Steel Panther—Michael Starr [lead vocals], Satchel [lead guitar], Lexxi Foxx [bass], and Stix Zadinia [drums]—have spent decades hip deep in sex, drugs, and heavy metal. As political correctness suffocates and squeezes the last drop of fun from popular culture, these four brave men have remained on the front lines to boldly plant their flag (and maybe another appendage) into the ground in the name of heavy metal. 2009’s full-length debut, “Feel The Steel,” brought the balls back to rock as “Balls Out” let them fly free in 2011 as Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, guitar god Nuno Bettencourt, and Dane Cook joined in on the madness. Three years later, “All You Can Eat” arrived to a 4-out-of-5K review from KERRANG! and kudos from Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor, who described it as “top to bottom so damn good.” 2017’s “Lower The Bar” earned praise from Metal Hammer and Classic Rock as the group’s cumulative streams surpassed 100 million and views leapt past 100 million by 2019. Along the way, they’ve shook stages alongside everyone from Aerosmith to Alter Bridge to Stone Sour, and incited flashing from crowds at Download and countless sold out headline gigs. In 2019, they hunkered down in Lexxi’s mom’s garage alongside frequent collaborator and regular producer Jay Ruston [Anthrax, Stone Sour] to record their fifth studio album.
The band will finally unleash the highly-anticipated new record, “Heavy Metal Rules,” on September 27th. The high-octane new album showcases the band’s musical and lyrical growth and is destined to become an instant classic in the Steel Panther’s impressive catalog. The solos screech louder, the vocals soar higher, the drums hit harder, and the bass throbs mightier than ever before. This time around, these seasoned veterans of rock ‘n’ roll excess have created the heavy metal version of a self-help manual and ultimate party album combined. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with frontman Michael Starr to discuss his passion for heavy metal, the making of “Heavy Metal Rules” and the challenges they’ve faced along the way. As a result, we get an inside look one of heavy metal’s most intriguing units and, most importantly, reassurance that they’re nowhere near climax!
They say rock ‘n’ roll is an addiction. How did you first get hooked?
I got hooked at an early age. It started with the Scorpions, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. All of those led to the ultimate addiction — VAN HALEN! When my brother played “Eruption” for me for the first time, I was completely hooked. Don’t get me wrong, the Scorpions are amazing, but when Van Halen came out it was mind-blowing. They were an American hard rock band from my hometown, not Pasadena, but Southern California, and they were just so awesome. That was it, man! The instant I heard that song, I knew I wanted to be in a band like Van Halen. When I went and saw them play for the first time, I saw them at Sports Arena in Southern California, it was a life-changing experience. Watching the show, I was stoked as hell, laughing my ass off and they all looked killer. That really shaped what kind of band I wanted to be in and that’s Steel Panther!
When did you know music was more than just a hobby for you and something you needed to take to the next level?
Satchel and I were in a band called The Atomic Punks and we did a tribute to early Van Halen. So, we had the tribute band and back in the day we were called Metal Shop. This was before Steel Panther and it was one of our first names. We would play Monday nights at the Viper Room. We’d play Wednesdays in San Diego with Metal Shop and on Friday and Saturday we’d go out and do The Atomic Punks. It’s when we built up that schedule that I finally quit my day job and became a singer in a cover band!
The music business can be a rough and tumble place. What were some of the things you learned early on that have impacted the trajectory of yourself and Steel Panther?
One big lesson I learned is “Don’t spend your money.” It’s not always going to be there. An even bigger lesson was learning to get along with one another when we started touring. When you start touring, that’s where the rubber meets the road! It’s not easy! It’s totally exciting, fun and gratifying. You know, the hour and a half on stage is the most exciting part! That’s when it’s fun and you don’t have to think about all the travel and everything that goes into bringing that hour and a half show to life. That’s one thing I’ve learned. Take it easy, don’t blame everyone else for anything and just go fucking rock! Oh, can I swear on this one?
Oh yeah! [laughs] We fuckin’ party, we hang out with chicks and it’s a great fuckin’ time. We have fought over girls, drugs and booze. Then we fought over money. It’s not like there’s a lot of money going around. The only way we can live is either by having a stripper support us or getting paid for our gigs!
Would you say that you’ve grown during with your time in the band?
Well, my spandex pants are all pretty much the same. They are 4-way stretch, kind of like yoga pants but with studs on them. I’ve learned that 2-way stretch spandex really sucks on stage. I don’t wear leather because the crotch rips out of them after a few shows. I’ve also tried different kinds of shoes on stage, but I’ve settled on the Asics wrestling shoes. That’s the stuff you learn after being together for a while and touring. I know it might sound silly to some listeners or people reading this but it’s the truth!
Obviously, you have a great relationship with the other guys in the band. What do they bring out in you creatively?
Satchel is our main songwriter. He will write a song from an experience we’ve had, either on the road or before we got signed. We’ll know it’s right if we’re all laughing and thinking, “Oh my God. It’d be so funny to write a song about that because nobody talks about this shit. Everybody is too serious.” He’ll write the song, send us a demo and then we have our chance to put ourselves on the track and make it Steel Panther’s. When you’re in the studio recording a vocal, it’s not just the producer, I have Satchel, Stix and Lexxi telling me what to sing, what I did wrong, and how I need to change it. It can get frustrating, but I know if I take the direction, listen to their advice and do it, it comes out great. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned through this experience of Steel Panther’s five studio records!
