bill bodkin rocks out with the band that reinvigorated Aquanet sales …
Looks can be deceiving.
Take one glimpse at the L.A. band Steel Panther or look at any of their song titles and you might think this is the second coming of Spinal Tap — a comedy gimmick band that spoofs the hardest genre of music out there.
However, I dare you to look beyond the glitter, spandex and Aquanet because these big-haired, heavily made-up dudes not only know how to be funny, but they know how to rock. These are four guys who not only are killer musicians, but their love and passion for creating fun, heavy metal music is woven into every word, riff and solo they perform.
For music fans that miss the big guitar solo, the dynamic frontman, that vintage Van Halen-esque good time rock ‘n’ roll, the answer to your prayers has been delivered in the form of Steel Panther.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Steel Panther’s lead singer Michael Starr about heavy metal, Nickelback and the ladies on the night they perform at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J.
Pop-Break: How’s it going, Mike?
Michael Starr: I’m good, man. Just laying in bed, looking out my window, thinking about heavy metal.
PB: I just listened to you record. I’m a total ’80s metal guy, and I absolutely loved it.
MS: Thanks, dude. You’re an 80s guy and you’ve got good taste.
PB: Let’s talk a little bit of the history of Steel Panther. How did you guys come together?
MS: There’s a bunch of bios out there created by people that aren’t accurate. I met Satchel at a Ralph’s on Sunset Boulevard. He was at MIT, teaching out there and I was strolling around and we did not like each other [at first]. Fast forward a couple of years later, and he needed a singer, I needed a guitar player and we needed a bass player — but we needed someone good looking. Bobby Dahl from Poison wasn’t good looking and we thought that was the missing link for Poison, so we found Lexxi [Foxx]. Lexi is not a natural bass player — he was a guy who was more of a stylist. Satchel taught him bass and he’s developed into an amazing bass player. A couple years later, we roll up with Stix [Zandina, Steel Panther’s drummer] and now we’re here for world domination with Balls Out.
PB: Do you think this record is something a fan of ’80s metal who’s currently disillusioned with metal today? And let’s face how can you not be? I mean, there are no guitar solos anymore. Can that disillusioned metal person listen to Balls Out and fall back in love with ’80s metal and, more importantly, rock ‘n’ roll again?
MS: I feel the same way you do — I’m an ’80s guy to the core. I love it. But it’s starting to feel like a distant memory. With Steel Panther, there are kids who are 14 or 15, who are listening to this and are like ‘Fuck, this is killer!’ They don’t know why it’s killer, but they just know it is and they dig it. It’s not like they’re referencing it like you and I and are like, ‘Yeah it’s ’80s and we dig it.’ They just dig it because they dig it. And you’re right man, there’s no guitar solos, there’s no screaming, no straight fucking rocking — that’s missing in today’s music. I think that anyone who’s fresh-eared and never really experience the ’80s like you or I did can totally appreciate it.
PB: Are there any bands out there today, outside of Steel Panther obviously, they you feel can recapture the glory days of good rock ‘n’ roll?
MS: [Sighs] No … not really. There’s a band out there called The Last Las Vegas, Nikki Sixx signed them and they put out a song, and it was fucking cool. But God man, I gotta tell you, there’s not a new band out, [except] a band called Reckless Love out of Holland or Sweden — their stuff’s a little poppy, they’re not talking about fucking and all that sorta shit, the stuff that I dig — but man … no. That’s why I feel our job is to keep rocking and to change people’s perception about what music should be. We gotta change the culture bro!
PB: Why do you think it changed? We all know grunge happened, but you would think there would have been some sorta pickup, a comeback. But it hasn’t. The ’80s are popular because it’s retro and only because it’s retro. It’s never been re-embraced or even re-invented by the culture like disco has. Why do you think the ’80s metal sound has never made a full comeback as a viable musical genre in today’s scene?
MS: Heavy metal was such a special thing. I believe it was started by Van Halen, it was so special. If you agree with me, Van Halen started out in ’78 when they really started getting out there. The frontman, the fucking ringleader just rocking, the awesome guitar player, the blonde hair/black hair dude. That whole tandem went 12 years, almost 15. It’s hard to duplicate. I think for it to come back you need a band like Steel Panther to really do it.
