Michael Mon­roe

He’s dealt with home­less­ness and anorexia, sur­vived Hanoi Rocks’ hell­rais­ing, and found solo suc­cess. Michael Mon­roe looks back at a roller-coaster ca­reer.

Classic Rock - - Contents - micHael mon­Roe MM’s The Best is out now via Spine­farm.

Fin­land’s fore­most blond bomb­shell – and suc­cess­ful solo artist – talks home­less­ness, anorexia, the hell­rais­ing days of Hanoi Rocks and more.

Ex­plod­ing through the door in a jan­gle of ban­gles, Michael Mon­roe is ev­ery inch the rock star. Whip­pet lean, stun­ningly stat­uesque, bomb­shell-blond and car­ry­ing off a look mere mor­tals wouldn’t dare at­tempt – black waist­coat over be­jew­elled bare torso, black trousers adorned with more su­per­flu­ous buck­les ’n’ straps than an S&M bondage con­ven­tion – he col­lapses into a sofa, crosses a sig­nif­i­cant yardage of leg and widens his Kohl-smudged, doe eyes to em­bark upon a re­veal­ing jour­ney into an in­ci­dent-packed past.

So how has the for­mer Hanoi Rocks front­man en­dured mul­ti­ple set­backs to en­joy a solo ca­reer that only im­proves with age? “I’m al­ways a rocker, even at home,” he jan­gles. “Johnny Thun­ders used to laugh: ‘You don’t even go to the store with­out wear­ing make-up.’”

Mike’s the real deal al­right. And he’s paid way more dues than most, as we shall see.

You took pi­ano lessons from the age of five. Whose de­ci­sion was that?

My mother’s, at first. Then, when I dis­cov­ered rock’n’roll, I de­cided to take more pi­ano lessons my­self. Up un­til then I’d only heard clas­si­cal mu­sic, but rock’n’roll got me into play­ing again. I taught my­self gui­tar, then took lessons in clas­si­cal flute for about a year, which helped me pick up the sax. Andy [McCoy] gave me a blues harp when I was fif­teen and I learned that, just suck­ing and blow­ing. That’s what I’m still do­ing, just suck­ing and blow­ing. I learnt sax play­ing along with Lit­tle Richard and Coast­ers records, that raspy, fifties sound.

What events hap­pened in your for­ma­tive years that most in­flu­enced your ca­reer choice? I was born in sixty-two, the same year as the Rolling Stones and two months af­ter Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe died. The first band I saw live was Slade in 1972. I’m so glad my mother let me go. I’ve got older broth­ers so I went with them. The acous­tics were hor­ri­ble, they played so loud I couldn’t hear for two days, but it was great. My sec­ond show was The Sweet, right af­ter the Sweet Fanny Adams al­bum. I snuck in for noth­ing be­cause I was so tiny, and was blown away. I saw Suzi Qu­a­tro three times in Fin­land. At the Fin­lan­dia Hall in Helsinki, peo­ple stood up to dance and the bounc­ers tried to make them sit down. Suzi went nuts: ‘Let those peo­ple be, they’re just hav­ing a good time.’ She was great. How fa­mous was your dad and what ef­fect did his celebrity have on you when you were grow­ing up?

It didn’t af­fect me that much, but pretty much ev­ery­body in Fin­land knew who he was. When I was a kid there were only three ra­dio chan­nels, one in Swedish, two in Fin­nish. Ra­dio an­nounc­ers had to speak prop­erly and have in­tegrity, and my fa­ther was one of the last of that gen­er­a­tion. He had an ex­cep­tion­ally soft-sound­ing voice, and for a lot of lonely old peo­ple, his voice was the only com­pany they had at night, so he was very much loved. At first I was known as the son of Pentti Fager­holm, the ra­dio an­nouncer, then it turned around so that he was Michael Mon­roe’s dad. He was al­ways very sup­port­ive and proud of me. He came to a lot of my shows.

