A Conversation With Michael Des Barres – Part 2
Below is part two of my interview with Michael Des Barres. You can read part one here. Stay tuned for part three, and check out the live clips at the end of this post from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric.
So, the song “Obsession” came out of your experiences with drugs?
It came out of drug use, yeah. But I turned and mutated that, in a literary sense, into a romance about a man who was determined to get this woman. But it could be donuts, or Prada, or guitars, or whatever you collect, man. It could be whatever you want. It will collect and capture you. It’s about ownership, taking something hostage – obsession.
How was it working with Holly Knight on the song?
Oh, she’s brilliant! Just an extraordinary writer. She’s a classically trained pianist. I must have written that lyric in 10 minutes. I’ve found all the best stuff comes that way. It just flows, there it is and you don’t touch it. When you start tinkering with it – at least for me – that’s when it loses its potency. It was a great experience working with Holly.
I think the new recording of “Obsession” is the definitive version. Do you prefer it to the others?
I love the new one. I think that it’s very relaxed, and I love singing in that Bowie-esque baritone. And I love the girl singer, she’s fantastic – Teal; she’s a great singer from Austin. We just got lucky with it. I played it on acoustic guitar, we sang it and turned it over to a new mixer, Kyle Moorman, who turned it into what you hear, which I think is terrific. It’s a movie almost. It’s got a great story with a good chorus.
You recently hinted that a live album is in the works. Do you have a sense of when it will be released?
It’s done and ready to go, I just have to pull the trigger whenever I want. But first I wanted “Obsession” to come out so people could see what I wanted it to be in the first place. I’m following no rules here. I’m off to do this radio show now, and I’m going to put out the live album within the next several months. It’s all ready to go. It’s called Hot ‘n Sticky.
When I saw you live, you did a few cover songs. In addition to music from Carnaby Street, what covers are going to be featured on the live album?
It’s a rocking record. It starts with a medley of “Little Latin Lover,” “My Baby Saved My Ass,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Get It On,” and “Long Tall Sally.” It was so rockin’ and so satisfying. You’re gonna’ love it!
Did you have to spend a lot of time in the studio on the live album, making sure everything sounded just right?
No, I didn’t change a fucking thing on it. I just went in and heard it. I did take out some of my conversation with the audience in between the songs because that had a lot to do with what was happening in the room at the moment. But other than that, I didn’t touch it.
Most of the time bands will do some audio tuning or one of the musicians missed a chord. But to me, that’s rock and roll! When you do fuck up and the microphone falls over, I like it. When I was a kid and I would listen to a recording and a tambourine would hit the floor it made me feel like I was there. It puts you in that room, it puts you in that club, it makes you part of it. If everything is so perfect, there’s no soul to it. I think that the greatest things that have ever happened to me have been by mistake. I turned a corner, bumped into somebody and my life changed. It’s the same thing with rock and roll.
When you’re writing music, do you first think of a lyric or does a melody come to you while strumming the guitar?
The way it happens is I get a title and I see how it goes and where it fits. I love up-tempo rock and roll and I love ballads. I don’t know what’s going to happen, really. But I write so much every day that lines pop in and pop out. I’ll sit around and watch the news or hang out with my friends and somebody will say something and I’ll grab it, I’ll just grab it out of the air. I’ll say it and write it down. And the next morning I get up at dawn, drink a gallon of coffee, I go to the gym, I come back, I pick up my Les Paul, I plug in, and I write.
Musically, you’ve done quite a bit. But as of right now, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment has nothing to do with having any band members in the room or music. The highlight of my life is talking to you right now … because this is all I’ve got right now. Today is what’s important to me. There’s an immediacy to what I do. People sense it. It’s intense and it’s urgent, and it’s what keeps you alive. Enthusiasm is what’s important. I just don’t want to go backwards. I don’t even want to go forwards. I just want to go! (laughs)
Is it true that it only took you 10 days to record the Carnaby Street album?
Yeah, I recorded it in one week, and I mixed it in three days. Everything you’re hearing on that album was done in no more than two takes. And I fixed nothing, vocally. We went in and did some backups here and there and maybe added a tambourine. There were no solos that were put on there, not one. Mixed it. Put it out. And people went crazy for it. I played it in the clubs – Atlanta, Austin, you name it, LA. Came back, we were red hot, we went in and cut it. Everybody’s laughing and we’re looking at each other. We were all in one room, with the earphones on – just smiling and enjoying each other’s work, if you can call it work. We enjoyed each other’s taste and execution. Took a smoke in between songs and set up the next tune.
Do you have a favorite song from that album or does it change for you all the time?
I don’t have a favorite. Lyrically, I think “Carnaby Street” because it’s an autobiographical narrative. But “Please Stay,” I think, is the most accomplished song. I just got lucky one day and wrote that thing. And it says everything I mean to say about heartache. You can’t have a blues-based information pool from which to choose and not write these soulful ballads. That would be like no wearing trousers on your first date. (laughs) There’s nothing on that album that I don’t like playing. I love “Route 69,” all of it.
Were any tracks left off the album?
No, I just went in with the set that we worked on and shuffled around live and recorded the songs that we knew. There’s many more that I wrote and rehearsed. I just wanted a collection of songs that worked as a whole. But I always have 10 or 20 songs completed and ready to go – the others were just not right for what I wanted for that album. And I could only find that out in rehearsal, singing them live. And those were the ones I liked singing the best – the ones that wound up on Carnaby Street.
Do you have any new songs coming out soon?
Yeah, I’m always creating new music. For my radio show for the David Lynch Foundation, I provided them with “Life Is Always Right.” It’s a beautiful acoustic ballad that came out of the slew of songs I wrote during my time in Texas, including “My Baby Saved My Ass” and “From Cloud 9 To Heartache.” While many of these songs weren’t included on Carnaby Street, they will see the light of day.