INTERVJU: Michael Monroe

Den blonde frontmannen är snart aktuell med ett nytt album, “I live too fast to die young” I ett kortare samtal berättar han bland annat om sin positiva och hälsosamma syn på livet, hur Black Sabbath på tv väckte något i honom, Slashs medverkan på nya albumet, Hanoi Rocks-låten GNR skulle spela in och vad rock and roll egentligen handlar om:

Little Richard being rebellious, wearing makeup, being black and gay and totally free and that was what rock and roll to me was about. God bless Elvis, but let´s face it, Little Richard´s “Tutti frutti” makes Elvis sound like a boy scout. Rock and roll to me has always been entertainment, but you don´t have to switch off your brain. Your lyrics are tools for positive actions. You can raise questions and make people think about things they haven´t thought about.

You´re in good shape. What´s the secret?

(laughs) There´s really no secret. I take care of myself and I try to eat healthy. I eat to live, not live to eat. I don´t eat meat, I don´t smoke, I don´t drink alcohol at all, which always helps. In order to do what I do on stage and to make it look easy, I have to be in good physical shape. Singing is physical, playing the saxophone and the harmonica… I just take care of myself. The body is the temple of the soul. Hopefully I´ll live healthy and a long life. The excitement of living… I still get excited and I have a curiosity and I try to maintain that and never become complacent. I wouldn´t want to wake up in the morning and go “Now I´m good enough and I don´t have to try anymore.” It would be boring and that keeps me hungry. I´m turning 60 this year and it will be interesting to see what happens and it´s exciting, because I´m still feeling good and I like what I do and I´m blessed to have been able to create a situation in my life where I do what I love doing the most and making a living out of it. The four previous albums before this one and the new one, I always try to make a better one and this one I´m really excited about. I think we´ve renewed the band´s sound in the best possible way. Production wise, song wise, sound wise… it´s got a lot more depth and air and space and dynamics than the previous one. A lot of variation in songs and a different kind of styles we haven´t done before without changing our style.

You always seem so full of energy and you´re always positive. Were you like that as a kid as well?

Yeah, I was very positive and very hyper and happy to be alive. I was climbing trees and was always on the move and playing Tarzan and Batman. I was very active. I would probably be diagnosed as hyperactive or something. These days everybody gets diagnosed. I enjoy life. I feel good and I´m happy to be here. I´m happy to make people happy and if everyone else is happy, I´m happy. That´s what entertainment is about, making people feel good.

Where did the title “I live too fast to die young” come from?

It´s a cool title. We always like to reinvent old cliches like “live fast, die young” With this band we have a rule to always stay clear of cliches and it goes for lyrics, guitar solos and everything. This is a perfect statement for me, turning 60 this year and still doing it. A perfect title for this album.

Slash plays on the album. How does that really work? Do you have his number and you just call him up or is it all done through management?

We were close to finishing the album and I sent him the song via e-mail and I asked “Would you like to play a solo on this song? It´s gonna be the title track on my new album.” He was really busy and had an album coming out. He asked “When do you need it?” and I said “Well, like yesterday, but if you can´t make it that´s no problem. If you don´t have time I understand completely.” The next dat we got a message from his recording engineer John Ewing and he asked for the files and then the next day after that we had the solo. He´s so nice. Such a sweet guy. I love the solo and it´s so off the cuff. He´s spontaneously wingin´ it and it almost falls apart towards the end and then it comes together. It´s a great statement in itself. In this day and age when everybody´s doing everything so perfect and it´s Pro Tools and everything and so mechanical, he comes out with a solo like that. It was perfect. I love him to death. He´s such a sweet guy and we´re in touch a lot and he´s a dear friend of mine.

How would you describe Slash as a guitar player?

I think he´s one of the greatest guitarists of all time and I´m so glad that he is as big as he is, because he plays the right kind of guitar. A totally fantastic player, outstanding. He´s got a heart of gold and personality wise he´s always been a sweetheart and he´s only gotten nicer over the years. He´s one of the nicest people I know.

Another song is “Murder the summer of love” The summer of love was in 1969, so you were about seven years old. Do you remember anything about what you were doing at that age?

When I was eight years old I saw Black Sabbath on tv and I got into rock and roll. Living in Finland it was a different world, but the song has references to Altamont and the 60´s idealism and what it was about. Altamont obviously ended the hippie idea, which I think was the closest we ever came to people having the power in the name of love and peace. The government in the US couldn´t even crush it because the hippies were like “Here, have a flower!” It was so close to overthrowing the government, but of course they found a way and put out some bad acid and stuff and these guys started having bad trips and then they grew older and became yuppies. That´s how they crushed that revolution. The song is broader than about the 60´s. It´s about being in the present moment and appreciating the good things that are happening now, because so often we tend to tear things down in the name of progress and looking back nostalgically and wishing that we still had those moments. The message of the song is basically “Get off your ass and live life to the fullest!”

Do you kind of identify with that vibe and that revolution that was going on in the 60´s? Do you feel they were onto something?