And trust me, I’ve got my eye out for the next young singer. And if I find someone that I feel posses what we do, I’m going to find him a guitar player and make him fucking do metal.
PB: What do you think the qualities that singer has to have?
MS: Here’s what I feel is missing in today’s music — it’s called charisma. Where the singer is singing, looking at people in the audience and making the crowd feel like they’re a part of the show, talking one-on-one with the crowd, really bringing them in. Steel Panther, I believe, has four guys like that. We all have charisma, that thing where people feel like they’re part of the show. We’re fun to watch — there’s moves to watch. We’re good looking guys who love to rock and aren’t fat. These are qualities you have to have as a lead singer — especially charisma, man.
PB: Going back to the record, how do you think Balls Out differs from your last record Feel the Steel?
MS: Well, some people say it’s more mature of a record, and I would think it’s more of an immature record. It’s not like we’re breaking any new ground with our lyrical content, but I think the band still stands strong and we’re singing about shit people have a hard time talking about. Some guys are afraid to ask their chick to let them fuck them in the ass. “Critter” is a perfect instructional song on how to do that, and I don’t think we had anything like that on Feel on the Steel. So in that respect, it’s different.
But here’s the key difference between Feel The Steel and Balls Out. Feel The Steel features songs we wrote over a 10-year period. Balls Out, we wrote over a year period, but it was also inspired by actually putting Feel The Steel out and going out and tour. So I think that is evident in music. So it’s not more mature, we’re just a little more worldly now.
PB: I swear when I heard “Critter,” I thought I was going to crash my car, it was so funny. I literally swerved off the road at one point listening to it.
MS: Thanks, dude! Some people come to us and say, ‘Are you ever going to do a serious record?’ Why would Steel Panther do a serious record? That’s like saying is Van Halen going to play fucking jazz? Fuck!
PB: Or get the guy from Extreme to sing for them.
SP: Right! [laughs]
PB: Glad you laughed. I was so worried because you guys are hilarious, and I thought if I said something to that effect and you responded with, ‘No dude this shit is serious — we mean and believe every word we say,’ I thought this whole interview was going to die a horrible death.
MS: [Laughs] No, dude, there’s no hiding the fact we know what we sing about and we sing it in a funny way. Fuck yeah we do! There’s a reason why we do it — we like to have fun and we like to laugh. I mean, that’s the reality behind. I mean, you look at lyrics and people are like, ‘Why don’t you be serious” I mean look at the lyrics to “Rock You Like A Hurricane!” ‘The b*tch is hungry/She needs to chill/So give her inches/And feed her well” — what the fuck?! That’s funny to me.
PB: And now that song is used in a T.G.I. Friday’s commercial.
MS: Isn’t that awesome?!
PB: So many of things you guys write about are really out there, but it’s still very clever. For example, the song “Suck Itself” — when I first saw it on the album, I thought I knew exactly what it’d be about, but when the song was over who knew it’d be a song about a guy getting bit in the crotch by a snake.
MS: Exactly. That’s a song we wrote with Chad [Kroeger] from Nickelback. And that’s a song a lot of people are like, ‘Why the f*ck would you write a song with Nickelback? hat’s the matter with you guys?’ It’s a killer song! Who gives a shit?
PB: In all fairness, their sappy songs are absolutely terrible, but when they actually rock out and sing songs about chicks and getting drunk. They know how to rock.
MS: And that’s a guy we need to influence to be metal. He’s got a lot of fans and once he starts doing it, his fans will be like ‘Oh, cool, metal’s cool now.’ So the more guys we can infiltrate and spread the disease of the metal the better.
PB: You guys wrote that with him, did you guys come up with the concept of the song or did he?
MS: Well, we met him [because] we play Vancouver a lot and he lives in Vancouver. So we ran into him after the show and we all went to a strip club for a casual hang. After the club closed, he wanted us to come to his house to party and we were like, ‘Fuck, why not?’ So we go to his house and he’s got this huge fucking killer mansion. The guy’s worth $100 million, right? He’s got a full-scale hockey rink in his house and he’s got this full-blown studio. And he said ‘I’ve had this idea for a song for a while and I think it’d be great for you guys, it’d be killer.’ And we asked what it was and he had one line: ‘It won’t suck itself.’ We went into the studio and we wrote it and finished it that night.
