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Hanoi Rocks front man Michael Monroe talks to Peter Allison about his recent decision to go solo and his new band which includes tGinger from the Wildhearts, Tood Youth from the Chelsea Smiles and Sami Yaffa from the New York Dolls
On 25th January, 2010, a press conference in Los Angeles announced something I believed would never happen: Michael Monroe, the former lead singer of Hanoi Rocks, was returning to the music industry.
The last time I had spoken with Michael was in March 2008 when despite searching for a new drummer, he was enthusing over his forthcoming tour with Hanoi Rocks and the positive reception their ‘Street Poetry’ album had received.
Hanoi Rocks formed in Helsinki in 1979, and, despite never gaining critical commercial recognition, they nonetheless developed a significant devoted following. Sadly Hanoi Rocks’s drummer Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley died in a car accident in 1983. Hanoi Rocks never really recovered from their loss and disbanded soon after. Nearly twenty years later, Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy, Hanoi Rocks’ lead guitarist, reformed the band with two members from Electric Boys, and proceeded to release a series of impressive albums.
Thus I was understandably shocked when, a few months after my interview in 2008, Michael Monroe announced that Hanoi Rocks would be permanently disbanded. Hanoi Rocks played their last gig to a sell-out audience in Michael Monroe's home-town of Helsinki in January 2009. Later that year Michael Monroe briefly joined with Andy McCoy to write the official band autobiography, ‘Hanoi Rocks: Wasting Time’.
Since then it seems Michael Monroe has been very busy for the Los Angeles press conference announced that the Michael Monroe band would include Ginger, the lead guitarist and founder of rock and roll act Wildhearts; Todd Youth of the punk rock band Chelsea Smiles, and Sami Yaffa who was the bassist with Hanoi Rocks in the 80s and is now with the New York Dolls. Todd Ginger and Sami are noteworthy musicians and are more than capable of leading their own band. Michael Monroe has also declared war on the music industry and is not backing down.
In many ways I can see Todd and Ginger's reasons for wanting to play in a band led by Michael Monroe, as Monroe is often regarded as being the musician's musician. He has played with an astounding number of bands as a guest musician on albums and has been cited as a direct influence by the Foo Fighters, Guns 'n' Roses and the Manic Street Preachers.
I was keen to see what Michael Monroe had done in the interim between Hanoi Rocks and the new project, how he had formed the Michael Monroe band, the direction he intended the music to take and just how he saw the future unfolding.
PB: In 2009 you disbanded Hanoi Rocks, why did you decide to do that?
MM: Because we’d taken the band as far as it could go and wanted to end Hanoi Rocks on a high note.
PB: Has your time since concluding Hanoi Rocks been spent focusing on your solo career?
MM: Yes, pretty much so.
PB: You have a real power-house of a band with Todd Youth, Sami Yaffa and Ginger. How did you recruit them?
MM: I met Todd through Sami Yaffa who I have always kept in touch with. I got together with him in LA last October and we hit it off right away and started writing songs. I thought that he would be the perfect guitar player for my new band and he was really into it. That's how he came in.
I worked with Ginger on a couple of songs last summer but he was still touring with the Wildhearts throughout the fall. He came to talk to me in December at an Alice Cooper show in Helsinki and said he would like to play guitar in my new band. I brought it up to Sami and Todd and we all decided it would be great to have him in the band if it worked out. So we tried it with him and it worked out, better than we expected!
PB: Were you a fan of the Wildhearts and Chelsea Smiles?
MM: I didn't know that much about the Wildhearts before, except that I've known Ginger and have met him here and there over the years. I saw the Wildhearts live for the first time last summer and I really didn't know Chelsea Smiles at all before meeting Todd. They're both good bands, though.
PB: Given each member has had successful solo career, do you all contribute to the song writing?
MM: Sami, Todd and Ginger all contribute to the song writing and musical arrangements.
PB: How is the Michael Monroe sound different to that of Hanoi Rocks?
MM: Michael Monroe is a bit harder rocking and punkier than Hanoi, plus now you can hear Sami's, Todd's, and Ginger's influences in the music as well.
PB: Are your experiences different now compared with when you first went solo?
MM: Yeah, nowadays I'm much more experienced and confident, plus I am better at what I do than I was back then.
PB: With the forthcoming tour, do you have an album in the works?
MM: Yes, we have most of the songs written and rehearsed already and we're planning to go into the studio this spring.
PB: When the tour ends, where do you propose to go from here?
MM: To the recording studio, after which we'll do some more touring.
PB: Michael Monroe, thank you.
MM: All the best.