You’re currently on tour with Michael Monroe and are about to hit the UK with MC50. Must be cool gig to get playing in a band with Michael, Sami, Steve and Karl and then getting to play as guests with the likes of Wayne Kramer must be a dream job?
Oh yeah, I mean I grew up with the Hanoi Rocks stuff and I loved it, and these guys are some of my best friends in the world. It’s a rare situation being in a band where there isn’t one arsehole who makes it a nightmare being on the bus, haha. We all get along so great and I think you can see that onstage as well. And those guys are total badasses at what they do so it makes it so easy every night onstage when you know you can rely on everyone else to be killing it.
The MC50 thing is great for us as well, hopefully, it’ll get us out in front of some people who might not know us and may be surprised by what this band is all about. I think it’s a great fit. Hopefully, we don’t get bottled off!
Hopefully soon, but I’d guess sometime in the spring. We’ve taken our time with it, making sure the mix is right and that that the record is the best it can possibly be. So we’re just going into mastering now, we haven’t really even thought about release dates yet.
How does the writing work within the band? What with you guys spread out all over the globe?
It really depends. For ‘Blackout States’ I went to NYC with Steve and Karl and we spent a week working out ideas and then finished them up at home. This time we couldn’t really manage to find the time when we could do something like that so everyone did a lot of work at home and then sent demos around. Steve and I will find hotel time when we can and bash around ideas – we wrote one of the new ones in Tokyo last year – but mostly it’s been a case of sending finished songs to each other.
Ha! I just try to keep busy, I don’t like having a lot of down time. The Black Halos thing has just been rolling along slowly, I try to work on stuff when I have gaps in my schedule. We’ve got enough songs for a record now but we don’t really have a complete band line-up. Jay Millette from the original Halos lineup just played on some stuff but I don’t think he really wants to tour these days. John Kerns has been playing bass and I’d love it if he’d come along for the live shows as well. We’ll see. Karl Rockfist played drums on some stuff and so did TV from Radio Dead Ones. There’s not a lot of pressure on this stuff yet, we’ll probably make some real plans once we’ve recorded a full album. Right now it’s just a bunch of demos and a few finished-sounding songs.
Do you have to get into a different mindset when writing for The Monroes perspective compared to the Black Halos or with Rags? is there a different pressure involved?
I wouldn’t call it pressure, although I suppose it was at first with Monroe. There’s such a high standard of writing with that band that I was worried that my songs weren’t going to be up to scratch. But now it’s pretty relaxed for me, I kind of know what works and what doesn’t which makes things a lot easier. So I wrote a lot more for this new record than I did for Blackout States. As with anything though, you need to get into a certain mindset for what suits the band and the people that you’re working with. So I know what’ll work for the Halos, and what’ll work for Michael.
With Rags it’s usually just me and him having a bunch of drinks and a laugh and if something comes out of it, cool. He’s such a great, prolific writer that my involvement in his stuff is usually pretty minimal – I’ll maybe say ‘change a chord here’ or ‘try this bridge’ etc. The bulk of the work is always coming from him.
I don’t suppose you’re going to give away any of the titles of the songs or give us any idea as to what to expect?
For the Monroe record? Well, I don’t want to give too much away right now. It’s a much more broad record than Blackout States. There’s still some raging punk rock but there’s a lot more diversity in the stuff. I mean we’re not going funk or anything but I think it sounds like a band that’s getting comfortable enough to stretch out more than in the past. We’ve got some great guests on it as well – Nasty Suicide plays some guitar and it’s the first time he’s recorded with Michael and Sami in something like 25 years. So that was cool to be a part of. There’s a couple of other people on there as well. Some surprises 😉
The artwork and merch also involve yourself and you’ve certainly been responsible for some amazing pieces. Do you have a particular favourite sleeve you’ve come up with? does it get inspired by the music or are you always coming up with new ideas?
No, I tend to look for inspiration once I get a job. Normally I ask if someone’s looking for a certain vibe and then work from there. It depends on how much free reign I get as well – some bands that I’ve worked with in the past want to let every member have their say in things and it ends up as a sort of ‘design by committee’ situation and that pretty much always turns out awful. As far as favourite stuff that I’ve done… it’s hard to pick one. Feel free to go check ‘em out at my website though *cough* turningrebellion.com. haha
It must be inspiring working with such talented and creative people. You’ve always surrounded yourself with people who work really hard at their passion. Are there some projects that really stand out that you’ve been involved in?
Honestly, it’s this band. Everyone’s got such a great work ethic and we all complement each other really well. Making records with these guys is such a blast – it’s an amazing feeling hearing my home demos get taken to the next level and turned into these fully-realised songs. I love working with Ginger and Jon Poole as well – two absolutely insanely talented guys who push me to work harder and be better at what I do when I’m around them. When we’re not in the pub, that is.
