INTERVIEW: Miljenko ‘Mili’ Matijevic of Steelheart

It’s been seven years since we last caught up with Mili from Steelheart back in 2010, a couple of years after the release of ‘Good 2B Alive’ and just before we caught a glorious live set at the Rock In America Festival in Oklahoma City. At the time there was talk of a Mili fronted version of ‘The Doors’ touring Down-under, though sadly that never came to pass. Since then, aside from the odd Festival date, things have been quiet on the Steelheart front, that was until August 1, when the band released the music video for ‘You Got Me Twisted.’ the lead track from a new album.

We caught up with Mili in advance of the release of Steelheart’s stunning new album ‘Through Worlds of Stardust’ out on September 15th…

Mark: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with The Rockpit today Mili, it’s been a while I think last time we spoke was by the beer cart backstage at Rock in America and a little while before we did an interview where we were talking about the possibility of you coming down-under fronting The Doors!

Mili: Oh man that was a while ago wasn’t it and that would have been nice, but I guess maybe I’ll have to come to Australia with Steelheart.

Mark: The new album I must admit took me by surprise first listen, I didn’t expect there would be so many slower songs on there, but after a few spins I’m so glad you did that, for me that’s the great strength of the album.

Mili:  Why thank you, that’s wonderful. I also think part of it is that personally I have trouble even making an album with ten, eleven songs – it’s a lot of work for a listener. For me I don’t care who it is, if it’s Zeppelin or whoever, it’s a lot of information so I like to do things in segments, though having said that I know a lot of people like to listen to whole records. I just wanted to make sure as a album that it had enough energy where you could slow it down a bit and take a break before you go back up. You can’t have that ‘hard core’ screaming all the time so to speak, you know what I’m saying? So I tried to make the whole thing fluid and consistent, but hey thank you.

Mark: So how long did it take to put it all together, it’s been a while now since ‘Good 2B Alive’ have some of these songs been with you a while?

Mili: You know a lot of them are brand new. I have songs that I’ve had for years, so many songs and we’d work them but when we did the record not all of them fit to be honest with you. ‘…Twisted’ actually is an old song but by the time I was done with it, it was a completely different song you know what I mean! So they all go through  their phases and processes of changing and morphing  into what they are.

Mark: I know you’ve told me before that you love the creative process, but do you find the actual writing process enjoyable, or damned hard work that’s draining but ultimately worth it when you hear the finished article?

Mili: It’s very enjoyable however sometimes when you have a lot of time restraints it can get a little tricky. There are times when you come up with something you think is great and the initial feeling is amazing and you put it down, then it has to almost marinate in a way to a point where it becomes this authenticity. So it takes a while but in other times a song comes in two seconds and its done, so it’s a process when you’re never really in control and you have to be patient with. With this album I wrote so many songs and we picked from them and then we recorded 11 tracks, after we laid down the VET tracks I started listening to the album cohesively and I would say four of them didn’t work, they just didn’t work, they had this different kind of energy and that doesn’t work. I wanted to bring the past magic and the beauty and the love and the fun part of the music that we had back in the day to today, but today needed to sound more modern or more relative. And so I bagged four songs and wrote four new songs while I was recording the album. And that was intense! One is OK but four! Fuck that was intense!

Mark: The album starts with a scream which is bound to please fans and the song itself ‘Stream Line Savings’ is wonderful and there’s almost a touch of Led Zeppelin in there, and the rest of the rockers will please every Steelheart fan out there, but what I love most of all about the album are the tracks like ‘Lips of Rain’ when I first heard that I thought ‘wow’ this is incredible. Can you tell me a little about that song, its up there with my favourites you’ve ever written.

Mili: Absolutely and I’m really excited that you guys got to read the lyrics, if you have the lyrics and you listen to the song it takes it you on a whole other journey. ‘Lips of Rain’ was one of those songs that came together in five minutes, I wrote the bridge in another part of the country, but it came together quickly. I really want to tell everyone what the song is about but I have to hold off one second, it’s a really deep story, it’s a beautiful story but it’s a sad story and it’s one that I really think should be looked at more carefully and talked about but right for now I just want to keep it positive. It is a positive song but it is a little sad. Literally I sat at the piano and it just came to me, it came through really intensely. I remember when I wrote it and we’d started the record I went to New York and all I had at that time was part of the piano – rough piano and a drum beat and that’s all there was, and I was writing the lyrics and  I had four different verses for lyrics and I didn’t now which to use so I sang all four when I was there for Christmas break, I was at my girl’s house and I sang it in this little log cabin in Woodstock, and you know what?  What you heard is what I sang there I could not beat it, exactly as it was there, the lyrics and everything came together. Then I came back to my studio in L.A. I set everything up all nice and fancy, and the energy just came through and that was it. So yes a big powerful song and thank you for recognizing it. We just shot the video for that over the weekend.

