|Lemmy - Motorhead|
|Written by Kim Thore|
|Friday, 01 January 2010 10:19|
With thirty four years under their belt, Motörhead has earned their place in rock as one of the most recognizable and irreverent power trios to ever bust an eardrum. Formed in 1975 by bassist, singer and songwriter Lemmy, who has remained the sole constant member, the band somehow got tagged in the new wave of British heavy metal - perhaps because no one knew exactly where to put them and went with "they're loud and have long hair - yes, let's call them metal."
However, regardless of the moniker, Motörhead still had significant success in the early 1980s with several UK Top 40 singles. Albums such as 'Overkill', 'Bomber', 'Ace Of Spades' and 'No Sleep 'til Hammersmith' helped to put Motörhead solidly front and center as one of Britain's foremost rock bands ever. Standing in the midst of it all is Ian Kilmister or, as the world knows him, Lemmy.
And if there ever was a living legend in our time, Lemmy emerges as a front runner. Bucking against labels, the establishment, and forging his own way without any excuses or apologies, he has become a bit of what you fancy when it comes to hard hitting front men. Once quoted as saying, "I'm playing rock 'n' roll and I think rock 'n' roll should be sacred - it is to me. I don't see why it should not be for everybody else." One can see that Lemmy is indeed serious about Motorhead's music. More serious than you may initially give him credit for...
His signature look, unusual voice, and unwavering stance on music and the business it supports has made Lemmy a cult figure. He's had a fairly prolific tv and movie career, action figures made after him, a movie in the making about his life and yet, at the end of the day, he's simply Lemmy - minus the affectation that most in his position would have.
Motorhead's credo, everything louder than everything else, is not just a tee shirt slogan, it's not even a directive about where his amps are turned... it sums up Lemmy, the man , the musician, the icon... larger than life, louder than a scream, leader of the rest.
So what can one expect when you get the opportunity to meet and interview the man himself?
Around 5:45 I'm outside The Fillmore in Charlotte and I am frantically trying to figure out where my press packet is as my interview is set for 6pm. My partner in crime, Jon, was scheming for ways for me to get backstage as the summer heat beat down on us.
Gazing at the door, a line is forming already hours before the legendary Motorhead is set to hit the stage. One glance over the crowd and I could tell immediately this is no ordinary queue... These are hardcore fans, who have travelled to see one of the most notorious bands and most emblematic lead singers of our time. The venue recognized the same thing I did apparently and started putting up barricades and pushing the line back. I guess comfortable distance seemed to be needed.
As I walked back and forth, camera bag in tow and trying to track down the tour manager Dan, my eyes were constantly drawn to the ever growing line...After too many concerts to count I have seen lines before but these fans were different - each wore a look on their face as if this was the seminal moment in their life, year, maybe their week...but either way these weren't your typical fans- these were followers. Rock 'n' roll pilgrams at the Mecca of Motorhead.
An hour later, we were escorted backstage and asked to wait a bit outside the dressing room as Lemmy had friends with him and was catching up on old times. Finally, we were invited into the inner sanctum... and there he sat, one of rock's most legendary frontmen... surrounded by a few opened bags of chips, a drink, a paperback and a pack of smokes.
I don't know what I expected? Perhaps a gilded throne with silver tipped horns, but instead it felt like I had managed to catch Lemmy at the local bar or pub for a nice chat. Jon sat down and handed me the recorder and Lemmy commented on the technology and noticed we were both wearing hats..."oh I've got one of those too"..and he promptly put on his while advising Jon to adjust his lest he look "too Brad Pitt."
And it was at that moment I realized, legends are few and far between---and here I was sitting in front of one of the most notorious; surprisingly affable, accommodating , and vastly intelligent, I quickly realized this was no ordinary rock star...
So, Lemmy, you have had a very long and successful career. At this point what keeps you motivated?
Well, rock and roll is a pretty good motivator, isn't it? Look at all the bands that have been around, and have lasted. It's great music. Timeless. I mean think of what other job I could be doing? I'd probably be in jail.
You've moved from being a "star" or "celebrity" to being an icon. You're on TV, you're going to be on Jimmy Kimmel, and then there are the action figures. How does this make you feel..does it change anything?
That's funny, isn't it? They actually have three action figures. Two flesh colored ones with different guitars and a gold, silver and black one. Me and the guitar are black. That's a strange one. Anyway, being an icon just means that people stop buying your albums.
Start or stop?
Stop. When you're an "icon" or a "legend" people perceive that you're finished.
But still.. you have had an impact on many people's careers...
At this point you could basically do a "greatest hits" set, and yet you continue to add new music to your set, the acoustic version of 'Whorehouse Blues' for example, and people seem to respond to the newer material as strongly as they do to older tunes like 'Metropolis' or 'Ace Of Spades'.....what does this say?
Well, the last album made it into the Top 100 here in the States. We've never been in the Top 100 here before. We made it to number 89 or something, and we were weren't there for long but we still did it.
Finally! Let's talk about your influences. I did some research on you and, outside of The Beatles, you don't mention any influences from a bass player perspective.
Well, I don't really get much from virtuosos, you know? I like bands. I like to hear the wall, not the bricks. I'm not interested in hearing everything separated. I hate that, actually, because it distracts you from the music. For example The Who were a great band, The Beatles were a great band, Hendrix was a great band. But before The Beatles there really weren't bands, you had "So and So and the What Nots." But before The Beatles my biggest influence was Little Richard. Remember I was there in the beginning. I remember Elvis's first record coming out on a 78 (rpm vinyl record). They used to melt if you left them in the sun and would break if you looked at them wrong (laughs).
That leads directly to my next question. What are you listening to now?
