INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
On April 12th, 2009, the eighth sold-out gig in only six days at the legendary Tavastia Club in Helsinki concluded the series of farewell performances by HANOI ROCKS. After putting out three albums, TWELVE SHOTS ON THE ROCKS (2002), ANOTHER HOSTILE TAKEOVER (2005), and STREET POETRY (2007), since reuniting, Andy McCoy and Michael Monroe have decided to call it a day. A book entitled “All Those Wasted Years” has been released to coincide with the farewell tour. Still, since it hardly scratches the surface concerning the band’s more recent stages, we decided to sit down for a chat with current guitarist Conny Bloom and bassist Andy Christell. Both also share a long history connected with HANOI ROCKS, having already toured alongside them in the 80s with THE ROAD RATS [also featuring ex-HANOI ROCKS drummer, Gyp Casino]. In addition to HANOI ROCKS and THE ROAD RATS, Conny Bloom and Andy Christell have played and reaped success together in ROLENE and, most importantly, the now reunited ELECTRIC BOYS.
THE END OF HANOI ROCKS
In just a few hours, you will be playing what is supposed to be the last HANOI ROCKS show ever. How does that feel?
CB: So far, it’s alright. The best way to do, for me anyway, a great last show is if I approach it like it was any other show. I’m trying not to get sentimental about it and think of it as business as usual. All the other shows we’ve done now have been great, so if we do the same thing again, that’ll be great.
What are your personal thoughts about the ending of HANOI ROCKS in general?
CB: It’s alright, actually. It’s sad because I think HANOI ROCKS right now is very good and a great live band, one of the few in that category, there aren’t many left. I hope that we’ve inspired some kids to take over the tradition and start some great new rock ‘n’ roll bands again. So in that sense, it is sad, but it has also been four and a half years now. I didn’t know how long this might go on. When I joined the band, I thought this might last half a year, maybe one year, and suddenly, it’s been four and a half years. It’s been great, but sometimes you have to stop something to move on and open new windows. I also know the band’s situation, and sometimes people need a little break from each other, especially Michael [Monroe] and Andy [McCoy], they’ve been doing this for so long. In one way, they’re very similar, and then, on the other hand, they’re completely different, like day and night really as persons. They work great together at times, especially when to come on stage, then it’s terrific. It’s like some magic that you can’t replace. Then, it’s difficult off stage sometimes because there are many strong will fighting and arguing about stuff. Overall I have to say it’s been a great four and a half years for me, a pleasure and an honor.
AC: I had a great time doing this. I’m never one to sit down and look back on stuff and feel like, “Oh, I miss that.” I’m always looking forward to the next thing. All these gigs these last four and a half years have been a hell of a lot of fun. We’re all old friends. We’ve known each other for a very long time, so it’s all been great actually. This could have all lasted like four weeks, you never know, but it lasted for a lot longer. One thing that has always been fun with Andy was the first time we met and talked about music. We realized that we liked a lot of the same stuff and had many things in common. That’s why when he called us [about joining HANOI ROCKS], we said, “Of course! This will be great!”
CB: Yeah, Andy and us, we have sort of the same record collection.
CB: In a way, he was a part of the ELECTRIC BOYS’ sound without knowing it because back in the days, he said to me that if you like the funky stuff, you’ve got to check, UNDISPUTED TRUTH’s album HIGHER THAN HIGH. Of course, I knew he had a great taste for music, so we got that album, and it really inspired us; it’s a great album. So that actually had a big effect on the overall ELECTRIC BOYS sound, that album.
HANOI ROCK’s decision to break up was shocking and surprising news for the fans. When did you guys learn that Andy and Michael had decided to end HANOI ROCKS once and for all?
CB: Just before it came out in the papers. They called us because we were in Sweden; otherwise, we would have sat down and talked about it. In a way, it was a surprise. You’re prepared that things could go to hell any minute, but of course, you don’t know when. So still, when Michael called me, I was surprised.
