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Interview – Steel Panther’s Michael Starr
By Shane Pinnegar
It’s a fine and clear Tuesday evening when the operator connects me with Steel Panther’s outrageous lead singer Michael Starr, as he’s walking through the Hollywood Hills.
Hills are hills, of course, and it wasn’t long before we lost Michael – his connection dropping out no less than four times through our allotted 15 minutes, prompting him to exclaim, “Goddamn this phone fucking sucks!”
We’re here to talk about Steel Panther’s impending trip to Australia as part of the massive SOUNDWAVE REVOLUTION travelling juggernaut, and thankfully Paula, our ever obliging operator, manages to reconnect after each dropout - and just as well since I had lots to grill him about!
Michael Starr – Hey Shane, what’s up dude?
Shane Pinnegar – Hey Michael, thanks for talking to The Rockpit
MS - You’re welcome - thanks for even wanting to talk to me!
SP – Ahh, well I’ve been annoying the neighbours with your album for a year and a half now!
MS - Wow - we’re gonna be coming out there and supporting our first record while our second one is getting ready to be released
SP - Yeah we’re really excited about the SOUNDWAVE REVOLUTION tour – how are you guys feeling about it?
MS - Oh god man, I gotta tell ya, honestly, just to be on the same stage as Van Halen walked over is pretty bitchin!
Lexxi Foxx and Michael Starr
SP - Absolutely – I’m assuming you’ll be side of stage for their set every night?
MS - Oh yeah – I don’t mind cleaning the stage when they’re done either, you know – wiping up drink spills or anything like that! Well, Australia – we’ve never been there before! We’re fired up man!
SP - Will the new album be out by then?
MS - Well I sure hope so, it’s slated for September …but you know how the record business is, it could change tomorrow
SP - Sure – is all the recording done for it?
MS - Yeah we’re finished, everything is recorded and turned in to the record company - we’re just waiting for them to put together their official release date, I mean, it’s slated for September but we don’t have a date yet…
As for what we can expect for the band’s sophomore album, Michael wouldn’t be drawn to share any song titles, but he did have this to say about how the band have progressed…
MS - On our first record we were singing about fucking chicks in the ass and partying… and we really departed from that, and this new record’s more about partying with chicks, and fucking a bunch of other chicks, while we’re getting high!
SP - Right – a big progression…
MS - It’s a little bit different but it’s kinda the same thing
SP - So we’re not looking at a forty five minute jazz prog rock epic concept album are we?
MS - Oh No - HELL NO! The only concept we have is to bring heavy metal back for people who love it, like you!
SP - The songs on “Feel the Steel” were all in the style of various big eighties bands – are you still doing that or have you developed more of a Steel Panther sound?
MS - Yeah like you were saying before we got disconnected, I think we’ve come into our own a bit and uh, we’re able to express, pretty much our journey in the past couple of years, and I think it reflects on the music now. It’s still the same vibe – we’re still heavy metal, we’re still rockin… y’know, a lotta people thought “oh they’re gonna change cos they wanna be on the radio and do clean stuff now and not swear” and like, we haven’t lost that edge – everything’s rocking!
We lose Michael again…
SP - Welcome back Mike how ya doin?
MS - Aww, thanks for having me, man!
SP - So you guys are getting almost as revered as some of your idols now – how does that feel?
MS - Oh my god dude, to hear you say that is so exciting – I would like to think that we were doin’ that good… and if that’s the case, if that’s what’s going down, then that’s fucking AMAZING!
SP - Hey man, I know a lot of people who saw the Soundwave Revolution line-up and said – wow, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Steel Panther!
MS - That’s great dude – I can’t believe we’re on that bill!
SP - It’s gonna be a huge day!
MS - I still can’t believe it!
SP - What are you looking forward to most about coming Down Under?
MS - Well first of all, as I told you before, I’ve never been to Australia before, so just the experience of flying for that long and going to somewhere you’ve never been is exciting in itself! But I hear that Australia loves Heavy Metal, and since we booked the tour we have got more hits on all our You Tube, my Facebook and all that stuff – it’s like 75 – 85% from Australia now!
