stands next to the CHEAP TRICK debut as one of the major highlights in Jack Douglas’s catalog. How was it working with Jack who has such a knack for picking up the energy of a live band and making a great studio album.?
MM: Thanks for sharing your high opinion about “Sensory Overdrive”John. That’s a great compliment plus I tend to agree that it’s probably the best album of my career. Working with Jack was cool and a fun experience. Plus he had some great Aerosmith and John Lennon stories etc… Jack had a few great arrangement ideas for the songs and he didn’t try to change anything just for the sake of changing things, which was very cool of him. Especially since most of the songs were pretty well together already before Jack’s involvement. I must add that Petri Majuri’s mix also played a key role in the process of making the album sound as good as it does. But yeah, working with Jack was great.
LRI: One of the things I liked the most about the albums you recorded with Hanoi Rocks post 2000 was that you were much more involved in the songwriting than on the earlier pre-1985 albums. Did it rejuvenate your focus going forward? Without delving too much into Hanoi Rocks how important was that period of reformation and touring to the songwriting on SENSORY OVERDRIVE?
MM: Being more involved in the post 2000 Hanoi’s songwriting and stuff WAS the main reason I was into doing the whole thing.It was interesting and fascinating to see what I could accomplish musically after all those years, finally working on an equal basis with Andy McCoy, unlike in the early 80’s. However, that period had really nothing to do with the songwriting on “Sensory Overdrive”. I had just come to a certain point in my life and career to make such a record, that’s all.
LRI: I kind of noticed that this album received the most promotion and push here in the states that I remember since NOT FAKING IT which was an album that kind of reaffirmed your legendary status here in our country back in 1989. Musically and sonically SENSORY is much stronger, grittier and live sounding than NOT FAKIN IT. With all due respect, this album and songs like “Modern Day Miracle” and “Got Blood” are as heavy or heavier than anything you ever recorded with HANOI ROCKS. Do you think it’s fair to say that 2012 Michael Monroe Band has a little bit more energy and venom than you did in those days and if so how is that possible, how do you maintain all that energy?
MM: Really? “Sensory Overdrive” received that much promotion and push in the States..? I didn’t really notice that…I hope it did too (laughs). Well, when comparing this one with my past albums one must keep in mind that it was a different time and place in life back then, so it’s not completely fair to compare in that sense. However, I’d like to think that I’m getting better at what I do, at least I try to, and it’s nice to hear that I seem to be doing so. Yes, I feel that me and this band have a lot more energy than I’ve ever had before with any band in the past. I guess it’s a higher force that takes over. And channelling all my experiences (good or bad) from over the years into positive explosive energy on stage has a lot to do with it. That, and endlessly striving for greatness, knowing that one can never be “good enough” – there’s always room for improvement.
LRI: Hanoi Rocks recorded one of the greatest ballads ever in “Don’t You Ever Leave Me” but that was not indicative of the hard rock direction of Hanoi overall or of your solo career. There are still many of those signature melodic moments on SENSORY OVERDRIVE including “ALL YOU NEED” and “GONE BABY GONE” and it feels like a lot of your personality shines through the compositions. When you are writing a song does the melody come to you before the riff or do you usually build on a riff?
MM: Well, melody is always important but then so is the riff. That depends on the song, the situation, who I’m writing with, if anyone, and things like that.
LRI: Speaking of songwriting, you have always made really interesting decisions about collaborations whether in performances, band member choices or collaborative songwriting. You’ve toured with Motorhead and Lemmy makes an appearance on SENSORY OVERDRIVE. After all these years do you find it more enjoyable to bounce ideas off of other artists or to create on your own?
MM: I find it more enjoyable, more creative AND more productive collaborating with other artists.
LRI: You’ve had really good bands like The Last Vegas open up some shows for you. I know it’s part of your job but are you still a fan of checkin out new bands? Do you still enjoy taking in a rock show even when you’re not performing in one?