He is a multimillion selling singer, songwriter, musician, actor and radio host. His latest album is a tasty collection of ten down and dirty hard rocking gems. He also co-wrote and recorded the international smash hit “Obsession.” You may have spotted him on CSI:Crime Scene Investigation or portraying the skillfully elusive assassin, Murdoc, from television’s long running MacGyver series.
Among his many big screen credits, he starred opposite Clint Eastwood in Pink Cadillac and Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love; he was the kid in sunglasses. But music has always come first in his life. Did we mention that he is a British-born Marquis? He can only be the incomparable Michael Des Barres.
His latest, Linda Perry, now that is a rock star
Michael Des Barres says his new album, The Key to the Universe, “Rocks like f**k!” After one listen, you will likely agree. With former Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison, Portishead and Robert Plant drummer Clive Deamer and guitarist extraordinaire Dani Robinson, Des Barres has created a potent yet somewhat stripped down sound.
The lead single from The Key to the Universe, “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” was written by former 4 Non Blondes rocker, singer, music label founder and producer Linda Perry. You want hard hitting? The second single is titled “I Want Love to Punch Me in the Face,” written by all four band members: Des Barres, Harrison, Darling and Robinson.
Des Barres originally burst upon the music scene in 1972 as the frontman for the glamsters Silverhead. When that gig ended, he formed Detective and signed with Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s Swansong records. Hold on, because there is more. He was the lead singer for The Power Station after Robert Palmer’s departure. His solo discography is a dynamite assortment of studio recordings as well as live concerts. He can currently be heard as a host on SiriusXM’s nationally syndicated “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”
An Interview with Michael Des Barres
MusicInterviewMagazine.com caught up with Michael Des Barres for a recent interview. The multi-talented rocker talked about The Key to the Universe, “Obsession,” the Sex Pistols, working with Clint Eastwood and much more.
Congratulations on The Key to the Universe. “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” is the lead single from the album. It was written by Linda Perry. Why did you identify so much with Linda’s song?
My whole life has been obsessive and that is a politically dangerous song. You know, brutality and danger have been tattooed to my ass. No, it’s pretty simple. I love this song and I adore Linda because I think she is one of the few authentic musicians out there. She is purely and simply a great songwriter. It really had this groove to it that I felt was great. I’ve sped it up a bit from the original version. Nigel, Clive, Dani and Bob Rose, of course; we had such fun with it. It was the first song we cut so it set a tone for us with a feel that was authentic, aggressive and real. You know, it had a heartbeat. Then that heart beat below the waist. It’s a sexy, sensual obsessive love song.
You often use words like “excessive” and “obsessive” to describe how your own life has been at times. Are you better or worse off as a musician and actor due to those excesses?
Drama and comedy and music and art are based on full-tilt boogie rock and roll. You have to feel it. This is not an intellectual exercise. This is self expression here. I’m either going to do it with every slice of my being, every drop of blood and every sweat drop pouring off my head and onto the microphone, which is obsessive. Now, I’m not using it as something that owns you. If you own obsession and you reach and rake it into commitment, you’ll have an idea about what I’m saying. Excess has been really important because all that music is all consuming. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to go all the way with it. Half-assed doesn’t cut it, one buttock ain’t enough. It’s kind of like deconstructed Alcoholics Anonymous. Half-assed failed and measured does nothing, so I believe in full ass contact. Just get on with it and enjoy every second of it. It’s all you got.
The Key to the Universe absolutely explodes with sound. The collection has a powerful, stripped down quality. You recorded the album at the Forum Music Center in Rome, Italy. How did you decide on the Forum Music Center?
Bob Rose is the record’s producer. He also runs FOD, the incredible label that I’m assigned to. They really are incredible. Initially, he and I did a record right after The Power Station. It was an amazing record. But it slipped through the cracks and the label I was on deconstructed. Okay, fine, it was one of those vagaries of rock and roll. So that is how I met first met Bob. Then, about ten months ago, I got a phone call. He wanted to make a rock record. He said, “Look, you’re one of the last singers of this music. You wanna make a record, I’ll cast it. I’ll fly you over. Do you wanna do it?” I said of course. Bob customarily records at this beautiful studio, which is where Morricone did all the scores for the Spaghetti Westerns. It’s a massive room. He knew that room would capture the rhythm section and the raw sound that we’ve got. That room was perfect for it. He called me from Rome and said let’s do it. I went over and we rocked and rolled.
“I Want Love to Punch Me in the Face” is the second single from the album. The lyrics say that you are “In the ring” and you are going to “Drop your guard.” Do you really want love to take yet another swipe at Michael Des Barres?
