Bret Michaels Interview: Rock Icon Talks Poison Tour, Solo Tour and Philanthropy
Image attributed to Mark Mazzanti
Singer-songwriter and musician Bret Michaels gained fame as the lead singer of the glam metal band Poison, who have sold over 40 million records worldwide. Besides his career as the lead singer, he released several solo recordings and has appeared in movies and TV shows. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, Michaels’ Life Rocks Foundation, which is a unique dollar in dollar out foundation, gives back to multiple causes including diabetes research, wounded soldiers and animals in need.
Michaels is into the second year of his Party Starts Now solo tour, and his current single is “Jorja Bleu,” written for and named after his youngest daughter. Poison … Nothin’ But a Good Time 2018 tour, with all original members, is joined by Cheap Trick and Pop Evil on its trek across the United States this summer.
"When people ask me about politics and religion, I say that I’d rather talk about philanthropy because I’m getting something done. I’m actually physically using my Life Rocks Foundation to help with medical assistance or a diabetic kid going to camp who lacks the funds for that. That’s what matters to me."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How’s the tour going, Bret?
Bret Michaels: The tour has been great. It’s been fantastic actually. That includes putting together a brand new show and rehearsing. My statement from birth to now is that the doubly harder I work, the luckier I get. With the amount of time you put in trying to make the show look right and sound right, you hope that it all comes together on the first day of the tour, and it’s a great feeling to have three generations of fans now that are having the time of their lives. We’re having a great time, and they’re having a great time. I don’t know if you could ask for a better moment than that on stage.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you mixing Poison concerts with solo dates?
Bret Michaels: I am, indeed. I kicked off the year with the solo stuff, and then stopped for a couple of weeks to go to the rehearsals with Poison. But in all that meantime, I was still helping to design the look of the stage and show with everybody. I always say that it takes a village and all the hard work of the crew, production managers and everyone making sure that everything moves and works great. The solo shows are the same exact energy but a bit different in the way I approach it. So being able to switch those gears sometimes is a tricky part, but we make it work. That passion for wanting to be on stage, that wanting to play music and still loving it, is a great feeling.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is that feeling for performing any different now than it was 30 years ago?
Bret Michaels: Not at all. I’m still excited and still get a knot in my gut every time before I go on, which is a great thing. I’ve still got that fire in the belly, so to speak, of wanting to go up there, and I truly get excited each time before I walk on that stage. They always come up with these ideas like I could get lowered from this or that or brought up in an elevator, but I can’t. I tried it a time or two, and it doesn’t work for me.
I like running straight out to the audience and slapping hands. I want to start that party off with a bang. I’m one of those guys even when I sing “Every Rose,” I take my mic stand and move it way up to the front. I don’t like being separated. I love the energy, the back and forth between the fans and myself.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So no Lady Gaga entrance for you? (laughs)
Bret Michaels: (laughs) I wish. Listen, I love the big entrance. You know how you have to know what works and what doesn’t work for you? Choreographing me would not work. I would not do great on Dancing with the Stars. I’m just telling you now. It would be a disaster. They’ve even tried to mark spots for me, so I can hit the area. I’m too … let me use the word “freestyle.” (laughs)
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, that answers my next question of when you were going to compete on Dancing with the Stars.
Bret Michaels: (laughs) Well, they’ve asked me several times. The show is awesome. God bless ‘em. A lot of the sports stars are really good at it. The athletes are really good. Knowing my choreography skills, that probably wouldn’t be the right show for me to be on. But it’s a great show to watch.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s that one song you just love to play live?
Bret Michaels: All of them are like my children. I love each and every one of them for a different reason. But my favorite, honest to God favorite to play live, is when we go out there and do “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Nothing But a Good Time.” With the energy of those two songs, they are without a doubt, my favorites to play.
For the musician in me and the guy who likes very meaningful songs, “Something to Believe In” and “Every Rose” cover it. But in Poison and solo work, we just go through them seamlessly. In other words, we have different styles on songs. “Something to Believe In” is a completely different sound than “Talk Dirty to Me,” but we put them back to back in the set. It all works because they know we’re sincere about it.
