‘Key to the Universe’: Michael Des Barres talks infectious new album and career

Whether he’s portraying evil assassins on television or hosting his own radio show, Michael Des Barres has never strayed far from his one true love: standing in front of a microphone singing. In a career that's spanned more than four decades, Des Barres’ musical resume includes critically acclaimed solo albums as well as tenures with bands like Silverhead, Detective and Chequered Past.

Then there was the phone call he received in 1985 about a band looking in earnest for a singer and the two week stretch of time that culminated in Des Barres and The Power Station playing their first gig together in front of more than a billion people.

As of late, there’s been a void in the rock and roll landscape and thankfully Michael Des Barres is back with a sense of urgency and a desire to fill it up. Des Barres’ new album, “The Key to the Universe” (release date April 7) speaks volumes in terms of raw, rock power. Songs like “I Want Love To Punch Me In the Face” and the Linda Perry penned, “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” scream for multiple spins while tracks like “Room Full of Angels” showcase just how far Des Barres voice has come in forty years.

Produced by Des Barres' longtime friend, Bob Rose, “The Key to the Universe” is a welcome rock record by one of the genre’s best front men and an album that’s driven by a heartbeat and by your hips.

AXS recently spoke with Michael Des Barres about “The Key to the Universe”, his time with The Power Station and much more!

What spawned this new album project?

I had done a record a few years back called “Carnaby Street” that I loved. I put it out myself, did a few gigs and really enjoyed it. Then Bob Rose heard it and called me up one day and said, "Why don’t you come to Rome and we'll make a rock record!" And I said, "Ok!" [laughs].

How would you describe “The Key to the Universe”?

First and foremost, making this record was the most satisfying experience. It sounds fresh because it’s done out of a real authentic love for rock and roll music. With those wonderful intros that drive a little faster and lets you hold someone a little closer. I went to Rome and recorded with my old buddies, Nigel Harrison and Bob Rose. We've got Clive Deamer from Radiohead and Robert Plant's band on drums, Nigel on bass and this unbelievable guitar player, Dani Robinson who is extremely unique. It was a lovely experience and a record that really captures the enthusiasm those musicians had.

What was the songwriting process like for “The Key to the Universe”?

A majority of the songs were written with the band and with Bob. I did do three covers. Linda Perry gave me the song, "Can't Get you Off My Mind". She's one of the most authentic rock and rollers left in a diminishing breed. She had written that song for one of her albums and Nigel found it and said "Dude, this is right up your alley.” It had a sense urgency to it that I really loved. Peter Wolf gave me the song, "Room Full Of Angels” and the other song, “Burning in Water” was a blues song that was originally targeted for Tom Jones. The rest are compositions that are various configurations of the band. We wrote them real fast and cut them even faster. There was no agonizing over them. Everything just poured out. It was written and recorded in five weeks and is the best record I’ve ever made!

Do you have plans to tour?

Absolutely. The plan is for me to go on the road and promote this album. We're doing songs that are so perfect. In terms of sheer rock and roll power, people are going to lose their minds.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of your tenure with The Power Station. How did you become involved in that band?

At the time, I was in Texas with Chequered Past and we had just broken up. I remember getting a call from a promoter in New York who told me to come there because he had a band who needed a singer. He wouldn't tell me who it was. He just told me to get on a plane. After I arrived this beautiful, white Rolls Royce picked me up and took me to some fancy office in which was sitting a nervous looking John Taylor and Tony Thompson. I remember thinking, "Oh my God" because their record was huge at that time.

Next, they took me to the studio where we took Robert Palmer’s voice off of the tracks. Then they flew me to London to record with Andy Taylor and on the way, I listened to the album both with and without Robert’s voice. After I arrived, I went back into the studio and recorded a verse and a chorus of "Get it On". This all happened within a 48 hour stretch. I was in Texas, I was in New York and I was in London. Then after all of that, we got back on the Concord and flew back to New York to start rehearsals. Ten days later, we did just a little gig... called LIVE AID!

What was the LIVE AID experience like for you?

It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I’ve never seen so many iconic rock and roll stars in one area - all of them completely terrified! [laughs]. We were constantly being told that billions of people were watching. We went on later in the afternoon after many of the big stars had already gone on. There was such chaos on a superstar level and I was there by proxy. By miracle. I just threw all caution to the wind and it was the happiest afternoon of my life!

Was the plan for you to continue with The Power Station after that tour?

No. With Power, they were more into keeping with the Funk and R&B that they were doing, which wasn't my thing. But John still remains one of my dearest friends. Instead, I went right into the studio and made my own solo record with Bob Rose.

What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?

I'm here to spread the word that the new cool is compassion and that you’ve got to take care of your community. To look at the global strife is one thing, but if we don’t start with each other right here and now, it's never going to work. It's like dropping a pebble in the lake. The ripples will go out. That's what I champion and that’s what I do on this album. It’s about enjoying the moment and true joy comes from caring for people. That’s why it’s called "The Key to the Universe"!