Interview with drummer Matt Starr (Mr. Big, Ace Frehley, Black Swan)
INTERVIEW WITH DRUMMER MATT STARR (MR. BIG, ACE FREHLEY, BLACK SWAN)
Date: December 7, 2021
Photos: Tamea Agle – photobytamea.com
DREAMS DO COME TRUE AND DRUMMER MATT STARR IS A LIVING TESTAMENT IN THAT REGARD. IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, I HAD NO IDEA WHO MATT STARR WAS ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO BUT DURING THE LAST DECADE, HIS NAME KEEPS POPPING UP WHETHER IT’S PLAYING WITH FORMER KISS GUITARIST ACE FREHLEY, PERFORMING WITH MR. BIG, HELPING TO ORGANIZE THE VERY SUCCESSFUL ULTIMATE JAM NIGHT OR RELEASING ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2020 WITH BLACK SWAN’S ‘SHAKE THE WORLD‘ (WHICH WAS VOTED TO THE #3 SPOT ON THE SLEAZE ROXX READERS’ TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2020). SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH MATT STARR TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE AFOREMENTIONED, HIS OTHER PROJECTS AND HOW HE IS NOT HELPING OTHERS LIVE THEIR DREAMS.
Sleaze Roxx: You posted about David Lee Roth’s solo band almost reuniting — almost six years ago at this point — and obviously, you got a lot of reactions, but you indicated that there was more to the story than what you posted so can you elaborate?
Matt Starr: Oh well yeah. There was a lot of stuff [laughs], a lot of details. You just got the cliff’s notes on that. You know, when someone is like, “He said this and he said that”, and a month later, this happens, there’s all these little details in between. Some of it, that was the beginning of the end of our tenure at the bowling alley that we first started because you know, teeing up this event and then getting it shut down due to the crowd control choices. And it was interesting too, that moment in that photo, where Adam is talking to us, I just love Billy’s [Sheehan] face [laughs]. Billy Sheehan’s face is like, it’s great! It was like, the place is getting busier, busier. “Oh my God, there’s a line around the door.” “Oh my God, there’s a line around the street.” Over 2,000 people and you couldn’t move, and the energy was just electric. It was incredible. And then, it was, “OK. Dave [Lee Roth] is circling.” I got a call, “OK. Dave is circling the building. He is doing his vocal warm-ups.” “OK, cool. It’s happening.” Even to the last minute, not necessarily believing [that it would happen] as it’s kind of one of those crazy things to happen on this little stage in a bowling alley. I mean, what are the odds? So, Dave is circling. “OK, Dave is in the building. OK, it’s on.” And then all the guys are on stage and I am on stage with them. I’m not going to play but being there to make sure everyone is cool. “OK, wait. Fire marshall is here. They are closing the building.” “What?” “Let’s do something about it.” People [are] freaking out. And then, there’s that moment where [Steve] Vai goes, “Fuck it! I’ll pay the fines. Let’s just play.” Which I thought was amazing! I mean, how much money does this fucking guy have? Very cool!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Matt Starr: The other thing was that he would really be willing to do that. “Fuck it! Let’s just do this man!” And then, you know, the the GM [general manager] or at least I think so, was like, “Well, we are going to be dealing with repercussions, all kinds of things and fines for weeks and months to come.” So, it just didn’t happen. But Dave was there floating around in the green room, just hanging out. There was some talk, not that I heard from anyone reliable, but that Dave called the fire marshall.
Sleaze Roxx: Ha!
