Fireworks Magazine Online 62 - Interview with Michael Des Barres


Michael Des Barres enjoyed a resurgence in his musical career when he released his solo album ‘Carnaby Street’ in 2012. Since then the successful actor/musician has released singles via his own online outlet including a new recording of ‘Obsession’, a big hit for Animotion in the mid-80s. After recording ‘Carnaby Street’ mostly live in the studio, it only made sense that the songs would work well on the live stage. They worked so well, that Des Barres decided to release a no frills, authentic and honest live album called ‘Hot N Sticky’. James Gaden got in touch with Michael to hear what the former Power Station/Detective/Silverhead vocalist had to say…

I believe you stated you had no intention of recording a live album at the time, you record everything and you just felt this should be released?

I think, on any given night, any rock and roll band in the world is the best rock and roll band in the world. It’s such an abstraction, how great you can be. If you plug in and you mean it, it’s authentic, then you are the best rock and roll band in the world. What does that really mean anyway? Is it the Stones? The Clash? Gaga? Bieber? Jay-Z? It’s ludicrous! It’s like saying apples are better than carrots. No question about it - fuck carrots! (laughs) It’s absurd, right? That night, I do record everything. I love to listen to it back to learn, to play back to the guys or my friends. That particular night was one of those nights when you go on, you know from the second you walk onto the stage… it was like having sex with someone you’ve been attracted to for over a year and haven’t had the opportunity to make love to. Or if you’ve been in a long term relationship and sex has become sort of familiar, then you go away to a hotel, away from the kids and it just explodes! It’s there, that spark! It was one of those nights. I listened to it back and thought it was fantastic, and nowadays I have the means and the infrastructure - a word I despise, it sounds like a German band! (laughs) But I was able to put it out and people dug it. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. My tastes are quite broad and I respect and appreciate anybody who plugs in, they’re courageous. This is three chord rock and roll music. It’s not an acronym for meditation - it’s about having sex! Where is the sexuality in hard driven rock and roll these days? It’s like guys seem scared to be sexual and do anything from below the hip. I’ll watch Mumford and Sons and think “Great… beautiful, lovely… lakes, dawns, clouds, regret…” but it’s about as sexy as an ashtray! I think that’s missing from the rock and roll nowadays.

Well at least you are still out there keeping it authentic!

I really like The Stripes. They’re from Ireland and are amazing. Having my own radio show, I get deluged with music as I’m sure you do at Fireworks, James. It’s out there - but nobody is paying attention. By nobody, I mean the corporations, the people who can bring the music to the people. Radio, TV channels, whatever, they’re not interested in that stuff. The business on that level is dead, but the music most certainly isn’t. ‘Hot N Sticky’ was one of those nights were nobody thought, we just played and smiled. We have a DVD of it coming and you can see that. It was just ecstasy. When we played the great Supremes song ‘Stop In The Name Of Love’, it felt like I was in The Who or something! We use that song as a metaphor for all the things going on in the world, violence going on world-wide and say “Stop, in the name of love!”

I loved it, it’s quite different from the version I’m used to by the Supremes. Is that something you had worked up specifically for your live show or was it a spur of the moment inclusion?

I put it together for these shows because I wanted to do something… it’s very difficult for an audience to come and see you and get to grips with new music. Throughout my career, through the 105 bands I’ve been in, (laughs) I’ve always thrown in covers which suggest my influences and influence the songs I write. That way you’re not demanding the audience play complete attention to your unique and spectacular music that only you could write! I like to put on a show and like people to enjoy songs I’ve enjoyed, in tandem with material I write for my own amusement.

One thing I did notice is there is a lot of stuff from your newest solo CD ‘Carnaby Street’ which sounds fantastic. You also have a Detective song in there, there’s ‘Get It On which nods to both Marc Bolan and The Power Station, you have a Steve Marriott reference there - but nothing by Silverhead which surprised me. Was that because you’d recently been out with Silverhead and had just played a load of their material?

Yeah - we do play Silverhead, we just didn’t happen to do it that night. Like I said, I didn’t know at the time it was going to become a live album, it was going to be a “product”! (laughs) We do often play ‘More Than Your Mouth Can Hold’, ‘Hello New York’, we play ‘Rolling With My Baby’… some nights we will play and some toothless glam rocker will shout for ‘Hello New York’ and we’ll go into it. I thought about doing a show where I could do stuff from all four bands I’d been in, have all four bands waiting - wouldn’t that be such a Jack White kind of thing to do?

It would be awesome!