Taking a look at what you’ve done so far take us back to where it all began. what or who were the main reason you got into playing the guitar and wanted to be in a band?
Oh that’s an easy one. My parents took me to see Queen when I was 8 and that was it. Brian May ripping into the Bohemian Rhapsody guitar solo COMPLETELY sold me on playing music! So by the time I was 12 or 13 I had bands with my school friends playing Black Sabbath and Judas Priest covers (because that’s all I could really manage to learn how to play – Paranoid and Breaking The Law!) and then I never really stopped. Early records I loved were things like Adam & The Ants and The Pretenders. David Bowie. Then I took a little turn into metal for a while – I’ve seen Iron Maiden so many times dude, hahaha! But funnily it was those Hanoi records that made me look back to stuff like the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders. Seeing the Ramones when I was 18 or 19. Discovering Stiv Bators catalogue of stuff. You know, you keep looking and finding new music and it leads you down these little paths of discovery. I still love it to this day. There’s so much great new music out there that makes me want to keep playing and writing.
You’ve played on plenty of records over the years are there any that people might be surprised to find you had a hand in?
Probably the weirdest one is a single that I recorded a few years ago for Andy Cairns’ birthday. It’s me, Michael McKeegan & Neil Cooper from Therapy?, Tim Wheeler from Ash, Ricky Warwick, Diamond Dave (beloved radio host) and we were called The Gemils. We covered Another Girl, Another Planet and also did one original song called Purveyor Of Quackery. Only 10 vinyl copies of the single were pressed and they were given out to the band members and Andy for his 50th birthday. Possibly the rarest single ever!
When you’re writing songs how do you go about it? Is it a guitar part like a riff or a melody that comes first and do you come up with lyrics as well and hows your drumming?
It can be anything. Sometimes it’s a riff or a melody but usually I get a spark for a lyric and start working it into a chorus. I often get ideas while I’m out walking my dogs so I end up quietly singing them into my phone while pretending I’m on a phone call so people don’t think I’m an absolute lunatic. From there it’s a case of working out melodies and writing lyrics that fit. So generally speaking when I’m writing for Michael I’ll try to inhabit his headspace a bit and then write the lyrics from that point of view. Then I’ll demo it all up at home and send the guys a complete song. As for my drumming, well that’s what drum machines are for my friend!
What’s the best thing about your job? Live? Studio? the creative aspect of writing? and on the flip side what do (if anything) you least look forward to. (Travel) (hanging around) making a video or waiting for the records to come out once they’ve been finished?
Touring is fun for sure. Being on the bus, playing the shows – I love those parts of it. I like making records and designing merch, doing the album artwork. That’s all a lot of fun. The airports and soundchecks, missing my family and the endless hours of waiting around I could live without. I’m not a fan of photoshoots and making videos either but they’re a necessary evil, haha. Honestly though, I really can’t complain about anything – this is my day job and it’s the best job in the world.
A few quick questions.
Do you have a favourite song to play with Michael?
You know, it’s a blast playing pretty much everything in the set. It’s nice to be able to change things up and play some new stuff but I’m not sure I have a favourite. Right now we’re doing an acoustic set in the middle of the show and that’s a lot of fun because it’s something different and refreshing. But then I also like bashing people over the head with the punk rock hammer as well
How does it work when picking a set list?
There’s just some stuff that we have to play. It’s expected that we’ll play some Hanoi and we’ll play some of the bigger solo songs. So there’s stuff that’s just always there and then we try to mix up the rest of the set as much as we can. I try to stay out of it for the most part because having 5 guys try to pick 20 songs over email is an endless and frustrating experience, haha!
Are all the Hanoi songs fair game and what would you like to play that hasn’t been in the set list yet?
Yeah I guess so. I haven’t really thought about it too much. We’re not gonna play any of the Hanoi ‘reunion’ stuff but we’ll dig into the original band’s material a lot. Right now we’re playing ‘Lost In The City’ and ‘Lightnin’ Bar Blues’ which we’ve never done before. As for stuff I’d like to play – I just want this new record out so we can play some new songs!
When the Monroe album comes out can we in the UK expect a headline tour? what about some summer dates and a return to Rebellion after this years show-stealing performance easily the best set played at the festival by anyone.
I’m sure we’ll be back to the UK sometime next year. We’d love to do Rebellion again if they’ll have us – it was a blast! I really wasn’t sure how we’d go over but the crowd was fantastic. So we’re looking at summer festival offers now and we’ll see what happens. We’ve got a few in Spain already and hopefully, we’ll get back over to see you guys as well. I think things will become a little more clear once we’ve got the album ready to go!
Thanks for your time Rich hopefully I’ll catch you on a show somewhere sometime in the near future and I look forward to hearing all this new music you’ve been recording. Exciting times.
Thank you, Dom, always a pleasure! Hope to see you soon