Matt Starr: Because rather than actually do it, the “almost” would be better than have the thing actually happen. But I know that he had spoken with the guys afterwards and said, “I think it’s great and I am up for it. Let’s do it.” It hasn’t materialized since then. It’s just one of those things. It just takes the stars aligning and the right place, the right time. The event was really well run and Chuck Wright, Adam, myself, Jessica Chase — it was really well run but it kind of seemed like this loose off the cuff thing. It wasn’t at some big prestigious venue. It was at a bowling alley. There was enough about it that was low key but the people involved — at that point, we had had Robby Krieger and Robin Zander — actually they were there when Cheap Trick got into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame — I know it’s a coincidence but they played there. Colin Hay and Dug Pinnick — there were so many people that I can’t remember all of the names. We had a lot of people at that point so it was really established but again with this low key vibe. I think it was the perfect place, perfect time! I don’t know! It hasn’t happened since so maybe it won’t.
Sleaze Roxx: Right! Well, David [Lee Roth] is retiring soon so time is ticking.
Matt Starr: Yeah, yeah.
Sleaze Roxx: And when did you guys know that Dave was actually going to be doing this?
Matt Starr: We found out maybe a few weeks before. Like I said, Gregg Bissonette had come down to play with Billy [Sheehan] and that was maybe mid-August or something. And then, Gregg was like, “Hey, I want to have the band reunited and have Dave.” We were like, “OK. That sounds great. Sure!” But it was a couple of weeks, a few weeks before when everybody was on board. I didn’t tell anyone. I can’t speak for anyone else but we didn’t tell anybody! [Laughs] It just got out there you know?
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, since you guys had organized the reunion in the first place or set it up, how come it never materialized again?
Matt Starr: I think our role was providing a place and a time. We didn’t do any work behind the scenes. It was Gregg spearheading that, and obviously Gregg and Billy talking to [Steve] Vai, and Vai talking to Dave. So we didn’t really have any control over that. We certainly extended the invitation again and Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan and Gregg Bissonette did play at least once at the Namm Jamm, I think the following year or a couple of years after that. So all those guys got to play. The thing is, people always think, “Oh Dave is the lynchpin.” No, Dave was there. Nobody played that night! That night was done. There was no more music. Even Steve, Billy and Gregg didn’t get to play.
Eat ‘Em And Smile album line-up with singer Jett Scott Soto playing live at Ultimate NAMM Night on January 27, 2019:
Sleaze Roxx: OK. Fair enough. Well, hopefully one day it will happen but I think that we’re running out of time a little bit in that regard. So what happened to the Ultimate Jam Night because that was a huge thing for a long while and I don’t think it’s happening anymore, right?
Matt Starr: Well, everything is on pause because of Covid. We did one year at the bowling alley and after this, and with other things happening, it kind of became clear that it was time to change venues. So we went to the Whisky A Go-Go, which in a lot of ways makes sense, because you know, it’s a rock thing. I’m not good with years and dates but the event had been there for how many years — four or five maybe — and then Covid happened and everything shut down. I left probably in 2018 I believe and I started phasing out. It was a lot of work. All of those guys work so hard. It was just really time consuming. Any ideas that I had had, had come to fruition. OK, I want to bring Bruce Kulick in and have Debbie Holiday sing “I Still Love You” off ‘Creatures of The Night.’ All of these ideas that I had had, I had done them all so I felt that it was just time to step back. I stayed out of there. I would still come out and play. They are going strong and I believe that they have every intention of starting back up once they can, because that is a full contact sport. We would have anywhere from 40 to 50 players every single week, and the best part for the musicians is the connections. You’re now in rooms hanging out, taking pictures, hugging, having drinks, etc. If we can’t do it safely socially, then it kind of does not make sense.
Sleaze Roxx: Right, that makes sense. So let’s switch off. I read that Black Swan are going to be recording a new album.
Matt Starr: Yeah.
Sleaze Roxx: Where are you at in that regard?
Matt Starr: It’s done! It’s fucking awesome! Everybody just crushed it. I really feel like it’s a great continuation. We pick up where we left off with the first one. It’s mixed. We are talking cover art, singles, videos, and all that stuff but the record is done so it is definitely happening.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Do you have any sense on when it will get released?
Matt Starr: I don’t have an idea on a release date. 2022 is safe to say but as far as an actual date, I don’t.
