Mark Interviews Miljenko ‘Mili’ Matijevic of Steelheart 2010

Steelheart are back and Mili sings The Doors

 

Steelheart burned brightly at the start of the nineties and made two great albums before, like everyone, they felt the tide turn with the birth of grunge. I think that they would have been one of the few bands strong enough to make it through, but we will never know. On Halloween night 1992 tragedy struck when Mili had a horrific onstage accident and the first chapter of Steelheart drew to a close in a flash. The road back has been a hard one, with more tragedy than most people should have to endure, but Mili is strong and life is good and there’s fresh news, and always there is that amazing voice…

 

Mark: Hi Mili thank you so much for speaking with us here at theRockpit.

Mili: My pleasure

Mark: I suppose the biggest news for you at the moment is the whole Doors thing playing with Robbie and Ray, how long has that been on the cards? How did it all come about?

Mili: Well my attorney was talking to their manager about another issue and they started talking about me. Their manager said “You know, that guy’s a great singer, I think I might have a project that he’d be great for”. So, I met up with him, because I was actually looking for a manager, and I got a call to come and audition for The Doors. So, I thought, sure, that could be an interesting kind of different match for me. I went to LA about a month ago, sang nine songs, and left with Robbie giving me a hug, so I think they liked the way I sang.

Mark: That sounds great.

Mili: The energy was great. I leave tomorrow for Los Angeles for rehearsals, and then the first show. We shall see how it all turns out.

Mark: You’ve certainly got a lot more range than Jim! I think it’ll be an interesting mix.

Mili: It’s a really nice cool twist, I’m enjoying it. I love singing The Doors.

Mark: It was amazing to read the news, I certainly never expected hearing you singing with The Doors; it should be fantastic, I can’t wait!

Mili: I gotta tell its fun, you wait; it will be very interesting stuff. You can hear the controversy you know, about what’s gonna happen!

Laughs

Mark: Any plans for a tour after the US?

Mili: We’re gonna be in Australia. They’ve set up a whole world tour, and we’re supposed to be in Australia in September or something, with a 50 piece orchestra. I don’t know if it’s been booked yet but I know it’s on the horizon.

Mark: Well we hope to get to meet you then when you come over. (I’ve loved the Doors since I can remember and visited Jim’s grave lasttime I was in Paris).

The last time I saw Steelheart, was when you played Rocklahoma in 2008, you’re still the only band as far as I am aware that ever got an encore there in three years. Were you surprised at how really well that gig went down?

Mili: Yeah, that was special, there was good energy; a really good energy. The audience felt the band, you know what I mean? It was really, how can I say, it was powerful.

Mark: It was good to be out there. Also it was very interesting that you were the only band that had its own merchandising stall there. I’ve still got the T shirt and the shirt, they’re really great!

Mili laughs

Mili: Awesome, we like doing stuff, we enjoy ourselves. We love clothes, we just like a lot of different things, you know. We just started a whole bunch of different things, then have fun with it. Giving it to the world at a reasonable price so that everyone is happy.

Mark: It is great quality stuff; you seem to have your finger on a lot of those outside interests: you’ve got your studio and your coffee. How’s the whole coffee thing going down?

Mili: Yeah, the coffee thing. It was crazy, you know, I originally started that as a promotional thing for the album, you know something we used to do in the old days, we always used to have a promotion. I thought we’d bring that back a little bit. So, we put the CD in the coffee. Put the videos in, it was a fun thing. But, what happened I was at the NAAM show, and I was sitting behind this couple, and she turned to me and said ‘hey can I see that’ so I gave her the bag of coffee and she said that smells great, I’d really like to try it. Then she asked me ‘Do you have a distributor?’, and I said, no, and she said ‘Well you do now’. She was the buyer for Ralph’s Grocery Stores, in Southern California. So, I guess that falls into being in the right place at the right time, and a little bit of luck!

Mark: Yes, we’re hoping to pick some up when we come over. What’s your best blend?

