INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND PATRICK CLEMENT
American hard rock band Steelheart was originally formed in 1990 and is best known for their high octave-spanning vocalist Milijenko (Mili) Matijevic and platinum seller debut album STEELHEART, which included such hit singles as “I’ll Never Let You Go” and “Can’t Stop Me Lovin’ You.” The sophomore album TANGLED IN VEINS followed in 1992, and it included another major hit, “Mama Don’t You Cry.” Unfortunately, things stopped dramatically when, during the concert, Mili was struck in the head by a lighting truss which knocked him to the ground face first and injuring his head, jaw, nose, and spine. The band broke up, and it took several years for Mili to recover from the accident. The third album, WAIT, was released in 2000, and the following year, Mili was invited to join in a ROCKSTAR project – THE MOVIE. ROCKSTAR became a big success. The film told the story of a music fan who became the singer for his favorite band, loosely based on the Ripper/Priest story). Mike wasn’t acting in the film, but he did most of the lead vocal parts for that “fictitious band” called Steel Dragon while the rest of the band included such names as Zakk Wylde on guitar, Jeff Pilson on bass, and Jason Bonham on drums. In 2008 Steelheart did another reunion and released a new album called GOOD 2B ALIVE. Since then, the band has been more or less active doing touring and preparing to hit back for a big time. Original guitarist Chris Risola returned to the band’s ranks in late 2008, and the rest of the band includes bassist Rev Jones (ex-MSG) and drummer Mike Humbert who already played in GOOD 2B ALIVE. Steelheart. In early June of 2001, Mili and the boys arrived to perform at Sweden Rock Festival, and in there, we had the pleasure to sit down with Mr. Milijevic and hear all the latest news from the Steelheart camp. It seems that Steelheart is back to stay!!
BACK TO LIFE
Well, let’s start with the most current things; what’s going on with Steelheart in 2011?
The year 2011, let’s see, we are – well, right now, I don’t know if you’re aware, but we just released a new song on Sunday, June 5th, it’s on the website. It’s a free download. We did a remake of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”
I have heard it, actually.
Yeah, you did hear it. Did you like it?
Yeah, it was a pretty good one.
So that’s new. We did… we’ve been doing a bunch of shows, and we got many shows to do all over the world. We have Korea. We have Puerto Rico, Indonesia, possibly China, and then the United States. I mean… we’re going to be all over the place right now. So we’re going to release another single after this within a few months. And then we’ll use those songs for the full-length album for next year.
Oh, that’s great to hear!
There will be a full-length album in February, and we are re-grouping with a major promotion and really coming back strong. So this is a set up. This year is the time to come alive.
Do you have a label for the album already?
Well, it’s going be Steelheart Records, but right now, we have a deal on the table with a label that’s – Sony, it’s Sony distribution and Sony marketing. So we will see. Everything’s going well, and everyone does love each other. It’s time to go. That’s the plan for right now.
So things are looking very bright for Steelheart now?
It looks very good, yeah.
Tell us something about the current Steelheart lineup, you know, there’s some new blood in the band and some familiar faces from the past?
I, you know, as you can see, there are only four guys on stage which I always wanted from day one, and – because I think – I don’t think it’s necessary to have two guitar players. I play a little guitar, you know, it’s enough, you know, because then it just makes a lot of confusion. I mean, it sounds full, but I like that rawness, you know, because then the guitar has to really hold his own or his stage; a bass player has to own his own; a drummer – everybody has to do their gig. So it’s cleaner, you know. And Rev and Mike are new. I’ve made the album – the last album GOOD 2B ALIVE…. it seems you heard it, right? Mike played on that record. Rev played on a couple of other songs. And Chris, I brought in after that. So I thought, you know, it’s like, you know, rebuilding this as Steelheart, it’s like, you know, it would be good to have Chris back in the band. So I just… I just wanted to grab him in, and I didn’t take “no” for an answer. I said, “You’re coming with me. Let’s go.” He was in Florida. I said it’s like almost he was done. He’s been teaching guitars and stuff like that. It’s was like, hey, he’s living a nice life. I was like, “Nah, you’re not finished. You’re coming with me. You got some shit to do” So I grabbed him in this – in this line-up. Actually, you know, I’ll tell you, I had more fun with these guys than I ever had in my own career because there are no arguments, there’s no bullshit, everyone understands what’s going on. Everybody gets in and does their thing, no complaining.
How you first get involved with Rev Jones?
Interestingly enough, when I was in California in 2003, I was sitting around doing nothing, and I wanted to put a band together. I looked in the newspaper, you know, what was it called, the – whatever in L.A., the… you know, the trader or whatever exactly, you know. And there was this band in there, and I said, “Well, you know what, these guys sound – these guys sound like something that I, you know, I could hook up with, you know, they had a great ad. So I went over and checked them, and Rev was in the band, okay. As soon as I walked in and I was like, “Well, let me, you know, let me listen to the tunes.” I was like, “I like the – I didn’t like the tunes, but I liked Rev.,” And I was like looking at Rev, I’m like, “I like this guy’s vibe. He plays good, you know, on the record.” Well, I was thinking like, “Yeah, this is not going to work for me.” But then I called them, and we’re doing some shows, so I made friends with all the guys and said, “Hey, listen, do you mind if I use your bass player to hook up in shows?” They said, “Oh, yeah, no, no worries,” And we then did one show together, and it was, you know, it was – it kind of stayed.