Sleaze Roxx: How long did it take for you guys to record the album?
Matt Starr: So we did this in the “modern way” where everybody was at different times so Jeff [Pilson] and Reb [Beach] would lay down stuff. I don’t know how long they took to do all that. Robin [McAuley] went in and did his vocals, and then they sent it to me. And I’m on the East coast so I recorded out here and I think that it took me about four days of recording things and then sending what I did that day to the guys and having them listen and then give their feedback. Sometimes, I would make changes. Sometimes, I wouldn’t. So yeah, about four days of work. The whole thing from start to finish, I would guess, would be a couple of weeks, and then mixing and all that.
Black Swan‘s “Big Disaster” video (from Shake The World album):
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! And what about Mr. Big? What is going on with Mr. Big?
Matt Starr: I don’t know. I’m not with them anymore. The last thing that we did was the tour in 2018, which was without Pat [Torpey]. Pat Torpey passed away, in I believe, February of that year and I was expecting them to cancel the tour. They kept them and they honoured the commitment, which was a cool thing to do. I think that took a lot out of everybody to play without Pat. Maybe, it was a bit more of a challenge than [everyone] would have thought. I can’s speak for anyone but that’s kind of the sense that I got. “OK. We’re going to do it. Let’s go out and rock and honour Pat.” “Ohhh. Fuck, this is kind of heavy.” So that’s it. I don’t know what the band has planned, if anything, but of course, everybody has a lot of different projects that they are doing.
Sleaze Roxx: You said that you are not with them anymore so there must have been some sort of conversation that “This is the end” or something like that?
Matt Starr: Yeah, not necessarily the end for Mr. Big but the end of that chapter. I was with them for five years. Through all the work that I did with them, Pat was alive, there and 100% involved. That last tour in 2018 was kind of like the end of that chapter. It was kind of finishing that era of the band. Again, I am not sure what they may or may not want to do in the future.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! And how did you hook up with Ace Frehley, which was obviously a couple of years ago? How did you end up working with Ace Frehley?
Matt Starr: All of my gigs, I have gotten from playing jams, which is funny. Not necessarily Ultimate Jam Night but jams in general. So, I have been playing with Ace for almost ten years now. It will be ten years in next June . I had heard that his drummer quit and I called everyone I knew. Brent Woods, who plays with Sebastian Bach, said, “Oh yeah, I know Anthony [Esposito]” who was the bass player at the time for the band. “You’d be great. Let me give them a call.” I had sat in at a jam that Brent was at and he saw me play drums and he also heard me sing. And that gig at the time was singing all of the Paul Stanley songs and playing drums so it’s kind of a unique set of skills.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you know which year that you joined Ace?
Matt Starr: 2012.
Sleaze Roxx: OK, because I remember seeing Ace [live] in 2015 but I think it was Scot Coogan on the drums.
Matt Starr: Yeah, so when I started playing with Mr. Big in 2014, Scot came back in because I wasn’t available to do the touring but I kept doing records with Ace. I just couldn’t commit to all the tour dates so rather than have one guy one week, the other guy the next week, it was decided let’s just have one guy.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve recorded with tons of different artists. What would be your favorite album that you’ve done so far, and why?
Matt Starr: Well, I can’t say “favorite” because all these experiences have been really cool. The first record I did with Ace [Frehley] — growing up on that. Growing up on KISS but especially growing up on that ’78 solo record with him and Anton [Fig]. And I thought that he was going to have Anton play. And he said, “Hey, I’ve got a studio that I want to check out. Why don’t you come with me? We’ll just kind of jam.” And I said, “OK.” And we played a Steve Miller [Band] tune — “The Joker.” He was like, “Hey, do you know “The Joker” by Steve Miller?” I go, “Yeah, sure. Let’s try it.” So we start playing it and next thing I know, he’s like, “That’s going to be a great track on the record!”
