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Steel Panther serious about having a headbanging good time

for Journal Register Newspapers

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It’s mid-morning — well before noon — in Los Angeles. Clearly Michael Starr, frontman for the spandexed hard rock group Steel Panther, must have a good reason for being up and around in the early daylight.

Indeed he does.

“I’m at the Mac recovery store. I lost all the porn movies on my laptop,” Starr says with audible chagrin over the phone from Melrose Avenue. “I’m bummed ’cause they’re all my favorite ones, with the girls I slept with. I get their movies and store them on my hard drive so I can relive the moment when I’m off the road. But for some reason, it got corrupted.”

Making matters worse is the $1,000 price tag the “geeks” at the computer shop have laid on Starr for the recovery, “I was hoping someone there would be a fan of the band, but they’re not,” Starr says. “That usually helps out. I’ll go to a tanning salon and the chicks there will be fans of the band and I’ll get a free tan. I’ll go to a McDonald’s and they’ll be fans and it’ll be free.

“This computer thing is a different ballgame, though. I need to find a rock ’n’ roll computer store.”

This scenario may or may not be real, of course.

Suffice to say that Starr and the rest of Steel Panther deliver their brand of unapologetically foul-mouthed and libidinous metal with tongues firmly planted in cheek, and they live their off-stage lives accordingly. It’s not necessarily a parody band — the quartet comes closer to satire actually — but there’s a reason Steel Panther’s sophomore album “Balls Out,” sporting song titles such as “Supersonic Sex Machine,” “That’s What Girls Are For” and “Just Like Tiger Woods,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Comedy chart when it was released last Halloween.

“My God, what a surprise that was,” says Starr, 46. “You think of all the legendary and legitimate comedians who put out albums, and there we were.

“But it’s OK. We have to do things differently. There’s no business model for Steel Panther. Radio can’t play us. MTV has no idea what to do with us. The way Steel Panther has spread is from word of mouth and the Internet. So we’ll take whatever we can get.

“And if we get a No. 1 record on the comedy charts, we’ll take it.”

Steel Panther started life circa 2000 as Metal Skool, a covers band that played ’80s “hair metal” rock hits on Monday nights at L.A.’s Viper Room while also poking fun at the groups that made them.

The band members certainly understood the object of their comedy: Starr (real name Ralph Saenz) was part of the band L.A. Guns and had fronted the Van Halen tribute group Atomic Punks, where he met guitarist and main songwriter Satchel (Russ Parish), whose résumé also included time in Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s Fight and Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson’s War & Peace.

Portraying a “real” band that started during the late ’80s but never made it, Metal Skool quickly became one of the Sunset Strip’s hottest acts, with a long list of fellow musicians and other celebrities joining it on stage; comedian Dane Cook, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt even make guest appearances on the “Balls Out” album.

“We started packing the Viper Room,” Starr recalls, “and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is great. If this lasts forever, it’ll be awesome. Then we moved to the Roxy, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, if we sell out the Roxy every (expletive) Monday, it’ll be killer. Then we started doing (Las) Vegas every Friday and Saturday, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we made it! We’re in Vegas every Friday and Saturday, Monday in Hollywood.

“And now we get to tour around the country, too, and put out records. If it stays where it’s at now, I’ll die a happy man. ... But we had no idea where it would go.”

The group played briefly as Danger Kitty, which released the single “Love Rocket,” before changing the name permanently to Steel Panther in April of 2008.

Its first album, “Feel the Steel” came out in 2009, updating an earlier song called “Death to All But Metal” and expanding the band’s cult following with a video for “Fat Girl (Thar She Blows).” Steel Panther won a Best Tribute Band in the Universe contest and was tapped for the British OZZFest show in 2010 as well as an opening spot for Def Leppard and Motley Crue’s U.K. tour last December.

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, meanwhile, gave Steel Panther the gift of controversy by banning an “overtly sexual” promotional poster for “Balls Out” that it claimed would “cause serious and widespread offense” — to which Starr pleads guilty as charged.

“Y’know, we just have fun. We’ve always had fun,” Starr says. “We’re guys that obviously are just comedic all the way to the core. We just decided, ‘Hey, let’s have fun and not take ourselves seriously. ... ’

“And you know what, dude? I’m glad that we did it this way, because now I’m happy. This is who I am, y’know? We have the (different) names but we’re not putting on, like, an act. I don’t have to act like some other dude. I get to be myself and people dig it. Even people that laugh AT us are still fans, which is really cool.”

Steel Panther and Running With Panthers perform Thursday, April 26, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.11 in advance, $15 day of show. Call (248) 392-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

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