Michael Des Barres

The Marquis of Rock 'N Roll, Michael Des Barres is following up his superb solo return to rock 'n roll, 2012's Carnaby Street with a record that matches it and actually does it one better, The Key to the Universe . More straight-ahead, hard-hitting rock than the previous one, this collection shows Michael still in possession of a great voice and penning some songs that make you feel like you're in the middle of some hot and sweaty club.

It was a pleasure to speak to the Marquis recently to talk about the record. As always, he was the perfect interviewee, humourous, well-spoken, engaged and engaging....in short, I had a blast talking to him.

antiMusic: I absolutely love the new record. And I like it more and more every time I play it, which is constantly, so that's great. It's got great tracks, amazing energy and it's almost more than my ears can hold.

Michael: Oh boy, well we know where you got that title. (laughs). I'm equating my record with giving head, is that what you're saying, Morley? (laughs) Perfect. My kind of guy. But thank you. I'm so proud of it. Oh my god, I'm so proud of it. It's so great. The band is just crazy good. We can't wait to play it live. Everybody's gone bonkers, playing it all over the world. It really looks great. And I love Linda, I love that song Linda did for me. It's great.

antiMusic: Absolutely. Well, to start with, clearly you're enjoying the success that was generated by your recent superb Carnaby Street record and subsequent live album. I assume you're taking your cues from the Music Gods these days, as opposed to the puppeteers of the big and the small screens?

Michael: That is a beautiful, beautiful way to put it. It's another way of saying, or at least answering your question succinctly, it's my favourite thing to do is to play music. I don't want to check my marks and shoot people on TV, you know? I mean I love all of that but it's somebody else's words, Morley. And I'd really rather at this stage of the game, now that I'm in my thirties...

antiMusic: (chuckles)

Michael: Why are you laughing? (laughs)...to express myself. To sing MY songs as opposed to sing somebody else's even though the covers that we do on that album I COULD have written. I wish I had.

antiMusic: Every record usually has a launch pad as in an event or moment that kind of sparks or informs the eventual material. Was there anything like that for you on this record or is it simply the next inevitable step in your continuation of world domination?

Michael: I think that, the latter of it. I think the title of it came to me before anything. When I got the call from the label to come to Rome and make a record, you know, a rock 'n roll record, guitar, bass, drums, voice, it just came into my head. And I thought, Michael, this is your opportunity to really say how you feel, vulnerable, sexy, arrogant. All of those things, and put them into songs.

So I arrived in Rome with....I don't know, 30 sets of lyrics maybe. Very little music, although one song I wrote prior to that, essentially it was collaborative. Those guys are SO good. Nigel is SUCH a good bass player and writer and Dani Robertson is an incredible guitar player and Clive Deamer, you know with Robert Plant and Jeff Beck....I mean, this is just an amazing band.

So the inspirations for the songs came from looking in their eyes. It was analog; we did it in this massive studio, where Morricone did all those scores for all those Italian beautiful sweeping movies. So the atmosphere in the room and it's timelessness was so inspiring but to answer your question, the title came before anything else.

antiMusic: You had me guessing until the very end but I couldn't see a tie-in to the title at all until I got to the last song, and although we'll get to the track itself momentarily, what are you telling us is the key to the universe and why did you feel so strongly about it that that's what you wanted to call the record after?

Michael: Well, I think it's a question. To me it begins a conversation because what happens is, since I've been talking about this, I've realized that it's not a statement or an answer. It's a question, and therefore begins a conversation. Because I used to say to everybody, 'Well, what is your key?', and you get the most extraordinary answers.

Most people go, oh gosh, that's so pretentious that I'm not even going to think about it. And that is so indicative of where they're at. Whereas you get somebody saying, well, love, compassion, connection, commitment to the community. From the most profound answers. People are either glib because they're nervous about it or they can't answer it because there's fear and lack of confidence. Or you get people who say, it's loving someone and being allowed to be loved by loving yourself. All of these things have been going on in my mind for the last two or three years. These questions one asks oneself and this is an attempt at answering them.

antiMusic: That answer made me excited, not nervous by the way. (Ed. note: lyrical reference).

Michael: Yeah. Good, I'm glad. (laughs)

antiMusic: Carnaby Street had this bouncy, almost joyous vibe with tracks like "Little Latin Lover" and of course the title track. This record seems a bit darker, more seductive. Was that on purpose?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I was going through a phase where I could honor and respect...Carnaby Street was great for me because it really let me just loose in terms of rock 'n roll because again I'd been constricted by other people's dialogue and creating characters and shape-shifting for 20 years on tele and movies. I'd been thinking, 'Oh man, now I'm free' and you know we went to Tokyo and we did that Silverhead thing. And at one point I looked at Nigel and said, 'We have to make another record'. And we did. But it freed me up to have fun.

This album is a little more going somewhat deeper so that we get into the idea of obsessive love and vulnerability and pleasure and the consequences of one's actions. "Yesterday's Casanova" is about a lothario whose time has come and gone, if you'll pardon the pun. And so it's filled with things that just go a little deeper, Morley.

antiMusic: The first single is "Can't Get You Off My Mind". I'm the biggest Linda Perry fan so this was a thrill to hear. This is a bit sassier and kick-ass version than Deep Dark Robot's. What was it about this song that appealed to you?

