Interview – Miljenko Matijević of Steelheart

Back in the late ‘80s the shine was just beginning to wear off in the world of Hard Rock and Metal. A very abrupt ending to a decade of Rock that produced some really fantastic music, in 1990 arrived one of the last bands from the era to still turn heads, and they were Steelheart. Galvanized by the out-of-this-world vocal range of Miljenko Matijević, Steelheart soared to the top of charts with the hit “I’ll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes).” Coupled with their very solid debut self-titled album, the future of Steelheart seemed very bright. Then, in 1992 they followed up with the under-appreciated, yet extremely strong sophomore effort Tangled in Reins; an album filled with killer riffs, heaviness, and amazing singing. Unfortunately, in the Fall of that same year tragedy struck for Steelheart and Matijević when the charismatic singer-songwriter nearly lost his life to a falling lighting truss on stage during a performance. Was this the end for Steelheart? Absolutely not, because Matijević was determined to keep the music going, and now all these years later here we are celebrating three decades of Steelheart.

An inspiring story of perseverance, dedication, passion, and love, Matijević and Steelheart are building up anticipation for a 30th anniversary album that will feature new takes on old songs and plenty of other special surprises. Reflecting on the past, but with an eye toward the future, Miljenko Matijević recently sat down to talk about his roller coaster ride, overcoming strife, life lessons learned, plus more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have a very interesting story. Involved in music professionally for over three decades, in that time, you attained success with Steelheart, your music and voice has been featured in a movie, and you have built an international following. How would you describe this unpredictable journey you have been on?

Miljenko Matijević – You just said it perfectly… unpredictable. I would say it has been an amazing journey. There have been moments of extreme difficulty. As you know, after the band had rehearsed for a long time, signed to a major label, music was released, and performed to the masses, as if we were in a rocket ship going to the top so to speak… I had a terrible accident in 1992. It all came crashing to a dead halt, so I had to rebuild and just keep going. That’s what happened, and that’s where I am today.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. It has been a lot of amazing laughs, happiness, and the happiest times I would say are when I am on stage looking at thousands of people looking at me giving that energy back; that’s what keeps me going. I guess what I want to say is, it is not a journey for everybody. Everybody has their own journey. Mine has been amazing. I feel, even at this point in my career, I haven’t finished. I feel like I didn’t have fifteen minutes… I feel like we are still at seven. (Laughs)

There are so many beautiful things happening right now. I’m excited to see where life and my career takes me right now; whether it is writing for movies, live performances, and connecting with other artists. There is a lot of great stuff happening. I feel almost like I have a reset of my life and career that is happening. I am lucky and honored.

Cryptic Rock – It seems like you have a really positive outlook, especially considering the horrible accident that happened back in 1992 on stage where you were seriously injured. Steelheart’s debut record was released in 1990 and had tremendous success. That time was sort of the tail end of the ‘80s era of Metal, and honestly, the genre had grown a little long in the tooth. However, when Steelheart debuted, and people heard your voice, it was evident there was still something fresh to come from that era.

It is difficult to look back, but had it not been for your accident, do you feel like Steelheart would have continued to find success? As you stated, everything was put on hold. How would you have seen the band transition into the new era of Hard Rock/Metal?

Miljenko Matijević – There could have been several different ways to go. One, we had a lot of success in Asia. After my accident, that is where we went, I wrote the record Wait, and it had a lot of success in Asia. Not having that accident probably would have led to one of two things – we would have focused on Asia more, until we fell back into the United States, or, I would have gone solo. That’s the way I see it.

The momentum was there, and no matter what, good music is good music. You can try to categorize, and that is what they did. It was kind of rude how the industry looked at the ‘80s overnight; as if, this is no good anymore, we’re done. It was very odd, but you have to adapt. Today’s world is social media, and it is insane what today’s world is within the music business too. There are one of two things you can do – you can quit, or you have to adapt.

Steelheart – Steelheart / MCA (1990)
Steelheart – Tangled in Reins / MCA (1992)

Cryptic Rock – And you have adapted through the years. You have done a lot of compelling things as well. Amidst this wild ride, you went on to play with Robby Krieger and the Doors. How did that come about?