Mili: You know what they are all very good! My favourite is one we’re going to put out and market soon it’s an espresso, it’s really, really rich, and full bodied. That’s my favourite, it’s Columbian, but it’s all high grade coffee. We don’t do anything half way.

Mark: With The Doors tour then playing in May and June, how has that affected Steelheart? Are you guys, still playing places like Bikelahoma?

Mili: Well, we’re not at Bikelahoma, ‘cause Chris had a bit of a shoulder problem, and he really needs to get taken care of, he has a rotated disc in his shoulder, and so we couldn’t do that show, because he couldn’t play guitar. So we had to cancel that, he felt real bad, but we are gonna be doing Rock N America, in Oklahoma, and there’s other stuff that we’ll be doing as Steelheart.

Mark: Yes, Rock N America is the show we’re coming over to see, what can people expect from that set?

Mili: Oh, man, as always all heart, all heart! All out rock n roll, you know 250%, that’s what they can expect, giving out the love you know!

Mark: Going back to the olden days for a while, where did it all start? Looking back to the pre-Steelheart days when you guys were Red Alert, even before the first album?

Mili: Oh yeah, well, man!

You can hear the memory clicking into gear…

Mili: … It was really crazy that we were together for 13 years before we got signed, absolutely crazy. There really weren’t many places to play, we were just working our craft, writing songs and kinda like a little club, hanging out and writing music. Until one day I went to California and met our manager to be. That is an interesting story: the first time I met him, he wanted nothing to do with me, he wouldn’t even listen to the tape.

Mili: So I kept bugging him. I said you should just have a listen, it can’t hurt to just listen to it. So he said send it to me in New York, we were in California, so I sent it to him that day. He was leaving for NY in the morning, and so he had it on his desk as soon as he walked in to his office, and he didn’t even get half way through ‘Angel Eyes, I’ll Never Let You Go’…

I can picture it now, we both laugh.

He got through half of it he called me and left me a message, and I could hear the song in the background. And said you’re right it’s that’s good, we got to meet again, we’ve gotta get you going! Then I went to NY the next week, and we had a verbal agreement, we agreed what we were gonna do, and literally, the week after we were signed to MCA records. And that was the overnight thing!

Mark: Amazing, and the reaction to that first album must have been great, especially the single that charted, ‘I’ll Never Let You Go’. What was it like around that time?

Mili: It’s bliss, you know, it’s just an overwhelming amount of joy, and happiness, and being accepted into a world that’s full, where we connected with people, and it’s a very beautiful and powerful place to be.

Mark: And the follow up ‘Tangled in Reins’, like a lot of great albums, really got lost in that whole grunge thing.

Mili: Tangled in Reins! You know what’s really interesting is that all of that stuff has now started to rebuild again, people are starting to listen to what it really was. Before, they listened and didn’t pay attention, and they just dismissed some of it. Now they’re going back and saying wait a minute, great stuff exists here.

Mark: I think it was the whole reaction to the ‘hair metal’ thing, a lot of great bands, that weren’t hair metal, that were producing great music, like, Steelheart, just sort of got wiped out in that wave. Now when you go and listen to some of those albums, especially the stuff that got released around 91/92, towards what you’d consider the end, there’s some really great stuff out there.

Mili: Yeah, well you know what, it’s coming back! There are a lot of great bands that are coming back, and they are coming back for a reason. Their stuff was good and they are still putting out that good attitude. So with us, also, I had that accident in ‘92.

Mark: That was my next question actually! That was a massive accident.

Mili: Yeah, I should have been dead on stage; I should have been literally dead on stage.

Mili pauses

Mili: So you know what it was? It was time, you know, because I really wanted to move on and do something, greater, something bigger, something whatever, you know. And then life just went… like a pair of scissors, it just cut and said ‘you know what: we’re gonna go on another route!’

Mili: I was fine for a week until I got home and I was lying in bed, and the headaches came, it was just intense! And it kept progressing and it got worse and worse, and I started losing memory. It was rebuilding my whole self back from ’93 until now. I mean it’s been literally rebuilding.

