Michael Monroe / Still hungry and having fun. ‘You can’t fake that’

It’s been a great few months for Michael Monroe. The Hanoi Rocks vocalist has released his twelfth solo album, I Live Too Fast to Die Young!, played Hellfest in France and enjoyed the celebration of his 60th birthday show in Helsinki. The man is a picture of health, and following his energetic and thrilling performance in Norwich, Steve Ritchie caught up with the Finnish rocker, who talked about the last few months. We also find out that he has finally discovered some Hanoi master tapes, previously thought lost in time.

We start with Hellfest, where Monroe played a class set and had a nice laydown on the table in the press tent. “I had a great time,” Michael says. “It was the first time we had played there. It was a big, big event. I thought, it’s the beginning of the day… I was looking down, and well, I didn’t know if anyone was gonna show up. I thought not many people, maybe. But when we started playing, I was like, ‘wow’. There are all these people, as far as you can see. It went pretty good.”

Michael Monroe, Hellfest 2022
Michael Monroe, Hellfest 2022

Hellfest 2022 was a scoarcher. “I felt the heat,” Monroe says. “It was one of those gigs where I didn’t assume anything. I felt like it might be that nobody even knows anything about me. I thought it’s one of those gigs where I have to prove myself, which I always, always do anyways. I do my best and all that, but I had a feeling that most of these people have no idea.”

Monroe and his band’s performance would show that those thoughts were wrong. “Those people were hip. They may not have been around for those days. The good old days when music was good, and they made it for the right reasons and not for the business and the money. That’s why it was so much more fun. It’s really not nostalgia saying it used to be better before. It’s really true because people, artists with music, everyone was doing their own thing and creating something fun and different. All these different kinds of bands and there was more personality, and it wasn’t just like this one fashion. It was before the record industry ruined it. Before they took the fun out of creativeness. Before it became, that music has no business in the music business. That’s what it became.”

Hanoi Rocks Kuva Moses (Pekka Soini)
Hanoi Rocks Kuva Moses (Pekka Soini)

I say that I have spoken to a few people who took that hit in ’92 from Nirvana. “It becomes grunge, and as soon as something has a name, it’s over in my book because then it becomes everybody’s trying to be the same. Then the record comes out, and they love that because they can package it into a category. Oh, there’s a new thing, grunge. It was like a ticket to fame and a quick shortcut to fame and fortune. Money and fame it was just the wrong motivation. Completely wrong. And then you got 200 million bands trying to sound like Nirvana, never as good as the original because they were great, but they’re trying to copy them, and then you lose the personality.”

Having spoken with David Reece from Bangalore Choir, who had a million-dollar record contract, an album out the same week as Nirvana and was booked to tour with Whitesnake, you can see how, at that time, things turned sour very quickly. I tell Michael that the Nirvana album is, in my opinion, OK, with a couple of decent songs on it.

“It’s a matter of taste,” he says. “I never bought the album, but it was good stuff. It was refreshing to have something like that coming out because it became like this rock star with the Hair Metal and all that stuff, which I got blamed for. But I didn’t feel like that. Hanoi Rocks defied all categories. It was the best thing about the band.”

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It was something new, I suggest. “Definitely,” Michael says. “We played anything from punk to calypso. Totally open to anything, and no limits and totally its own thing. An entity onto itself. We were influenced by everything from Little Richard to Rolling Stones to the Ramones, reggae, funk, blues, jazz, and classical. We took influences from everywhere.”

Michael Monroe - Norwich UEA - 15 February 2023
Michael Monroe – Norwich UEA – 15 February 2023. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

In Norwich, Michael showed he is truly a force of nature. I love the band he was playing with, and they all came across really well. The show was bang, bang, bang, all the way through. Michael climbed up the speaker stack. I still don’t know how he got up there. “Yeah, I don’t either,” he laughs.

The show was a slab of massive energy. “That’s something that became quite apparent, also with the 60th birthday show. I mean, obviously, it was nice reminiscing in nostalgia. The original lineup with Hanoi, the only time ever. But my current band is so kick-ass, so tight. There is such great chemistry. We are the best of friends, and they are such nice guys. I would never, never change that for anything. We’ve played together 13 years now and really tight into the chemistry.”

I was in the photo pit. The band enter the stage before Michael, all hanging around the bass drum, and it’s all fist pumps. That’s a really nice touch. A great camaraderie. “We have fun,” Michael says. “We enjoy it, and you can’t fake that. The first show in Nottingham, the day before, we had sound checking. I wasn’t even thinking if I remembered all the words or anything. We were just locked in the zone right away. I was like, whoa, that was perfect. First show since the 60th birthday, which was different songs. It wasn’t like a regular set. So we had played before, the last time we played last summer.”

Michaels’s voice was great. He was all over the stage, also with harmonica and saxophone and jumping on the barriers. And giving a high five to the security guards who were making sure he wasn’t falling down.

“I tell them I’m okay,” he says. “I mean, please don’t help me because we forgot to tell them ahead of time. They think that it will help to hold my ankle or something, but then I’m gonna land on my head when I try to get out of there. If by accident I hit them on the head with a mic, I always say I’m sorry. Because they mean well. But one of the worst things is if I’m at a festival, climbing in the audience and climbing back on stage and someone comes, trying to push. Don’t you ever touch my ass without permission from me,” he laughs.

“I’m not like a Spinal Tap guy who can’t get up. But anyway, you never know what’s gonna happen. I enjoy performing and singing and doing what I love doing the most.”

Michael Monroe - Norwich UEA - 15 February 2023
Michael Monroe – Norwich UEA – 15 February 2023. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

I felt a bit guilty, as we could hear the Black Star Riders song where Michael was due on stage to play saxophone, rather than chatting with me in the car park. But there were plenty of fans seeking Mr Monroe who were happy to see him in England.

“It’s great to be over here,” he says. “Live Too Fast to Die Young!, people say it’s one of the best. That’s the greatest thing for me anyways. I try to do better all the time and try to evolve, and there’s always room for improvement, which is good. That keeps me hungry, keeps me trying, and I really think with the last album, it was a good idea to go try a new studio and a new engineer. The sound has more depth. I love the sound of the album and the whole entirety.”

It’s a great album, one that sucks you in. I say my first listen was on a train into London, and I nearly missed my stop. “Cool, that’s a good sign,” Michael says.

Micheal Monroe plays Shepherds Bush Empire tonight. Tuesday you can read about the Hanoi Rocks ‘lost’ masters, and Michael talks about his 60th Birthday Bash.

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