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Steel Panther

Het nieuwe album van Steel Panther is uit en mijn eerste indruk was duidelijk veel te snel. Zoals altijd bij ze. Toegegeven, ik mocht hem maar beperkt luisteren voordat ik een oordeel velde, waardoor ik er ook niet echt gewend aan kón raken. Maar net als met de twee voorganger ‘Balls Out’ en ‘All You Can Eat’, overheerste de teleurstelling, die later plaats maakte voor schaamte dat ik zo snel was met mijn oordeel. Eigenlijk hebben ze wederom gewoon een lekker album afgeleverd, dat het verdient om los van eerder werk gezien te worden. Zanger Michael Starr komt met stip mijn top 10 in van prettigste mensen om te interviewen, terwijl ik hem ook wel eens als lastpak heb gezien. De nuchterheid en dankbaarheid waarmee hij naar zijn eigen situatie kijkt dwingt zowaar respect af, al blijft het natuurlijk ook gewoon een ondeugende puber, in het lichaam van een al iets oudere man. Met hem bespreek ik het nieuwste Steel Panther album ‘Lower The Bar, dat dus veel beter blijkt dan uit mijn recensie op te maken viel, ook al is het geen ‘Feel The Steel’, maar dat snapt hij zelf als geen ander.

Door: Ramon | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Welcome to Lords of Metal. I get to the new album later on, I promise. The first question I have always wanted to ask you: Is Steel Panther the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy
Thanks. Oh absolutely. I never thought it would ever happen. We just went on doing what we love and all of the sudden, our dreams came through. And it is amazing so far.

How odd is it for you to hear that Nikki Six does not take you guys seriously, while you outsell him in Europe, and maybe the rest of the world?
Yeah, I get what you mean. Well, you have to understand where he comes from. He was like, the absolute top. And now he is trying to get his new band up, and it doesn’t go as well as he maybe hoped it would go.

They were never that big in Europe.
They weren’t? Well, our management said right away that we had to go to Europe, or we would never be able to connect there afterwards. Fuck yeah, I’ll play anywhere you want me, let’s do it. And Europe is always great for us. But as for Nikki, I am okay with that.

Talking about taking things seriously, Stix fired back at those people by saying you have now the responsibility for a solid crew to feed and travel with. But still, do you give a shit about what people think in the end?
Yeah man, we have a wonderful crew, but the craziest thing is happening: we are actually losing our crew members to other bands, mostly to Alter Bridge.

That could be worse.
Yeah, but still, we are not used to things like that happening. You take care of people, advance as a family and grow together, and then they leave because they can have it better somewhere else. I am fine with it, but I have to find new people and like I said, this is new to us.

We just mentioned your drummer, who goes by the name of Stix Zadina (pronounced “sticks it in ya”), how funny is it that you pick these nicknames and people pick that up? I mean, do you even listen when someone calls you Ralph or mister Saenz?
Michael is actually my real name, Ralph Michael Saenz. And I never thought Ralph was doing much as a name, so I started using the name Michael, which is my own name still, and I like stars, so, that’s why Starr.

And the extra R is for “the extra rocking”, right?
You did your homework. People keep asking me about the Ralph BEHIND the Michael, but there isn’t. This is who I am.

Part of your success is because the fun factor, of course. Do journalist ever try to be funnier than you?
I do get that, but being funny is not a competition to me, I just want to have fun, with everything I do in life. If that is doing a show, talking to journalists, it doesn’t matter.

Do they even succeed?
Oh yeah, and I like it when that happens. Some journalist want to force you into that clown role, sometimes I feel like doing that, while others try to go in-depth and ask Ralph-based childhood memory stuff, all good. I just want to make good music, that makes you feel good and want to hang out with your friends, have a drink and chase some girls.

You forgot the drugs!
Drugs come naturally, so they obviously belong in that list. I always liked them, but it never got the best of me. I did all kinds of crazy stuff, but it never really got me down, whereas some people just don’t know their limits. I always have.

