Michael Des Barres – Silverhead Interview22nd August 2016
Michael Des Barres of Silverhead took time out of his incredibly busy schedule & popped by the office for a quick chat
Firstly did you ever think you’d be sitting here 40 years on discussing silver head?
No (laughs. Here’s the thing tho, I didn’t think at all, and the reason that Silverhead was so fucking powerful was because none of us thought all we thought about was each other and we were like this medusa really & wondrous it was so amazing & there was really no structure.
I just listened to them yesterday & the arrangements are just amazing. Nigel (bass guitar) & Robby (guitar) were just so amazing & the music, I can just sit there unabashedly & say that ‘it’s just amazing music.’ It was just so fresh & so unself-conscious that you can see there’s no thought or intellect going into it. I don’t think Rock ‘n Roll should even be spoke about, you’re either doing it or making love or driving to it. But talking about almost diminishes its frequency if you really want to get intellectual about it. I can look back & go ‘fuck man, that was something & was the most unself-conscious moment.’
I’ve made some movies where it felt like I’d transcended the cameras,but musically I’ve always been super aware music. Silverhead holds a special place in the pantheon of rock ‘n roll. Wether 2 people or 2 billion really made no difference to us because we never thought in those terms We know that we really did something early on in our lives that was magic. We collectively weighed 150lbs, I think we were the thinnest band ever (laughs.) We were hedonistic & loved each other so much we just really wanted to get up there & play for each other. If you really look at the rare footage we were like ‘wow, you sound great’ or whatever & it was a really beautiful thing although short & sweet.
This is true, you didn’t have a long career with at Silverhead. It all happened so quick. 1972-1974 & that was it. Done & dusted.
All this new material that’s come out by Cherry Red, I’ll be honest I don’t remember recording half of it (laughs)
It’s true, some-one asked me who the engineer was & I was like ‘There was an engineer!?’ I can remember what I wore, vaguely (laughs). But the details? No
But, listening to what we’ve assembled & curated is astonishing. Tracks like James Dean & Marilyn that we recorded for a 3rd album which didn’t happen due to us imploding. All this stuff has been remixed & there’s even live stuff that I haven’t heard. The live album came about initially as we were supporting Nazareth who I love & they were recording a live album, we had no idea they were recording a live album, let alone recording us. When you’re listening to the live one we are completely unaware that it’s being recorded onto tape. If you are aware then it sounds like it. You can tell we were unaware due to the amount of mistakes & we didn’t fix things. Infact some of the mistakes are better than the songs (laughs)
What I’m saying is rock ‘n roll is chaos. The only really great is Iggy Pop & the MC5 & they’re just absolute anarchy, & then the Pistols who were also just absolute chaos. I think that, dare I say it, one of the 1st rock ‘n roll bands to explore that territory.
What I remember about Silverhead is that you dared to be different & really were the forerunners of the whole glam era.
We were glam in the fact that we had been wearing eye make up for three weeks nights days. We didn’t just put it on in the dressing related needs. We lived & breathed Oscar Wilde & Chuck Berry.
It was a crazy combination of decadent literary figures and Elmore James. We were so locked in in terms of what influences. Wilde is very great poetry & yet play. There is so much soul in there. There’s so much more going on there & I was listening to it the other day& I couldn’t believe how talented those guys are. Nigel is one of the most melodic & inventive bass players ever!
I totally agree with that. His bass playing was insane on those records.
Yeah, he would take into a chorus that was so informative & sexy & melodic. I’ve written with him a lot over the years & he became incredibly succesful with Blondie. Robbie became Robert Plants guitar player, Pete Thompson became Roben Trowers drummer, so they’ve all done really good. Silverhead was our academy university learning place of what nearly rock ‘n roll is. For me it’s how authentic it can when it’s that free. There was no thought of, lets bring in strings, horns & maybe some chicks, let’s do a ballad. There was none of that. We went into a basement on Kings Road, we’d be there 3 fucking days & we’d write the album. It was that kind of behaviour.