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Matt Starr: I’m like, “Fuck! That’s on the record?” [Laughs] He was like, “Nah, you sound great!” And I kept saying, “When is Anton coming?” He was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I think he was just feeling me out because at that point, we had only played a few shows. I think that he just wanted to see how I played in the studio. Everything went well and I ended up being the guy on the record so that was really special. He called me “Peter.”
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Matt Starr: We were going to start. It was me and the engineer. We’re not in the same room. He’s on the other side of the glass. He goes, “Alright. Are you ready Pete?” I was thinking, “Who the fuck is he talking to?” And then he goes, “Pete. Sorry, Matt. Matt!” And then as I’m counting the song off “One, two” and I’m thinking, “Oh shit! He just fucking called me Peter Criss.” How cool is that? So anyways, that was really special. And doing the Mr. Big record ‘Defying Gravity‘, working on those drum tracks with Pat [Torpey]. I played all the drums. Pat did the percussion. We discussed everything together so there was this co-drummer thing and also to kind of be a voice for him on the drums, and get across his ideas. A lot of our ideas were exactly the same. “I’m thinking this.” He’s like, “Yeah, so am I.” But it was cool. It was a very special experience. And I think the last thing, is playing on “Fire & Water” with Ace where Paul Stanley sang on it. I was like, “Hey, let’s get Gene [Simmons] to play bass.” Ace was like, “Nah, nah. I’m going to play bass.” I was like, “We should get Gene!” because I want to be on a track with Gene, Paul and Ace. That was very special too to hear my drumming and Paul’s vocals.
Ace Frehley‘s “Fire & Water” video (feat. Paul Stanley):
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, that would have been really cool! You do a lot of coaching as well, right?
Matt Starr: I do.
Sleaze Roxx: So when did you start that and how is that going?
Matt Starr: It’s going great. It’s been great. My story is that at ten years old, I knew what I wanted to do but then as I got to my late ’30s, I was just playing in bars and shit. I was making a living playing music but I wasn’t playing with anybody that I grew up listening to. You know what I mean? I was just playing with other guys like myself. I had a pretty radical shift and went through a lot of stuff. Next thing I know, I was playing with Ace and that’s when all of these other things started happening. I was in L.A. at the time and I started getting all these other drummers to reach out. “What are you doing man? I’ve never even heard of you and now, you’re everywhere. But that’s when I started talking about and realized, “Wow! I’ve actually figured something out.” I knew exactly what I did. Sometimes, you talk to people who are successful, and they’re just like, “I don’t know. I just do what I do.” And that’s fine for them but they can’t teach it. I could actually explain it so I start working with drummers and then I realized, “I don’t need to be working with just drummers.” I started working with all different kinds of musicians, and that turned into, “Why am I only talking to musicians?” We’re not really talking about the music business. We are talking about your dreams, what are you here to do and why isn’t that a reality for you? So how do we make that a physical reality? Have you live your dreams, and that’s universal. So about half of my clients are musicians right now and that’s kind of typical. About half of them are women so I have all different kinds of people that I work with in different kinds of industries. But it’s been great. It’s really profound. At first, it was like, “Am I a rock n’ roll drummer or am I a coach?”
Sleaze Roxx: Right.
Matt Starr: “Am I John Bonham or am I Tony Robbins?” And I just thought, that was my own hang up. I have something that I can share. I know that it helps people. I just had to get out of my own way and do it. Like I can be of service and this has value so let’s just do it. Don’t think about what it is supposed to be. That’s what I do and it’s been good.
Sleaze Roxx: I was going to ask you what your radical shift is but now I see that it’s a trade secret [laughs] for your coaching.
Matt Starr: Well, I think that it’s a lot of little things. It’s a lot of little things but it’s really about what am I doing right now and am I aiming towards my goal? Because a lot of times, you find out that you are aiming in 20 different directions. That’s kind of the starting point.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. I understand through the Covid pandemic, you have a lot of businesses going.