We wrote the songs, and they’re still exciting for me to play today. I think that’s the magic of having a long career, still loving what you do, still remembering and feeling the purpose of why the song was written. I think that people can feel that sincerity, and it shines through anything else. You can have all the lights, all the sound, all the pyro, but you better really want to be up there. That energy is going to shine above all the rest.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Let me circle back to “young Bret” for a few minutes.
Bret Michaels: Okay. I’m ready for young Bret (laughs). Here we go.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What inspired young Bret to get into all of this?
Bret Michaels: A couple of things. First of all, music to me has always been therapeutic. When I was a kid and first learned to play guitar, I would sit in my room for hours and play that guitar. My dad said I have a unique energy because there’s a part of me that’s a sports fanatic. I’m talking football, baseball, motocross, and yet I would get that guitar and sit in my room for hours and just play that guitar. That started it. Then all of a sudden there was this feeling of adding the audio to the visual, so I used to sit for hours on pieces of paper. When I was 10 or 12 years old, I’d literally take a pencil and draw what I thought my stage would be like. I’d be in junior high and high school, and I’d be designing it. I’d imagine if I could go out there and tour what my stage would be like.
People ask, “What is it? The “it” factor is an intangible. You can’t exactly put your finger on what makes you pursue it when everyone else tells you, “No.” So young Bret was one of those guys, that when someone said, “No. You’re not going to be able to do that,” it actually had the opposite affect. It made me feistier. It made me have more fire in the belly and more determined to succeed at it. That love of music combined with that sports-like energy on stage is a pretty awesome feeling.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve had several health scares over the past few years. How is your health now?
Bret Michaels: I feel really, really good. Again, we’re going back from young Bret to right now. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was six, and I’m still doing the five injections a day. I’ve tried different forms. There are lots of advances in diabetes, and they’re all great. And I use them the best I can. But for some reason right now, the injections are working the best for me, or I’m the most used to them. Combine that with the subarachnoid hemorrhage, the heart surgery and a few other things, I say grace of God, good medicine and a lot of great family and friends got me through.
I just never let it get me down. I try to stay positive even through the truly toughest of days and just find a way to keep rocking on, for lack of a better term. That’s the way I look at it. The minute I could get out of the hospital when I had that hemorrhage and they said I could do stuff, I was out. We had one relapse; then after that, I was back out. I just followed their physical therapy. And luckily, I got most everything back and I feel good.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You played some concerts for Donald Trump’s inauguration. Has your association with him effected you or your career in any way?
Bret Michaels: No. I go back to this. My thing is philanthropy. That’s where I’m at. I just want what’s great for our country. That’s what I want regardless of whether it’s Obama, whether it would’ve been Hillary, whether it’s Trump. We’re all going to have to voice our opinions. But here’s my thing. I’m the son of a veteran, and I have members of my family who were killed in action overseas going back to World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. We truly love this country.
Are there things that need to be fixed? Absolutely. Is there stuff we can do? We do it by voicing our opinions. Every night on stage, I dedicate it to our men and women in uniform and first responders. I say that the men and women in the armed forces give us the freedom of opinion. You and I can have the same opinion or different opinions, but for the most part, we’re allowed to voice them.
When people ask me about politics and religion, I say that I’d rather talk about philanthropy because I’m getting something done. I’m actually physically using my Life Rocks Foundation to help with medical assistance or a diabetic kid going to camp who lacks the funds for that. That’s what matters to me. Being out on the road and playing music, I think everyone knows that I love this country.
I do the best I can to make everyone happy, but it also takes putting your legs to the work, so to speak. You know what I mean? Talk is talk, but being able to physically go do it like I do with philanthropy, that’s getting stuff done. Also remember when I played those shows, they were all for the veterans. It’s called the Heroes Ball. Both shows are veterans’ shows. They’re for the vets regardless of whether they are left, right, independent or green.
I played for the vets who give us the freedom of opinion. They give you and me the right to feel the way we want. Coming from a family that is hard-working blue collar, the members of the military truly believe they’re doing something to protect our freedoms.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Where do you get your entrepreneurial spirit?