Mark: I’m so glad you chose that song.

Mili: Thank you brother.

Mark: The title of the album ‘Through Worlds of Stardust’ intrigues me too, where did that come from?

Mili: Well as you know that’s from the lyrics to ‘Lips of Rain’ – “Take me through the worlds of stardust back to heaven and hell” it’s part of the lyric and also for me part of time travelling, everything I’ve been through, everywhere I’ve been, every place, in my mind, physically, spiritually, and I feel like I’ve time travelled through so much, so many worlds and I feel that we’re all dust anyway at the end of  the day. We’re just dust. And that just had so many different  meanings to me and it just came to me. You know I’m a person who really tries to connect to what’s speaking to me or speaking through me and most of the times I don’t question it, I go with it if it feels right and that title to this day, the meaning of it is still growing and building inside of me. So it’s a lot of me, a lot of my life, a lot of spirituality.

Mark: Vocally you are also sounding very good. Are you itching to getting out on the road? What are your live plans?

Mili: Music today is so confused when I look at it and one of my intentions on this record was to try and bring back a bit of that magic and fun and the passion  into making a record that was real. A record that wasn’t just to pick up a few live dates. A real record – life lived, pain, struggle, love, hate, dirt, fucking, everything you know.  Put it all in, that’s what a record to me is. You’ve gotta live it and really honestly we’re just doing some spot dates, we’re gearing up to book for next year, to do a real tour and perform. But honestly it’s truly up to the fans and the promoters to decide what the future of Steelheart is. Because that’s the bottom line, I could make amazing records till I die, and that’s great and I will keep doing that, however I really need a little love and support from journalists, from radio people and from fans especially.  They need to voice their opinion and tell us they want Steelheart so the promoters take notice and we can really start getting out there otherwise its very difficult because everybody’s still crying about not having money, which is not true there’s plenty of money, we’re not in a recession but they’re still holding off going out to see shows.

Mark: It’s interesting to hear you say that because I’ve been talking to a lot of U.S. musicians recently and they are all saying the same – that people aren’t coming out to shows like they used to. I wondered what your take on the business was at the moment – are we falling out of love with music? Is it becoming less special because now we can just turn it on like a tap, but at the same time there’s no place to go and buy a real tangible thing like we used to? I’m personally no fan of any of the modern ways we ‘consume’ music but of all forms it’s ‘streaming’ to me that is killing the industry for artists…

Mili: Killing it. I completely agree.

Mark: The interesting knock on effect for me that just makes things worse for ‘new’ music is that back in the day when albums sold a new tour would mean hearing the new album live, but now you can produce a stunning album like this and I presume that most fans and promoters would still want you to be playing the songs of your past. It must be an ‘interesting’ situation to be in as an artist making new music and not being able to make real money from your work via channels like streaming?

Mili: Well you’re absolutely correct. What’s its become is, and this is what my intention was in my heart when we made this record. I wanted to show the love and the passion – to say fuck! Here’s a record like we used to make records – here’s my heart and my soul, my passion and my fire! Let’s go people, come on, let’s spark that up again because, and I maybe wrong but not many bands from my genre are jumping in with all their heart, and I really don’t want to speak out of line, but I just feel that sometimes the energy is just not there. And I know the money’s not there but the videos that everyone makes – who gives a fuck!  If you don’t have the money make it on an I-phone, but bring that fun and that creativity back do some crazy shit! With ‘Lips of Rain’ and you’re gonna think I’m out of my mind… I brought a Steinway concert grand piano into the Utah Salt Flats at Bonneville speedway. We rented the whole place and it’s just white, it looks like you’re on the moon and we got a  black concert grand in the middle of this place. And I sang ‘Lips of Rain’. So whatever that means? All I’m saying is bring back having fun, you know, do things a little ‘out of the box’ to what we’re used to seeing. I just feel that everyone’s becoming “Well everything’s more difficult, we’re not making money, we’re not doing this, we’re not doing that.” It’s just  constant complaining. This is what we do, we make music  and we make art so let’s do something, let’s go the extra mile?

Mark: I hope that answer starts the ball rolling. You’re right we can only do this together and we all need to rekindle that love of music and make it special again. I think you’re right though you can hear you put your heart and soul into the new record and I hope fans will react to that with their feet by coming to shows.

Mark: About ten or so years ago I started to travel regularly to the States and it was the big festivals that drew me- I think I saw you first at Rocklahoma in 2008 and you’re still the only band ever to receive an encore there, but in the last few years I’m starting to notice a real resurgence of Rock in Europe and kids there are listening to good music again – it’s a big shift?