Was pur­su­ing a mu­si­cal ca­reer and chang­ing your name a way of claim­ing your own per­son­al­ity, to be judged as your own man rather than as a fa­mous fa­ther’s son?

I never felt the need. Me be­ing a rocker and him be­ing the straight peo­ple’s favourite was a cool con­tra­dic­tion. I was al­ways proud of him – he never over­shad­owed me, nor me him. It worked to both our ben­e­fits.

The name change was be­cause no­body could pro­nounce our Fin­nish names. My birth name was Matti, but since I was eight I was given the nick­name Makke. A Venezue­lan key­board player called me Mike. So when we de­cided to change our names for Hanoi Rocks, I thought Mike was cool but Michael bet­ter. And Mon­roe, I was born the sum­mer she died, al­ways thought she was classy, beau­ti­ful and cool, and Michael Mon­roe sounded good. At first Andy was go­ing to be Andy Mon­roe.

Your rock epiphany came watch­ing Black Sab­bath on TV when you were eight years old. What was the ap­peal?

It was so pow­er­ful, al­most punk. A mas­sive sound like noth­ing I’d ever heard and the singer was crazy. Go­ing nuts on stage with long hair, wild and free, they sounded like free­dom and they were mys­te­ri­ous. They all had their crosses, and I was like, okay, what are these guys about? Then I got their records and started learn­ing English from the lyrics printed on the cover of Mas­ter Of Re­al­ity. Ozzy’s singing was raw, he had a cool at­ti­tude and to­tally unique sound. Then I found out the lyrics weren’t about the devil at all, but about God, love and light, a great pos­i­tive mes­sage. It’s a mis­con­cep­tion that heavy metal should be all about devil wor­ship. Satan sucks, let’s face it. Satan may sell, but he sucks. I dig Je­sus’s style.

Pre-Hanoi Rocks, you were sup­posed to join Andy McCoy’s punk band Bri­ard on sec­ond gui­tar, but you re­fused to cut your hair.

Yes. It was ridicu­lous. The whole point of rock’n’roll was free­dom, be­ing your­self and in­di­vid­u­al­ity. The punk thing was great, but “You can join our punk band if you cut your hair”? What, to be in punk fash­ion? I’m not go­ing to be a slave to fash­ion. So I said no. And me and Andy started talk­ing about putting a real band to­gether, the way we thought a cool rock band should be, and that’s how Hanoi started. Af­ter skip­ping the army, I wasn’t go­ing to cut my hair just to be in a band.

Be­tween ’76 and ’79 you were in a band called, co­in­ci­den­tally, Mad­ness.

There was a guy, a lit­tle older than me. He was in the same class as one of my broth­ers and wanted to be a singer. He had an elec­tric gui­tar and amp, so I’d hang out and play. We saw punk and thought you don’t have to be such a good player, so we wrote some songs and played a party at his house.

The drum­mer also played with Andy in Bri­ard, and we shared a re­hearsal room in the base­ment of a Helsinki church, where I met Andy. Andy thought I was a gui­tarist at first. Then I told him I wanted to be a singer and we started hit­ting it off.

Be­tween school and the mu­si­cal ca­reer tak­ing off, how did you sup­port your­self? When we started Hanoi Rocks we were home­less. I had a few hun­dred Fin­nish marks, not much, when I left home and ended up in Stock­holm. So me, Sami Yaffa and Nasty Sui­cide were liv­ing on the streets for the first six months, beg­ging for change. We’d beg enough to get a ham­burger to

share, or a bot­tle of wine to for­get about the hunger. We be­friended other home­less peo­ple. We’d some­times go to a bar and I’d chat up some girl, and when she’d in­vite me to her house, I’d say: “Do you mind if my friends come along?” Then when we got to the house we’d head straight for the fridge. Af­ter six months of re­hears­ing, Zeppo, who’d ex­pressed an in­ter­est in manag­ing us be­fore we left Fin­land, came to Stock­holm to check us out at the re­hearsal place. We played our set, he thought it was great, started book­ing us shows in Fin­land, and that’s how we started mak­ing money. Andy McCoy wasn’t on the streets. He had a girl­friend [laughs].