So you could say your drug abuse is in a recreation balance?
Yes, as a matter of fact, that is going to be the title of my first solo record, ‘Recreational Balance’!

How did you afford it before you became successful?
I was okay, I never had to steal from my mum or sell her stuff to support it or anything. I was never that hooked.

How did you afford it then?
Well, the thing I did, when I was at parties, I borrowed two Dollars from anyone I met. Anyone can spare two Dollars. So at the end I had enough to buy half a gram.

Your drummer Stix went into rehab last year to control his own substance abuse, didn’t he?
Yeah, yep he did. But not me. Hold on, you might fall away, I have to start my car and the blue tooth connection might… hold on. (fires up) Do I still have you?

In a way, if you mean if the phone connection is still alive, you do.
Good, my neighbour, she is having a film crew over to shoot at her house. She does that all the time, and now trucks are blocking my parkway and I had to move my car for the trucks.

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Interesting, but all I can think of for a question now, what car did you just start?
An Escalade.

An Escalade?
Yeah baby

From our money?
No, my mum got it for me as a present actually (laughs).

To the album now, you switched label right? Why?
Yes, we had a great time, but then this opportunity came by to release it ourselves and let the fantastic company Kobalt do the promotion and distribution for it. So we are really happy with that.

I sense that there is a lot less emphasis on the dramas in your life, compared to prior efforts. Does that mean you are content as it is now, or does your life become more stable for you?
I don’t know. We just try to make songs as they come and don’t really overthink it before we write.

How does the title ‘Lower the Bar’ relate to the music?
It is meant to be a term that represents to not to take yourselves too seriously. Lower the expectations. We don’t take things seriously, we just want to have fun. Yes, when we play and write we are serious, but we don’t need to make songs to prove ourselves or anything.

Lowering the expectations, one of your lyrics is referring to ‘Feel The Steel’ with “all the critics had to say our debut record was our peak”. Do you get that a lot?
Fuck yeah man, all of the fucking time.

And how do you feel about that?
I feel fine about it. We don’t try to outdo it, because we can’t anyway. We are never going to be able to have the same effect as we did with ‘Feel The Steel’. We are never going to shock people as much as we did with that album. I mean, ‘Fuck All Night And Party All Do’, how can you ever outdo that? But, when our second album came out, we already felt it was not as good as the first. But when I listen to it now, I think it is an absolutely great record itself. And that is what matters. We move on, we have this one album we can look back at and we are very aware that we are probably never going to top that. But you just have to keep on trying, man. You never know if it is going to happen, you never know.

I must admit, it took me some time to understand the albums after that, including the new record, but it is starting to grow on me. As for your point, there are some great examples of bands that outdid their debut later on.
Yes there are, and we just go on, not expecting too much of it, but do what we do and if we keep being compared to that one album, I am fine with that.

Satchell told last week you had to censor the lyrics for ’17 Girls In A Row’. Would you agree with him that that was the absolute low in your career?
I never censored myself!

Yes you did, there was a piece with a religious background you altered under the pressure of the record company
Oooh, I know what you are talking about now, yes. You know what happened? You know, in the end, everybody has a boss, even we do. And they didn’t want religious protests and stuff, so we just had to listen, but it was never a big deal to me. You know what happened, this is actually a true story, I swear to god. The song was already done. But I had to redo that line. So the producer called me and asked for the new line over the phone, while I was at home. And I had made the change, but I wasn’t in the studio. I just sang through my phone, he recorded it and that is what ended up on the record, how about that?

Now that is an amazing story, man. You will be playing Tilburg again this year, you seem to have quite a bond with the venue, right?
I haven’t seen the touring schedule yet, but I am always looking forward to head over to Europe. And the Tilburg venue, it is a fantastic venue to play, really built for the music. And the crowd is always great there, crazy, but respectful. So yeah, I’m looking forward to meet you there.

Where else will this album take you?
We will probably do all of Europe and some major festivals. I always love that.

Thanks for your time, any famous last words?
Thanks for the interest man, great questions. I hope everybody will get to know the album and come check us out on the road.

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