I remember that I saw Rev playing with Michael Schenker a couple of times back in the days.
Yeah, he was with him for a while.
Mili: alive at Swedenrock in 2011
THE OLD STUFF
Okay, it seems that we are going to hear a lot about Steelheart shortly. Do you have any plans to re-release any of the old stuff as well?
Yeah, this is – this was our conversation with this particular label we’re talking about. And what we want to do is take all the Steelheart music, all the whole catalog, and we want to put it together into one place.
You’re talking about a box set or something like that?
Yeah, because of what we had – I mean, we have TANGLED IN RAINS, which has been out of print for a while, and it is ridiculous because there are many great songs in there. I feel that album hasn’t even come alive yet as it should be?
You‘re right about that thing…
You know that was when I had the accident, do you remember?
Yeah, I do remember that thing.
So that album still has power; the WAIT album still has strength. It has never been released in the United States. I was released here in Europe… But it was fucking released – what do you call, the guy just released it without having, what do you call it, a license and then he made that shitty cover, I don’t know if you remember, you know, he made that shitty cover for the album and then released it in Europe.
Yeah, I have seen the European version of the cover…
Right, and this guy just decided to just – “Oh, I’m going to put it out.” So, again, you know, it cost me a ton of money to stop it and all that shit, you know. It’s kind of weird that people think they can do whatever they want. Anyway, I think it has a lot of – it still has a lot of energy. And then, I feel GOOD 2B ALIVE hasn’t even done its course yet. So we’re going to put all these together and release it all in one package. First, there will be a new album, and then after that, we’ll re-release the old stuff.
That sounds excellent plan because it’s almost impossible to find any old Steelheart albums from record shops anymore.
Right, exactly. So we’re going to bring it all back in. We just got – we got some issues – not issues, but we got some meetings with MCA because, you know, they own the rights to the first two albums.
Are there any legal issues that might prevent you from re-releasing the first two Steelheart albums?
No, it’s, I mean, it’s not issued. They’re just deals, you know, you’re making deals. You’re going to make a deal and work out a situation. I mean, they’re going to make money, then, they’re on the business to make money, you know. And if we’re going to promote it and really exploit then why would they care? Well, it did cost me a ton of money to get out of – out of – well, the WAIT record, it cost me a quarter-million dollars to get fucking out of … just to get it fuck out of my way. But I’m free, and I own it now, you know. All I know is I’m alive, and we got a new fucking beginning right here; Steelheart is cranking. That’s how I look at it. There’s good energy; there’s good energy there right now. You know, we’re alive. Did you see the Steelheart show tonight? Did you like it?
Yeah, absolutely, I liked it very much, and there was tons of energy on stage like you said.
All right, great!
GOOD 2B ALIVE
I have to ask you, how do you keep your voice in shape after all these years?
You know, it’s just – it’s just, no drugs, no alcohol, you know, once in a while, and now, I maybe take a little break here. I didn’t get a little buzz here and there – I enjoy getting a little buzz, but there’s really no, you got to chill, you know; I’m doing a lot of exercises and work out, you must take care of yourself.
Do you still train your voice as well?
Always, all the time, I mean, wherever I am, wherever I am, I got my laptop. I mean, I was standing at Marty’s house in California, we just moved from Virginia to California… so we’ve been hanging at his pad, and I got my laptop, my microphones, I just fire that up and sing. I’ve got – well, I don’t give a shit where it is, man. I don’t care, you know.
Where you’re going next after this Swedenrock thing?
Now, from here, we go to Croatia, and I haven’t been to Croatia since ’87. I was born in Zagreb, so I’m, I’m like – I have to admit, I’m excited.
It’s a little bit different place now, sure?
Well, I know it’s different, but I’m excited to get there, you know. We’re going over there. I’m going to go over there and what we’re working on – okay, do you know anything about the movie, the GOOD 2B ALIVE movie?
I have heard about it, but please tell me something more about it?
It’s not finished yet, but we’ve got over 200 hours of footage from all over the world. Now, it’s coming together where I need to come to Croatia, and we need to put the festival together in Croatia and finish the movie with me coming home on stage, you know, in Croatia Zagreb. It’s just been a little – it’s a little quiet project, a little up, you know, until the next step, but it’s coming close.
After the Croatia thing, is everything filmed then?
Then it’s done. And it’s pretty intense. I mean, it’s a hell of… it’s a story, man, which is my life, you know, from the accident, from growing up, from all of that.
When did you actually start to work on that movie?
Well, we started it more than two years ago, I think?
Is there also some vintage stuff included in the film?