The Hanoi Rocks story has been told many times, so let’s just touch on a few key mo­ments. Firstly, was re­lo­cat­ing to Lon­don an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity?

Yeah. Stock­holm was just a stopover. We wanted to make it in­ter­na­tion­ally, and Lon­don seemed like the cen­tre of the ac­tion back then. In the late seven­ties in Fin­land, look­ing like us was sui­cide. The gen­eral at­mos­phere was neg­a­tive, peo­ple were very nar­row-minded and in­tol­er­ant of any­thing dif­fer­ent. Hanoi changed a lot of that. We added a lit­tle colour and forced the Fin­nish peo­ple to be more open-minded. They hated us un­til we started get­ting fa­mous abroad, then ‘Look at these freaks, fag­gots, junkies’ be­came ‘Our boys wav­ing the Fin­nish flag abroad’. I al­ways con­sid­ered us an in­ter­na­tional band – we never got any­thing from Fin­land but shit at first.

When you ar­rived in Lon­don, what you were do­ing was counter to the pre­vail­ing post-punk land­scape, but a scene soon de­vel­oped around you. We were just a rock band that wanted to look good. From Lit­tle Richard to the Rolling Stones to the Ra­mones to punk, reg­gae, blues, we took in­flu­ences from any­thing. They tried to call us heavy metal, they tried to call us punk, then they fi­nally came up with the glam thing. I re­mem­ber some­one writ­ing that “the glam re­vival was started un­in­ten­tion­ally by a band that doesn’t even do glam”. Which is true. We were just a rock band.

Hanoi im­me­di­ately gained a rep­u­ta­tion for overindul­gence and may­hem. A re­port of your trip to Is­rael and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­tos came to de­fine the band, but you per­son­ally al­ways seemed a lot more fo­cused. How did you deal with the chaos?

I was al­ways like: “What am I go­ing to wake up to next?” “What have the guys done now?” I’m amazed we got out of Is­rael with­out be­ing thrown in jail. They were drink­ing twenty-four hours a day. Not try­ing to get a rep­u­ta­tion – it’s just the way they were. Maybe it’s part of be­ing Fin­nish. They’d al­ways get into sit­u­a­tions that’d get out of con­trol. I mean, Nasty Sui­cide…

The clue’s in the name, isn’t it?

Yeah, re­ally. He had some kind of karma. If a bird shit near him, it wouldn’t land on a car or on the street, it’d land on his shoul­der or his head or some­thing. He was like a bad luck charm. Al­ways got into trou­ble, and al­ways at the worst mo­ment. It was al­most com­i­cal. I wasn’t more fo­cused than the other guys, I just wasn’t as out of it. I never liked drink­ing. I had my own demons, and I went through a lot of stuff I kept to my­self.

How was life as ‘the most beau­ti­ful man in rock’? Were you in a re­la­tion­ship, or did your rep­u­ta­tion leave you the most un­ap­proach­able man in rock?

[Laughs] I was un­ap­proach­able on pur­pose.

I liked to be left alone. I’ve never been with a groupie in my life. I was never in­ter­ested in ca­sual re­la­tion­ships. I was al­ways too se­ri­ous.

I’d have long pe­ri­ods of con­tem­pla­tion. I’d be al­most de­pressed, quite melan­choly. I en­joyed wal­low­ing in my mis­ery some­times.

But there was a time when I was very lonely. In eighty-three I was mainly wear­ing black and white and was very lonely for a very long pe­riod of time, but in eighty-four I started light­ing up again. When me and [late Lords Of The New Church vo­cal­ist] Stiv Ba­tors hit it off, I started wear­ing all the colours un­der the sun and life started be­com­ing fun again.

