Interview with Michael Davis (MC5)

Michael Davis, bass player with Detroit Punk legends MC5 talked to Metal Express Radio about the forthcoming DTk/MC5 European Tour…

On the 29th of November, you’re heading over to Europe to begin your Winter tour. What countries will you be visiting?

Well, we start in Spain and we play three shows there, and then we head to Belgium and onto Amsterdam in Holland, and then we go over to the UK for three or four shows, and then we play in Ireland, and we will play in Northern Ireland too. We have about three weeks worth of shows in Europe and we’re looking forward to coming over to show them what MC5 is all about.

You’re coming to Europe just in time for winter… do you wish you’d scheduled the tour for the summer and maybe headed off to Australia in November instead?

Ha! I don’t know, I guess that’s just the way it works out.

On December 7th, you head over to the UK. Is this the most extensive tour you have done in the country?

No, I think we actually lived over here for a month or so back in the 1970s. We came over to play half a dozen shows and we ended up staying a long time and we hung out and played a bit. In 1980 when I was in Destroy All Monsters, we spent about a month playing back and forth between London and York and we played a bunch of shows up in the North, Liverpool, York, Manchester, Hull, and Redcar. The rest of the time we spent playing around London and Essex. You know, I love York with its Viking past. I’m really into the English Civil War and the War of the Roses, so it has a special meaning to me to be in England.

Is it good to play to audiences outside of London too?

Yeah, it’s always good to play to as many people as possible, not everyone can get to shows in London so we like to get around a bit.

You’ll be playing a total of 4 shows in England, including at The ATP Festival in Somerset. How did you become involved with this?

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth helped set this up. That particular festival seems to be packed with bands of a more underground, esoteric nature, the forerunners of Punk and Hardcore bands, and his choices of bands to play are a little more heavy duty than usual. They aren’t the big sort of “Marquee Bands,” as such, but it’s for people who are really into the cultish bands. How did we get involved in this? Well, we’re MC5, what more can I tell you!

What other bands will you be playing with?

Of course, The Stooges are headlining, and Sonic Youth will be playing, and The Melvins, Dinosaur Jr., and dozens of other great bands over three days. There’s a great band on there from Detroit called Negative Approach, and I’m friends with those guys and I know John Brannon quite well, so I’m really excited about the whole thing. There are some really great bands on that show.

This will be the first time in over 30 years that you have played with Iggy Pop… are you looking forward to this?

That’s right, it’ll be over 35 years since we were on the same bill with them! The Stooges have found intense glory in their afterlife! They have a whole new career in front of them and more power to them. I’m really looking forward to that one as I love big festivals. There’s so many people and so many bands around and just watching everybody do their thing, it’s great.

Have your paths crossed at all over the years, or will this be literally the first time you have seen each other?

I haven’t talked to Iggy for years, and I haven’t seen him since 1970. Actually, that’s a lie! I saw him in Detroit when he was with Bowie and I saw him play at a small club in Detroit in 1982 or sometime. We don’t keep in touch, though.

This is not the first time you’ve played festivals in the UK. Didn’t MC5 have recent appearances at the Download, Leeds, and Reading Festivals?

Yeah, we’ve played at a few festivals in our time. I think we’re better known in England. There’s some festivals that we play where like 30% of the people know us, but when we play in England it’s more like 75%. People are really quite aware of the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. You guys in England have a Rock ‘n’ Roll culture, which is probably the best in the world. American Rock ‘n’ Roll is the business and the Australians are kind of good at it, but you guys are up there at the top.

Do you have to play harder to win over a crowd, which is not there specifically to see you?

We play this hard for everybody. We believe in equal opportunities!

You’ll also be heading over for 3 dates in Ireland, which will be your first time there. Are you looking forward to sampling some Guinness Beer?

Yeah, it’s the first time for me and I’m looking forward to it so much as my family has Irish heritage and I’ve seen so many beautiful photographs of Ireland, and I just love the whole tradition of it. We have a couple of Irish friends who we see when we’re on the continent, so I’m really looking forward to Ireland.

How will you fill the void left by Rob Tyner and Fred Smith?

When we play we will have several special guests. In the UK, your going to get Mark Arm from Mudhoney, Lisa Kekaula from The Bellrays, and Adam Pearson from the Sisters of Mercy on guitar. Adam lives in Europe now, and every once in a while he joins us. He played with us in Scandinavia last year… he’s a great person and I love him. In Spain, Handsome Dick Manitoba from The Dictators will be playing with us.

Is Lisa the first lady singer you have had in the band?

Yeah, for sure! It’s good to have a woman in the band, it’s an incredible discovery. We’ve found that women are the best, women are strong and we want them on our side!

Were there any others you’d have liked to have included, but couldn’t for one reason or another?

I thought that Eminem might have joined us! No, really, I thought Greg Dulli might have come along. He played with us a year ago in Los Angeles and he’s a terrific singer. He was in a band called the Afghan Whigs. I just saw him the other day in a movie and thought what a great looking guy; I want him in the band! There’s a lot of great singers around and that’s one of the problems for us, that we had to replace two people. It’s hard to adjust schedules because the people that we want are all active in the music business … they’re not waiting around for the phone to ring, they’re doing things and have schedules of their own, so orchestrating things is complicated.

Will Handsome Dick be performing in the UK shows?

Handsome Dick will be with us in Spain. It would’ve been cool if Handsome Dick was available for the full tour, but we have to go with who’s available.

Have you thought about a double-header with The Dictators? A sort of Detroit vs. New York invasion?

Yeah, for sure, that would be great. There’s so many people that pop into your head that would be great to tour with, but we’re a bit on the controversial side and they just don’t want to get involved. They might end up in a courtroom or something, so you have to find people who are fearless!

What sort of setlist will you be preparing for the tour?

I think we’ll pretty much stick to what we’ve recorded on the three albums. I think we’ve got about 30 to 35 songs, and we’ll pick around 17 to 20 of them for each and every night, and we try to start off with what works and see how it goes and then juggle things around because things change from gig to gig. You keep the things that work and those that don’t, you put them on the back burner. People obviously want to hear the things that we’re known for: “The Jams,” “American Ruse,” and “Sister Anne,” and the rest we just put together about five minutes before we go on stage.

What are your plans once your European dates have finished?

I’ve just launched a non-profit organization called “Music Is Revolution,” and my aim is to provide funding to public schools for music programs. For some reason, kids aren’t looked upon as our greatest resource. When it comes to money, they get fucked and I want to give them everything that I know is great so they can have a better life. Music seems to be the last thing on the totem pole, so I have musical instrument drives and hold concerts and receive donations and provide grants to teachers who propose a program for their students. This is from 5-year olds up to 12th grade in public schools, as they are the ones who don’t have any money. Music is a non-violent medium, it’s about communication, it’s from the heart, and I think it’s so important that I want to play a part by starting this Foundation. This is really at a grassroots level, there’s no corporate involvement, and it’s really accessible. All a teacher has to do is fill out a form for a grant and I’ll make it happen. The Foundation has just held its first benefit gig in San Francisco with four bands, which went really well. I think it’s going to be awesome once the Foundation gets going, helping kids with musical projects. I’ll just see what happens, but I think it’s so important for every child to know what it feels like to play music with another human being; it just comes from the heart. So that’s what I’m involved with when I’m not on tour with MC5.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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