Launching into 2015 from Spotlight 29 Casino, Saturday, January 24 @ 8pm
by Lisa Morgan
Mickey Thomas, resident of the Coachella Valley and legendary rock vocalist, will be launching 2015 from the place he now calls home. Thomas gained his legendary status with the band formerly known as Jefferson Starship (originally Jefferson Airplane). Now respectfully referred to as Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas, Thomas has maintained an active touring schedule with this hand-picked group of stellar musicians, as he brings all the renowned music he’s made famous, back to the stage.
The group released Loveless Fascination in 2013, their first studio recording in over 20 years, written in large part and produced with Jeff Pilson (Foreigner). The concert will treat the audience to some of the new songs along with songs guests know and love, including number one hits like “We Built This City,” “Sara,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” as well as other Top 40 hits such as “It’s Not Over (‘Till It’s Over),” “Jane,” and “Find Your Way Back.”
CV Weekly had the good fortune to share a nice leisurely conversation with an artist who has seen the music industry from the brightest stages, during its finest days. He has witnessed the dream and the drama first hand, as well as the complete turnover of the industry to the digital age. It was a very down to earth and honest conversation with someone in love with what he does, in spite of the ups and downs and heartaches. Speaking with a bit of a southern drawl and a charm that have not been lost in all his adventures, he shared openly about his insights and experience.
CVW: You have been touring the new record for a while now. How has the audience response been, and do you have any personal favorites on the album?
Thomas: Well, we put out the record in 2013. The response has been great. It’s about long enough now, that I like to call it our “latest record”, but it’s a great record. I’m real proud of it. We do several of the new songs in the live show. “Technicolor Black and White” is one of my favorites. I try to do it every night on stage. It’s a nice high energy song, and it’s a good change of pace. I really like the lyrics – what it’s saying. I like the title track, “Loveless Fascination,” and “Where Did We Go Wrong”.
It’s really hard to get things on the radio these days. One of the guys I was working with on the record told me that he had hand delivered Bruce Springsteen’s new album to one of the major classic rock stations. The guy told him, ‘Well I like it but I’d rather play “Born to Run” again. So you look for other outlets for exposure like social media and the internet. We’ve had a little bit of luck there, but not on the radio. It’s a weird industry these days. For us, a classic rock or heritage artist, whatever you want to call it, generally the CD sales compared to digital downloads are about 50/50, but again, it’s actually really hard to monitor download sales.
CVW: You’ve been through a lot of changes in personnel in your career. The group you’re playing with now has seemed to really hold together. You must really enjoy the people you’re playing with today.
Thomas: People are usually surprised to find out that this band and I have been together longer than any configuration of Starship, Jefferson Starship and, not that I was in it, even Jefferson Airplane. My drummer (Darell Verdusco) and keyboard player (Phil Bennett) have been with me for 22 years, my bass player (Jeff Adams) has been with me for 15, and our female vocalist (Stephanie Calvert) has been with us for 8 years. Our guitarist (John Roth) is the newest member. He’s been with us for 2 years, but that is because we tragically lost our previous guitarist (Mark Abrahamian) who had been with me for 12 years.
I really do enjoy playing with them. But again, when you’ve been with someone that long, in situations that are trying, like touring and being on the road, it can get testy. It’s sort of like an extended family. We don’t get along all the time; we have our moments of getting on each other’s nerves, but different rooms and separate rental cars helps with that. I do have the luxury, this time, to have hand-picked the people I wanted to perform with. Obviously I’ve picked people I can work with for a long time.
But, you know, there is something to be said for those times in the 70s and 80s. I was in a band with some very strong egos, and didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing who I was going to work with. But friction sometimes helps the creative process, and you can come up with some really good and interesting stuff. I think some of our best work in the studio came during some of the more tumultuous times. Your ego can take over when someone is questioning your song or your music. You get the attitude of “I’ll show you! I’ll give you the best vocal you ever heard!” Sometimes the competetive nature comes through on the record and it’s a good thing.
These days, it’s much more about touring and playing live and not so much about the studio. The structure of the band and the interaction on stage is much more important. These days, an album is nothing more than a promotional tool to get people to your shows. That was the great thing about the music of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s easier to make someone sound better these days in the studio. It’s another thing to put it all together and kick ass on stage. That’s what it’s all about for us.
CVW: Your female vocalist, Stephanie Calvert, had some pretty big shoes to fill, and she looks like she’s in her 20s!
Thomas: (laughs) She has a very youthful aura as well, and a lot of energy. She’s very animated on stage and is obviously older than 20. I won’t give her age a way, but she started with me 8 years ago …let’s see how do I do this tactfully… Actually she probably wouldn’t care. She’s pretty fired up about her birthday which is about 2 days before the show. I’ll just say she’s in her mid 30s.
CVW: It seems things are opening up in regard to women in music and the age boundaries. You worked with a woman who had a lot to do with that.
Thomas: Yes, the history of our band had a lot to do with that. Grace Slick was an iconic figure in the women’s equality movement. She represented change for women. She was the oldest woman to have a top ten single until Cher broke that record. That’s something we are very proud of that we accomplished together.
CVW: The big conversation in the music industry these days is about streaming. Some even call it piracy. What are your feelings about it?
Thomas: I think, in a way, it is piracy. I just know if I was a new artist coming on the scene, I would hate to have to deal with that along with all the other stuff you have to deal with. Trying to monitor that, and work with that… On the other hand, what’s becoming bigger now, are artists who are known through streaming. I just performed, last fall, at something called “The Streamy Awards” an awards show strictly for those who have gone viral. Some of them are able to parlay that into a more prosperous career. It’s almost like they become famous first, and then they get opportunities to get paid for it.
We are on iTunes and Pandora. I’m not so sure about Spotify. A lot of artists have been having issues with Spotify.
CVW: What’s next for you? Is there a new record on the horizon?
Thomas: I’ve been wanting for years to make a Christmas record, so I may make that a priority this year. I love singing Christmas songs, and I would do it in the more traditional sense. I’m not a big fan of trying to rock up Christmas songs.
We’ll be doing a lot of touring this year. Spotlight 29 is kicking off our 2015. It’s nice to start it off right here from home.
CVW: What do you enjoy doing off stage?
Thomas: I like to cook. I think it’s comes from being on the road so much. I enjoy the calmness of creating something in the kitchen, and it’s a good excuse to drink wine. I like good food and good wine. I love movies – I’m a real buff. I could care less about the Grammys, but I won’t miss the Oscars.
My wife and I are big supporters of Animal Samaritans. It’s my wife’s passion, trying to find good homes for homeless animals.
CVW: Do you have any advice for young artists starting out today?
Thomas: (without hesitation) Never sell out. Never compromise. Stick to your guns and what you believe in your heart is your own creative nature, and what you want to do and say. I mean that’s what I would try to change…if I could go back and do anything over in my life. I was fortunate in my life to have some really big hits, but over all, there are things I wouldn’t compromise as much on. I would not give into the pressures of the business as much as I did at times. I would tell young artists to be as crazy and as weird as you want to be. Especially in today’s world, I think originality is more important than ever.
CVW: So you’re saying that it’s ok to be a pain in the ass as an artist?
Thomas: I not only give permission, I encourage it!
Don’t miss these amazing classic rockers and one of the most iconic bands from the 80’s. Tickets $20 / $30 / $40
Follow Starship Featuring Mickey Thomas at www.starshipcontrol.com