SP - Well we don’t get a lot of tours, you see – because we’re a bit isolated, costs a lot to get right around the country – so when a big tour like SOUNDWAVE REVOLUTION does come, we get right behind it!
MS - Yeah a lot of people were asking please, please do a show other than the festival show cause we just wanna come see you guys, you know, and I guess we’re gonna try and book something, we have four days off and they’re gonna try and put something in those days.
SP - Ah that would be great. I saw you guys at the Key Club [in Los Angeles] in 2009, you had Jeff Scott Soto jump up and do Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ - it was awesome!
MS - You did? Wow man!
Steel Panther’s live Sunset Strip and Las Vegas club shows are the stuff of legend - as much comedy act as they are a note perfect hard rockin’ riff machine. While bassist Lexxi Foxx primps and preens in front of an electric fan and a hand held mirror, he and guitarist Satchel bicker and vie for attention, leaving Michael to tease, insult, joke around & interact with the audience, the band, and their special guests. College humour about blowjobs, strippers, cocaine and more blowjobs abound – but I want to know how this translates to a festival stage?
MS - Well the thing is, you know, it’s… every show is different for Steel Panther and that’s what I think people are attracted to because when you go to a show that’s a weekly show, it’s the same thing over and over again, why do you wanna go, you know?
MS - So it just happens naturally, like, let’s say we’re playing a crowd of eight thousand people, you know, we make it feel like they are part of the show, like it took us awhile to get ourselves to do that, but I think we have achieved it. I know we did it at Download Festival in front of about twenty five thousand people and we were able to bring them all in and make it very intimate and we just did what we did and it just happens, I don’t know how to explain it.
Stixx Zadinya, Michael Starr, Satchel and Lexxi Foxx
SP - You sung in a Van Halen tribute band (Atomic Punks, billed as David Lee Ralph – Michael’s real name being Ralph Saenz) for quite a few years yourself didn’t you?
MS - Oh yeah, Satchel and I got in a fight and I started my own tribute band.
SP - Will you be bringing the ‘I Don’t Feel Tardy’ t-shirt [that Michael wore in the video clip for their first single ‘Death To All But Metal’, referencing one of the great “throwaway” ad lib lines of all time, from Van Halen’s ‘Hot For Teacher’] down for the tour?
MS - Oh, you, you got that huh?
SP - Ohh yeah (laughs)
MS - Not many people catch that.
SP: I want one!!! (laughs)
MS - Our stylist made it for me - we told her what we wanted to look like for that video and she put together some different styles and she came up with that shirt and I thought it was just brilliant.
SP: Yeah it is!
MS - She made clothes for David Lee Roth as well.
SP - Love it.
MS - It’s really neat that, I’m glad you noticed.
SP - When you do festival shows like Download and I think you done a couple in Japan do you drag up people from the audience onto the stage like you do in your club shows?
MS - Yeah, we’ll bring people up on stage, but you know, in Japan it was hard because we had the language barrier so we can’t really pull anybody up.
SP - I heard some gossip ages ago about a Steel Panther sitcom, what’s the go with that?
MS – Yeah, we were trying to do a sitcom for about, oh what? Ten years now, and we’ve come to find out that the TV industry it way more difficult to crack than the record industry is. I mean we were trying to get a record deal for years and we finally got one now, and the TV thing… we’ve come really close, we did a couple of pilots, we did one for Comedy Central, and right when we got that finished and turned it in to them, they fired the show buyer and they bought somebody else in, you know, and [the new guy] didn’t get it, so…
SP - Yeah, I hear it’s really fickle that industry so…
MS - It’s just different you know, you gotta learn the ins and outs and we’re really learning about it but we just don’t know…So we made some mistakes on the way and I guess we’ll just figure it out and make our way through it.
SP - So you think that there is a possibility we will see a Steel Panther sitcom in the future?