Michael: It just had a brutality to it, it had a driving anger, self-directed which I'm familiar with. I mean lets face it, I wrote "Obsession". (laughs) So I have a great deal of interest in, and am kind of invested in obsessive love. And Linda...man, I'm telling you, I've met everybody, I have played with John Bonham. Looked in the eyes of Steve Jones. And Linda Perry is right up there with ANY rock 'n roll personality that has that power. And she's just the real thing. Not only that but she's so pragmatic in terms of her production skills, so she can go from Courtney to James Blunt to Pink to Christina Aguilera to me and it's pretty impressive. But I heard it more up tempo. I mean, she sort of grinded it out and I kind of am running with it.

antiMusic: There were a number of "woah" moments when I heard the record and one of them was when I first played what I think is possibly my favourite song, "Burning in Water". You're known as a lover of the blues but this song fits you like as snugly as your pants from the Silverhead days. Tell us about how this one came to be?

Michael: Nigel Harrison was an A&R guy at Interscope and he had a treasure trove of songs. This particular song was selected for Tom Jones. And he would have injected great beauty into that song. It's a great song. I heard it and literally two minutes after I'd heard it, I said, let's do it and we did it right away. It's a one take song.

antiMusic: You're kidding me? Wow.

Michael: Yeah. And I agree with you. It was just picked up by a bunch of blues stations all over the world. I mean it's just a great song. I mean, 'Burning in water, drowning in flames'? Jesus. I felt like Howlin' Wolf singing that song. (laughs) It's just a great song and I could just let myself go with it, you know, traditionally.

antiMusic: One of those next "Woah" moments came with "It's Just a Dream". It has both the reckless abandon of all great rock 'n roll and some subtleties that elevate it immensely. For some reason, to me it's got a Stones-Mick Taylor-era vibe to it, mostly because of the guitar of course. Does that resonate with you as well?

Michael: Completely. It's '80s films, you know...it's f***ing genius. I wrote that on my own in the hotel and I don't know man, it's that groove. It's just in that minor chord but the melody just came from nowhere. It's like on of those songs that you sit down and write, and you know as a writer, the best paragraph, sentence is done with really no thought and that song came out that way. It's just a dream, which was very helpful at the time. I did it at the beginning of the album and it just made me trust myself. Does that make sense to you?

antiMusic: Absolutely. "Yesterday's Casanova" is another of my favorite songs and I'm addicted to that almost schizophrenic climate shift between the verses and chorus. For some reason I'm thinking of your old buddy Steve Jones when I hear this cut, the verses that is. Were you in a Pistols or Stooges vibe when you wrote that one?

Michael: Oh, I'm always in a Pistol or Stooges kind of vibe. (laughs) They're in the DNA of my r&r.. yeah. The verses are, actually it's a strange time signature as you know, which was fun because it's really powerful but the run of the verses is kind of strange. But then going into the bossa nova was a calculated choice because I wanted to tell that story briefly about who this guy is and you know the clubs just bowl you over...stop it. And it wouldn't have been heard if it had continued that progression so just thematically, it sorta worked. Not that this was thought about with that kind of professorial academia. It just came out that way but that was what we were all unconsciously doing.

antiMusic: I was blown away by "Supernatural Lovers". We already talked about the lyrical idea, but I was amazed by that James Brown mixed with Prince and if you could imagine, a horn section in there actually being Tower of Power almost too. Where did that kind of left turn come from?

Michael: Well, you know, when I was with the Zeppelin boys, that's all they listened to was James Brown. James Brown (laughs) is a force of nature. I just think that groove is irresistible but I also wanted it to be like Sir Laurence Olivier. So it has that funk, but I wanted to explore the idea of the universe, something big and grand instead of something that you could really feel right away.

antiMusic: "Liberty Train" is just great straight-ahead rock & roll. That must be a great one to do live.

Michael: Ah, that's genius and that's what we end with.

antiMusic: Really?

Michael: Yeah, because it's so exulted. It's f*** you, I'm not going to take this sh*t, I'm never going to quit. And that's how I feel, Morley.

antiMusic: You said that's how you end things live. Have you had much of a chance to air this out in a live setting?

Michael: Not with humans. But yes, all I can say is this is a great rock n roll band. And live it's going to, I think, excite people beyond measure.

antiMusic: I'm sure. Will you have Nigel with you?

Michael: Oh yes.

antiMusic: Oh really?

Michael: That band is just itching. They're in their bedrooms right now with their pants on and standing at the door and their wives are going, 'Please don't go away, please!' (laughs) They've already got their Louis Vuitton pants on and they're ready to go. I mean, we just can't wait. And it's going to happen. People are too interested in it, Germany, the UK, it's all going on. Can't wait.

antiMusic: Excellent. I guess sort of in closing, what did you take out of the whole Silverhead experience, the trip to Japan and.. you announced that that was going to be it for you guys at least for the foreseeable future. What did you get from those, glory days, you're still doing those glory days, but you know what I mean?

Michael: I hear you. What I took from it was a great deal of joy because I love those guys and I'm getting all teary thinking about it. (Pause. Voice cracks)...hang on a minute. Because we went through an awful lot together and we were kids. And to get the chance to go back and to talk to them and be with them was really important because we were all strung out the first time and I was really strung out on coke and everything else and I got an opportunity to embrace them and make amends really. And to play some kickass rock 'n roll together and knowing that we'll never do that again.

Morley and antiMusic thank Michael for taking the time to speak with us.

Preview and purchase the new album here.

Visit the official website here.

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