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Exclusive: Steel Panther Studio Report FTS!

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Steel Panther

It was only like sixteen months ago that Steel Panther released their masterful sophomore album, Balls Out. So on February 10 it came as a delightful shock to hear that the hilarious, awesome hair metal quartet were already set to enter the studio for a new record in 2013. Then Panther followers were told that not only would the album be built on old-school heavy metal flex, fun, and fuckin fantastic-ness, but it would be recorded on old-school analog tape. Nice!

To get the breaking details on this certain masterpiece, we phoned producer Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Adler) in the studio upon completion of recording vocals day six — about twelve hours before release of the Ruston-produced Anthrax EP and couple days after the ace boardsman’s birthday. Check it out:

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On creating the forthcoming third Steel Panther record:

“The vibe’s fantastic. We did most of the music a few weeks ago in a studio in Burbank. We recorded to analog tape, which I’d done for ten or 12 years, and then in the early 2000s when ProTools sorta took over, I switched along with everybody else. But I’d made a few records on tape and I decided that if any band was able to play that well — and that tight — and be able to just knock out a record in five or six days, it would be Steel Panther. And we did!”

On recording to analog tape:

“It sounds just fantastic. Sonically, it’ll be the best sounding record; there’s so much depth. Their playing is fantastic. We did a lot of rehearsing for about two months before we even went in the studio — just as a live band, just the three of them musically. We sorta stayed away from the vocals because we take a totally different approach with those: We comb [through] the lyrics and vocal performances to make sure it’s everything it can be. Not that Michael Starr couldn’t sing live with the band — of course he could — but when the comedy is such a big part of it, we like to do that separately.”

On old and new technology:

“I used to get out the razor blade, chop tape up, and pull takes together. But these days I can record two or three takes of the song on tape, then dump it into ProTools. That’s where it’s gonna continue on from this point: We do vocals in there and then I mix from ProTools through my analog gear; I have an old Trident desk and everything. Once it’s in ProTools, I can cut between those takes like I would in the old days by physically cutting those three takes together with a razor blade to make one perfect take. Same premise, except I do it in the computer instead of physically cutting the tape.”

On the process of creating Steel Panther vocals:

“At rehearsals, Michael was there participating; it’s just that we don’t necessarily focus on the vocals then. They write all the lyrics and melody ahead of time. It’s all written and figured out. But when we’re in that rehearsal room, we wanna nail the music, and make sure that when we hit tape that we’re rockin’ and ready to go. Vocals we can do at my studio and spend as much time as we want on them, change lyrics, or tweak things. He’s there the whole time.”

Ruston, with Mr. T :)
Ruston with Mr. T :)

On the songs of Steel Panther III:

“It’s another evolution. The first record [Feel The Steel, 2009] was their first shot at songwriting. I think it was genius. On the second record, they took it to another level sonically and songwriting-wise, and hit some other subject matters — Tiger Woods, things like that — which I thought was lots of fun. Same thing on this record: No female organ left unturned. [laughs] The comedy is there — and has to be there. That’s such a big part of the band. And it’s totally ripping musically. Killer double bass work by Stix [Zadinia, drummer], amazing solos by Satchel, and some just awesome riffs. We have two or three incredible special guest spots that of course I will not reveal. [laughs] But they’re just killer — new people we’ve never had before and possibly a revisitation from one old guest. I’m not sure yet. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

On plans for a Fall release:

“That’s kinda the plan. We’ll be done in early May. We’ve already done half the vocals. We’ve done this incredibly fast. Like I said, all that pre-production and their months of songwriting led us to a place where we were ready to just walk in the studio and knock it out. I would say we’ll be done recording in two or three weeks max? We do a lot of background vocals, stacking, different guitar solos, ear candy, a bunch of keyboards, and a couple guest spots, like I said. If we’re finished in early May, then absolutely this album is coming out this year. Hopefully Septemeber or October at the latest.”

On getting right back to work after an album in late 2011:

“They worked the last record, Balls Out, pretty hard; they toured all over the world. There’s just no reason to wait. They have a bunch of new songs — more than we needed, actually. So we picked the best 11 or 12 that we loved and they’re ready to go. We decided it was time, let’s just bang this thing out. There’s some great stuff. I mean, two of my favorite Steel Panther songs are on this new record.”

On a new approach to bass tracks by Lexxi Foxx:

“We made a conscious effort to take the bass tone up another level. So we brought in some gear that he had never used before, a couple different instruments, types of basses that he’d never played before. We settled on a chain that was pretty fantastic. So Lexxi was really happy with his tone and it’s just sitting so perfectly in the mix. The way it compliments Satchel’s guitar playing is absolutely perfect. Obviously with a band like this, a lot of times the bassist is playing pretty much what the guitarist is playing. But there are a lot of moments on this record where [Lexxi] busts out and is doing his old thing under a guitar solo or in a bridge, playing some amazing, tasty licks, which I just love. The bass is one of my favorite sounds on this record. It’s awesome.”

Steel Panther 2013: Lexxi Foxx, Michael StarrOn Steel Panther’s sonic evolution:

“We used different instruments — Stix used different drum heads, Satchel used a different amp set-up. On the tone side of things, we definitely experimented. We love the way the last two records sound, but of course you want to evolve and make things sound better. I’m always pushing to get as much different subject matter [in lyrics], and to lampoon as many different things as possible. We never sit down and [plan] what are we going to change; it just happens naturally.”

On The Steel Panther Difference:

“They are so different from any other band. Firstly, they don’t answer to anybody. They really don’t care [laughs] what anybody says or thinks. And I think that’s what makes them great and funny; they just do whatever the hell they want and people love it. And the ones that don’t, don’t! That’s fine. But it has really connected, especially overseas. They’re getting absolutely huge in England, they’re doing great things in Australia, and tons of other countries as well. Things are going great here too; they’re doing a whole US tour in two weeks. We’re trying to finish most of the record before they leave.”

On another recent Jay Ruston production:

“Have you heard the Anthrax Anthems EP? I think my favorite is the Boston cover, “Smokin’”. It’s such a cool song and they did such a great version! They just did it for fun. And it was done really quickly and turned out great, so I’m super-happy with it. The Journey cover turned out great too!”

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