AC: It’s been great, both [tour farewell tour of] Japan and these Tavastia shows have been great.
CB: Some of the most fun gigs we’ve ever done.
AC: Yeah, I think it’s really cool way to end a band. Everybody should do something like this because it’s been really a lot of fun. We’ve actually played all these songs that we’ve never done before, and we’ve had the opportunity to change things from gig to gig since we are in the same spot every night. It really makes every night and every gig really special and unique.
This last show tonight is the eighth sold-out show in a row at the Tavastia Club, that’s thousands and thousands of people. Did the demand for tickets surprise you in any way?
CB: In a way, I thought it could be maybe three or four gigs, but not eight. I was surprised.
Obviously, even more, people will be able to get a glimpse at these special shows since these last two nights will also be captured on film for an upcoming DVD release. Do you have any idea when it might be coming out?
CB: No, not at all. We’re filming it, but then, of course, we have to check it out and see if we can release it and make a good DVD out of it. I really hope so because there’s been a lot of asking for one. I’m positive it should be coming out, but I don’t know when.
It’s kind of nice to see how many young fans this new HANOI ROCKS have acquired. This week alone, you’ve played two underage shows at the Tavastia. How does it feel?
AC: It’s weird to do those kids’ shows because the audiences look like they did in 1985. They still have those hairdos and still the same age. There’s like a whole new generation.
CB: Yeah, when you look at the front row, it’s like a time warp.
The new book on HANOI ROCKS called “All Those Wasted Years” was released just recently. There’s hardly any mention of the reunited band to be found. Why do you think that is?
CB: Obviously, you would have to ask Andy and Michael about it, but I think there was a plan to do two books, but who knows if that’s going to happen? Anyway, I think those early years are the most fun to read about, and anything that’s been going on these last couple of years is too close to laugh about.
THE ROAD RATS
You probably witnessed some of the book’s stories since you did a lot of touring with HANOI ROCKS in the ’80s. How long have you, in fact, know the guys?
CB: Since 1984, I think. The first time I met Andy was to support HANOI ROCKS with THE ROAD RATS, the band I had with Gyp [Casino, ex-HANOI ROCKS].
Besides releasing a few 7” singles, you actually recorded a complete album with THE ROAD RATS, which was never released. What happened to that album in the end?
CB: Yeah, I think the record label went bankrupt. The thing was, the label saw us as a teenage pop, rock, glam… I don’t know, some sort of thing like that. I suppose they were right in a way looking back on it, but we wanted to go in another direction. We had a pretty much free hand and started recording in Stockholm old “Hound Dog” Taylor songs, blues, and all sorts of shit because we were more “roots” in our thinking. We were all listening to that kind of stuff, blues, and I was inspired by Rory Gallagher and those kinds of things. When the record label people finally heard the songs, they went, “What the hell, this is not what we paid for!” That was after they had put up the money.
Do you still have the tapes of what was recorded in those sessions?
CB: I have an old noisy cassette.
ROLLIN’ WITH ROLENE
Later on, you had big success in Finland with your next band, ROLENE. That was pretty poppy stuff too.
CB: Yeah, that’s right… how am I going to get out of this? I have to blame Jeppe [Gyp Casino] because he kept playing us all this great pop/rock stuff…
AC: Stuff that nobody knows who made it, but they were great songs, and we were listening to a lot of CHEAP TRICK.
CB: Yeah, you can tell if you listen to that album. There are quite a lot of CHEAP TRICK moments in there. Of course, whatever direction you go in, it’s all about if you can write good songs.
In any case, that album ROLLIN’ WITH ROLENE was quite successful, in Finland especially. You played some pretty big shows over here, didn’t you?
AC: Yes, we did. I remember some chaotic gig at some big festival in a park here in Helsinki. We arrived on a bus, and the teenage girls were climbing all over the bus. It was crazy.
The album has only ever been released on vinyl. Do you think it’ll come out on CD one day?
CB: Hopefully not.