Mark: So, how are you now? Do you still suffer?

Mili: I feel good, I feel sharper than ever. There was a constant focus, you know, I was always focusing, concentrating, remembering, almost like exercising the brain, and now I’m good, I feel good. I’m in a good position; I’m in a good spot in life. Physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Mark: You’ve been through a lot; you had a lot of tragedy as well as the accident you’ve lost close friends, your mother and father.

Mili: Yeah… It has been a road. But it’s built me in to the man I am.

Mark: How do you feel it’s affected your music? Because you’ve written some beautiful songs over that time.

Mili: You know it’s really crazy, I see similarities… I have always felt connected to the other side, the spiritual side, and it’s just brought me closer, and becoming more of a channel, through the medium, what’s coming through me. It’s all channelled, it’s made my awareness more sharper, clearer.

Mark: It’s great, you still sound very positive, and you’re obviously still working hard, and getting the job done.

Mili: Yeah, the album ‘Good 2B Alive’ is all about being alive. I wrote it in ’99, and I wrote it when my mother and Frankie died, that same year. What is really crazy is that I went from being a rock star, to sleeping on floors, it was bizarre that during that time: I was broke, a “washed up” rock star. But, then I wrote the most positive song in my life, ‘Good 2B Alive’, it really is a gift to be alive.

Mark: It is, it’s a beautiful song as well.

Mark: How do you approach song writing, is it something you sit down and do, or is it a chore, does it just come to you?

Mili: It comes to me, you don’t force, it just comes to me. But for me it’s bizarre, because I have to be ready at all times. Sometimes, I’ll be really honest; I won’t sit down at the piano because I may not have some kind of recording device with me. And every time I sit down at my piano, and I don’t have something, then something beautiful comes through, so I have to be at all times prepared and it just comes. I have to pay attention, that’s my job to pay attention!

We both laugh

Mark: that’s so cool

Mark: So, have you got any actual recording plans at the moment, or has the whole Doors thing put a dampener on any new music?

Mili: Well, I started recording songs, I have a whole album, I have two albums written. I recently recorded a cover song, that I won’t even mention what it is, but it’s really coming together now for me, but right now everything’s got to sit for a minute, I have to focus and pay attention to ‘The Doors’. I’ve got to learn 30 songs in one month, and the words are still juggling in my head!

Mark: So, they change the set around a bit do they?

Mili: Oh, every night something different is going to happen, so we do 15-18 songs a night, but I learn 30 of them, so it’s a lot of words to remember!

Laughs

Mark: Apart from ‘Good 2B Alive’, what Steelheart songs are you proudest of?

Mili: We like playing “Gimme Gimme”, “Angel Eyes”, “She’s Gone” which has really taken off in Sweden, it’s still huge in Asia.

Mark: “She’s Gone”! I was in Phuket, Thailand about three years ago, and there was a rock music cover band, playing Bon Jovi, Metallica, and then they started playing this song, and I must admit, I didn’t quite get it straight away, but it was ‘She’s Gone’.

Mili: I literally was just in Korea doing a couple of shows out there and I hooked up with a DJ, and we started doing a dance version, like a techno-electronica version of ‘She’s Gone’!

Mark: That would have been interesting!

Laughs

Mili: We do all kind of things in our work, but I now have to pay attention to The Doors, this is a big position to be in.

Mark: What was it like working with Dana Altman, last year, when you did the documentary?

Mili: Oh, that’s still going on, we have like hours and hours of footage. Dana, the director, he came to the Korean shows. He filmed the Korean shows out there; we did a lot of interviews out there. We did shows across the States, we did Colorado, so we have hours of footage. Now I’m just doing ‘The Doors’, that’s just opened up a whole other door, so to speak! So, we’re getting closer, getting closer! The story hasn’t played out yet, so it’s an on going thing, probably another 6 months.

Mark: There’s no likely release date at this stage?

