"Even the best cocaine can't duplicate that feeling. When I connect with people on stage, I'm gonna sound corny, but it makes me feel grateful to be singing for everybody."
When I catch up with Michael Starr from his home studio, he couldn't be further from his alter-ego when he sings for the LA rock band Steel Panther. Sure, he's writing a new song, a cathartic song that he loves because it has to do with heavy metal music, and Starr "loves heavy metal", but he's certainly not the character you see on stage or YouTube. He's an organised individual with enthusiasm for his job; after our chat, he has some more interviews to do, will finish writing the song, and put together the five-day music video shoot that Steel Panther has planned.
Starr is open and talkative about all-things music. "I feel like music has healing powers within it," he says about returning to the stage and touring again. "We're the band, and there's the audience. Together we create our own universe. You can't make it up; you can't buy it. It's a really amazing connection."
Starr looks forward to hitting our shores again this month – on a double-bill with Airbourne, no less. Both bands have been close over the years, with their album release schedules often coinciding. "[Airbourne] get more airplay than we would ever get," Starr laughs. "It doesn't matter. At this point, it's more in the spirit of 'let's get together and make it a great concert'."
Here's hoping that the tour works out as well as their 2014 tour opening for Judas Priest. "That was an awesome time. Rob Halford and the guys were so nice and supportive," Starr says. "I remember the first day of the tour. We're at catering together, and Rob comes with his plate of food and sits next to me. I'm like, 'What do I say? What do I do?' The guy I looked up to is next to me. He says, 'How are your knees?' I go, 'They fucking hurt all the time from jumping up on stage.' So we bonded over food and bad knees!"
Starr has previously claimed that Australian Steel Panther fans have great taste in music. He still believes that. "You guys like us; that's great taste, you know," he chuckles. "We haven't been there in a long time. And even walking around in Australia, I got noticed a lot, which was strange to me because I can walk around LA and get noticed all day long. I didn't expect that on the other side of the world, for some reason. I think that Australia rocks a little harder than most."
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While Starr and his bandmates eventually got used to not touring for so long, they didn't realise how much they would miss it. "We went to Europe for five weeks recently, and man, that connection with the audience. All four of us were like, 'This is the best thing in the world.' It's way better than cocaine. Even the best cocaine can't duplicate that feeling. When I connect with people on stage, I get a feeling; I'm gonna sound corny right now, but it makes me feel grateful to be singing for everybody, being in Steel Panther and fuckin' rockin'.
"I got more creative [during COVID lockdowns]," Starr says – he wrote a song for Peacemaker in his downtime. With Steel Panther songs, guitarist Satchel writes 99.9% of the music. So, Starr made it his mission to improve at writing during the band's downtime. Before he knew it, he was having fun writing bluesy or "just rock stuff" before returning to the sound of Motley Crue, Van Halen, and Scorpions. Their new music was written and mixed remotely, with the band's longtime producer Jay Ruston back on board.
In March 2021, the band released their cover of Beautiful Girls by Van Halen, something Starr was initially apprehensive about. Their drummer, Stix, made the suggestion. "I was like, 'Really? You want to record a Van Halen song?' Because to me, Van Halen is like Led Zeppelin – if you cover them, you better be good at it," he explains. "Once I came around, it felt like a natural thing to do since we usually include a Van Halen song in our sets. Good thing Satchel sounds just like EVH!"
Steel Panther have recently found their full-time bass player, Spyder, after bassist Lexxi Foxx departed the group last year.
"This job is more than just playing the bass for this particular band. You have to commit to choreography, be a quick thinker on the microphone, improvise, and be able to sing. And you must be able to play the songs, which are not easy to play. People think that because we joke around and have a good time, the songs are easy, but they're not."
Mostly, Steel Panther didn't want a player who copies Foxx. "We pictured the audience saying, like, 'Who's this guy trying to be Lexxi?' And then we realised that we shouldn't get a guy who looks like Lexxi at all, or does anything that he did, we should get someone completely different. There's only one Lexxi. It sucks, man. I miss him; we all miss him. But sometimes in life, people move on from what they were doing, and that's just what happened."
The band's Australian tour with Airbourne kicks off on Wednesday, 19 October, in Newcastle, before stopping in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.