Well for me the best record in the past ten years was Evanesence. I really like them. Great production, great arrangements, in fact fantastic arrangements. They remind me of the later Beatles stuff with George Martin. I was very encouraged by that one. It's too bad they got labeled a "goth" band. What a silly pigeon hole.
Well, they say you're a heavy metal icon, but Motorhead isn't a heavy metal band.
Well, they had to put us somewhere. I have long hair so I guess that makes me metal (laughs). They could have focused on the boots and labeled me country, like Merle Haggard. "Thank god I'm a country boy."
Ok, that evokes an image! You're well known as a prolific reader. What are you currently reading?
(holds up a Clive Cussler paperback) Another story of adventure and violence, you know, Clive Cussler. It's wallpaper, really. The problem is that we always seem to get into town after all the book shops have closed.
Well, make us a list and we'll send you a care package.
The problem is that you don't know what you want until you see it.
True - one of the frustrations of being on the road, I suppose......So, tell us about some of your side projects, Headcat with Slim Jim Phantom for example.
My side projects are just a break from Motorhead. People seem surprised that the side project stuff isn't like Motorhead, but if it was like Motorhead it wouldn't be a break, would it? Plus I love playing that old stuff, it's a lot of fun. The Headcat album was a lot of fun to make, trying to recreate the Buddy Holly stuff, which I think we did a pretty good job on. I did have to do all the backing vocals, though, which is a total pain in the ass. Buddy Holly was so far ahead of his time back then, but they dismissed him in America the same way the dismissed the Ramones. One hit or two hits and then into the trash can. Then you become "great" after you've died. It's like Randy Rhoads. He became a much better guitarist after he died.
That's funny. We were discussing this very subject on our way here. Randy Rhoads was a kid who had so much potential, but that was all. Who knows where he would have gone had he lived.
Exactly. He became a legendary guitarist after he died. He was a much better guitarist than you've heard. I remember seeing him backstage playing classical.
And yet many of the guitarists over the years claim him as an influence.
Really? I wonder how that works?
One of the columns I write for the magazine is called "Rock Rewind" where I take an album from 10, 15 or 20 years ago and ask "is this album really what people claim it is?" At the time it was good compared to whatever else was also current, but does it stand the test of time?
Well, there's that thing that says you have to be there when it happens to really appreciate what it was. You can't really go back and say that a record was as good as they say it was because if you weren't there you can't really judge it. Like The Beatles were just huge, you know? They just put out that vinyl box set and The Beatles now have 15 out of the top 20 slots on Amazon. But The Beatles have been broken up for 40 years. 40 years. That's ridiculous. Amazing, you know.
Guitar World magazine has an article this month on the making of 'Abbey Road.' It's hard to believe that it was really 40 years ago!
The techniques they were using and the experiments they were doing. Wow! George Martin was absolutely the fifth Beatle. He was brilliant. If it wasn't for him they wouldn't have been able to do a lot of the things they did. McCartney came in one day and said he had seen some Bach on telly the night before and he wanted trumpets. Trumpets! So George Martin said "right. Bach and trumpets" and they recorded 'Penny Lane'. Martin was classically trained and knew every instrument. The harmonium solo on 'In My Life' was him as well. He played it half speed and then sped it up to fit the song.
Quite a chore prior to Protools.
Yeah, it can spoil you I suppose, but it can save you a lot of time, which ultimately saves money as well. Back in the old days you all had to play the song perfectly, together.
That is the question! What makes a great band, though? Like ZZ Top's 'Rythymeen' for example, which was recorded live as a three piece. A back to basics thing for them after all the synth stuff on the three previous albums.
I like 'Tres Hombres' as well. And 'Deguello' - great album. 'I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide' is a great tune.
So, how is it working out with Matt Sorum? Mickey Dee is off doing a reality show and this is a big change...
It's going pretty well so far. Tonight is only his third show.
Has that changed the dynamic of the band?
I don't know yet (laughs). Matt is trying to fill Mickey Dee's shoes, which is a pretty tough job, but he's doing really well.
What made you decide to choose Matt Sorum?
I don't know. I didn't ask him first, I asked Dave Grohl, but he was busy so I asked Matt. I needed someone who had the power to fill in for Mickey, and Matt definitely has that.
Mickey Dee is a phenomenal drummer, you've even been quoted as saying he's the best drummer in world.
Yeah, he is. That's why he's so hard to fill in for.
We were talking about this earlier. When you have such a recognizable image, or brand, like Motorhead, you end up with people, like Paris Hilton, wearing Motorhead shirts or whatever, who probably have never bought a Motorhead album. What do you think about that?
I think it's really about attitude, you know. People might not know the music, but they recognize the attitude and that's what they respond to. They go "Yeah! Ace Of Spades, dude!" And you have to point out that that was 1980, you know. 30 years ago.
So, for the kid sitting in Iowa wanting to be you one day, what do you tell them?
Well, that would be better than wanting to be Slipknot, wouldn't it? Having to wear those masks all the time. It's kind of sad, really. When you go see them, how do you know it's really them? It could be anybody under those masks. It's rubbish, really.
Like Mushroomhead. They replaced their lead vocalist and you couldn't tell. Just another guy in a mask.
(Laughs) It's really bad, isn't it? They were at the Grammy's you know, we were in the same category. They had to sit there all day long wearing those masks. All day long, pouring sweat, and they didn't get it after all.
So, what's next for Motorhead?
We'll just keep on doing it. It seems to be working out pretty well so why fuck with it? There isn't anyone else like us. When we're gone there will be a hole there that you can't fill.
For more information on Motorhead go to IMotorhead.com. Special thanks to Lemmy, Dan, Jon Epstein and Rhonda Saenz for all of their assistance.
Interview by Kim Thore
Pictures by Kim Thore and Johnny H
As first published in September 2009 by All Access Magazine www.allaccessmagazine.com