Miljenko Matijević – That came about when I was looking for a new manager and my attorney set me up with Tom Vitorino. We had lunch, he was looking at me, we were talking, and he said, “I manage a pretty big band, and they sold over 80 million records. We are looking for a new frontman for the new tour that we are doing, would you be interested in auditioning for the band?” I said, “Well, who’s the band?” He said, “The Doors; Robby (Krieger) and Ray (Manzarek).” I said, “Yea sure, why not, absolutely!”

What is really ironic about that is, about two months prior to that I had this vision that I was going to do something completely different than I was used to doing. Remember, I grew up with Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Bad Company, and those kinds of bands; The Doors were on the other side of the high school. I knew I was going to do something different, and as soon as Tom said The Doors, I said, “There it is.”

I fell into the music and I fell more in love with the music. What a lot of people don’t understand is it is not as easy as everyone thinks to sing Jim Morrison. It is a lot of focus, passion, and energy. The thing that I did for that project was, I didn’t join to be Jim Morrison, I joined to be myself and transcend the energy of Jim Morrison.

That’s what happened and it went off really well. We had a great two tours, we had standing ovations every night, and it was a great journey! I am still good friends with Robby too, I just got him in a movie we did.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a fantastic and memorable experience. You also have new music with Steelheart, including the uplifting single “Good 2B Alive.” You come across as a very positive person. Would you say your accident gave you a different outlook on life?

Miljenko Matijević – It’s like this, life puts you in positions, and it is how you react to them. You can react to them in many different ways – you can get pissed off, angry, upset, vindictive, or you can be jaded… it can turn you any which way. I feel it’s all a lot of work; it is a lot of work to be pissed off and jaded. So, I choose the other way.  Here’s what it is, here’s what I have to work with. Whatever happened to me built me into the man I am today. When we are younger, of course we all grow and grow wiser.

I just always felt that I had to keep going. It’s really easy to give up. That’ kind of cowardly and it is never who I am. In this life you have got to go for it, you have to go for your dream. It’s not perfect and it may not end up the way that you want it to end up, but the beauty of it is the experiences that you live along the way and the happiness it brings to you. When I’m on stage and I see thirty thousand people looking at me in front of me saying, “I’m really enjoy watching this man give his passion, art, and voice,” that is beauty, power, energy, and love. You know when someone tells you they have created something and you get that respect that, no matter what it is, it’s all a part of it.

You have to keep going, and that’s what I did. I got my ass kicked so many times. I slept on the floors more after I was famous, then before I was famous… how funny and crazy is that? (Laughs) But, I kept going. Opportunities arise out of nowhere.

Steelheart – Good 2B Alive / Steelheart Records (2008)
Steelheart – Through Worlds of Stardust / Metal Frontier (2017)

Cryptic Rock – Your outlook translates into the music. There is an energy within re-recorded tracks like “Good 2B Alive”; which is sincere, passionate, and you can feel it. So, will there be a full-length record to follow?

Miljenko Matijević – The Steelheart 30th anniversary release will be an album. We have been releasing singles because in today’s world it is all about algorithms and different platforms such as Spotify, Apple, Pandora, YouTube. These platforms require a constant feed; you have to feed the machine so to speak. (Laughs) You have to feed them with songs, videos… you have to feed them with content. That’s what we’ve been doing.

This is the fourth single off the record, and we recently released a lyric video for “Everybody Loves Eileen,” and it is fantastic. Then after that we have another song and video that I shot in Zagreb, Croatia (where I was born) and Pula at a Roman coliseum; it is pretty epic.

Then the sixth song will be “I’ll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes).” We are going to do a video for that too. With that song, I recorded it as a duet and it’s an acoustic version. I rewrote it; semi-arranged it melodically and musically. It’s not written as a relationship song like a boyfriend girlfriend, instead, it’s focused on the love for one. For example, if two old people are dying saying I’ll never let you go, or a mother is sending her son or daughter into the army, saying I’ll never let you go. It is about the love for one.