MS - Yeah, if not though, then we’re just gonna do it on the internet ourselves. That’s what it’s coming down to, and you know, the president of our label Universal Republic told us straight up, he goes ‘look you guys, you got it all yourselves – you got a record deal, and you did it on your own. You created the show yourself and you did it on your own, you don’t need to do that with the TV guys though, cut everybody out and do it yourselves’, and that’s what we’re doing now.
Michael was born Ralph Saenz in Van Nuys, California in 1965, and has a PhD in English Literature from San Francisco’s Berkeley University. Not only that, he is the former Assistant Professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at Texas A & M University at Commerce.
SP - Now over in the real world for a moment, your alter ego Ralph Saenz actually has a PHD in English Literature and has been an Assistant University Professor, and it’s a little hard - or maybe scary - for me to think about Steel Panther’s infamous Mike Starr corrupting young impressionable minds!
MS - Well for one, I used that to get my apartment because they had to run a credit check, and Michael Starr really can’t get any credit, if you know what I mean.
SP - I can imagine, yeah.
MS - As far as the Literature Diploma’s concerned, let’s just say that my Dad’s pretty smart - it’s nothing to do with me (laughs).
SP - (laughs) So is Steel Panther just another way of corrupting impressionable minds?
MS - Yeah, absolutely, you know, Satchel and Lexxi and Stix, we’re all pretty much, before we put on our stage clothes, and we’re ready to go out or we’re ready to do an interview, everything we’ve loved as a kid or always wanted to say but you can’t say just comes out, you know what I mean? It’s almost like super powers!
SP - If you could have helped and been involved in the writing or recording of any song or album ever what would it be?
MS - Oh man, well for me I would probably say Van Halen “Fair Warning”. Yeah I think that would be, to be a part of writing ‘Unchained’ would be pretty fucking amazing.
SP – [Quoting another David Lee Roth “throwaway” ad lib, this time from ‘Unchained’] “One break coming up…”
MS - (laughs) Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s the kind of personality that we try to bring into Steel Panther because it’s fun, man.
SP - Absolutely. I honestly thought I was never gonna see Van Halen but with David Lee Roth - oh my God, you know?
MS - Yeah, the only thing I wish he’d do is grow his fucking hair out!
SP - (laughs) Well I dunno, those horrible over-peroxided extensions he was wearing in ‘The Soprano’ days weren’t that flattering…
MS - (laughs) Ahh okay, better you say it than me!
SP - (laughs) So, what for you, man, is the meaning of life?
MS - Well, Shane, I wake in the morning and the first thing I think about is rocking! I really, ultimately love it and my goal is to be not only in Steel Panther bringing heavy metal back - not the way it was, because the way it was it’s impossible to do that, but I would like heavy metal to come back, just to see some more bands come out and really do it, you know, grow their hair out and fucking rock, you know, I mean we are in a shortage of front men with charisma - Steven Tyler’s almost sixty eight, you know what I mean?
SP - And on American Idol (laughs)
MS - (laughs) Yeah right, so we need some young-un’s and that’s, you know, when I’m done rockin’ I’m going to be training young rockers to rock the world!
SP - Very nice. So do you have a message for all your Aussie fans before the big, big tour?
MS - Yeah, bring some drugs, bring a good attitude and get ready to get your nuts and tits rocked off!
SP - Sounds like a fucking good day out (laughs) thanks so much for talking to us Michael.
MS - Hey yeah, also I want to thank you so much for putting up with the phone cutting out. Alright dude, thanks for the interview, appreciate it.
And there you have it – Michael Starr. Friendly, affable, surprisingly humble and above all, excited at the coming SOUNDWAVE REVOLUTION tour of Australia. If you don’t have tickets, they’re selling fast so don’t leave it too late and miss out. Steel Panther open Main Stage 1.
Features Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Bad Religion, Alterbridge, Hole, Steel Panther, Machine Head, Danzig, The Sisters of Mercy, Black Veil Brides, Devin Townshend, The Damned Things and MANY more!!
Brisbane – Saturday, September 24
Eternal thanks to Rachel Haniford for transcribing this interview lightning fast!