Throughout the past three decades, drummer Zak Starkey has enjoyed a unique career that shows no signs of slowing down. The son of legendary Beatle Ringo Starr (real name: Richard Starkey), the younger Starkey inherited the drumming bug and has successfully navigated the upper echelons of rock ever since, whether drumming for Oasis or joining the performing lineup of The Who in 1994.
Aside from prepping for an upcoming summer tour with The Who, Starkey is hot off of a series of gigs at South by Southwest with latest project SSHH alongside partner Sshh Liguz. The long-gestating electro-punk project is readying for an album later this year, and today on Billboard, Starkey premieres the video for a SSHH cover of the Bob Marley/Peter Tosh-penned classic “Get Up, Stand Up.” He also talks life on the road with The Who, how SSHH came to be, and teaming up with Mick Jagger’s activist daughter Lizzy to spread a message of equality.
You’ve been playing with The Who since 1994 and have a tour coming up with them this summer. How do you prepare for something like that?
How it started last time was, I walked off the plane in London and went straight straight into a windmill. We arrived at 10 in the morning, was in rehearsal by 11 and we were in three days rehearsal for Tommy and then we did the Tommy shows, and then four of our hits shows. We do very little rehearsal. When John Entwistle was alive, we didn’t do any!
As the years go on, does this touring lifestyle get easier or harder?
I think it gets easier. Especially with The Who because I think everyone is a little bit mellower and more comfortable with how it rolls since it’s more of a hits show now, and not the kind of freeform blood bath that we sometimes used to do. Me and Roger (Daltrey) find this a bit more fun. It’s always an ordeal that’s always worth it. Though Pete (Townshend) can hurt himself some nights. Those guys have still got a bit of energy, but they also got to take it easier at their age, I hate to say it.
Your dad is Ringo Starr and you were very close with Keith Moon. What’s your earliest memory growing up?
Keith Moon was my dad’s best friend, or one of them, and he kind of took me under his wing. Me and my brother used to stay with him and spend weekends, stuff like that.
I think my earliest memory is watching man walking on the moon on a tiny little TV. I think I was about three. When it comes to music, when I was a kid it was pretty normal apart from all the music that was going on, but that was normal for us. I saw T. Rex play when I was six and that’s when I decided I wanted to play music for sure. I said, “I want to do that.”
The longevity of your career is impressive. Not many people are still in the game as long as you’ve been and are still concocting new projects and releases like SSHH, a video from which we’re premiering today. Your dad is still touring and working too. Where does that ethic come from?
Well, I don’t know how to do anything else — this is it! I’ve been playing in pubs and clubs since I was 12 years old and have been doing it ever since just on different levels. It doesn’t matter if it’s for three people or three million people, you do the same gig. My home base is in London but we’re currently in New Orleans to play shows with Cyril Neville. His son Omari is playing drums with us and he’s an absolute drumming genius. We’re here for three weeks and are just trying to immerse ourselves with the music. We’ve been getting invited to play with a lot of people, it’s really cool. It’s just me and Ssshh here on our own. The musical culture down here is just hopping up on stage and going at it. It’s really relaxed until you get on the stage… until it’s not.
When you hit the stage, especially with The Who, do these shows speed by or go slow?
It speeds by! Especially the show at the moment. It’s very well structured and it goes by very fast. It’s always gone fast, you always want it to go on longer.
What’s the genesis of the SSHH project?
We met 12 years ago and became a couple 11 years ago. We started writing music immediately and have been putting out a couple of indie singles under different names over the years. We recorded an original record which was due for release in 2015 by someone really fucking cool- a female artist with her own label but the label shut down and the deal went to shit. We did radio show with Sirius XM so we could play our music and cite our influences. We went ‘Okay, what if we found the bands who influenced us the most and got their original rhythm section and record with them?’ We decided to release (the songs from the radio show) for a good cause, and it all wound up benefiting the Teen Cancer Program. It was a record called Issues by default, but it was originally supposed to be just a promo. Our real record is coming out later this year.
We’re premiering the video for SSHH’s cover for “Get Up, Stand Up.” What can you tell us about it?
To promote Issues, we did a series of shows and for one of them we flew out to Kingston, Jamaica where we were invited to play at the opening ceremony of the Peter Tosh museum where we were played “Get Up, Stand Up.” Then we flew to L.A. and did two club shows with Peter Tosh’s band The Soul Syndicate. One of those nights we were approached by Lizzy Jagger, who’s working with an organization called ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment. So we spent the night with her and then they donated the footage that’s in the video. I think the Equal Rights bill is very important and it’s something I think everybody needs to get their fucking heads around.
It seems like the song has never been more relevant.
If you can do something, you should do to something. That song is extremely relevant, any day of the week, anytime — especially now with what’s going on. The thing is, you don’t have to reiterate what’s going on, everyone knows. Strange times… Didn’t think we’d ever see this kind of thing.
SSHH next performs with Cyril Neville on May 4 at Carver Theater in New Orleans.