By James Wood
Although it’s been more than 20 years since Starship’s last album of all-new material [1989's Love Among the Cannibals], the band's latest release, Loveless Fascination, was certainly worth the wait.
Not only has vocalist Mickey Thomas been able to maintain his unique sound and range over the decades, but he’s added more of a thickness and growl to his vocals, allowing him to scream better than ever.
Produced by Jeff Pilson [Foreigner, T&N, Dokken], Loveless Fascination stays true to the band's signature classic-rock sound, providing a much harder edge while taking Starship into the 21st century. I recently spoke with Thomas about working with Pilson on Loveless Fascination and a lot more.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: It's been nearly 25 years since your last studio album, Love Among the Cannibals, was released. Why the long wait?
I've started several projects during that time period, but for various reasons they never came to fruition. In order to make a really great record, you need to have a great team, and that means great songs, production, management and label. All of those elements never seemed to come together at the same time for us, but when this album came along everything just fell into place. I teamed up with Jeff Pilson, who's not only a great producer, but also a great musician and songwriter. We instantly had this great chemistry and I realized this was the kind of Starship album we needed to make.
Let's discuss some of the songs on the album. How did you decide which tunes to include?
Jeff is such a prolific writer that we had a lot of material to choose from. Richard Page (Mister Mister) also contributed a song on the album. Then as an homage to the '80s Starship, I included a Diane Warren song, a duet with Stephanie Calvert [Starship vocalist] and me.
Tell me about the killer opening track, "It's Not The Same As Love."
The first time I heard that song, I felt it was a quintessential rocker and immediately knew it would be the opening cut. It's the one song where I really get to let it hang out with some good wails and screams [laughs].
How about “Loveless Fascination"?
It didn't take long into the making of the album where that title emerged as the title of the album. The idea of loveless fascination piqued my interest, because it can really be interpreted several ways. The way I interpreted it is reflected in the artwork on the album. I had this dream about a mandrill sitting in the middle of a jungle just being mesmerized by his own reflection in the pool. Then I thought, is the ape capable of love, or is he just fascinated with his own image?
Looking back on your time with Jefferson Starship and Starship, what comes to mind?
For me, they were actually two different eras: the dark and the light. There was the first period from '79 to '84, right after I first joined Jefferson Starship, where it was a little darker and harder-edged. That was also the time where there was more conflict in the band with egos clashing. Then there was the period from '84 to '89 where we became Starship and went through some changes. By that point, things became more colorful, light-hearted and more commercial sounding. Sure, we took a lot of criticism for songs like "We Built This City" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," but what we created with those songs was a very conscious effort. We set out to re-invent the band to make it more commercial, and we succeeded in doing exactly what we had set out to do.
You recently lost longtime guitarist Mark Abrahamian, who passed away after a Starship concert on September 2, 2012. What was he like?
Mark was great and wonderfully talented. Just a beautiful guy, both physically and spiritually. He was a bit of an introvert, but such a great technician on stage. He had spent much of his life sitting in his room playing guitar, and Starship was the first real band he ever joined. He was with me for 12 years. Some people are just born with the rock star vibe and Mark had it. If you saw him walking through the airport, but didn't know who he was you'd say, "There goes a rock star!"
Now you've added longtime Winger guitarist John Roth.
I'm very serious when I say this because this type of thing has happened a lot in my life, but never more so than in this instance. After we lost Mark, everyone was grieving, but at the same time we also knew we had to pick up and keep going. Sure enough, the first guy we talked to and auditioned with was John, and we knew right away knew he was the guy. Another fantastic person and a really great guitar player. I honestly believe Mark sent John to us, kind of his gift from beyond and assuring us that everything was going to be OK.
What do you think makes songs from the '70s and '80s stand the test of time?
So many of the bands that came along in my generation all had great players. Every band not only had to have a great guitarist, but also a great drummer and a great singer. Plus you had to be able to go lay it down on stage and bring it every single night. What was also cool about it was that if you were lucky enough to get a record deal back in the '70s or '80s, the record company was willing to nurture you. They understood you had to grow and learn your craft to make better records.
So you'd get a shot to make three or four albums. Nowadays, even bands that sell a lot of records might only get two albums, and then they're gone. Having that level of dedication and musicianship combined with longevity and patience really shaped the way music was made. They don't call it "classic rock" for nothing.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.