AC: It might, as long as they change the cover. The cover is a typical SPINAL TAP story. We took pictures for the album, and we knew that we didn’t really like the ones from that photo session. They were too cheesy. We talked about some other pictures and suggested using them instead on the cover.
CB: Yeah, we had some great pictures, rough and rock ‘n’ roll.
AC: Then the thing was that we got the album, and they’d used the other pictures that we didn’t like. They said, “It’s out now.”, so it’s exactly like SPINAL TAP.
CB: I remember asking when the album was coming out, and they said “It is out.” and we hadn’t even seen it. I think we went into a record store to check it out. We completely freaked out; we were shouting, “You’ve fucked up our career! What the fuck are you doing?”
What was the end of the story for ROLENE?
AC: I remember that we had some songs that we worked on, but Gyp and the drummer [Anders Bentell] didn’t really like that stuff. Although the new stuff was much more interesting, it was one of the early ELECTRIC BOYS songs like “All Lips n’ Hips.” They didn’t want to do it, so we split up.
THE RE-BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BOYS
Now that HANOI ROCKS is over, you’re about to resurrect the ELECTRIC BOYS. Was this something that was in the plans all along?
AC: If you asked me a year ago if we would unite, I would have said no. We had been talking about it because we figured that one of these days, this [HANOI ROCKS] is going to end, and we had some songs that we had been working on. When it was decided that HANOI ROCKS would break up, that’s when we decided this was what we wanted to do. We had those songs already, and since it’s both of us and Conny’s singing it and it’s in the same vein as the first two ELECTRIC BOYS albums, we thought maybe we should talk to the other two guys too see if they’re at all interested. Of course, Niclas [Sigevall], the drummer, hasn’t played drums since 1995, so we figured he would never do it, but when we contacted him, he told us he’d just started playing again and that he would be up for it. Franco [Santunione] said the same thing; of course, he’ll do it.
CB: Niclas made such a strong impact on people with, he’s a real character, of course, his drumming.
So is this going to be a more permanent sort of reunion or just some live gigs?
AC: It’s about playing the music that we want to do. That’s the bottom line.
CB: When Andy called [about joining HANOI ROCKS], we had this band called GROOVIES INC., which had started that thing already. We were in the studio for a long time, and in the end, it started getting crazy. So when Andy called, it was a relief. Fuck this and just put those songs on the shelf, and maybe we can use them sometime in the future.
AC: Looking at it now, we can see what we should do with those songs. Sometimes that happens if you have a band and start working on songs and can’t really make it work for some reason.
CB: Now, after this whole thing with HANOI ROCKS, I went back and listened to it, and it was all so self-evident, this is great, that sucks, change that, put that in there.
How would you describe that new ELECTRIC BOYS material?
CB: It’s going to be very funky.
AC: It sounds much like what we used to do in the first two Electric Boys albums…
There are only a few weeks before you’re going to play at the Sweden rock festival. Have you already started rehearses for the upcoming shows?
CB: We will start beginning of May or something.
The Sweden Rock gig is obviously the most high-profile one, but do you already have more shows booked yet?
AC: There are some big shows in the UK that we’re going to do, at the Hammersmith Apollo with THUNDER. We opened up for them with the original lineup on their whole tour of the UK, and now we heard that they’re going to do their last shows because they’re breaking up. We talked to them and agreed that we would open up for them at the two of those shows.
CB: Then we’ll be doing our own headline shows in some smaller places.
THE PAST OF ELECTRIC BOYS AND MORE
The first ELECTRIC BOYS album, FUNK-O-METAL CARPET RIDE (1989), got really great reviews all around and had the video for “All Lips n’ Hips” playing on MTV all the time. What kind of sales figures did you actually achieve with that record at the time?
AC: The international version took some time to get that deal done with the States and Europe. The record deal we had was only for Sweden when we made the album, and then it took almost a year, and we toured the time, especially in Sweden. I think we only did a few shows in Finland? When we finally [got the international deal], we had a lot of new stuff which we wanted to record and change, and that’s when we did the stuff with Bob Rock. That version did sell well. I can’t remember how much it was in America, but at least 300,000. We were on some Billboard shows.