Having five studio albums is a huge milestone. “Heavy Metal Rules” drops on September 27th. What made now the time for a new album?
We try to do them as quickly as possible but nowadays it’s not like you can just go on the road, come home, write a record for three months, record it, and go back out on the road. You have to tour for a couple of years and the world is huge! We’re going to Europe and everywhere else, all while trying to hit as many new places as possible. So, we try to put out an album out at least every 24 months if we can. We don’t always hit the mark, but I think this time we did. The sooner the better! For me, if I have a favorite band, I like to hear their new stuff! Especially if it’s something that I like and it’s getting better and better as they go.
Tell us about the vision you had for “Heavy Metal Rules” going into the creative process.
We wanted to create a record that just didn’t center around just getting high and having sex. We wanted to stay true to how we feel about that kind of stuff and there are certainly songs on the record that are about that, but we also wanted to sing about other stuff that interested us. “I Ain’t Buying What You’re Selling” is about, well, listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what it’s about. Then there is “I’m Not Your Bitch,” which is a song about a guy who is in a relationship and realizes he’s doing everything in it and he’s not happy anymore. Then, there is also a song called “Fuck Everybody.” This is basically a song about how you sometimes feel in the morning when you get up, someone cuts you off in for a parking spot, you get a parking ticket which makes you late for work or whatever it is. You’re just like “Fuck Everybody!” That’s kind of the creative direction that we wanted to go. It’s a little bit of a different direction and some of the stuff is pretty angry, but I think what we are singing about on this record is something everyone can relate to!
Was there anything you tried to do differently this time around as a vocalist?
Yeah, we tried a new mic. I recorded the first four records with the same mic, an SM58. Now, we’re recording with a new mic that just came out and it sounds really killer. We also had a new plugin for the vocal effects on my voice. I don’t know how to explain it because I’m not technical. I just know how to sing! [laughs] The producer, Jay Ruston, put it on. There’s a little bit of delay, a little bit of chorus and a little bit of reverb. That coupled with the richness of the mic just sounds really cool, man! Satchel was also using his new guitar, his Satchel model from Charvel. To me, it sounds really killer. It’s like an edgy, early Van Halen Strat sound and it sounds really cool!
Steel Panther has been teaming with Jay Ruston since the beginning. How did first cross paths with him?
The first time I met him was through a trainer I had. Like I said, we were a cover band early on and the trainer had a band and he asked if they could open for us. I knew this trainer for years and I had also known the singer for a while. I said, “Yeah, let me hear what kind of music you’re doing.” He played me their new CD and the track sounded like a hit song to me. The mixing and engineering were both killer! I said, “Man, who did this for you?” He said, “Oh, it was my buddy Jay Ruston.” I brought the guys the CD and played it for them. They thought it was amazing as well and that’s really how we picked Jay. I’ve recorded every record with him, and I really trust him. When he says, “Hey, you got it! Move on.” I trust him and I love that! That’s a hard thing to find!
What were the biggest challenges of bringing “Heavy Metal Rules” to life?
You want challenges? I’ll give you some challenges! First of all, we gave Lexxi the responsibility of bringing the hard drives home from the studio, both the backup and the original, and he fucked it up. He dropped them and we recovered as much as we could, but we had to re-record all the vocals, guitars, and some of the bass. All the drums were good for some reason, I don’t know why. We re-recorded all of that and then while we were doing my vocals, we realized something sounded weird. I went to my voice doctor and discovered I had a little polyp that was making my voice sound hoarse. We scheduled the surgery, postponed the recording and release of the record. Once I got my voice fixed, I came back at 100% and more. It was then that I re-recorded the vocals for the third time! With that said, this record is very special to me! [laughs] Normally, you record it once and then you are done with it. This time around, having had to record it three times, I think I had more time to live with it. To me, the third time sounded better than the prior to times in the attack, emotion, and timing of it all. I’m getting really technical, so I apologize for that! [laughs]
Which songs resonate with you the most at this point in time?
I really enjoy “Fuck Everybody” because it’s so much fun to sing. It’s punchy, it’s got a good melody line and it’s easy to sing along with. The other one I really, really dig is “Gods of Pussy.” I really love that song and it reminds me of Def Leppard meets Rush, but the content is more like Judas Priest, lyrically. I just love those songs that I’m enjoying the most at the moment.
“Gods of Pussy” is a true standout on the album. Any pro-tips for us non-Rockstar types when it comes to elevating our game with the ladies?
There is a reason that there are huge music stars all across America and that reason is that guitars get pussy! Buy a guitar, learn how to play some Steel Panther and impress some girl by playing at a party! I’m telling you, girls are drawn to guys that play instruments. It’s just the way the world works. That’s why I got into it! Once I saw David Lee Roth live and all these girls were screaming for him, I was like, “I want to do that!” And I did!
