INTERVIEW: Michael Starr (STEEL PANTHER)
What happens when you mix four men, a heap of hairspray and/or spandex with some ironic metal and stick it in a blender full of glam? The answer (in case the title didn't give it away) is, of course, Steel Panther - music's most unapologetically loose and lavish rockers hailing from the Sunset Strip in California.
For the unfamiliar, the Steel Panther gents are not ones for subtlety, with song titles like 'Gloryhole' and '17 Girls in a Row', as well as their larger than life onstage shenanigans and love of all things sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll. But while their shtick is centered around partying with no regrets, the reality is a group with their tongues firmly in cheek - and some seriously tight musicianship.
Having already whipped around Australia back in 2016, the Panther fanbase has continued to grow on our shores; so much so that the Steel Panther dudes have decided to gift us with a world-first event: a 'Sunset Strip Live! Tour' that will see us cop an entire evening of pandemonium, with two sets at each show consisting of their OG tracks and a heap of pounding rock covers. But before Steel Panther pack their favourite headbands and eyeliner and head our way, frontman Michael Starr (aka Ralph Michael Saenz) had a chat with The Soundcheck about early days, setlists and what's on the horizon for this bedazzling bunch.
TIANA SPETER: Well hello Michael Starr, how are you today?
MICHAEL STARR: I'm doing good, man, I'm in Houston, Texas at the House of Blues, we're about to do a show!
TIANA: That sounds incredible, I'm in rainy Sydney drinking a terrible coffee, so I think you're one up on me.
MICHAEL: Ohh, well good morning to you in Sydney, hope you had a good night's sleep!
TIANA: Thank you so much. So, I should probably say straight up I'm excited to be talking to you but slightly intimidated because I'm quite proud of my hair, but I feel like yours blows mine out of the water, so I'm gonna try not to seem too mad about that.
MICHAEL: Don't worry, my hair's starting to fall out, so you're gonna be ahead of me in no time!
TIANA: Oh, well I'll keep you posted! Now, I suppose it's expected of me to obviously bring up the news that yourself and Steel Panther are bringing out this epic tour out our way in May - how's the energy going for team Steel Panther right now?
MICHAEL: It's great, man! We're singing together, we're rocking together, we've been conquering different states here in the United States. We were just in Canada, we did three sold out nights in Vancouver which was really fun! We were in Europe with a band called Fozzy doing some tours and now like I said we're in Texas getting ready to rock, we've got a quick tour here then we head back home for a little R&R, and then head right back out for another tour. And then by the time we're done doing all the shows here in the States - we're COMING TO YOU IN MAY! And we're gonna rock some f*cking balls!
TIANA: And it's gonna be all night long I believe, you're playing two sets with some originals and some covers...can you reveal any secrets ahead of time of what we can expect set-list wise, or is it all under wraps?
MICHAEL: No, I'm gonna tell you! I'm gonna tell you and you can figure it out for yourself, check it out: if you like heavy metal. And you like heavy metal from the '80s. And you like bands that have the word 'Guns' in them, or bands that have the word 'Snake', or bands that have the word 'Halen', 'Crue' or 'Def Leppard'...I mean, we're gonna be doing a whole hour of our favourite heavy metal songs from the '80s. Just like we did when we were on the Sunset Strip, we did it for 14 years, every Monday night on the Sunset Strip when we first started out. We did all covers only! And that's what we're bringing back, exactly what we did back then and we're gonna take a brief intermission and then come right back out and do an hour of classic Steel Panther songs. So it's gonna be an evening of live from the Sunset Strip with Steel Panther!
TIANA: It sounds like a rather epic night! I'm so excited to hear that.
MICHAEL: Me too, I'm excited to!
TIANA: If I can traipse you back in time briefly to those slightly earlier days for the band, it's Metal Shop or Metal Skool days, you guys are already filling the room with riffs and hairspray...would you believe you'd be bringing the noise at such a huge scale internationally in 2018?
