The idea of Steel Panther ever becoming a worldwide phenomenon sounds almost as exaggerated as the onstage personae of its four members, Michael Starr, Satchel, Lexxi Foxx and Stix Zadinia.
However, what originally began as a Monday night parody lampooning the excesses of the 1980s heavy-metal era that dominated the Sunset Strip has evolved not only in name — the group began as Metal Shop, became Metal Skool and then Danger Kitty before settling on Steel Panther — but also now has a legion of followers that affords the band opportunities to support luminaries like Judas Priest on a U.S. tour or KISS in South America.
Before its Nashville show at Marathon Music Works, the band was performing in Japan before flying home to Los Angeles for 36 hours and then flying to London for a day of press in advance of its European tour in March, during which it will headline Wembley Arena, only to return stateside in time to resume a monthlong headlining tour of its own.
Asked if he ever thought Steel Panther would become this popular, Starr says, “No. Never.”
“It’s crazy,” he says. “I never expected it, but, of course, I wanted it to happen. But I never expected it to happen the way it’s happening — being signed, putting out original music, but still doing the fun act that we’re able to do.”
At the time they formed the band, in the late 1990s, metal was completely dead,” says Starr (whose real name is Ralph Saenz), “and forming a cover band was a steady gig many of his contemporaries didn’t have.
More than a decade later, they’ve gone from covering everybody from Bon Jovi and Ratt to Poison and Warrant to having released several albums featuring original material. They’ve also been featured in a national Discover Card commercial and made appearances on “The Drew Carey Show” and in Las Vegas.
In recent years, their popularity has eclipsed that of some of the bands — L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat, for example — they originally paid tribute to.
“We truly do take what we do seriously,” Starr says. “I know we (goof) around onstage and have a good time, but we’ve come together as a band.”
Unlike that of many other touring acts, their profane yet humorous lyrical content is not radio-friendly.
The band’s popularity has grown through word of mouth, social media and Internet sites like metalsludge.tv, an ’80s-related music site that included its “Death to All But Metal” single on a compilation disc.
Despite the band’s cult band status, “now, with where we’re at with 25 employees, trucks and buses, there’s a lot riding on what comes out on our CDs,” says Starr, in a moment of seriousness.
“Plus, we’re getting a lot of pressure to write clean stuff from people surrounding our camp, so they can make money off of what we’re doing,” he says. “They’re like, ‘Look, we need a serious record from Steel Panther.’ From day one, we said, ‘No. We’re not doing that.’ ”
While they take their craft seriously, they don’t take themselves seriously, especially their larger-than-life personae.
Bands like Van Halen achieved success in part because they had one or two members with charisma. In Steel Panther, all four members — Russ Parrish (Satchel), Travis Haley (Foxx), Darren Leader (Zadinia) and Saenz — have developed distinct larger-than-life stage personae over the past 15-plus years.
But what garnered their early star-studded audiences was that no one, including the band, ever knew who might get up onstage and jam with them during their weekly residencies.
For more than a decade, they played Monday nights in Hollywood, Wednesdays in San Diego, and Friday and Saturday nights in Vegas.
Shows sold out, and anyone from Avril Lavigne to Sebastian Bach would get onstage with them. One night, during their Hollywood days, they jammed with NFL star Michael Strahan, Nickelback, Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte.
“Those were good times,” Starr says.
Given the number of former L.A. musicians who now call Nashville home, Wednesday night’s midweek tour stop could provide them with an equally memorable night of guest appearances.
Their original drummer, Ray Luzier, who now plays with Korn, recently relocated to Nashville, and other possible guests include onetime Motley Crue singer John Corabi, members of Cinderella or Jonathan Cain of Journey.
“I know Jake Owen hangs out with Lexxi a lot,” Starr said. “He’s a country dude, but he loves his metal, so he’ll come out and jam. I do miss that about the weeklies — just being able to jam.”