I went through a drug thing, but got to a point where I said, “I’ve got to stop every­thing or I’m go­ing to lose my mind.” I started ex­er­cis­ing and swim­ming. I’d run to the lo­cal pool, swim for an hour or two with­out stop­ping, run home, eat a lit­tle muesli and have a salad for din­ner. I was so skinny I could touch my fin­gers around my waist. I started look­ing like an old man even though I was only twenty. Look­ing back on it, I was anorexic. It was my way of say­ing “screw you” to ev­ery­one.

I was skin­nier than Andy. Even though Andy doesn’t have much mus­cle tone be­cause he never ex­er­cises, ex­cept for this [raises a bot­tle], he gets enough ex­er­cise push­ing his luck. At least I was mus­cu­lar, be­cause I was ex­er­cis­ing all the time – over-ex­er­cis­ing. And with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing it, I was on a liq­uid diet. I was skin and bone. Then we had three weeks off in Au­gust eighty-four and I went to the Fin­nish coun­try­side where I spent my sum­mers as a kid with my mother’s home-cooked food. I started eat­ing nor­mally, lit­tle blue­berry pies, my favourite foods. I was still ex­er­cis­ing so the weight came on evenly. I didn’t even no­tice.

So be­ing off the road put you in a bet­ter place men­tally.

Yeah. All of a sud­den I’m back to nor­mal.

Liv­ing in the midst of the most may­hem-filled rock band in the world can’t have been the eas­i­est place to be when you’re feel­ing lonely. Very lonely.

“In the late seven­ties in Fin­land, look­ing like us was sui­cide. Hanoi changed a lot of that.”

And be­ing told you’re the most beau­ti­ful man in rock didn’t help.

It doesn’t mean any­thing. It’s flat­ter­ing, but freaky. Most peo­ple think you’re a girl [laughs]. I’d walk down the street and hear: “Al­right, babe. Nice ass.” In Sounds’ Read­ers’ Poll in 1985 we were in ev­ery cat­e­gory. I was num­ber one in Sex Ob­ject. I wanted to be known for my tal­ent as a mu­si­cian rather than as just a pretty face. It didn’t hurt to be pretty, but it can put you in a very lonely place, alone in a crowd with peo­ple pat­ting you on the back. But they’re not real friends and they don’t re­ally know you. The irony is you’d think any­one in that po­si­tion would also be the hap­pi­est, rich­est and most suc­cess­ful, but I had noth­ing. No friends out­side the band, and I was even alien­ated from them be­cause they re­sented me for not drink­ing twenty-four hours. I was quite lonely a lot of the time.” Raz­zle’s ar­rival, in 1982, changed the Hanoi Rocks dy­namic.

He made Hanoi per­fect.

What was the magic that he brought?

His at­ti­tude, his spirit, brought us back to life. The band was at a low point around that time. We were get­ting into some se­ri­ously bad shit with Andy hang­ing out with hard-core junkies. Raz­zle wasn’t great tech­ni­cally, but he had that gung-ho, us-against-the-world at­ti­tude and fit in with the band’s style per­fectly. I loved that he was to­tally de­ter­mined to be in the band, and when he joined we were a real gang.

You were all clearly heart­bro­ken by Raz­zle’s death in 1984. You’d lost a close friend and, look­ing back, it was em­blem­atic of the end of the Hanoi dream.

That’s right. And we weren’t strong enough to sur­vive such a huge blow, the dev­as­ta­tion of los­ing a best friend. Right in the mid­dle of the crazi­ness and sup­pos­edly fun times, this tragedy hap­pened. Sami Yaffa leav­ing the band was an­other de­cid­ing fac­tor. Ev­ery­body was vi­tal to the chem­istry of that fam­ily unit, so with­out Sami there was just me, Andy and Nasty left. The new guys had the wrong at­ti­tude. They’d have been a dis­as­ter and ru­ined a good mem­ory of a great band. That’s why it was cru­cial to fin­ish Hanoi Rocks [in mid-’85], put it to rest with in­tegrity in­tact. If we’d per­se­vered and be­come one of the big­gest bands in the world, it would have been even worse. No mat­ter how much money we’d have had, no mat­ter how much fame, it would have been cursed.