Matt Starr: Umm, not anything new but thankfully, I wasn’t reliant and never have been relying on touring as my sole source of income. That’s just a piece of what I do. You know, touring went away but I just leaned on my studio work that I do. I am in the studio every single month recording for artists all over the world and some of them are people you know, and some of them are independent artists that have written songs and they have their own studio and just want me on the drums. So I lean more on that and the coaching. Between the two, I’ve been fine. I am actually better than fine. Things have been great. That was something that I was really talking a lot about in my Master class during Covid. Diversifying and a lot of times, people just want to put a bandaid on something and if the bleeding stops, they are like, “OK, I’m good.” “No, no. How do we make sure that this does not happen again?” I think in this world, diversifying is really important and even the people at the top, if you’re in U2, you don’t have to do anything else. Yeah, but those guys all do other things. They have other businesses. Not to fall back in case U2 does not pan out, but why not do more with your time? So that is something that I learned from John Lennon, the way he had his ability to be a Beatle and he used that for, in his case, causes like peace and all the social stuff he did. Take the leverage and visibility you have in your career and parlay that into something else.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s cool. So you have the Black Swan album that is coming out sometime in 2022, do you have any other music projects going on?
Matt Starr: I do. We just started working on a new Ace [Frehley] record. We were in there for one day and then we had the tour and everything else. Oh no, no. That was after the tour. Sorry. Yeah, so we will get to work on that early next year  and I know that Ace is busy writing right now. So that will be happening. I would assume that will come out this year but don’t quote me on that. I have been doing this project with Mike Watt, the bass player for a band called the Minutemen. He used to play with The Stooges and a bunch of other people. He is an amazing powerhouse bass player and then Alex Kane who was in LSD and now plays in Enuff Z’Nuff. So that is a really cool thing. Four pieces of music and they are all about 10 to 15 minutes long. There are no vocals. I barely play any beats. It’s like really progressive atmospheric stuff. That’s very cool and I am excited about that. I am trying to think what else.
Sleaze Roxx: When will that one be out?
Matt Starr: That will be out early next year . For sure, early next year. And then there’s a band — I am actually in several bands — but one band is called Sweet Sienna. Right now, we have a track out there. it has Jack Russell singing on it, Lorraine Lewis, George Lynch is on there, Richard Fortus, Sean McNabb and that’s called “Dust On A Grave.” It’s a really good rock n’ roll song and we’ve been working on the second one with a bunch of special guests but you’ll have to check it out. It’s Sweet Sienna and it’s called “Dust On the Grave.”
Sweet Sienna‘s “Dust On A Grave” lyric video (feat. George Lynch):
Sleaze Roxx: I guess that I should ask you given that you just toured with Ace [Frehley], how was it touring with two legends because you had Ace and Alice Cooper?
Matt Starr: It was awesome! It was nice to be gone for — the tour was five weeks, six weeks including rehearsals. Just getting immersed in that, rather than a lot of times, you do fly dates where you’re gone for a week and then you come back, gone for two weeks and then you come back, gone for three weeks and then come back. That back and forth kind of makes your head spin. But it was killer! The shows were really a lot of fun. A lot of the gigs were outdoor amphitheaters — 5,000 to 12,000 people — really good attendance. The weather was amazing. Everything just went right. Nobody got sick.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to mention?
Matt Starr: No, I think that’s it. I’m just really grateful. I had a great year. Just very thankful man, you know! I think not having something for a while makes you appreciate it more. Just to be able to be with everybody. Like on the Ace tour with Alice and the Alice camp, and the fans and to be able to celebrate. I just did two weeks with Gary Hoey for his Christmas tour on the East coast here. There’s a lot of love and gratitude. I think that living your dream always sounds like some kind of thing, “One day.” No man, it’s fucking today! Right now! I’m just so grateful that is what I am doing. You’re never done. You’re never done but today, living my dreams. That’s really a beautiful thing.