By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
July 19, 2003- The music critics were never kind to Poison. So when the original band members re-united after nine years and launched a comeback amphitheater tour (with fellow glam-metal acts Ratt, Great White and L.A. Guns) in the spring of 1999, many wrote it off as one last bold and ambitious hurrah. But, after Poison had four years of surprisingly successful summer tours with a variety of bands from the 80’s Glam-metal era, these once pessimistic critics started referring to Poison as the saviors of hard rock. This year the streak of success continues with the aptly named ‘Harder, Louder, Faster’ tour. This is the strongest line up yet, with Vince Neil and Skid Row rounding out the bill. Currently, this tour is playing some of the biggest amphitheaters in North America and is one of the most successful tours of the summer. Poison drummer Rikki Rockett commented to glam-metal.com on Poison’s resurgence. “Popularity with us has now come in a different form, because we don’t have a hit and we’re not one of the cool bands on MTV. People come to our shows because they either missed it the first time or want to see it again.” He adds, “We feel extremely lucky to have a second chance at a career like this.”
One of the factors that were instrumental in bringing back Poison to the masses was their exposure on Vh1. Their ‘Behind the Music’ special was one of the channel’s most popular episodes. Poison was also voted VH1’s number one hair band and it’s a distinction that’s Rockett has some reservations about. “I like the fact that we are #1, but I’m not too crazy about the Hair Band tag,” he states. He continues, “But, if you think about it, the Beatles were a hair band too. The first four years of their career was all about their bangs.”
In addition to the tour, Poison vocalist Bret Michaels has just recently released a solo CD entitled “Songs of Life.” This is Michaels at his absolute finest. This CD is a 14 introspective look on Michaels’ life. His first single, “Raine,” is a song about his three year old daughter and is currently receiving airplay on VH1 and Classic VH1.
What follows is an exclusive interview with the king of GlamMetal, Mr. Bret Michaels.
I saw you at Darien Lake on June 4, what a great show!
Yeah, Darien Lake was awesome and what shit ass weather we had.
Yeah, it was a lot colder than it should have been for June 4. How has the weather been for the other dates?
Well, a lot of the dates have been like Darien, we started out in the North and it’s still like spring in many of those places. When we played Cleveland, it was about 42 degrees. But it was a packed house.
Is it your philosophy to start your tour and put your tickets on sale earlier because of all the summer concert competition?
No, not really, our tours just start in mid May and run until end of September. It just the way we do it. We are going up against Ozzfest and Lollapalooza. Our ticket sales have been better than Lollapalooza in all the cities in which we both play. So we’re doing O.K.
You’re been touring now for five summers in a row, how much longer is it going to go on?
Well, next year we’re off the road and then we will do five more years. Then take a year off and I hope we can keep doing that forever. Poison been around for 17 years and we are still doing good business. And as long as our knees don’t give out on us, we’ll be alright.
You played Toronto, Ont on Tuesday (June 3). Many bands have cancelled their Toronto dates due to the SARS crisis. Were you nervous or did you have any concerns about playing there?
I have a lot of good friends that live there. And on my day off there, I did a bunch of press and TV shows and stuff like that and I never saw one person with a mask. Obviously you are concerned, I’m in no hurry to get sick and die. We were very conscientious about what we did, but everyone we met seemed to be in pretty good health. My friends up there said that the area that we were in had no problem with outbreaks. But of course it’s been a few days since the show and I feel good.
You added some new songs to the set, “Stand” and “I Won’t Forget You.” How difficult is it to pick the song list for the set, since you have so many songs that fans demand to hear?
Well, for us this year, I worked it out with CC to put “Stand,” in the set. (Editor’s note: “Stand” appeared on the Native Tongue release in which CC was not a member of the band at the time.) He was cool with it. I wanted to do “Sexual Thing,” which I want to put in the set from the “Crack a Smile,” CD. I want to make the set a little longer and put in “So Tell Me Why,” off the live record.
I would like to hear more off of ‘HollyWeird,’ such as “Rockstar,” and the title track. Yeah, I liked that whole CD, I thought it was just great. It was a great starting point for me and CC to start writing again. Just making a great straight up rock record. I was really happy with the way the record came out in such the short time that we did it. My three favorite songs from that record are the opening track, “Home,” either version, but obviously I like singing my version, I think CC did a good job as well. And then I obviously like “Squeeze Box,” because it’s a fun song. And “Rockstar,” those are my favorites.
Yes, those are great songs. During your career it’s no secret that the members of Poison haven’t always got along and sometimes it got pretty ugly. Is the band getting along this time around?
Yes, I think so. Like I said, we are four extremely different personalities and CC and me being at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve been getting along with CC great, you know once in a while you are going to have some words, but the days of fist fighting are far behind us.
Do you have anything strange or unusual on your tour rider?