Just 3 days?
We could’ve written 10 albums in 3 days. There was so much creativity at that time. It was indescribable. It was almost as if we had to slow down to go on tour (laughs), because you had to play the songs that were currently out & there was so many ideas flying around & I was constantly writing and they were constantly coming. You’d never see Keith Richards without a single guitar & then there’s the Hendrix mythology that I was part of that he slept with his. Obviously it became increasingly difficult as the entourage grew to sleep with your instrument, which is no surprise, but it was an amazing time, living & breathing it.
I was thinking the other day that the most important ingredient that seems to be missing is danger in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s no one remotely doing anything. Where’s your Iggy? Where’s your Ramones?
Maybe it’s impossible, maybe that era is something that cannot be reproduced, but I truly don’t see anyone dangerously performing. If you listen to Kendrick Lamar , he’s dangerous, there’s a real truth to him I’m not talking about genres of music, I’m talking about performers actually engaging on a different frequency. It’s not entertainment.
There’s a band at the moment you should check out called The Soap Girls that hail from South Africa of all places. They incredibly fun live but still have the dangerous edge to them as they really don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks. They just do what they do & to hell with the consequences. Which, I have to say is excellent.
I can’t wait to see them live.
I think you’ll be quite intrigued by them.
I do like some form of intrigue.
I want to see some-one that makes you sweat in the front row. Having your body covered in sweat, I like that. Which is why I like James Brown, Tina Turner along with Iggy. Even the Stones still have an edge to them even though they’ve been at it such a long time. I adore the Rolling Stones, I respect them for so many reasons. I’ve lasted a long time mainly because I got off narcotics early and right now I realise that was for suckers & I needed discipline to act because I spent the next the next 20 years on American television.
You have been incredibly busy over the years. For instance, you fronted Power Station at Live Aid.
Yeah, that was incredible. 10 days before that I was in Marshall Texas with my buddy Don Johnson making a movie. Actually I don’t drop names, I pick them up (laughs.)
Igot this phone call saying that ‘this band needs a singer, will you come to New York & meet them?’ I asked what the band was & was informed that they couldn’t tell me but there’s a lot of money in it.
So I went to the meeting & there was John Taylor and Tony Thompson, the greatest drummer ever, sitting there & looking extremely nervous because this 6 month tour was booked & Robert Palmer had said he didn’t want to do it.
I knew Robert going back 20 years when he was in Vinegar Joe so that was the great irony of me replacing Robert Palmer as myself & him go back a long way. I didn’t really replace him as I did my own thing on those songs.
It was great, I fell in love with those guys right away & I flew to London that night on Concorde & I met with Andy Taylor in the studio. Then 10 days later I’m at Live Aid.
It was all such a whirlwind that I was just in a state of joy. If you look at the footage you can see that I’m out of mind with joy. I wasn’t nervous at all.
I saw Madonna counting her bracelets & Tina Turner writing on her hand. Everyone seemed to be a mess of nerves back stage.
The most incredible thing was right at the end, & that was the hotel. We all stayed in the same hotel. If you can imagine a couch, Bob Dylan, Don Johnson, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood & me. They were all wearing shades & looked like they were on the set of a pirate movie. They all seemed to be, shall we say, chemically altered in some way. and right and they all so I was after they have a shape that matters rights they all feel like a bunched Pirates there are all so say chemically altered. I thought I was on the shelf of some tourist shop & thinking how the hell did I get on this couch, & that’s really been the story my life. I’ve ended up on good couches.
There are many things that went on that night that I may talk about if I ever get round to writing about it.
Is there a memoir in the pipe line?
There is a movie coming on Netflix that will blow your mind. A lot of my friends are in it & they tell some funny stories, I also tell some funny stories. It’s a real laugh ya ass off material.
As for a book? Maybe at some point down the line.
I must ask you about your writing process.