PB: That’s gotta be surreal …
SP: All he had was a lyric idea. So we sat down with the guitars and wrote a riff. We started writing it and we recorded it right there. He had his engineer there. He has a personal cook and chef and a personal assistant who comes out with a bag of weed and rolls joints for him. It’s pretty bitchin’.
And by the way ,the girl who yells ‘All Done!’ [on “S*ck Itself”] is the girl who rolls the joints.
That’s pretty fucking rock ‘n’ roll, right?
PB: When Balls Out came out you were No. 1 1 on iTunes’ U.K. charts (No. 4 on iTunes’ rock charts and No. 17 overall). Is there difference in reception for Steel Panther in the U.K. and the U.S.?
MS: The record sales over in Europe and the U.K. on the first record were way stronger because the record came out there first. We went on tour there immediately to support it. I think the only difference for us in the U.K. is that the audience is a bit more attentive and a little bit more appreciate of what they’re seeing. Here [in the U.S.] for us, we play every week in L.A. and Vegas, so a lot of people see us all the time. So, it’s natural for them — ‘Oh, they’ll be here next week, that’s cool.’ But in Europe, when we go there, they don’t know when we’re coming back and they’re listening to every single thing and are really super attentive.
PB: Speaking of touring, when you’re outside your home bases of L.A. and Vegas, do you find it harder to get people out to shows, or has the response been good?
MS: So far, it’s been kicking ass dude. We sold out our show in Philly in one day, then they added another, and that sold out in two hours. We sold out our New York show, then we booked another date and they moved it to Irving Plaza, which is much bigger. Sold out Chicago, Cleveland…when we get away from our weekly gigs, it’s just different. Tonight [Nov. 4] is the first night we’re not doing one cover song in our Vegas show.
PB: You guys started out doing a lot of covers. When you initially started doing originals, was there a backlash?
MS: We never ever started playing original stuff unless we had something released. When put out Hole Patrol, we would play a few songs off that. And when we put out Feel The Steel, we would put in three or four songs off their [in our set]. People just dug it, especially people who were huge fans, but we’d bust a cover for the people who were trained or expecting a cover show. But now it’s gotten to a point where people are bummed when we start playing Guns ‘N Roses because they want to hear Steel Panther.
To watch that happen … someone asked me once if I expected this to happen …fuck no!
PB: Is it something that took a life of its own for you guys?
MS: Yeah … one of the things that I think people enjoy about Steel Panther is it’s not four actors trying to be funny and doing a show. We actually love metal. What happens on stage is organic and what’s happening to the band is completely organic. It’s not contrived … of course, it’s well thoughtout and planned, but it’s natural and it’s fucking exciting.
PB: It’s not like you’re Tenacious D or Spinal Tap — you’re actually musicians playing the music you love.
MS: Yeah, we were grinding for years and years.
PB: Your weekly shows have become the stuff of pop-culture legend with so many famous people jumping on stage with you. I know in one interview, you said Dennis Rodman came on stage and you all regretted it. In all your years, who’s the one person who’s left you all dumbstruck?
MS: Nuno. Nuno Bettencourt. He got on stage with the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, Perry Farrell, and that’s when they were doing some project together. They came onstage when we were at the Key Club and we rocked a Jane’s Addiction song. Perry Farrell got off and then Nuno busted out “Hot For Teacher.” The guy shreds, dude. I mean, if Satchel died … he’d be our guitar player.
PB: He’s so underrated — everyone forgets about him.
SP: Yeah, and he’s playing for Rihanna. He gets onstage with us and people yell, ‘It’s Rihanna’s guitar player!’ It’s fucking funny, man.
PB: I didn’t even know he toured with her.
SP: She wanted a good-looking rocker to do guitar solos during her show.
PB: You guys are playing Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., in December. What excites you most about playing a state that has such a rich metal history?
MS: I’m just looking forward to playing our new record. I’m so excited, I can’t breathe!