Yeah, they were definitely onto something and clearly the idea was great and especially the MC 5 and the Black Panthers and all that. They were really onto something, a real revolution, but whenever something becomes a passion like that, people jump on the bandwagon and of course too many of them just wanted to use it as an excuse to get high and get messed up. People are always self-indulgent. It´s like Jim Morrison said in “Live in New York”, “Hey guys, you´re spending way too much time in the bathroom, man! We know what you´re doing in there. C´mon!” People always jump on the bandwagon and that´s why I´ve always been anti fashion. I always want to encourage people to be individualists and think with their own brain. Obviously the government and the system will always find a way… it´s too deeply rooted and it´s hard to change anything and the politicians certainly won´t change anything because their motivation is money and they don´t want to lose their high paying gig. They´re into it for selfish reasons and the motivation is wrong and therefore nothing will ever change. Musicians can accomplish more by getting together like with Live Aid and they raised a lot of money. Although then the food was wasted and in Ethiopia the red tape never let it get to the people which is completely insane. Of course I want to heal the world and help, because we all know there would be enough to go around if certain people wouldn´t be so greedy and selfish and think that they can take hundreds of billions of dollars with them when they leave the planet, then we would be in much better shape and everybody could be helped and there wouldn´t have to be wars. Imagine hundreds of billions of dollars going to waste in arms races and weapons of mass destruction. What the hell? It´s insanity. We have a long way to go. I think the hippies had a good idea and then the next thing that came along was the punk thing in terms of rock and roll, before it became a fashion. That was a good kick in the ass for all the rich rockstars living in castles and playing 20 minute solos and putting people to sleep and writing songs that nobody could relate to. The Ramones came and wrote two minute songs and no solos and silly, smart lyrics. That saved rock and roll. Then you have the 50´s with Little Richard and Chuck Berry. They were the creators of rock and roll. Little Richard being rebellious, wearing makeup, being black and gay and totally free and that was what rock and roll to me was about. God bless Elvis, but let´s face it, Little Richard´s “Tutti frutti” makes Elvis sound like a boy scout. Rock and roll to me has always been entertainment, but you don´t have to switch off your brain. Your lyrics are tools for positive actions. You can raise questions and make people think about things they haven´t thought about.

Speaking of Slash. Initially there was supposed to have been a Hanoi Rocks song on Guns N´ Roses “The spaghetti incident?”, right?

Yeah, Slash told me that. They were going to do “Beer and a cigarette” (Self destruction blues, 1982) for that album, which would´ve been great, but then they met Andy McCoy and they changed their mind. (laughs) They thought he was so condescending, and he was being such a prick to them that they thought “Fuck him! He doesn´t deserve the money.” That´s an accomplishment really, to be so obnoxious to somebody that they make such a decision. Hanoi Rocks really should have been on that record. It would have been appropriate for Hanoi Rocks to be on it, but then again, that´s one of the songs that I wrote some lyrics for and I never got credited, so in a way I´m not so sorry because maybe I would´ve been more pissed off if that song had ben on the record and Andy would´ve made all this money and I wouldn´t have gotten anything for the writer´s share that I wrote. Just as well. (laughs) But it´s a fact that they were planning on doing that song and they changed their mind.   

You mentioned seeing Black Sabbath on tv. What was it about it that made you think that it was something you wanted to do?

The sound was powerful and Ozzy with his long hair and going crazy and wild on stage made me go “Wow, what is this?” It really made an impression on me. My much older brother wanted to be a drummer and I said “You be the drummer, I´m the singer.” I had been into classical music before that. My grandfather was a cello player and a professional classical musician and his father was an oboe player and he was friends with Jan Sibelius (1865-1957). I have a musical family on my mother´s side and my father was a radio announcer and he was also into music. I had been hearing classical music up until then, but when I saw Black Sabbath live in Paris 1970 it blew my mind and I decided that if I could do that for a living that would be great. My father bought records like Creedence Clearwater Revival´s “Pendulum” (1970) and Alice Cooper´s “Love it to death” (1971) and I was like “Wow, these are like the coolest bands ever!” Deep Purple´s “Fireball” (1971) was the first album I owned and of course I bought all the Black Sabbath albums that came out as soon as they came out. Slade was the first band I saw and they played in 1972 in Finland, a couple of blocks away from where I lived and I´m glad my mother let me go because I was like nine years old. It was the “Slayed” tour and it was so great. It was so loud and my ears were ringing for two days, but it was fantastic. Then I saw The Sweet in 1973 on the “Sweet Fanny Adams” tour and that was a great show. They started with “Hellraiser” and I snuck in. I was so small but I snuck in because I didn´t have a ticket and it was a great show. Suzi Quatro was the next one and she was rocking. It was in the Finlandia house, this concert hall and when people started standing up and dancing, these bouncers were telling people to sit down and Suzi went nuts on them, “You let those people be! They´re just having a good time.” and these big guys were just like “Oh, sorry!” and they walked away. In those days there were no genres and no one was categorizing. Record shops had everything from funk to reggae to blues and rock and roll. All kinds of music and a wide variety which was great, so I got into all kinds of music.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto; Erik Larsson (livebilder)