Pennyblackmusic met Mike Monroe of Hanoi Rocks at his hotel in Sheffield, prior to a gig at The Plug. As he came down the stairs to meet us in reception, he looked every inch the rock star, with gelled hair, eyeliner and a red sequin jacket.

Mike was hungry, so we headed off into the city centre to find a restaurant. We found a nice Chinese place where they were happy to prepare their vegetarian crispy fried noodles especially with no garlic, which apparently Mike can’t stand! The staff were completely unfazed by his less-than-standard attire and request for a quiet table so we could conduct an interview. Perhaps all the rock stars eat there!

The search for a quiet restaurant provided an excellent opportunity for us to get to know Mike a bit before the interview. It was clear from the start that he’s a really nice guy: friendly, open, good sense of humour, and, most notably, he speaks very warmly and passionately about his friends and the band. He also oozes confidence – but it’s a quiet confidence, without ever sounding arrogant. Our chatting time was rather bizarre though, as Mike was very keen to find out about 'Emmerdale'. Apparently his wife is a big fan of the British soap, but the episodes being shown in his and the band's native Finland are about four years behind ours.

With the food ordered, we sat down to the interview, and it seemed only apt for the first question to pertain to their latest tour:

MM : Yes, we’ve done Sweden and spent a week in Germany, and we drove 20 hours here yesterday. It’s good to be in Britain. I’m looking forward to the gig – I hear it’s a pretty nice venue.

PB : Have you been to Britain much recently?

MM : Not for a while. Last time we were here was 2006 I think, supporting Twisted Sister, and before that 2005. We did the “Rock and Blues” festival then. It’s good to be here, promoting the 'Street Poetry' album – you’ve got the record right?

'Street Poetry' is the recent release from Hanoi Rocks, and is filled with their trademark plethora of musical influences, such as glam, jazz, punk. Commenting about this diverse selection of genres, Mike had this to say:

MM : That’s Hanoi Rocks for you!

PB : Is that something you set out to do intentionally, or does it just happen?

MM : It just happens. Anything that sounds cool goes in – it all gets mixed in the melting pot. This time I wanted to make it a real ‘band’ record. Especially as we’ve now got Conny Bloom and AC Christell in the band (Bassist Conny Bloom and guitarist AC Christell have both been in the band since 2004). Connie is co-writing now, some songs on the new record. I wanted to capture the live sound of the band on the new record. We’re very happy with it.

PB : I like the sentiment of the title track on 'Street Poetry'...

MM : Yeah, “It might mean nothing much to you, but it’s a whole lot to me”

Quite often tracks by Hanoi Rocks have references to their previous work and subtle sentiments hidden within their tracks that the careful listener can find. At the start of 'Street Poetry', for example, there’s a reference to 'Motorvatin', a previous Hanoi Rocks song. Mike explained further:

MM : Yeah, I like doing that. It gives continuity, so I love doing stuff like that, referring to older stuff. And people hear it and go, “Oh wow, that was from that other song”. On the album 'Another Hostile Takeover', there was a song called 'Better High' which ended with a line from 'Until I Get You', another of our songs.

PB: You did a great cover of 'Dear Miss Lonely Hearts' a few years ago. Were you big fans of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy?

MM : Yes, and especially Phil Lynott’s solo album 'Solo in Soho'. That was fantastic. I love the title track from that, and 'King’s Call' from that album is one of the greatest songs ever. It is about Elvis. I like Thin Lizzy and I love Phil Lynott – he was a great guy and it was a huge loss. It was such a shame that he died so young. He had so much to offer.

PB : There’s one song of yours that I’ve been trying to work out since I was teenager: what is 'Futurama' from 'Two Steps from the Move' all about ?

MM: [Laughs] That was about a female robot. Bob Ezrin produced that album and it was his idea. He wrote it with Andy (McCoy, lead guitarist). I think it was inspired by Alice Cooper’s show; it was about having a woman who was a machine. She doesn’t age and stays perfect all the time.

PB : Ah, we wondered if it was anything to do with the 'Blade Runner' film!

MM : No, but we do love 'Blade Runner'. In ’84 we used a stage backdrop that was inspired by 'Blade Runner'.

Hanoi Rocks enjoy a relatively rare perspective, in that they have worked within the music scene since 1979, as Hanoi Rocks and later as separate acts. Asking how he finds the music scene has changed, Mike comments

MM : Music is music. Times have changed a lot, and the internet has changed a lot of things. We like playing for the people - the live performance is what it’s all about. It’s not something that you can duplicate or download.

PB : You’ve worked with Axl Rose and Slash in the past haven’t you?