I believe inspiration comes from being in a loving relationship, not only with a woman, your family or whatever, or as I believe, in yourself. It’s really a metaphor for one’s disappointment about love. You get somnambulant and sort of go into this funk, this trance where you don’t think you’re worth it or you’re so disappointed. It’s really about waking up. Wake up and love yourself enough so you will drop the masks of confusion and accept somebody to come into your heart. It will be the best thing you ever did. The inspiration gained from a truly loving relationship will enable you to fly over the mountaintop and look down on this beautiful world of ours.
Looking back, tell us how the Sex Pistols affected your life?
They changed it completely, from a blues-based decadence into an industrial necessity. The Sex Pistols, for me, were the greatest rock and roll band ever because they captivated post-second World War England, the oppression of the working class, with inspirations that ranged from Eddie Cochran to Johnny Thunders and back again. For me, Lydon [John] is as important a literary figure as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll ever were. The level of sheer power and literacy from Lydon and the band was incredible. I mean, I went up to San Francisco for some very heavy rock and roll music with Zeppelin. I was like, on my god, the gig was literally greeted with silence by that audience; they had no idea what was happening. I thought how that was absolute theatre to such a degree, when I got back to L.A., I disbanded and had to rethink what I was doing regarding the minimalism of everything. I make this analogy about painters. The older they become and separate they become, the more minimal their work becomes and everything is so impactful. That’s what leads me to The Key to the Universe. It’s a response to everything I’ve ever done. Pistols changed my way of looking at things. We ended up in a band together, we went through drugs and we went through incredible mutual substance abuse and became stronger when we conquered it. He [Lydon] is a very important figure in my life, both musically and as a man.
You co-wrote and recorded the chart-busting 1983 smash “Obsession.” Did you know the song was going to become such an international mega-hit?
I actually didn’t. As I say, obsession has been a primary motivation and a challenge. But I wrote in the song, “Who do you want me to be, to make you sleep with me,” as an idea of who the f**k am I? How do I express myself, if I don’t know who that self is? I was interested in the idea of obsessing about drugs, obsessing about sex and obsessing about rock and roll, which is classic and wrote the song. I knew I had to be literary about it and write in terms of a relationship. Holly Knight wrote the music. It just connected. I had no idea it would put three wives through luxury. I didn’t know it would have that success, but it did and continues to do so, for which I am externally grateful. I’ve struck a chord, I think. I also think “I Want Love to Punch Me in the Face” is as effective.
As you know, everything depends on radio play. We’ll see. Nothing makes me happier than to have a relationship with the audience and to get them off and both have that mutual climax, if you will, over rock and roll. That‘s the biggest joy in my life.
You starred as Alex alongside Clint Eastwood in the movie Pink Cadillac. What music did you guys talk about?
That’s a great question. I met Clint on the set. I had been cast from tape as a Nazi Aryan biker from Arkansas, so I had an accent. He had no idea who I was. He just thought I was a biker. I walked up to him one day and said, “Go ahead Clint, make my career.” He laughed and invited me to his trailer. That’s where he showed me a documentary on Thelonious Monk. From that moment on, we were the best of friends. I loved him. Politics, I could give a f**k about. Politically, we’re worlds apart. But as artists and appreciators of jazz and rock and roll, where he’s Jazz and I’m rock and roll, we just had a relationship that was to die for. We remained close while on the set.
Before The Smiths, Kiss or Ratt, there was Silverhead. We have to ask, when you formed the band in 1972, where did the name come from.
It was Aleistair Crowley really. We were into that magic thing. I was studying mime in London Drama School. I was just a teenager. London at that time was all about hashish, velvet, polka dots, drugs, sex and experimentation. Silver is a magical color, thing, frequency, energy and head, well, is head. I put the two together and there it is like rock and roll; sex and magic.
Considering your success as Murdoc on MacGyver, do you have any plans to return to television as a villain anytime soon?
Yeah, I’m sure, but not for a year. I’m completely dedicated to this record and I suspect I’ll be rather busy for the next year. That’s what I want more than anything. Will I act again? Sure I will, if the right thing comes along. But I won’t play inconsequential movies just for a check. Murdoc was great. People love Murdoc, even young kids. You know how television lasts forever. I’m very proud of Murdoc, playing him was a joy. If somebody came along with something equally spectacular, sure, I’d take a look.
The Key to the Universe, on FOD Records, is available now at iTunes and Amazon. Catch Michael Des Barres on SiriusXM’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”