You might have noticed that the music industry (and the world at large) seem awfully sensitive lately, but Steel Panther is refusing to play the PC games- and selling out shows around the world. We spoke to drummer Stix Zadinia about lockdowns, cancel culture, and why four guys in spandex are the band we need right now.
CC: I caught your show at Irving Plaza a few weeks ago, and I was blown away. And not just by the performance, but by the material and the reception. This is an age when people are getting cancelled or deplatformed for saying anything controversial, but you guys are onstage singing about hookers and glory holes to crowds that absolutely love you. So what’s it like being in Steel Panther during such a sensitive and hysterical time?
Stix: Inside of Steel Panther, our mission has not changed one iota, because from the beginning, our mission was only to be the most awesome heavy metal band we can be. But outside of Steel Panther, I see people getting cancelled for things that wouldn’t have gotten attention even a few years prior. And more or more often, people come up and thank us, in the same tone that you described, telling us that Steel Panther is a band we need right now. And it’s strange, because we’ve been doing the same thing for years, and yet the outside circumstances make it seem like we’ve become more risqué.
CC: Yeah, I think your show seems a lot edgier right now in 2023 than it might have seemed even ten years ago.
Stix: I would agree that the perception of the show is a lot edgier, but we’re no different on the raunch tip than we’ve ever been. We’re equal opportunity offenders. We don’t punch up, we don’t punch down, we don’t punch sideways, we just are.
CC: So much of your material is comedic and sexual. but there’s also incredible skill there, in terms of songwriting. Do you ever censor anything, or say to each other, ‘this particular lyric is over the top?’ Or is the attitude more like, anything goes?
Stix: I think for us, anything goes. But what we don’t do is: We don’t write or say anything just for shock value. Because there’s a disingenuous element about that. We don’t think too hard about how it’ll be received, we just focus on stuff that turns us on, and that seemingly connects. The attitude, plus the music, plus the vibe of the (heavy metal) era, I think people are longing for that right now, because let’s call this what it is: Now kinda blows.
CC: Yeah. I’ve heard plenty of other artists say the same thing. Most of the writers I know say they now feel pressured to edit material that wouldn’t have been considered controversial even a few years ago.
Stix: Yeah, I have a problem with that. If we’re all constantly editing ourselves for everybody else, then what are we, as a people? And I’m not trying to get super deep, but that’s no way to live. I’m not advocating disregard for other people’s feelings, but if somebody’s offended by something, that shouldn’t mean that the rest of the world can’t see or hear it.
CC: You said something that I want our readers to appreciate: That you’re never necessarily trying to be edgy. Because you can tell when a comic or a musician’s only agenda is to outrage people.
Stix: Absolutely. If all we did was go out there and try to be edgy, and didn’t put what we put into the songwriting, this band wouldn’t have lasted four months. People would not remember the songs. And the same goes for comedians. If a comedian just tried to be outlandish, as opposed to clever, you’re going to get tired of that show very quickly.
CC: We’re living in this weird time, where comics have been literally attacked onstage while they’re doing their act. Do you ever get nervous that somebody out there is going to lash out because they don’t like the joke?
Stix: The only time (something like that happened) was years ago, even before the current nuttiness. It was in San Diego in the early 2000s. A guy actually ran up onstage. This guy was drunk, and he didn’t like what we were saying about his girlfriend, which was just part of our usual silly banter. But look. You’re talking about four men in spandex. If four men in spandex are putting on a show, and your reaction is, “you can’t say that, those are fighting words,” well, I think that says way more about your insecurity and your emotional level. It’s entertainment, for God’s sake. If you don’t like it, you can leave the venue.
CC: At this point, I have a hard time imagining anybody wandering into a sold out Steel Panther show and not knowing what to expect. But to experience your show in a place like New York City is pretty incredible, because the one thing that does not fly in New York City these days is being politically incorrect.