Quick story, we were looking for someone to do the duet with me for “I’ll Never Let You Go,” and I already knew who I wanted to do it. We went through several other artists, big names, and it just didn’t come together because of timing, managers, record companies, etc. So, I’m on the plane coming home from a show, and I bought my daughter a plane ticket to come out the next day. I texted her when I’m on the plane and said, “Hey, I would love it if you would give me the honor and come sing the song with me.” She texted me back and said, “Don’t play with me, are you serious?” I told her I was very serious and she asked me when I want to do it, and I told her tomorrow. She was taken back and said, “what do you mean tomorrow?” I told her you have to get on the plane tomorrow and we have to record it this week; the album is coming out and we are already behind. I sent her the ticket (which I had already bought), she came out, we sang it, and she did an amazing job! That was the whole point, it was the beauty of the love for one. I hope the world likes it; I think it’s beautiful.

I also re-recorded “She’s Gone” and “Mamma Don’t You Cry” with a forty-piece orchestra, piano and vocals. With “Everybody Loves Eileen” we did a full band, and the long version has a long breakdown just the way we do it live. Also, there is “Trust and Love,” which I sing in ten languages; I wrote it during the pandemic and it was my gift to the world. That song now is part of a movie and the theme to a movie; the director loved the song so much he named the movie Trust and Love as well, which I believe comes out this summer.

So, there is an album. I don’t want to give any solid release date until the manufacturer can give me one and I can have the LPs in my hand. The LPs are really important because they really sound good. There is some sort of magic, I don’t know what it is, but there is a different feel in the ears so to speak. What we want to do is release the full digital album, LP, and video for “I’ll Never Let You Go” all at the same time. That’s the plan.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a great plan. You get a mix of the past and present of Steelheart with new takes on some older songs within the forthcoming 30th anniversary release. This will be very exciting to hear. Will there be some touring as well?

Miljenko Matijević – Yea, there is always touring, and that’s really picking up. It’s going to start summer and go through the winter. It is still in the vibe of weekends, but now it’s populating into different countries, such as Asia.

It is a lot of work. This record is also my respect for my past. Think about this, no matter what happened in my life, up, down and in-between, this is all I did throughout my life… I made music. What a gift! So, this record was about, let’s put this all together. Instead of re-recording the songs the way they were, which is easy, I took the time to re-see the energy of them, re-write and restructure it. This is what came up, and hopefully the world likes it.

Cryptic Rock – Fans will definitely be excited to dig into this. As mentioned, you give off an aura of positivity. What would you say are the most important things in life you have learned through everything?

Miljenko Matijević – The most important thing is patience; you have to have patience. I’m telling you, I’m not perfect. The way I work is, I will get pissed off, make no doubt about it, we all do; we all get out challenges and find that moment. However, I will always stop myself, slow myself down, and come back and say, “Ok, I got that out, so let’s just chill and see what unfolds.”

It’s just patience. Stay focused on what you do, keep going, and do it with all your heart. Honestly, if you do it with all your heart, there is only one outcome, there’s something positive. If you get your ass kicked, well, then learn something from it. The biggest word I can use is patience, you have to have them, because it never happens on your time… life has a whole different plan for you.

Cryptic Rock – Great advice, and focusing on the positives in life. It seems in many cases we get so fixated on the negatives around us. That does no one any good.

Miljenko Matijević – Yea, and there is that psychology to it. You can feel that sadness, down or depressed, and sometimes it’s ok to feel a little bit of that… but you have to snap out of it. I know my side of it. When I was in my accident I was in a fog; I didn’t even know where I was for months and years… I was just blurred. Right now, I’ve never been clearer than I’ve ever been.

The bottom line, you have to snap out of it, because when you are in that anger and depression, it can go only one way – it can go deeper, and you think it can’t go deeper… it will go deeper. It will keep going deeper, and once you are down there, now you’re fucked. Climbing out of that is so difficult. I have a lot of apathy for people who fall down that deep; sometimes you spiral and you can’t even control it. When I feel that I really do try to say to myself, “Snap out of it.” I’m going to be whatever I am afterwards anyway… so I might as well get back there sooner rather than wait, losing more days and time of being in a negative space. It’s easier said than done though.

Steelheart 2023 Tour Dates:
7/27/23 Diamond Music Halls St. Peters, MO
7/28/23 The Mill Terrihaute, IN
7/29/23 Beaver Dam Amphitheater Beaver Dam, KY

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