In a crowded Texas bar overrun with bearded, unkempt guys, Michael Monroe certainly stands out.
As the whip-thin former Hanoi Rocks frontman works his way through Austin’s Club de Ville, he looks every inch a rock star: leopard-print scarf, snug leather jacket, tight pants, makeup and, of course, his signature blond mane.
Monroe visited Austin in mid-March with his current band (which includes former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa and current New York Dolls guitarist Steve Conte) for the South by Southwest music conference/festival. During some downtime at the Harley Does Austin event, Monroe chatted about his look and how he stays in touch with fans, as well as his recording and touring plans.
A lot of musicians these days don’t have the rock-star look; you’ve always stood out with your hair and your clothes. Talk about why that is still important to you.
Michael Monroe: I think a man with character never changes, and a man with no character changes even less (laughs). I have my style and I’ve stayed true. Some of these bands that wore makeup in their past — maybe it wasn’t their thing, really, because now they look totally different. I don’t trust anybody who changes so much: “Oh, we were young, so we wore makeup.” Well, women wear makeup when they’re older, too, so why shouldn’t I? I’ve always been the same way. It’s my style, and I don’t change. I evolve, but I don’t change my character and I don’t change my style.
Speaking of changes, the music industry has changed tremendously in the last 10 years. Lots of veteran acts see that as a good thing because they can take more control over their careers. How are you benefiting from the way things are now?
Monroe:Well, it hasn’t really changed that much for me. I play live shows; the records don’t sell as much, but I never sold millions of records anyway. There are good points and bad points about it. I’ve had bad deals and good deals. Right now, we haven’t made any deals yet, except for [one in] Japan. But the rest of the world is open. We’re going to make the best possible album and not rush into anything. The record companies can come after us after we get the buzz going.
Apple’s Mobile Backstage application wasn’t around when you were starting out. What are some of the other modern devices that you’re using to stay in touch with fans?
MM: The mobile access [application] is the newest thing, so it’s like we’re cutting-edge with that. It’s a step up from Twitter – it’s like Twitter, Facebook and all of that combined. But I think the best way to get to the fans is to meet them after the shows. It doesn’t take much of my time to make somebody happy by signing an autograph and exchanging a few words.
But the Internet and all that, it’s a necessary evil, I guess – you have to do it. I like the Mobile Backstage application because it’s really personal – fans get messages from us, and when we’re not together, it’s fun [for me] to see what the other guys put up there.
Let’s talk about the current band. How did you decide that these were the guys you wanted to work with now?
MM: Well, Sami, Ginger and me hooked up last summer. Sami and me started talking about putting a band together. He had said he wanted to play with me again, and I said, “This is a perfect time because I’m restarting my solo career.” But this became a collaboration as opposed to being a bunch of backup guys. I’m a band-oriented kind of guy, so I like a band situation where everybody is involved in the creative process.
We got together with [Wildhearts guitarist] Ginger at the end of summer, and we wrote a couple of songs. Then, at the end of the year in Finland, I was at Alice Cooper’s show in Helsinki. Alice invited me up to do “School’s Out,” and Ginger came up to me at the end of show and said he would like to join my band. I called Sami the next day, and we agreed to bring him in.
We actually had a different guitar player at first, but Steve Conte came in when the first guy took off. So we got Steve in at the last minute, a couple of weeks before [my March tour].
Let’s talk about your upcoming album. Have you started recording it yet?
Monroe: We haven’t decided where to do it or who’s going to produce. We’re going to do a few songs first and see who we want to work with and how it goes and what studio we want to use. We’ll put out something this year – if not the whole album, then at least a couple of songs and a video. If not by the end of the year, then by the early part of next year we’ll have an album out.
You have some European shows scheduled for later this year. What are your touring plans after that?
Monroe: We’re probably going into the studio — if not over the summer, then in the fall. We’ll be playing some festivals this summer. After we get the album out, we’ll do some heavy touring. And it’s not confirmed yet, but it looks like we’ll be [touring] the East Coast in May.
There was a Hanoi Rocks reunion from 2002 to 2008. Is there any chance of another reunion?
Monroe: No – no chance. That’s it. That was incredible that it even happened. Me and Andy [McCoy] got reacquainted, and the whole thing was born again and we kind of finished what we started. It was interesting to see what we could do now after all these years, with the way we both had evolved.
We did three great albums, but after the third album, it wasn’t going any further. We weren’t writing anymore; we weren’t even hanging out anymore much. A year, year and a half went by … so we put it to bed with integrity, finishing the band honorably. That’s over and done with now.