Yes, it would be awesome - and incredibly expensive, considering what happened to a lot of those boys.

The ‘Carnaby Street’ material earned you some great reviews and they all work beautifully in a live setting. Was there one in particular you get a kick out of performing?

I think it’s like choosing your favourite child. I always say my favourite song is the one I just wrote, because that’s the one I go around singing. In terms of live performance, if I’ve got a good guitar sound and the band sounds really good, then every song is a joy. If there are any technical problems, then it does throw me off somewhat. We’ve been very fortunate because we’ve played live a lot and we’ve pretty much got it down, but it can alter the vibe. The whole thing is about energy, the way you feel is the way you sound. The audience has certain favourites that they relate to. The title song is sort of a narrative to what I do and I think that one is appreciated by the “fans” - another word I hate, I prefer friends! If they enjoy it, I enjoy it.

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I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’. I know you’re a big fan of Steve Marriott.

Thanks James, I bow down to and pay homage to the great Steve Marriott, who I supported when I was in Silverhead. The Small Faces were ridiculously incredible, they were all rooted in Motown. That soul and R&B influence, The Who started the same way. It was that groove I loved and Marriott sang like Ann Peebles or something. Not Wilson Pickett or David Ruffin from The Temptations, Marriott sounded like a young, androgynous R&B queen. I recently did a show with Jerry Shirley who was the drummer with Humble Pie. I sang ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’ there and I asked him if Steve warmed up or did anything in preparation. Nope! He had these huge lungs and could just hit these notes.

I loved the fact you’ve left the live album exactly how it was on the evening, no polishing, touching up, just a document of how it was on the night.

All the great moments in rock and roll were accidents - including my birth! (laughs) Yeah, I like mistakes, I like hearing cymbals falling over and stuff. I like things that are real. ‘Carnaby Street’ - what a rebirth for me musically. I’ve fallen in love with it all over again and it’s amazing.

With you having enjoyed success both as an actor and as a musician, do you have a preference for one over the other, or are they two separate avenues?

No, they’re not separate, they’re exactly the same. It’s all self expression. I take photographs, I write stuff, if I could sculpt I’d do that too. I do whatever I want. I think, to answer your question succinctly and accurately, I suppose the most satisfying thing one can do is to stand, in front of a microphone, in front of a few hundred sweating people in a very small rock ’n’ roll club, playing way too loud and wearing very tight black clothing. That’s my idea of heaven! (laughs) I did a movie recently and you complete a take and you think ‘Wow!’ and feel so great. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, my long term friend who I’ve known for forty years, has recently become an actor. He’s brilliant! It was very nerve wrecking for him at the beginning, but he said the same. When you did a take, he felt so good and so accomplished. It’s all the same - the satisfaction of doing a good job.

Last time we spoke you mentioned there was a documentary being made about you, is that still ongoing?

It’s done, it’s ready to go. It’s called ‘Who Do You Want Me To Be?’ which I think is a great title when you consider the lyrics of the biggest song I wrote, with Holly Knight of course, which was ‘Obsession’. It’s a very eclectic and interesting documentary, covering my boarding school years in Derbyshire which was like ‘Wuthering Heights’ meets ‘Dante’s Inferno’! From Sidney Poitier to Steve Jones, the documentary is interesting, I can’t wait for people to see it. My career didn’t have Sting’s trajectory, I’m not an icon to millions. I just worked my ass off for many, many years and loved every second. It’s really about that. Stay enthusiastic, stay energetic, stay in love, stay connected to what you do. Share what you’ve got. Whether three people dig it or three hundred million, it makes no difference. What’s important is fulfilling your own desire. As long as you are fulfilled, you can be vilified, especially in today’s world with the internet and social media which I adore. I just like to connect with people.

Do you know when it will be released?

It will be determined by the festivals. The major festivals like Sundance and so on, they make very particular choices. My story is quite eccentric and rather niche, so we’ll see where it falls. I don’t think it’s going to be bigger than ‘Avatar’ but I think people will enjoy it. It was directed and financed by some very talented people like Josh Weinstein. He created a show called ‘Mystery Science Theater’ which is a very popular show in America. The production value is very high and everybody is in it, from Don Johnson to Gabriel Byrne, Steve Jones, John Taylor, Miss Pamela… a lot of intriguing and interesting people. I had nothing to do with it for the three years we shot it, I never saw a frame. When I watched the finished product, I laughed and wept my ass off and hopefully you will too!

‘Hot N Sticky’ is available in digital form from iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby. A limited edition CD is also available from Michael’s Bandcamp page 


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