Steel Panther's ten steps to heavy metal glory
On releasing their debut record in 2009, Los Angeles hair metal revivalists Steel Panther’s goal was to bring heavy metal back.
Today, with three albums and hundreds of sold-out shows in the bank, it very much looks like mission accomplished. So what’s the secret?
We sat down with six-string slinger Satchel to talk tips on how you can go from bedroom guitarist to heavy metal superstar…
Don't listen to the fakers
“Nowadays, it’s great because you can get free lessons from anybody on YouTube.
“You’ve got to sift through all the dudes who are faking it. That is a minefield. Don’t take any lessons from me because I’m faking it. You’ve got to like certain dudes and the way they play, and you’ll gravitate to playing like that.
“When I was young, I had to lift the needle off the record and put it down in the same place so I could hear the lick I wanted – you couldn’t slow things down. I learned a lot of shit wrong, and then I’d learn it properly three years later and realise how much I sucked.”
Find a rich girlfriend
“As a guitarist, you need to make sure you date a rich girl who is willing to give you money.
“Or you could date a stripper. Tthey spend a lot of money, but they can go out and make a lot of money. That’ll give you the money to buy new strings and guitar picks.”
Find bandmates who will obey
“You should hang out with musicians who are more experienced than you. Join a band with dudes who are older, because you’ll be the worst one in the band, and it’ll force you to get better quickly.
“That’s good advice. I did that: I’d join a band, but three months later I’d be better than them so I’d have to quit. Those guys would have been playing the same three songs for six months, and I’d have learned 150 songs in three days.
“Eventually, you don’t want to be in a band with dudes who are above you; you want to be in a band with dudes that take orders from you. I’ll say, ‘You, play this note here, that note there, don’t change it, don’t fuck around. You’re not Victor Wooten on the bass; you’re Lexxi Foxx – just ride the E on the chorus.’ Lexxi has had the same two high strings on his bass for 30 years because he’s never touched them.”
Don't just play fast
“I remember thinking I had to play fast all the time. Then I thought, 'In my car, do I put on Back In Back or Rising Force by Yngwie Malmsteen?
“It’s always Back In Black, because it rocks and it’s simple. Music is all about the tunes. Get a metronome. Do not neglect the metronome – that is very important. Never go faster than what you can do clean, because it’ll be hard to get out of the habit. You’ll start to get sloppy.
“It’s more fun to listen to someone playing slow and articulating it well than listening to someone playing fast for no reason. It’s fun to play fast, it’s fun to shred, but the older I get, the more I realise that it’s better to do that in short bursts every once in a while. The slower it is, the easier it is for the average listener to digest.
“With lead guitar, you can play a lot of notes in a short space of time, and a lot of it sounds exactly the same to a lot of listeners. It’s all about melodies and hooks. Think about it as if you’re singing what you’re playing; that is a good way to slow you down.”
Listen to Rush
“Lately I’ve been listening to Alex Lifeson from Rush. He’s great. He’s got a great tone.
"It’s not heavy metal, it’s more progressive rock, but everybody knows Rush. He’s a great guitar player. Jeff Beck is great, he’s not heavy metal but he’s a great player with a really cool tone. He can do a lot with just one note and make it sound really cool.”
“When you write a song, you want to have hooks everywhere – the vocals, the riffs, melodies, the drum parts.
“You want to be unpredictable, but at the same time you don’t want it to have too many parts. It needs to be simple and to get people engaged as a listener. That is hard.
“A band like Black Sabbath managed to do that. They repeated a lot of parts. On the surface the guitar line and vocals are doing the same thing, but the parts and the way they're arranged are brilliant.”
Wear comfortable strides
“Make sure you’re comfortable in whatever pants you’re wearing. Sometimes if you go on stage and you’re not comfortable in your pants, then you’re going to just think about your pants the whole show.
“You’ll be thinking, ‘Oh, shit, my dick looks small in these pants,’ and before you know it, you’ve hit a wrong note. Use in-ear monitors as well because the drummer will always make you deaf.”
Shock your audience
“Jessica Simpson was one of the worst guests we’ve had come up and sing with us. I don’t know if she was drunk or what, but she couldn’t sing and she was cross-eyed. She still looked hot though.
“The strangest guest we ever had was this transvestite who got on stage one time and performed fellatio on him/herself. It was a packed house at the Roxy in Hollywood, and I saw 1,000 jaws drop at once. That was strange but sexy.”
Make your solo count
“When I’m recording, I like to hear solos that make the song better. There’s a lot of solos on a lot of records that make you go, ‘Why did they put this solo in there?’
“I would say that is true of the majority of solos that I hear. A solo should be a like a vocal part; it should be melodic and take the song somewhere else. I like to construct solos, but then I also like to improvise them.
“I’ll leave room for improvisation in my solos when I’m recording them. I’ll hum a solo in my head before I play it. The solo is a break from the vocal, and it has to take you somewhere cool, [or] else what is the point? There are bands out there where you know you’ll have to fast-forward past the solo.”
Get a back-up trade
“It’s easy to stay grounded today, because even if you’re the biggest band in the world you’ll only sell about 12,000 records.
“Just remember that the Starbucks application is right around the corner. It’s always possible to not be on tour and fail at this. When we get off this tour, I’ll go back to delivering pizzas.
“That’s solid work because people love pizza, and they can’t download pizza for free, so most people will pay for pizza. It’s a solid business. Plus, you don’t need to write a new pizza every year; you just follow the same old recipe.
“That’s a great piece of advice for all musicians: Learn to make good pizzas because that’s a good back-up career.”