It was a hard time, I had no idea what I was go­ing to do. Stiv Ba­tors was my only friend.

Andy and Nasty were re­ally down there [drink­ing], and I was up there [sober]. So there was no con­nec­tion. Nasty was cool, though. When they de­cided to put the Cherry Bombz to­gether, he came round and asked if we could go out to lunch so he could tell me he was plan­ning to join Andy’s band. I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the ges­ture and gave him my bless­ing.

“I wasn’t more fo­cused than the other guys in Hanoi Rocks,

I just wasn’t as out of it.”

On your re­turn to Lon­don fol­low­ing Raz­zle’s death, you guested on stage with the Lon­don Cow­boys at the Ful­ham Grey­hound on New Year’s Eve ’84. A fate­ful night?

Yeah, a re­ally im­por­tant night. Stiv’s wife Stacy dis­ap­peared with Andy McCoy, and me and Stiv con­nected. I re­mem­ber Stiv say­ing: “Do you think those guys are in love, or is it just the smack?” We ended up back at Stiv’s place, singing har­monies. I looked af­ter Stiv’s cat, Ziggy, when he was on tour, and even­tu­ally moved in. Af­ter that we be­came re­ally close. I was a big fan be­fore we met and we made a strong con­nec­tion spir­i­tu­ally. He en­cour­aged me to start my solo ca­reer and to start writ­ing songs. That’s when I de­cided, “Okay, I’ll be Michael Mon­roe and con­tinue solo.”

Why did you re­lo­cate from Lon­don to New York City to put your first solo band to­gether? Lit­tle Steven came over to pro­duce the Lords Of The New Church Lord’s Prayer sin­gle. Stiv knew what a big fan I was, so he brought him over. Stiv showed him the Hanoi Rocks Boule­vard Of Bro­ken Dreams video, and Steven was like: ‘What the fuck is this? This is the great­est band I’ve ever seen, man. What are you guys do­ing now?’ So I told him the whole story, and he de­cided he wanted to help me with my solo ca­reer.

While we were record­ing demos, Steven was also work­ing on the Sun City project, so he in­vited me and Stiv to sing on it. Ap­pear­ing on Sun City, col­lab­o­rat­ing with Miles Davis, Pete Town­shend, Bono, Keith Richards, Ron­nie Wood, Bob Dy­lan, all these great peo­ple, was the first thing I did in my solo ca­reer. I felt so proud to be part of it. Stiv and I sang our parts in Lon­don, then Steven flew us over to do the video in New York. We slept on Stiv’s friend’s floor for a week, and I de­cided to move to New York and start over. The mem­o­ries in Lon­don had be­come sad since Raz­zle died, so I fig­ured it was time for a new start. So I moved, started meet­ing mu­si­cians, and even­tu­ally made the Nights Are So Long al­bum. It was only re­leased in Scan­di­navia and Ja­pan at first, so I used it as an in­ter­na­tional demo, got signed to Poly­gram and made my first world­wide al­bum, Not Fakin’ It.

From Nights Are So Long on­wards, all ev­i­dence sug­gested you were about to break big, but sales re­mained mod­est. It must have been a frus­trat­ing time?

When pro­mot­ing Not Fakin’ It, the la­bel made a TV com­mer­cial that said ‘Michael Mon­roe, He’s Not Fakin’ It, The brains be­hind Hanoi Rocks’. Most peo­ple wouldn’t have no­ticed, and I prob­a­bly would have been fine leav­ing it alone, but I couldn’t live with it. I called the la­bel and said: “You can’t say: ‘The brains be­hind Hanoi Rocks’ – it wasn’t planned, it was spon­ta­neous.’ So they said: “You don’t like the ad? You want to pull it?’ And I said yes. I thought they were go­ing to make a new one, but they pulled the plug on the whole record.