We all know that heavy metal rules but when did you know that sentiment was perfect from this new album?
It’s ironic because even from the very beginning, when we started in 1999 playing the weekly show at the Viper Room, we would always tell the audience that our mission was to bring heavy metal back. We’d ask, “How many people miss heavy metal? How many people hate grunge!” We’d get a huge response and all together we’re bringing heavy metal back. That became our mantra for years. We’ve always said it and then it just occurred to us that maybe now was the time to name our album “Heavy Metal Rules.” That’s how simple it was!
In addition to the great tunes you put out, Steel Panther never disappoints when it comes to cover art. What went into finding the perfect image for “Heavy Metal Rules”?
We wanted to do something was exciting, bright and something that kind of looked like my backyard as a kid. You know, beer cans, shit everywhere, random stuff at my house. I mean, my mom was cool. She didn’t do that much because she was hot, so guys did stuff for her. I learned at a very young age that if you are a hot chick, people will do whatever you want. If you are a hot chick who can play guitar, to go back to that question, then you’re really killing it! Anyway, the artwork is really important to us for every album. David Jackson is our cover art guy for this record. Those shots were difficult to achieve. It took a long time to get the album artwork to match what we all wanted in our vision. It starts with a vision — an idea, conceptually, of what we want to achieve. Then we get some samples from a couple of artists who we’d want to do it and make a choice from there. In this case, David Jackson, not only did all the photography for it but he also put it the whole album artwork package together for the entire record. I think it came out really good!
Steel Panther will be hitting the road once again in support of the new album. Are you comfortable in your own skin at this point?
For me, I think I’ve learned more and more with each passing year. I don’t know if I’ve come into my own per se, but I do feel comfortable doing what I’m doing. When Steel Panther first started playing and put out the “Feel The Steel” record, we started doing festivals. At that point, it was awkward being backstage because no one knew who we were, and we stood out like sore thumbs. Now, we go to these festivals and people know who we are because we have been around. I think that’s really comfortable. We go out on the festival stage, jam and make friends with a lot of the other bands. We all get to stand at the side of the stage and watch each other play. That camaraderie is really awesome! So, I think it’s really exciting from that standpoint and to be constantly learning something new.
In addition to a few new videos, Steel Panther has been putting out some awesome content with Steel Panther TV. What’s that experience been like for you?
Filming that has been a lot of fun because we get to do it on a green screen, which gives us the opportunity to put whatever we want behind us. I think the next series is going to be the gynecologist series which will focus on how to take care of your vagina. There will also be a manscaping series, which Lexxi is going to do. We’re probably also going to do a “Where Are They Now” segment. There are plenty of people who ask, “What is Steve-O doing now? What is Bam Margera up to? John Travolta, what does he do? Where does his wig sit now? Is it on his nightstand?” It’s that type of thing to let people know what is going on with our friends.
Have you ever given thought to a Michael Starr solo record?
No, not really. Solo records are cool and it’s fun but I’m not at that point in my life where I want to separate from the guys and do my own thing. I feel like I’m doing my own thing right now, so I don’t need to do that. I’m able to express myself creatively through my vocals and that feels good! We all also have equal input and equals in the band. I definitely want to keep on rockin’ what we’re doing now. I’m telling you, we’re going to bring heavy metal back! There are already bands now that are dressing like heavy metal dudes and they’re jammin’. One will hit and it’s gonna happen!
Rock ‘n’ roll is something close to your heart. What does it mean to you and has it changed through the years?
It always changes. As I get older, I realize that most of the great stuff has been done, you know. At the same time, I was listening to Greta Van Fleet yesterday and thought how cool it was to have because I missed Led Zeppelin. I missed that style, and no one really plays anything close to that style anymore. To have them come out, it was really cool. For people who are younger, they don’t really know the history of Led Zeppelin like we do. I don’t know how old you are, but I’ve been listening to Led Zeppelin since I was like 8 years old! I think music changes and, like I was saying, I hope it changes in a heavy metal way. I mean, rock ‘n’ roll is killer, but rock ‘n’ roll is kinda dead in a sense. I think heavy metal is the way to roll. Heavy metal means everything!
Steel Panther is on the front lines of the music industry. What’s the best way we as fans can help support the band and help it move forward in this day and age?
Oh man, if you enjoy the band, listen to us on Spotify, buy a CD or some vinyl, come to a show and treat yourself to a T-shirt. If you enjoy the music we’re making, then tell your friends about it. Steel Panther isn’t exactly a band that gets airplay. So, if you’re a fan of the band, the best recommendation comes from a friend. If you’re best friend says, “Hey, you’ve got to see this band, Steel Panther!” You’re going to believe that recommendation. That’s an easy way to support us and it’s really all we ask! Most importantly enjoy the music! You really don’t have to do anything but turn it on and enjoy it!
There’s a lot to enjoy about this record. Thanks for taking time out to chat with us about it and we will be out here spreading the word.
Awesome! Thanks for the interview, dude! I appreciate your time! Take care.
For the latest news, videos and tour dates from the legendary Steel Panther, visit their official website at www.steelpantherrocks.com.