Well, I don’t know if it is strange, but condoms are always on there. That’s important being in the day and age that we live in. People made such a big deal out it, but here’s nothing strange about it. If you are going to be out on the road doing stuff, you better make sure you wrap it up so you don’t get sick.
I’ve seen you guys play at least 15 times and every time, there are dozens of women flashing you. Have you ever played a show were no one flashed you?
Not that I can recall. (Laughs)
That’s what I thought.
At Darien, bras were coming up from every direction. After I got to about the fifteenth one, I ran out of room on the mic stand to hang them. They were good quality bras.
Yeah, it was quite a sight, OK, enough about bras and chicks, let’s talk about your solo CD. It’s called “Songs of Life,” and, quite frankly, it’s some of your best work ever.
You’re welcome. When did you start writing that CD?
That CD has songs from many, many moments of my life. The writing process actually started quite a few years ago. As far as recording it, I spent the last two years demo-ing it up and just going through songs that I liked. Some I thought were good, but I was hitting on the same point a couple times. I tried giving people a good cross section of my life. Starting with when I was 17, with “Menace To Society.” I was a cook and busboy, I would sit out and play my guitar during my breaks and the manager was an asshole and always wanted to remind me that I would never make it out of Mechanicsburg. That’s where that song came from. And “Raine” is about my daughter, “One more Day” after 9-11. I think all of it depicts moments of my life.
What do the other members of Poison think of the CD?
Well, obviously they think the CD sounds great and they really like the songs. And as far as doing it, they were happy that I didn’t try to put it out on top of ‘Hollyweird.” I would never do that because Poison is me, or is as much part of as anything solo that I would do. But, CC gave me a great compliment, he said “Raine,” was one of the best songs that I’ve ever written. He liked the video so it worked out great.
Do you have any plans to go out on tour to promote it?
Yeah, what we are doing now is, since there’s not a new Poison CD out, I’m meeting fans and telling them about the record, all the way though the summer. And the real push, because there is a two fold push, will be in the fall when I release the next single. Which I think will be the track “Bittersweet.”
That’s a great choice for a single. I think “I Remember,” would also be a great single.
I love that song, it has such an old school vibe to it. I wrote it to depict the sound of music in the time that I was growing up, sort of like the Faces, Rod Stewart, Rolling Stones, that real open blues rock. Real simple, over the top Les Paul, big drums, I like that style of music. Like the type of music the Black Crowes sort of brought back. I like that sound a lot and that’s the kind of sound that I remember listening to when I was a kid. That the kind of music that I try to depict so people can kind of get a feel of the time era that I was writing about. It was the music that when I was depressed got me through.
What is the song writing process for you like, does it start with a lyric or a riff?
Mostly I’m driven by a personal experience and that drives the lyrics. What will happen is with the music I try to give the listener a sense or feel of what I’m trying to relay.
Your new release “Songs of Life,” is on an independent label, Poor Boy Records. What sort of challenges does this bring and do you own the company?
Yes, everything I’m doing with this release is mine, the video is mine. Basically, it’s the same procedure that we use with Poison. Poison has always been on its own label, we’ve always kept the publishing. I did the same thing with this record. I hire all the same people that a major label would. But with my label, I never want to be in a situation where they can hold up my master for five years. I want to be free of any of that, I like being on my own. I’m pretty much independently owned and operated.
You hear so many horror stories with bands on major labels. You sometimes wonder if it’s a good idea to sign to a major label. I understand that from a distribution point of view they are usually better off, but there seems to be too many pitfalls.
Well, with the major labels, what happened was back in the early days of Poison, when we got distributed through Capitol, we would go in and talk to the president of the label and he really liked music. I’m not lying to you, we would go smoke a joint, hang out, listen to music, talk about the singles, which he would let us pick out. But, then when Capitol was bought out by a big corporation, they would come in and tell us what we could and couldn’t do. That’s when we said we don’t want to be on a major label. We want to go do what we do on our own terms. We can distribute it by ourselves, who is going to buy it will buy it regardless of the distribution company. Right now it’s difficult to be on a major label unless you’re Eminem or J-LO. They aren’t going to promote your fuckin’ record. In other words you’re just trapped. You spend years writing a record and if they don’t like what they hear, they will still put it out, but they won’t promote it and you’re fucked. That’s what they did with “Crack a Smile,” and plus they waited three years to put it out. I don’t ever want to go through that situation again. I work hard on my music, it means too much to me to have it thrown on the back burner.
Are their any plans to re-issue, re-master the first three Poison CD’s?
No, at this point what Capitol is going to do is release something called “The Very Best of Ballads and Blues with Poison.” They are looking at a September release. It’s a brand new Capitol release of all the masters with our best stuff and some unreleased tracks and acoustic versions like “Believe In,” and different stuff that hardly anyone has heard before.
