A reputation is a tough thing to live up to. Just ask Mickey Thomas, longtime vocalist for Jefferson Starship, Starship, and now Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. With years of solid albums and a seemingly endless array of hit singles on his resume, Thomas had good intentions when it came to putting out a follow-up to Starship’s 1989 album Love Among the Cannibals, but for one reason or another, it just didn’t happen.
The main reason? He wanted to release something that was worthy of the band’s name.
“The fans were asking for it, and for almost the last 20 years I had started a new Starship album several times, and I would usually get them to various stages of completion but never to fruition for various reasons,” said Thomas, who still stayed busy with his solo projects and touring. “But probably the biggest reason of all was not having the whole team in place. To do a record that I felt was worthy of what a new Starship record should be, it takes great songs, great production, great performances, some management in line, a label that you feel is excited about actually getting a new album out to the world. So it was hard to get all those elements to come into place at the same time.”
Then Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Dio, Foreigner) came into the picture.
“We just clicked,” said Thomas. “We had a real chemistry and we were on the same page as far as the creative direction, the production value, the sound of the record and what we were going for. And once I hooked up with Jeff, things happened real fast.”
The result is Loveless Fascination, a release that is undoubtedly worth the wait for fans of the group. Well, maybe we need to qualify that with the disclaimer that there’s no “We Built This City” on the record, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, though listening to the much-maligned 1985 number one hit does make you remember how catchy it was. And the funny thing is, Thomas says the original version of the tune was a lot different than the finished product.
“The sad part about that song is that the only thing people take away from it is the chorus, and when I first got the song, the first time I heard it, there was no chorus,” he said. “That part of the song didn’t even exist. And what I liked about it was the verse of the song and the subject matter. It was a much darker, edgier song before that big, epic chorus was added to it.”
And if you immediately hear Starship and think of that tune, just put on “Jane” and you’ll remember what the real essence of this band is. That’s what Loveless Fascination delivers: good songs, melodies, Thomas’ top-notch vocals, and a rock edge.
“I did try to make a record that felt more like a 70s record,” said Thomas, who is joined in the current lineup of Starship by John Roth (guitar), Jeff Adams (bass), Darrell Verdusco (drums), Stephanie Calvert (vocals) and Phil Bennett (keyboards). “A lot of people would have been expecting more of a typical Starship record, like ‘hey, you’ve got to pick up where you left off with Knee Deep in the Hoopla or Love Among the Cannibals,’ and this record is a lot darker and edgier than those records. But I think that’s good. It gives us more depth, and there’s more substance there when you have a little bit of a darker edge to the record. It’s more introspective, as opposed to like ‘hey, we built this city, la la la.’ (Laughs) Sometimes you have to think about it a little more.”
As for Thomas’ vocals, it’s hard to believe that at 64 he hasn’t lost anything off his fastball. In fact, he says that now he can even do things vocally that weren’t in his wheelhouse years ago. And he’s not exaggerating either.
“Most of it would just be the luck of the draw,” he said of his vocal success. “I have been very fortunate in that I have the same range that I’ve always had, and in addition to that, I feel like my voice also has a thicker texture to it. More maturity has evolved it over the years, and even though I am still able to maintain the same range, I can scream better now too. But aside from having good genes from my mom and dad, I obviously do try to take of myself. I try to stay healthy, and want to be able to still do all the things I want to do and keep it fresh and enjoy the road and still be able to sing.”
Tuesday night, Thomas and company arrive in the Big Apple for a gig at City Winery, and given the intimacy of the room, seeing Starship there will be a treat for all those in attendance. The only problem is, how does Thomas come up with a setlist?
“It is tough because that’s always a fine line with audiences, especially fans of classic rock bands, bands that have been around as long as we have,” he said. “Your setlist has to be sort of like a classic rock radio station playlist. So I want to make sure the audience doesn’t walk away disappointed, and that they hear all the hits they’ve come to love over the years, but we have to change it up a bit too. And I’m so happy with this new album that we are gonna try to get at least three of the new songs into the set over the long haul.”
The long haul. Mickey Thomas has been there, and he’s still going strong. The secret? He’s gone back to basics.
“When I hooked up with Jeff, the major attitude thing was okay, back to the core, back to Square One. Let’s play like we played when we first started doing this.”
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas plays City Winery in NYC on Tuesday, October 15. For tickets, click here