CB: I’ve heard we sold about half a million altogether with those two [records]. In those days, it was very different, and I’m talking about what bands sounded like in those days, especially in Sweden, everybody was playing light stuff.
AC: Some bands were all over copying the EUROPE stuff because they were the most successful Swedish band at that time, but then there were all these Swedish pop bands singing in Swedish. I actually remember us thinking that this [ELECTRIC BOYS] was never going to work in Sweden, so we had already set plans to get out to America, especially because we didn’t think it would work here. When the album was released, the media and everybody picked up on it and started playing it, and we actually became really famous. We were really surprised.
CB: After that, a lot of bands started doing this sort of funk-rock thing. It became like a funk rock wagon for some time, which was cool, of course, but it’s kind of funny that this whole “funk-o-metal” was never invented when we did the album. We just wanted a title that explained what we were doing. And funk-rock… we were never a metal band, so that was wrong. We just wanted some opposites like funk and something else.
After the second album GROOVUS MAXIMUS, the classic lineup broke up. Why was that?
CB: As I said, the focus started drifting. We sat down and talked about it, and Niclas was basically tired of touring and all that. With Franco, I can’t remember exactly what it was. It wasn’t like a big incident or something.
AC: Sometimes, it just happens. We were touring so much. When you’re young and out on the road for like seven months in a row and stuff, we basically toured since the first album, actually before it, until that tour with GROOVUS MAXIMUS, that was like four or five years straight almost all the time. So, of course, you can get a little fed up and start losing focus. We didn’t have a huge fight or anything. We still kept in touch with the guys and hung out sometimes when we met in Stockholm. Then Conny and I talked if we wanted to do something and found Thomas and Martin and actually for a while thought about changing the name because the sound was so different. After talking with the people at the record company, we realized that people would expect us to play “All Lips n’ Hips” and “Electrified” and all those songs, so we figured it better to call it ELECTRIC BOYS.
You also changed record company at that point, isn’t that right?
AC: Well, Atco went through these merging things with East-West, so it became Atco-East-West. It turned out it wasn’t Atco anymore at all, it was just East-West, and if I remember right, they were more into R&B stuff. I remember we were sitting and talking to some people at the record company, and we thought they were complete idiots; they didn’t have a clue about what this band was about and didn’t even care. Then they dropped us, basically. It was good in a way because we could have been stuck there with legal issues and stuff.
The third and last album, FREEWHEELIN, came out on Music for Nations. At that time, the market wasn’t really favorable for basic hard rock with the grunge phenomenon sweeping the charts, was it?
CB: Then again, the stoner rock thing came around after that.
AC: Actually, some stoner rock bands have told us later on that they really liked that album (FREEWHEELIN) a lot.
CB: At the time, times were changing, and people were listening to stuff. For us, it was natural, and it sounded heavier with the other guys. We all really liked bands like CAPTAIN BEYOND and stuff like that. You can’t force something to sound like [something else]. If it doesn’t sound right then, you have to change the members and get some people who play it that way. That’s what it sounded like with these guys.
It wasn’t too long after the album’s release before the whole band broke up. What happened?
AC: I seem to remember there was supposed to be a big tour all over Europe with KING’S X. Then just a couple of weeks before, they canceled the whole European tour for some reason, and it was too short notice for us to get anything else, so we were stuck with like two gigs the whole summer. It was fucking ridiculous. So that’s basically what happened with that, sometimes shit happens, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
There’s one last question for you, Conny. [Rumor has it that a second SILVER GINGER 5 album was already written but never recorded.] Is there any chance that you might work again with Ginger [of THE WILDHEARTS] at some point in the future?
CB: I would love to do something with Ginger again at some point, but obviously, we’ve both been busy.
Thank you very much for the interview, guys. We’ll see you again on the road with the ELECTRIC BOYS. Cheers.
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