Oh, yeah, I mean, I mean, there are so many things – it’s collected from a lot of concerts we did, all over the places, and then there is footage of my studio. I did build my studio when I started making the GOOD 2B ALIVE album in Virginia. I mean, I have all footage of that, literally, from, you know, from an empty room…… and I’m in there, you know, building it, really, you know, to tearing it down. So it was good. There’s a lot of footage. It’s a real thing, so we’ll see how it goes?
You earlier mentioned the accident which happened years ago. Are you now recovered 100 % from that one, and do you have any pain or other symptoms left still left from that?
No, actually, no, it was really weird. I picked up the guitar wrong the other day at the airport, my Les Paul, I picked it up, and I hurt my back. I mean, it was just the other day, but no, I feel good. I’m doing great, and I’m strong. I feel good mentally, physically, spiritually; I’m ready. I mean, I think it’s time to see if the world still loves me.
ROCKSTAR, THE MOVIE
When you now mentioned movies, I have to ask about the ROCKSTAR movie as well. I’m a huge fan of that one, I love it, and it was great to hear three songs from the soundtrack in your set tonight. Tell me something about working on that movie and the Steel Dragon band?
Yeah, Steel Dragon, you know, the only – the only – I mean, I love making that movie and working Zakk (Wylde) and Jason (Bonham) and Jeff (Pilson), I mean, what a band! And we were talking about putting that band out in the road and playing together, and I think that would have worked excellent. The only issue that I always had was that I couldn’t talk about the movie when it came out; no one knew – it was – everybody knew that it was someone, and they were guessing like: “It sounds like Mili but…” And I wasn’t allowed to speak to the press or tell anybody it was me. I mean, that was the contract, you know.
And now that the cat is out of the bag, but it was – I think the movie was – I think it was – it still is fantastic.
How was the writing and recording session which you did with that Steel Dragon band?
It was pure rock and roll, man. It was a really funny thing to do. I’ll never – I’ll never forget is that our first two days of rehearsal, you know, we’d be cracking up on those, they’re fucking bringing in cases of beer, I mean, not one – cases of beer to rehearsal. And I was sitting there just going, “Where is this going to go?” Zakk, Jason, I mean, I had a couple of beers, but these guys were bombed, bombed. So anyway, on the third day we’re a band, no alcohol, so it was good.
So it was great to hear that was a real band situation but not just sending tapes between the band members, you know?
No, no, it was – actually – no, no, we all – yeah, no, it was good. It was a real thing, a real deal.
How was it to work with Zakk Wylde?
It was great. I mean, there were some silly moments. You know, I ended up one night in a – Zakk likes a good buzz, you know. So, I mean, one night, you know, we were just – I ended up actually at his house with the dogs licking my face on the couch. You got to laugh at things like that. But it is kind of funny.
Nowadays, Zakk doesn’t drink anymore.
Well, it’s good.
How did you get picked up for the ROCKSTAR project?
For the ROCKSTAR project, that was Tom Werman. Okay, I don’t know if you know Tom?
I do know that he’s a famous producer.
The producer did work with Motley Crue and so on, and I did my second album with him. We got along great. He called me when I was in Connecticut in my brother’s house. You know, I was staying there, and I was going back to L.A. And it’s like, “All right. I’m coming back to L.A. I’m going to put a new band together. Let me get out there again, you know.” And just – I mean, Sunday night, I’m leaving in the morning, and I get a phone call from Tom. He goes, “Hey, what are you doing?” I said like, “Well, I’m just – I’m going to put a new band, I guess.” Well, he goes, “I got this – we’re doing this movie, and I think you’re the guy. I think you would be good for that. Would you want to come in to audition?” I said, “Fuck, yeah.” He goes, “When can you come in?” “I’ll be there tomorrow noon.” You know, I was flying in at eight, literally. I went to the studio at noon; noon worked till two. I said, “You know what,” we were working in the studio, I said, “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you give me this song you want me to do, this song you want to do, give me the song – let me go home, and I’ll come back in the morning. I’ll give you the song. I’ll hand in my homework in the morning.” And when I came back in the morning, they listened to the song, “All right, you got the gig. You’re the guy.”
Jeff Scott Soto did sing some of the Steel Dragon songs on the album. Was Jeff in the studio at the same time when you recorded your parts?
No, Jeff came later in the game. Jeff didn’t come until – another guy was doing it, and then they had some issues with him.
Who was he?
I don’t know who that other guy was. They had some problems and issues, and then Tom also knew Jeff well, and then he said to Jeff, “Well, you know, why don’t you do that?” So that worked out great. And I know Jeff for years. Jeff sang on the TANGLED IN REINS album, the backup vocals. It’s a small world, “he laughs.”
How many songs you actually recorded with Steel Dragon?
I got eight fucking Steel Dragon tracks. That’s all that we did with Steel Dragon. I’ve got them all…
You should get those released someday. Do you think it would be possible to get those songs out someway in the future?
That’s what I’m talking about. Either that or I’m just going to give it to the world. I mean, there’s some really good unreleased stuff there… We’ll see “laughs.”
I can’t wait for that! Ok, Mili. Thanks for doing this interview!
No problem, guys!
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