I write alot, I write everyday. If it’s a song it usually starts with a title & then I get an idea, from there I just go. I write as many verses as I can & then I try & phrase it with the different chords that I want to use.
I’ve been collaborating quite a bit lately. But when I write on my own or I get an idea that I think is powerful I will just write the story. It doesn’t even have to rhyme. I worte a song called ‘Kiss me or kill me’ recently which is obviously about the extremes & I just wrote a story about this couple having an argument at 3am. From that argument I concocted the requisite 3 verses, bridge & chorus. That was born out of ‘what am I trying to say?’
Of course the other thing is to try not to think too much (laughs) because songs are colloquial. You get the obscurest like Dylan who study those words, I’m talking about more of R&B, romanticism really.
Right now I’m writing an album about social consciousness & it’s very rock ‘n roll. I’ve written stuff about the environment, my partner is a plant science major & we’re both very much into all of that. I don’t want to be part of the problem. Any music I put out has to be solutionist.
What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?
Wow, I don’t know. Proudest?
I think getting through the Power Station world. Because of navigating the devoted fans of Duran Duran & you’re in the middle of that band, singling songs that you didn’t write, although some I did as they didn’t have enough material so we did some of mine. But I’m proud that I was able to acquiesce to what was needed. So I fit into an existing tribe as a collaborative member. Now being a complete & utter egomaniacal narcissist in my early life to be able to arrive at a place & realise what the job required which was to learn atleast 30 songs in 10 days.
You were saying that you weren’t nervous for Live Aid. Do you still get nervous with acting or performing on stage?
I’ve never been nervous. I don’t get nervous & I’ll tell you why.
When I was really young, around like 12/13 & I was doing some British television thing & this actor came over to me, he only had a couple of lines & i had a lot of lines & says ‘you’re really nervous’ & I said ‘yeah I am terrified & I don’t know if I can remember these words.’ He says ‘So what if you substituted nervous for excited? Why don’t you try that?’ So I said ‘Ok I’ll try that.’
So since that moment my life’s been excited. I’ve not been nervous since then.
That makes perfect sence to me. I get nervous doing these interviews all the time. It’s something that has never passed.
Why? You have the information at hand. You just have to trust that you know what you’re doing & that it’s not world war 3 & you’ll survive.
You’ll go to the pub or do whatever it is you do. It’s all okay.
We impose such fear on ourselves. Here’s an example, when I got the Robert Palmer gig, there was so much hatred thrown my way by people who loved Robert. Nobody respected Robert more than I, that was the very irony & I learnt another great lesson, that there is no way you can make anybody without making yourself happy first. You’ve got to be comfortable enough to take the blows from these little chaps sat on couches with their remote control & watching the television because they don’t have a life, they want to have power so they hurt you. Because hurting sombody is really powerful as the person getting hurt usually responds along the lines of ‘you cunt, how fucking dare you.’ I’ve never responded & the reason is because I don’t believe them. It’s like when Bob Dylan plugged in at The Albert Hall & plays electric & somebody suddenly shouts out ‘Judas’ & Dylan responds with ‘I don’t believe you.’ & that’s where the attitude comes from.
Don’t get me wrong I get a tremendous amount of love from people, especially from my radio show & now because Silverhead is coming back round again, this was an isolated incident.
What I’m trying to do is make a point to you about your nervousness. You’re excited, you want to talk, you’ve got a lot to say, you’ve done your research, you’re prepared & you’re professional. It’s not nerves. It’s excitement.
You’re buzzing & your body goes ‘what is that? oh, I’m scared.’ No you’re not. You’re excited.
Fuck, I’ve never thought of it like that. I’ve always thought it was nerves.
Not at all, if you look at it like that it’ll really help you to relax & maybe help with your thought process.
This has been a delightful interview & we’ve both learnt something too. What could be better than that.
Michael, thank you so much for coming in & I wish you all the best in everything you do & of course with the re-issues of Silverhead
Thank you it’s been a delightful chat.