Wow, that sounds very cool. I want to talk a little about your movie that you made a few years ago, “A Letter from Death Row.” In that movie you pretty much did every thing, you were the director, actor and stunt man to name a few. How exhausting and gratifying was that project for you?
Well, for me it was extremely gratifying. It was a real labor of love, when you’re an independent film maker and you’re going down there and putting up your own money, your own crew, you’re doing your own thing by yourself. You are literally working your ass off, but my whole career has been like that. Nothing has ever just dropped in my lap. That’s probably my greatest asset, my determination. It really is, nothing has fallen in my lap, and I just work very hard at what I do.
You look at all you’ve accomplished in the last 17 years, it seems as if you never had an extended break.
I’m not a get bored type of person, I have a beautiful daughter and trust me there is never a moments rest. I do half of my interviews with her in my arms. I don’t get bored, I go out and ride my dirt bike. If I have a day where I’m cruising and I’m just by myself, I’m a pretty independent person. I don’t have a posse of people. If I go out to a club, I’ll take a bunch of friends out, but I like being by myself. Sometimes I’ll just grab my Harley and drive to San Francisco or whatever and just take a desert cruise.
I have a question about your tape with Pamela Anderson. When you made that tape did you ever think that down the road it would be worth a few million dollars?
NO. It was never meant to be that way. When we made the tape, it was so fun and innocent, it was just for the two of us. It just took one sleazy fuck ass that got himself into a situation and copied and sold the tape. This was really a difficult thing for me because I just moved on to a different relationship and it’s difficult when your standing in court and your listening to them go over detail by detail. But, we beat them and I told them (the distribution company trying to put out the tape) that they were going to lose. And they did and they had to pay us an extremely large amount of money. They pre-sold over 200,000 copies of the tape.
Why would any one even think that they could get away with that?
Well, they thought that the guy who sold them the tape, what he did was sign off as my agent. He portrayed himself as the agent and all the sudden he quit working for me and was just gone one day. He was smart because he didn’t let the tape out for a year and a half. That’s why I never thought it was him who leaked it. This guy had keys to my house, my cars, and my safe. This guy had been with me for a long time. That’s probably the most disturbing thing is that this was my buddy. It was kind of fucked up and that hurt more than anything. It’s like your best friend dicking you over and you’re going WHAT??? Wait a second, I hung out with this guy almost every fucking day.
If you could go back and chance any aspect of your career, what would it be?
The only thing that I would change is, and it’s on a personal note, is the fist fights I had with CC. The couple that we got into were pretty bad. I broke his nose and I didn’t feel good about doing that. It’s not like getting into a bar fight where you don’t know the guy. But, I wish I could go back and change that one thing.
So who won those fights?
Well, we both throw down pretty good, but I’ve been kick boxing for a really long time and I did OK. (Laughs)
What was the last CD that you purchased in which you loved every song?
Aerosmith’s ‘Greatest Hits,” I loved every song on that one. (Laughs)
Ok, how about a CD which you really liked?
I like the Foo Fighters, I like Sum 41, and I like bands that sort of have that punk/glam vibe to them. Marilyn Manson writes some good shit, like Nirvana. I don’t care about what you say about the bands, but the bottom line is that they write some good songs. Forget about grunge for a minute, Nirvana was popular because they had good songs. With Poison I think that fans have been able to dig into our music. I’ve always said that Poison’s songs are based on reality and our show is an over the top rock n’ roll glam slam extravaganza. And I get the best of both worlds this way.
You’ve managed to keep your ticket prices reasonable. Let’s take the Kiss/Aerosmith show for example. Don’t you think that $140.00 a ticket is a little ridiculous?
I personally think that’s a little high. But, you are seeing two great bands and you have to decide if it’s worth it or not. But, I don’t think that the tickets should be $140.00. Fans have supported you for this long and I think that sometimes you just have to give them a break.
Do you plan on going to see that show?
Oh yeah, as many times as I can.
I read that you plan on making a country CD next year. Any truth to that?
Well, here’s the fact. I got offered a contract from Curb Records back in 96. At that point I didn’t feel that I had enough material. When I say country I mean Country /Americana. Kind of a cross between Mellencamp and Tim McGraw. It wouldn’t be old school country. My dad raised me on George Jones, Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline. It was my mom who liked rock, The Beatles and Stones. But I would like to have the CD done within the next couple years. It’s not something I want to do as a one off thing, but more as singer songwriter. I want to do a good job on it. I think I’m close now, but I’m going to wait until I have 12 very strong songs before releasing it.
I really hope that comes to Buffalo, NY.
Oh, it will, we are playing Buffalo, Toronto we are going to do some great shows. Please also check out my video for “Raine,” on VH1 and Classic VH1.
On the web: www.bretmichaels.com