Then Steve Stevens called and said he should be my gui­tar player, so I fig­ured maybe this could be some­thing. We worked on songs for a year and be­came friends. I wanted Lit­tle Steven to pro­duce the al­bum [re­leased un­der the name Jerusalem Slim], but the la­bel chose Michael Wa­gener, a heavy metal pro­ducer from Ger­many. That com­bi­na­tion was the worst. The record turned into a night­mare, the worst thing that ever hap­pened to my ca­reer. It ended up cost­ing me seven hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars to make a record ev­ery­body hated.

Af­ter record­ing the vo­cals in LA there was sup­posed to be a cou­ple of weeks of gui­tar over­dubs, which ended up be­ing three months of gui­tar hell. Steve started dou­bling and qua­dru­pling parts and so­los, with Wa­gener en­cour­ag­ing him to do all this noodling, flashy stuff. I tried to stop it at three hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars. I got my A&R guy to come from New York to Cal­i­for­nia, and I said: ‘Look, man, I’m beg­ging you. Stop this.’ Wa­gener played him some songs, and he was like: “Hey, this song’s great. It’s cool, dude.” And I said: “It’s not my record any more. It’s my deal and it’s gone right to fuck­ing hell. What do you want? To spend three hun­dred thou­sand more dol­lars and then re­alise it’s a piece of crap that no­body will love?”

Fi­nally, Steve started re­do­ing Sami Yaffa’s bass parts, took the soul out of the whole record. Then when it came to mix­ing, Steve had a fall­ing out with Wa­gener. He came to me and said: “He’s mix­ing it all wrong.” I said: “What!? Now you’re telling

me this? Je­sus. It’s wrong from the be­gin­ning.” So he said: “The only thing we can do with this record is scrap every­thing and start over.” Then he went to New York and dis­ap­peared. The next time I saw him he’s on the MTV Awards play­ing gui­tar for Vince Neil, of all peo­ple [fol­low­ing the road ac­ci­dent that led to Raz­zle’s death on De­cem­ber 8, 1984, Möt­ley Crüe’s Neil was charged with ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter and driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol]. Though, I’ve got to say, I never blamed him. How can you blame some­one for a hor­ri­ble ac­ci­dent?

Af­ter that it took me over a year to get off the la­bel. I had a ma­jor deal, was con­tracted for six or seven al­bums, but I’d never see a cent be­cause I al­ready owed a mil­lion, so the only thing to do was get off the la­bel. Then one day, thank God, I was dropped. My next move was to make the De­mo­li­tion 23 al­bum with Lit­tle Steven. We did it in two weeks – recorded the ba­sic tracks in three days, the vo­cals in two days, then we mixed it – and it was one of the best records I’ve ever done.”

De­mo­li­tion 23 was al­most a sec­ond in­car­na­tion of Hanoi Rocks, then Nasty Sui­cide re­tired from the mu­sic busi­ness. An­other blow?

[Laughs] Yeah, just my luck. Two steps up and five steps back. First of all Jay Hen­ing, the gui­tarist on the al­bum – great player, nice guy – got hit by a car and broke his leg. When he was fi­nally bet­ter, we were just about to go on tour and he got ar­rested for scor­ing drugs. My lawyer bailed him and he avoided jail, but couldn’t leave the coun­try, so we brought in Nasty. Then dur­ing the next tour Nasty said that he was go­ing to stop play­ing al­to­gether.

What prompted your re­turn home, from

New York back to Fin­land?

Though I was born in Helsinki, I spent all my sum­mers in the coun­try­side as a child and learned to ap­pre­ci­ate the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. My brother, who’d built him­self a house there, fixed up an old house, and me and my wife Jude and our cat Susi moved in. From one ex­treme to the other, Man­hat­tan to the mid­dle of nowhere.