Mili: Times change you know and it all comes down to us. It really does – what do we want? We’re all confused in this music business at the moment. I did this interview a while back and I got hammered  the interviewer was really down – “Hey yeah it’s great you’ve done a record but no ones gonna play it” and I thought – you’re so negative what are you doing to me man? You can’t think that way! We’ve got to stay positive, things won’t stay this way they’re gonna change, and I think we’re ready for that change. Change happens when you want it to change and when you want to change yourself things change around you right? And I think if we all put our minds together and be a little more positive and optimistic and things will change faster. Not only that we’ll have a lot more fun doing it! (laughs)

Mark: If we had to put you on the spot and get you to name one song that really exemplifies why you love music, why it can be so powerful and emotional, what would that one song be today?

Mili: I’d probably say ‘Stairway To Heaven’ that’s the one that immediately springs to mind, I could probably name another 30 but that’s the first one. I remember when I first heard that as a kid and I know that’s not just me but throughout the world it has touched so many people. It has a very powerful energy, there’s a lot of spirit to it.

Mark: We mentioned before ‘Lips of Rain’ just one of many great songs on the album but at the moment I think the song that’s really connecting for me is the final track ‘ I’m So in Love With You’ that closes the album, that real stripped back piano and vocal. It’s one of those songs that you expect to burst into life at any point and it doesn’t and I think it’s all the better for that.

Mili: That was exactly the premise of it! The idea was the honesty. I mean, to say to someone ‘I Love You’ from your heart, you don’t have 13 mariachi guys playing when you say that, you don’t have 4 other band mates – it’s just you and that person. So I tried to create something so pure, something so open and so honest and that’s why there’s nothing else there. I actually had this opera singer come in and I had her doing some stuff way in the background, very angelic and I thought “No you gotta go, get everyone out, it doesn’t work”. And that’s exactly what it was supposed to do – be pure and honest and that’s it.

Mark: Great song, that ‘Lips’ and I think my other pick would have to be ‘With Love we Live Again’ which has that strummed guitar and that real Led Zeppelin vibe, how did that one come about?

Mili: Totally, I mean it’s totally Led Zeppelin isn’t it, well not exactly, I guess its more the energy of what I grew up with. It’s not a copy but there’s a certain spirit there of my influences which is fair enough, I’m OK with that.

Mark: Take it all the way back for us Mili, what was it that made you realise that music was going to be your life was it a gradual realisation or a moment of revelation?

Mili: I knew it from the second I sang in my grandmother’s kitchen. I was singing to the radio, I was this little pup who was on stage already! I’ll never forget I swallowed a piece of gum when I was singing, I was chewing gum then too when I was singing! And I drank coffee right away because I thought I was gonna die. When I came back to the United States, my father brought us over here, my brother and I – I would sing Johnny Cash songs, Country songs and my brother would play guitar and he would grade us! And every weekend that’s all we did – we would just play music, it was there always. And I sang in the choirs and in the churches and then I discovered Led Zeppelin, I think I was  11 years old, 11 or 12 I don’t remember exactly and when I saw that, that was it, that was just the icing on the cake. I thought, it’s over guys this is what I do. My father wanted me so badly to be a mechanical engineer or something like that, and I went to school two years in Yukon and I remember connecting with the Steelheart guys and I threw my books out the window, I literally threw my books out the window, I remember I was on the third floor and I was drafting and I got a call. “So, ah are you gonna join us or..? What are you doing? What are you gonna do?” and I though “Fuck it, I’m doing it!” and I took the books and I threw them out of the window. I swear I’m not kidding it is the truth and I went the next day to my guidance counsellor  and I said “I can’t do this, I gotta be a Rock Star. I gotta be a singer, I belong there.” And he said “I get it. You got it. Keep going.” And that’s what I did I kept going, it was a long road, it took me a long while to get recognised, but that is the truth.

Mark: That’s a great story. Let’s end with another easy one, what is the meaning of life?

Mili: Oh the meaning of life is all this: happiness, freedom, love, experience, journey, to really listen to yourself, to hear yourself, it’s growth, living to be the person you really are if you want to sum it all up in one sentence: truly living the person you are. That to me is the meaning of life because if you are living  truly who you are, it all has to fall in place. The trickiest part of all that is that you have to trust in the process. And that’s the tricky part because all of us are tempted to go “Ahh maybe I don’t want to do that.” and sure enough you screw up anyway, you know what I mean?

Mark: That’s a great answer. Thank you so much for you time  today Mili, great to talk again and we won’t leave it so long next time.

Mili: Take care buddy good talking to you.

Mark: You too man.

 

 

Through Worlds of Stardust is out September 15th 2017 on Frontiers Records

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