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Hanoi Rocks | Twelve Shots on the Rocks | interview | Michael Monroe | rock | Lollipop
Twelve Shots on the Rocks (Liquor and Poker)
An interview with singer Michael Monroe
By Martin Popoff
Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy have seen wars, slings, spikes, and arrows enough for 10 damned bands. Beginning life as some sort of strange Finnish/Swedish/English version of New York Dolls, this raucous band of damaged glam casualties actually ended life that way as well, five studio albums later, with the death of drummer Razzle, in an infamous drunk driving accident commandeered by none other than Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil. Now, 20 years after the drug-and-death-fuelled implosion, Michael and Andy have re-propped the name for an all-new record of pool cue-swinging drunkard rock called Twelve Shots on the Rocks. Mike Monroe, alive to tell the tale, tells the tale.
Congrats on assembling a new record. Word has it you're quite intent on crossing the ocean and playing North America
Definitely. We've got some unfinished business. I think we're going to do a few showcase gigs, maybe California, a few on the East Coast, and then maybe Toronto. Just to show that we're alive and well and not some casualties from... who knows what people think? There was a rumor in L.A. some time ago that I was dead. I'm supposed to be the Marilyn Monroe/James Dean, whatever, live fast, die young cliché. As soon as AIDS was discovered, that was one of the first rumors, in '85 already. "Yeah, Michael Monroe; he's wild, he's got one foot in the grave." But it's funny; I love to prove people like that wrong. I really wasn't a party-hearty dude.
How bad did it get for you? I know Andy was major into heroin...
Well, basically music came first for me. I didn't have a drug problem. On tour, the guys were mainly drinking. But the Hanoi years, it was like there was resentment towards me for not drinking 24 hours a day. "What's the matter with him? He's not supposed to smile in the morning." After gigs, I'd stay by myself, have a little smoke, and go to bed. Those guys went out drinking and stuff. And Andy with the heroin, that's what made me decide I didn't want to work with him anymore. After Razzle died, everyone went really overboard. That was a time we really should've taken a break for six months or something. But the management was trying to rush us into... the same old story. I don't know what the money situation was, but I thought we should be able to take a break. Everyone was really out of order. Andy and Nasty were sort of into the downtown scene; I was more into the uptown thing. (laughs) But I never once fucked up a gig from being out of it. That's totally out of order; you don't do that. Music and the band come first, no matter what. So if you're using something – recreational or whatever, now and again – OK, but if it's using you... Sometimes you can be a good servant with a bad master.
Did Nasty and Andy ever completely miss gigs because of heroin?
No, it really wasn't about taking drugs, it was about playing rock 'n' roll. People talk too much, and the stories just get blown out of proportion. I'm glad they do, because the less they know, the more they have to say. They make up stories. I've heard some incredible stories, what I've supposedly done. Razzle liked to drink; Brown Ale was his favorite. They didn't really do much, until smack came into the picture. Alcohol is totally one of the most dangerous drugs of all – especially because it's legal – and people don't realize how dangerous it can be.
We did a co-headlining tour with Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, and one gig, Nasty, totally whacked out, came on stage in his socks. He was just wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and his socks. A drumstick flew out of Razzle's hand and hit Nasty on the head and Nasty passed out cold. He was carried backstage, and we kept playing the gig. Johnny Thunders was sitting on Nasty's chest, slapping him in the face, "Come on, Nasty, wake up! Wake up! The guys need you out there!" And then Nasty came to and he started swinging at Johnny, trying to hit him, and Johnny was like, "Wait, no, Nasty, it's Johnny! It's Johnny. You've got a gig. Go back on stage, man!" "Oh, OK." He ran right back onstage; totally weird.
Nasty would black out sometimes. You'd just better get away from him because you might get hurt. And he sometimes wouldn't remember afterwards. But that was mainly just because of alcohol. He would punch holes in the walls. Once in Oslo, Norway, we were doing a festival, and Sammy and Razzle were sitting in the hotel room watching some boring nature program because there was nothing to do. Nasty walked into the room and smashed the bottle of whatever he was drinking through the TV screen and left it there. And nobody could pay for the TV. He had to leave one of his guitars, a Gibson Les Paul, as collateral, to make sure he paid for the TV. Stupid stuff. It's amazing, though, because Nasty is a completely different person now. He studied for five years, or whatever it takes, to become a pharmacist. He works in a pharmacy and he's really together now.
At some point, did he get into heroin?