The first year was great. I had no TV, was feel­ing good, re­ally cre­ative, chop­ping wood, shov­el­ling snow. Then in the sec­ond year it turned out there was a mould prob­lem and we had to get out. I found an­other house even fur­ther into the woods. Then that house de­vel­oped a mould prob­lem, so we moved to Turku in Fe­bru­ary 2000.

In 2001 my late wife passed away, com­pletely un­ex­pected, to­tally dev­as­tat­ing. I ran into Andy McCoy and he seemed pretty to­gether. He’d fallen off a three-storey bal­cony and the doc­tors said he should be dead and would never walk again, but he’s walk­ing now.

I was try­ing to keep as busy as pos­si­ble. Af­ter los­ing Jude I never thought I’d find any­body again. But in 2002 I met my cur­rent wife, Jo­hanna, who’s a hair­dresser and was do­ing my hair. We moved in to­gether and I found hap­pi­ness again. Even­tu­ally. But at first

I just wanted to work as much as pos­si­ble. So me and Andy started do­ing some stuff. I thought it’d be in­ter­est­ing to see what we could ac­com­plish af­ter all these years. I never thought we were go­ing to use the name Hanoi Rocks – the thought of a re­birth never oc­curred to me. I’d never do a one-off re­union tour just to make money. We had to cre­ate some­thing new, be an ac­tual band again.

It’s fair to say Hanoi Rocks’ re-for­ma­tion was a suc­cess. Three al­bums in four years rep­re­sents a pretty good sec­ond bite of the cherry.

Yeah. Good records were made and we main­tained the band’s in­tegrity in a way that didn’t ruin it. It was a big step for me to call it Hanoi Rocks. I called Dre­gen and asked: “Is this blas­phemy, or what?” He said: “No, man, it’s great. It’s not a re­union, it’s a re­birth, and there’s a big dif­fer­ence.” We had fun, and be­ing Hanoi, we could ex­per­i­ment with all kinds of mu­si­cal styles, but it ran its course. The Street Po­etry al­bum was good, fea­tured the best lineup, but it wasn’t fun any more for other rea­sons.

So I called Andy and said, “Let’s call it a day, do some farewell shows and put the band to its fi­nal rest.”

On the fi­nal Hanoi Rocks tour, in 2008, we spoke about the split. You said you wanted to drop the glam, toughen up mu­si­cally. But it was pretty ob­vi­ous from Andy’s de­meanour that work­ing with him must have pre­sented prob­lems. Yes, it was a chal­lenge at times. At first he had a new spark, but it started slid­ing back to the old thing, the re­sent­ment I never un­der­stood. We’d be in the stu­dio and I’d have to catch him early in the af­ter­noon be­fore he had one beer too many. So it was no fun.

Re­launch­ing your solo ca­reer in 2009, you re­con­nected again with Hanoi’s Sami Yaffa. Yeah, he came to Fin­land with the New York Dolls, in­vited me up to jam and we hung out un­til four in the morn­ing. Sami said he wanted to work with me again, so I thought, “Wow, that’s al­most half a band right there.” Then Gin­ger and Steve Conte got on board, we made a live al­bum and started work­ing on new songs.

2011’s Sen­sory Over­drive showed that you and Gin­ger wrote bril­liantly to­gether.

He’s a re­ally great song­writer. We wrote some great stuff and it was so much fun do­ing the demos.

You must have known that work­ing with Gin­ger could only be tem­po­rary – he’s too much of a tire­less cre­ative mind to ever be bound by a sin­gle project – and re­plac­ing him with Dre­gen moved the mu­si­cal di­a­logue for­ward again.