MICHAEL: (laughs) We did not see this coming. It's been a dream. Come. True. I mean, we started recording music for ourselves a long time ago, and never got a record deal. And then, we decided we were gonna do it again and in 2004 we got some interest with our songs 'Asian Hooker' and 'Death To All But Metal' and 'Fat Girl'. And we got signed in 2007 and recorded in 2008, put it out in 2009 and - man! Almost ten years to the day I'm talking to you regarding our tour in Australia. And it's not our first tour in Australia, this is like our fourth tour. And we've also done Soundwave twice, and its just really been a dream come true. And we're so grateful to have this opportunity to come over and rock! It's really fun.
TIANA: We Aussies seem to absolutely love you guys, and like you said it's not the first time you've been here, you've previously had sold out shows here, and there was even a petition back in 2016 to have Steel Panther play at the AFL Grand Final...what do you think it is about you guys that resonates so heavily with us Australians? Do you feel the love when you come out here?
MICHAEL: Yeah, absolutely! I don't know, I think everyone there is pretty straight forward with how they think and how they feel. It just seems like the listeners there can appreciate the heavy metal style that we give. And what we give is brutal honesty, you know? We're not gonna hold back and sing in innuendos. We're gonna say "hey! Wanna f*ck and party? Let's fucking do this!". We've been singing about fucking and partying and doing drugs for fucking twenty years - and why should we stop now?
TIANA: If it ain't broke don't fix it! And it the fans all love you for it.
MICHAEL: It's really fun to talk about this stuff, I remember the first time we came to Australia for Soundwave, it was the best reception we've ever experienced. I mean, we went on at like one in the afternoon and we had massive crowds and people were singing and enjoying our songs. And we got a bunch of new fans from that, and it was a really fun experience to be in a place I'd never been before. And, to me, Australia's a lot like Los Angeles in a way. Like - the beautiful landscape, it's really sunny...hot chicks...f*cking, everone's tanned, it's just killer!
TIANA: Is there anything you're hoping to do while you're out here? Aside from playing these shows, is there anything you didn't get to do last time that you're looking forward to doing this time round?
MICHAEL: Every time I try to do something new. So we're gonna stay in all different hotels this time so we an have different experiences of that part of the city. But for me, I wanna go surfing again and get another tattoo! I think I might go on that show again and do the Bondi Ink thing, cos that was fun!
TIANA: Have you got any tatt plans, or is it going to be a surprise?
MICHAEL: No, I know what I wanna get, but I don't know which artist I wanna use! I'm actually gonna call down there and see what I can get booked and just go get it done! There's nothing better than getting a tattoo while you're looking at the ocean!
TIANA: Now to slowly wrap things up, obviously you're known for this particular type of glam metal/comedy rock...whatever you wanna call it. But what type of music did you actually grow up listening to yourself, was it always this type of genre, or did you grow up listening to something that would be potentially surprising?
MICHAEL: Yeah, I did! I listening to hit radio from as early as I can remember, from when I was like five to about ten or eleven. And what that consisted of was the Bee Gees...Lynyrd Skynyrd...I mean it was all still rock and roll but it was more "pop rock". And then my brother, when I was like eleven introduced me to Van Halen. And that's when I stopped listening to pop music and I dove into the Scorpions and Aerosmith and Deep Purple, AC/DC...and that's when I got introduced to Black Sabbath. And that was the end! I never listened to pop radio again.
TIANA: Well thank goodness that happened because as a result you've brought us all a lot of epic music. And finally, you guys are heading out here to melt faces and possibly break a few hearts along the way in May - but is there anything else on the horizon for Steel Panther in 2018 that you can reveal?
MICHAEL: Yes! We are doing the proverbial record writing sessions for the new Steel Panther record. We're working on a record deal right now cos our record deal contract term ended, so now we're renegotiating. And once that's in place the we're gonna put together another record. And this time we're gonna do something completely different! The new record is gonna be all about sex...and partying.
TIANA: Woah, what?! So unexpected.
MICHAEL: (laughs) Yeah, I know! It's crazy. Oh, and it'll also be about strippers. And fishing. And babysitters?
TIANA: Well you guys certainly know how to keep us on our toes, I am certainly excited to hear this new fishing and babysitters album - but in the meantime I also can't wait to see you guys come shred here in May. If I run into you I might borrow some hairspray, but otherwise I hope it's an epic tour, and we all can't wait to have you here! Thank you so much for your time.
MICHAEL: You're welcome, I hope I get to see you too! Have a great day.
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BY TIANA SPETER