Mili: No, we still have another six months to go, we have more interviews to do, more shows to film, so we’re just about there.

Mark: Going back, just a second, to the whole Rock Star experience, I’m guessing it was a very positive experience on the whole, getting to work with, Zak Wylde, Jeff Pilson and Jason Bonham. Have you got any interesting stories about those days? Did you ever talk of making music together?

Mili: See, what happened, we were supposed to go on tour, and what happened when 9/11 hit The United States, it ruined everything, they just totally shut everything down, shut the movie down. ‘We all Die Young’ the song was going to radio, literally, that week, and they made a video for it, and there was a big push behind it, and then 9/11 happened, and the President said there were no words like ‘die’ and ‘blood’ allowed on radio, it was all banned. So that just defeated the whole project. The future? I don’t know: it’s still not over! It’s still a powerful movie and the tracks are powerful.

Mark: Did you notice a resurgence in interest in Steelheart because of that?

Mili: With Steelheart, I had a difficult time, because I wasn’t quite sure, what should I call the next project: should it be Steelheart or should I call it another name? With the Good 2B alive album, it was just a very difficult thing for me to figure out what to call the project. On the album I play most of the guitars, I produced it, I engineered most of it, and so it was very difficult for that reason. We weren’t really Steelheart, we were definitely a new version of Steelheart, the next generation of Steelheart maybe, so I’m not quite sure how to answer that, maybe I didn’t answer that question?

Mark: That’s OK the answer was better than the question!

Mili: I guess it was still embedded in my soul that I had to call it Steelheart.

Mark: The band that you’re playing with at the moment, I was trying to do a bit of research on some of them and I must admit, I couldn’t find out a lot about some of the guys. Are they friends, that you know really well? What can you tell us about them?

Mili: No well there’s another thing, you know. It’s just something that came together, it’s one of those things – I tried putting it together, it doesn’t work when you try that, and then it just kind of fell together. Chris I called, said hey, come on out, you’re gonna play guitar. He’s a really great guitar player. Rev I met in 2002 when I was living in Los Angeles and I was actually looking for a band and somebody called me to see if I would like to see a band, I didn’t like the band but I liked him. I thought hey I like this guy. So later when I was doing a tour- I was going over to Korea, and I need a bass player so I call Rev and that’s how we got together. And Mike the drummer he was doing a set in a studio here in Virginia when I was looking for somebody to do demos with. Someone said you should really check this guy out he can play really well. So I invited him down and we just got along great and he played excellent. So that’s how it all came together.

Mark: That’s great, thanks for filling in the gaps.  You are considered a bit of a sex symbol. How does that side of the business affect you personally? Is it something you play to or is it just part and parcel of the whole business?

Mili: You know what man, I am just me!

Laughs

Mili: I don’t know, I can’t think, I don’t know how! You know, if that’s how they feel that’s great, it sounds good to me, you know what I mean? So do I play to it? … No. I just am what I am and if that’s the way it comes out then so be it.

Laughs

Mark: The very last question that we do ask everyone and we do get some very interesting answers is ‘What is the meaning of life?’

Without a second’s hesitation Mili says

Mili: Love

Mili: Love and Freedom, that’s what the meaning of life is.

Mili: Love and Freedom baby!

Mark: My favourite answer so far. Thank you so much for speaking with us today Mili.

Mili: It’s a pleasure to speak to you as well. I look forward to meeting you again; maybe in another part of the world!

Mark: All the best Mili, have a great tour with the guys from the Doors and we’ll catch you and Steelheart in July.

Mili: Bye Mark

And all of a sudden it’s time to go. Sometimes when you talk to people after just a few minutes you feel like you are talking to an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while. Mili may have had a lot of tragedy in his life, but he comes across as a strong, warm and very positive person. It’s great to get the chance to talk to people like that. I could have easily talked for another hour. I feel inspired.

By Mark Rockpit – 19.5.2010

Thanks to AEG for setting up our talk with Mili

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