MM : Yes, I worked with them on the song 'Ain’t it Fun', in memory of Stiv Bators*, which they used on Guns 'n' Roses' 'Spaghetti Incident' album. I also played sax and harmonica on 'Bad Obsession' on 'Use Your Illusion'. I keep in touch with Slash a lot. We did a movie track together for 'Coneheads'. It was a rearrangement of 'Magic Carpet Ride', the old Steppenwolf song. I liked working with Slash, and Axl was cool too. He’s always been great with me. It’s a shame they couldn’t keep the band together. There are some cool new bands out there these days - I like Linkin Park and Foo Fighters.

PB : Was it a difficult decision to come back with the name Hanoi Rocks? You’d all done a lot of solo stuff by then (Hanoi Rocks split up in early 1985 after the death of drummer Razzle in a car crash in December 1984 and did not reform until 2002).

MM : Yes, it was. I never thought Hanoi would happen and or we’d use the name again. But Andy and I got reacquainted. We had fun and started jamming together at a club. Next thing we were in a recording studio and writing new stuff. It was the start of the new Hanoi Rocks – the band was reborn. I thought, why use a new name and start re-educating people about who we are? Hanoi Rocks is a good name and we’ve got a lot of history with it. It’s just me and Andy from the original band. Now we have AC and Connie, and of course we’re looking for a new drummer – that will be interesting.

PB : How are the auditions for the new drummer going?

MM : We’ve haven’t started yet! Lacu told us he would soon be leaving, just before we started this tour. When we get home there is a long list of guys waiting, so we have to decide which ones to call for audition. We need to find the right person. I don’t think it will slow us down too much. We just keep going!

Mike Monroe is noted for not purely being the singer for Hanoi Rocks, but often plays saxophone (amongst other musical instruments) to blend into the tracks, and it has been noted with a certain amount of skill. Mike reminisces :

MM : I was about 15. I loved Little Richard’s records. He was one of my favourites. Then Andy said “Why don’t you buy a sax?” and I thought why not. I had been taking flute lessons for a year then, so that knowledge helped. So I went to a second-hand store and bought a leaky old sax and just started playing...

PB : So you taught yourself?

MM : Yeah, I’m self-taught. A few years later I got a good one. I was really surprised: it sounded much better and suddenly I realised I could play a lot better than I thought I could! The guy upstairs from me at the time got a sax too, around the same time. I could hear him playing and knew I was doing okay when I realised I was doing better than him! I’m not that great a sax player really. I just do my own thing, although I don’t always like carrying it around with me! It adds a lot of colour to Hanoi. As does the harmonica. I think I’m a better harmonica player than sax player. I have my own thing with the sax. It’s like a trademark for Hanoi.

PB : Have you brought it with you tonight?

MM : Oh yeah, I always play sax with Hanoi! Back in 1994 I had a band called Demolition 23. On their album ('Demoliton 23'),I never played sax. It was good for a change! Little Steven produced the album and he thought I shouldn’t play sax at all. But Demolition 23 was more of a punky band, so it wouldn’t have suited the band. On my solo albums I played sax though.

Despite being over 45, Mike is nonetheless a still accomplished performer, renowned for an energetic stage presence and performing the splits on stage. Asking if he could still do the splits (how many men over 45 can?), Mike replied

MM : Yeah, sure! [Laughs] I will tonight and I did it at the last show. Maybe a little acrobatics and stuff too.

With the food prepared, we had time only for one more question, and thus it seemed only fitting that we should conclude on what the future holds for Hanoi Rocks:

MM : We’re going to keep doing our thing. Hopefully more people will catch on and we want to expand our fame, get bigger and spread the word. If we get the chance we would like a world tour some day - then we will see how far we can go, as we haven’t really had chance to get to that many people before. We would like some festivals for the summer, but it’s difficult as we haven’t really had booking agent or a hands-on manager.

It hasn’t been easy and we haven’t had the greatest luck either. That’s why we’re still a bit obscure – which is cool in a way, but we want to go forward. We started a long time ago. After the accident in ’84, we had a break and I didn’t do anything with Andy for 16 years. So we’re starting over again now and it’s nice starting a new band.

The old reputation helps of course, but there bad things that come with that too. Some people think we’re drugged out etc. It’s just what people think of us in some places. There was time when it was thought cool to be ‘out of it’ and be wild and wacky, but really we were never that much into it. Well, some of the guys used to drink a lot, but I was never that much into partying in that way. We’re very professional about doing shows on time and so on. Twister Sister had heard horror stories about us, so they told us. “No tolerance to drugs and everything has to be right on time”. We started our first support show right on time and finished three minutes early – and they were surprised! So we are professional. We do a good show and we have a lot to offer the world.

PB : Thank you.


[* Note: Stiv Bators was the singer from the Dead Boys and the Lords of the New Church. He tragically died in 1990, when he was hit by a car whilst walking around Paris. Mike Monroe was a friend of Stiv: they had worked together and shared a flat around the time that Mike recorded his first solo album. 'Nights are So Long'.]


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Peter Allison.











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