Dre­gen was the only guy I could imag­ine re­plac­ing Gin­ger. At first Gin­ger just wanted to be the

“Peo­ple say you have to suf­fer for good art, but I don’t have to suf­fer any more. I’ve enough char­ac­ter, and I’m happy.”

gui­tar player in a band, didn’t want the pres­sure of be­ing the front­man, and it was great for a whole year. I re­mem­ber Lemmy say­ing: “How’s it go­ing with him?” like it was go­ing to be a prob­lem.

I said: “He calms me down. I love the guy, I’m hav­ing a great time. What are all these prob­lems peo­ple keep talk­ing about?” Then he just wanted to move on, and the only guy I could think of was Dre­gen. I’d ac­tu­ally asked him to join be­fore Steve Conte but he was busy with a solo project.

He was the only guy I wanted. You can’t have a ses­sion guy in this band, you need a per­son­al­ity, and he’s such a char­ac­ter. What Slash is in Amer­ica, Dre­gen is in Swe­den.”

You’re a hell of front­man. In Hanoi’s early days you were bend­ing your body into all kinds of im­pos­si­ble shapes. Do you still train hard, or are you just a nat­u­rally bendy dude? [Laughs] I can do the splits, so I guess I’m what you’d call dou­ble-jointed. Which doesn’t mean I smoke two joints a day.

Can you still fold your­self in half back­wards? I used to. I’d be play­ing harp, bend over back­wards, land on my head and then lift my­self back up with­out my hands. I’m sure that’s why my lower back started caus­ing me prob­lems in 2008. The bones in my lower back had worn out. I was in such pain af­ter ev­ery show, I started think­ing maybe it’s over. Then I went to three dif­fer­ent phys­io­ther­a­pists who all told me dif­fer­ent things, so I ap­plied what­ever I thought worked for me.

The in­ner stom­ach mus­cles sup­port your back, so I ex­er­cised those for three months, started feel­ing bet­ter and even­tu­ally got rid of the pain. I fig­ure maybe I’ve got an­other twenty years left, so I’ve been con­cen­trat­ing on ex­er­cis­ing lately.

The day will come when you’ll just snap like a twig.

I’m work­ing on avoid­ing that, and be­ing able to do what I do and not be in too much pain. I don’t like tak­ing painkillers – ex­er­cis­ing’s the key and the best ex­er­cise is per­form­ing. You’ve got the show and the au­di­ence as your mo­ti­va­tion. Now that gui­tarist Rich Jones is in the band, the ma­te­rial is mov­ing in an­other sub­tly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. Yeah. Peo­ple tell me the last three al­bums are the best I’ve done, and that’s what I strive for. Rich Jones, Steve Conte, Karl Rock­fist, Sam

Yaffa feel like the great­est band I’ve had in my solo ca­reer. The spirit’s there, the chem­istry, and as far as writ­ing songs goes, Rich and

Steve know me so well they get in­side my head.

Is the suc­cess all the sweeter for hav­ing ar­rived rel­a­tively late in your ca­reer and also at no lit­tle cost?

Yeah, I can ap­pre­ci­ate it and

I’ve cer­tainly paid my dues. Peo­ple say you have to suf­fer for good art, but I don’t have to suf­fer any more.

I’ve enough char­ac­ter, and

I’m happy. In fact, I’d say I’m hap­pier now than I’ve ever been. I have the best band I could hope for, I’m happy at home with my wife and three cats. What more can you want from life?

Words: Ian Fort­nam Por­traits: Kevin Nixon

“I wanted to be known

for my tal­ent as a mu­si­cian rather than as just a pretty face.”

McCoy and Mon­roe, from the shoot for Hanoi’s 1984 pic­ture disc sin­gle Don’t You Ever Leave Me.

Mid-80s Hanoi Rocks: (l-r) Raz­zle, Sami Yaffa, Michael Mon­roe (front), Andy McCoy, Nasty Sui­cide.

Splits per­son­al­ity:

Mon­roe shows off his stage

moves.

On tour for Mon­roe’s Horns And Ha­los solo al­bum in 2013.

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