Bret Michaels: It’s a combination. I was the only diabetic kid in my entire elementary school. My friends were great about it, but it was tough sometimes for them to relate to what I was going through. So my mom and dad formed the first diabetic camp in central Pennsylvania. It was Harrisburg Youth Diabetic Camp, which is still going today.
That entrepreneurial spirit comes from both my mom and dad. My dad has lots of great ideas and is a veteran. But my mom not only has great ideas but her feistiness and willpower is undeniable. When she wants to do something, she sets her mind to it, and she’s doing it. She’s very independent, and I think that’s where I get a lot of that from. She definitely puts her legs to the work and gets it done.
I think it’s that combined with a unique energy. I call it a freestyle entrepreneurial spirit. When people ask me what I think makes the difference, I say that the difference making in me is a lot of people I meet have great ideas and have an entrepreneurial spirit, but there’s a gap between thinking it and getting it done. In between is the part I’m the strongest at. It’s finding a way to get it done, and it’s not easy. There are a lot of walls, a lot of things you have to think through. But I think being able to go from point A – jump the huge gap – and get to point B is my strength.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You guys have had your conflicts over the years, and some of it seems to be centered around you spending a lot of time on solo projects. How is the relationship between you, Rikki, Bobby and C.C.?
Bret Michaels: I think the relationship between us is great. 95% of the time it’s awesome. Then there’s that 5% when the Poison relationship goes bad. It doesn’t go kind of bad. It goes fistfight bad. Some people have a disagreement, and they separate and mope about it. We just iron it out right there usually on stage. It’s a knock down drag out. We’ve gotten up the next day having to do another show in a different city. We shake hands, and we go back to it.
When I get together with the guys, we have a great time. But solo is a lot of where my life has gone. They’ve always known I’m a free spirit. I want all of them to be able to achieve the things they want to do and to go and do different things. I just work particularly hard at going out there as a solo artist, and I get it done and make it happen. Many of the venues we play as Poison, I play solo as well the following year or the next couple of years. I mix that in with a bunch of different venues and just have a blast doing it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What about new Poison and/or solo music?
Bret Michaels: Poison music, at the moment, no. We’re working on brand new solo music now. Like I told you, that’s what I love to do, whether it’s a song like “Jorja Bleu” or doing something for a soundtrack or just writing new music. I’m constantly writing music. When I decide it’s something that means something to me, the beauty of the Internet is that now there are very little walls between an artist and being able to get to the fans. Before the Internet, if someone on the label didn’t like you or didn’t like the shoes you were wearing, the artists may have a tough time getting to the public. The beauty of Poison before the Internet was that we were an independent band, and we retained the rights to our records. We retained the rights to our publishing. We kept all that, and we bet on ourselves. Then when the Internet came along, all of a sudden you had a chance to get directly to the public. I think that’s great.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Many artists didn’t want their songs on the Internet because they felt they were not adequately compensated.
Bret Michaels: It’s a catch-22, and I’d love to talk about this a minute. You still have to tour and take your music to the people. I want people to have the ability to get to our music at a very reasonable price, however they do that. But just imagine if you worked a 40-hour week and didn’t get paid. I personally like that people are exposed to the music. I love that. At the same time, I’d buy the music whether it was 99 cents or a buck 29. If I like the song, that is unbelievably great, and I’d support that artist. These artists are going out there, they’re recording and putting their money into it just like anybody else. We want people to be exposed to the music, but I always ask to find a great middle ground.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How are Jorja and Raine?
Bret Michaels: My daughters are doing great. Jorja just had a birthday on May 5, and Raine is graduating. She just had her 18thbirthday. Thank you for asking. That means a lot to me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have anything to add, Bret?
Bret Michaels: Yes, I do. First of all, I have much gratitude to the three generations of fans that allow me to live out the dream. I’m very grateful for that. Let them always know that there will always be passion in what I do, sincerity in what I do, and I thank them for allowing us to go out there and play music. I think they’re going to love both the Poison and the solo shows.
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