Stix: Yeah, I want to be clear, for everybody reading this: I’m not advocating being an asshole. But I think a lot of people are subscribing to the politically correct movement because they feel pressured to.
CC: And I think a lot of people can feel the culture beginning to swing back the other way. Because we’ve finally arrived at a point where we can at least talk about how ridiculous some of the sensitivity is.
Stix: You’re right. A year ago, you couldn’t. You weren’t even allowed to address it. I think we swung so hard toward this mode where everybody was trying to be inoffensive, that it’s finally coming back this way, and people are saying, we got a little extreme. Nobody’s got the energy to keep that sensitivity up.
CC: I think one thing that’s actually pretty exciting about the current state of the music industry is that a band has to live and die by their live show now.
Stix: Absolutely. There are bands that do well on streaming but can’t sell a ticket to save their lives because they suck live. And let’s face it, there are a lot of studio tricks you can pull to sound cool on Spotify, but being engaging and charismatic onstage from the first note to the last note, that is an art and a science and a skill.
CC: I want to ask you about playing Florida during the lockdowns. (Steel Panther was vilified in some online circles for playing live shows back in 2020.)
Stix: I’m happy to talk about it, I think it should be talked about, and I’m grateful that you bring it up. Steel Panther came up as workers, sometimes working up to seven nights a week doing residencies. Not gigging and not working is uncomfortable for us, that’s just how we’re wired. And during the pandemic, we did everything from the livestreams to the pod shows to the drive-in shows. Then we got an opportunity to play in Florida, and we did a totally legal show, abiding by every law, every rule, and completely operating with what the state allowed.
And then- I won’t mention the name of the website- we got accused of being murderers. I read the words Steel Panther are murderers. And it affected me. It’s a pretty heavy thing to read. We didn’t respond, because we felt like it was clickbait. But we played by the rules and we did everything above board. And to the people who were mad at us, that’s your right, but I’ll say what I said before: You don’t have to come to the show.
CC: I’ve spoken to musicians, both on and off the record, who believe that Florida did it right. I’ve even spoken to a musician who desperately wanted to play outdoor shows during the lockdowns, but felt pressured by their label to stay home, for the sake of the optics. That musician went from playing huge festivals to moving back in with their parents.
Stix: Without getting into politics, I think Florida did it right, because people could go about their business and live their lives. And here’s the thing: Did you expect my family to starve, because you didn’t want me to go play a legal show? The hypocrisy is amazing.
CC: But do you think a band like Steel Panther has more freedom to explore something like that, as opposed to an artist whose fanbase might be, for example, the sensitive coffee house crowd?
Stix: I don’t think there should be a difference. It’s unfortunate that people were forced to make those decisions. It was a time when people were forced to stay home, and told not to do that one single thing that they’d trained their whole entire lives for.
CC: Let’s talk about the crowds at those Florida shows. I can’t even imagine how joyous and receptive those shows were, when people finally got to come see live music, while the rest of the world was still locked down.
Stix: Do you remember The Matrix (Reloaded?) You know the scene on the eve of the battle, when Morpheus gives that speech, and everybody starts writhing and dancing in that sort of trance? It was very much reminiscent of that scene; the joy that people had to be connecting with other humans. It convinced me more than ever, on an anthropological and biological level, that humans need human interaction.
And to deprive a species of that is wrong. I know I’m getting heavy, but I saw the relief and the joy and the catharsis of people just being together, and it made me proud of what we do. I never thought Steel Panther would be a band that mattered in the social sense. I just wanted to rock and see boobs across the world. (laughs)
CC: You guys rock, that was never in doubt. And after catching the Irving Plaza show, I would say that you’re actually fighting for something, while so many other bands are playing it safe.
Stix: I love being in the band that you just described, because we don’t cower. We’re too old for that. (laughs) I think we provide a place for people to check their bullshit at the door. Don’t hurt anybody, just be as freaky as you wanna be, and you won’t be judged. Because we’re all weird.
Steel Panther’s brand new album On The Prowl is available now.