Well, I mean, I don't want to talk about other people's habits. But yeah, everybody went through it a little bit, at some point. In London, it was easier to get than hash. You see, we grew up in Finland where I didn't even hear about drugs until I was 14 or something. I didn't know the difference between hash and heroin. But at one point, everyone was really down. The heroin came into the picture and made everyone dead, kind of. I didn't like it at all. I hated it. You could feel the vibe from the band.
Let's just finish this drug conversation, ok? Stiv Bators once said something very cool about heroin. He said "Heroin is the obligatory tattoo of a nonconformist. It immediately invalidates its existence by making him a conformist." Right? So yeah, you try and be the rock 'n' roll rebel, you think it's cool to do drugs, and you become a slave yourself. You try and fight the system. Your rebellion turns into slavery. Because heroin, nobody can beat it... People die. Charlie Parker, anybody. It's death; the worst possible thing. It's worse than dying, because you become the living dead, a disgusting person. It's self-destructive. I hated the way people were. You saw a lot of them. When I see a junkie, I can smell it a mile away and I just can't stand being around them. The stuff is a selfish, asshole drug. People are ready to sell their own mothers or do anything for it. So that's that, and fuck the drugs. I was born messed up enough, I don't need that shit in my life. (laughs)
How has the working relationship changed with Andy over the years? Tell me a little bit about the assembly of this new album.
First I got together again with just Andy. We started writing songs after we'd done a couple of jams. I could see that he wasn't hooked or anything. Before, every time I'd see him, he'd say "Look at my arms; I'm clean, man." And when someone's telling you he's clean, he's not. So I'd say, "I'm not interested. How are you doing? Fuck the drugs," and that was it. This time, he was just really together and he didn't even mention drugs. He wasn't trying to prove anything, and I could see that he was more together. I was doing a jam in my hometown, and I invited Andy over to play. We did three songs, and that's how it started. We had so much fun. So we decided to do a one-off show, called Hanoi Revisited, and it ended up being two festivals in Finland in the summer. The festivals were at the beginning of July, and on June 19th, my wife passed away. It was a hard time for me, but I tried to keep myself busy working as much as possible. So I'd do demos at home, and he would come over and he'd say "OK, let's get the band together and go into rehearsal." And I'd say no, no, look, we don't even need to do that now. I just had a four-track machine with tape, very primitive, but he realized we don't have to get the whole band together like in the old days to see what happens with the songs. You can pretty much check out arrangements when you make a demo. When we started working in the studio, I hadn't even decided that we were going to do anything permanently. We put down five tracks or so, "People Like Me," "In My Darkest Moment,""Delirious," "Lucky," and "Are You Lonely Tonight." And the stuff sounded so good, it sounded like Hanoi Rocks.
Is there a personality to this album that's different or in some ways similar to the old albums?
There's a lot more of my contribution. It was kind of fun to work with Andy because he had an appreciation for my contribution. And he could see that there was a lot I have to offer. In the past, I didn't even try, because I figured, what's the point? He used to play ideas, and I would say, well, I've got an idea here, and he'd say well, that's pretty good, but I've got a better one, so let's do this one. And I just got discouraged. Now we have this kind of working relationship and we talk about everything. No bullshit, no time to let anything fester. It's totally straightforward. We say what we think and that's it. The communication has never been this good. So, to me, it's exciting to see what we can accomplish, knowing all the experience of all the years and getting back together in the studio.
When we listened to the tracks, I finally gave our name a lot of thought, and, I mean, that's the coolest name ever. We're a rock 'n' roll band. Why should we change it? We started it, put in all the years and pain. Just because of this unfortunate, horrible, tragic accident, why we should throw it all away? I mean, it was us, it was our band, our life, and our dream, and it was shattered. The least we can do is get something out of it now. Why not? So it was like a rebirth. I always said Hanoi would never reform. Reforming means reunion gigs, a tour in Japan or something, make a quick buck, take separate flights and separate hotels, hate each other, play the gig, take the money, and say "Fuck you very much, I hope I never see you again." That's a rip-off. That's cheating people and cheating yourself. So I was only interested in doing this if it was for the long term.
And the six month plan is
The plan is to get this album to the people in America who appreciate good, honest, guitar rock 'n' roll. The funny haircut bands that give rock 'n' roll a bad name by being sucky are becoming too big. People think that's rock 'n' roll. We just want to expand our thing in places we never got to, due to "you know what"
bad luck. You know, when people see us live, that's what it's all about. It's really the key thing. I think then, the people will get us. And concentrating on the States is most important to both me and Andy. Because that's where we started, and where it all ended.