He is a 48-year-old Welshman, known on his birth certificate as Ian Frazer Kilmister. He is a self-declared speed and booze enthusiast who sports long, greasy hair and an iron-cross necklace. He has three magnificent, Lincolnesque moles on his face, and a philosophy on life that combines cheery humor with unfettered nihilism. Nineteen years ago he formed a heavy-metal band that he wanted to call Bastard, but ultimately settled on the name Motrhead. That's another term for "speedfreak." And soon the world would know Ian Frazer Kilmister by another term.
He is Lemmy.
Since then, Motrhead has strip-mined its way through the genre, producing 16 albums that consistently eviscerate the competition. Live shows are rarely quieter than 126 decibels, bassist Lemmy's outraged rasp/yell fighting to get across lines like "I am the blade, I break the oath that you made/I am the mace, I am the blow in the face/I am the ax, to cut down heroes like rats/I am the sword, I do the work of the Lord."
Lemmy has had no trouble keeping his edge over the years; Motrhead has been plagued by a full complement of business problems. From bad management to skewed record deals to ever-rotating band members, Lemmy's barreled through it all with the determination of a Sherman tank.
And that attitude is evident on Bastards, Motrhead's latest offering of raw, pristine, head-banging rock n' roll. There are a few surprises: the serene "Lost in the Ozone" and a wrenching acoustic (!) ballad on the horrors of incest called "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me."
But for all the fearsome imagery, the tales of violence and inebriation, the man who answers the phone in his Los Angeles apartment is gracious, friendly, something darn close to charming. The Welsh accent still provides a thick adhesive, slurring words into sentences into throaty chuckles.
He is a survivor, he is a nice guy. Far from being institutionalized, Lemmy has become an institution.
New Times: How is it that you're still alive?
Lemmy: Luck. Pure luck. I've never done an exercise in my life. NT: Your appetites are pretty legendary; haven't you reformed like everyone else?
Lemmy: No. I like whiskey. I drink bourbon. Oh, yeah, I haven't reformed at all, I don't believe in reformers, I think they're all lying. They're all sneaking off round the back, you know?
NT: Do most people think you're some kind of monster?
Lemmy: They're sure I am. Heaven knows, someone who goes around the world bringing joy to people, there must be something weird about them. They're not like a priest with a nice haircut, stealing all your money, you know? But it's our fault, isn't it? I mean, no one ever said, "You have to wear a leather jacket." It's part of the gig.
NT: How have you kept going?
Lemmy: Through not succeeding. When people succeed, they stop. I've already achieved satisfaction with what I do, but you can always push that further. It's been 19 years, and I want to make the 20th anniversary. Probably make the 25th, the way I feel now. Actually, all I want is a No. 1 album so we can finally split up, ha ha ha!
NT: How did you wind up doing an acoustic ballad [Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me"]? Lemmy: I come from Wales, and not much of that shit [incest] is talked about, especially when I was growing up. I didn't find out that people did that to their kids until I was about 20, and when I did, I couldn't believe it. More people get assaulted by their parents than you would ever suspect; they keep it to themselves and go to their grave with it. It's the most heinous crime I can imagine. I'd hang em. I don't want some guy to be gettin' three meals a day and a color TV, right? He's just raped his own daughter? I'd hang em.
NT: What's the Motrhead songwriting process like?
Lemmy: It's very haphazard, there're no rules. The two guitarists will get together in England and think up a few riffs, and me and Mikkey [Dee, the drummer] will do the same thing here, then we get together and cross-pollinate. We discard quite a bit.
NT: After you got into bands, what did your folks think?
Lemmy: Well, my mother was always a softy, she'd slip me a fiver behind my dad's back, but my stepfather hated it. Then, of course, as soon as I made it into the papers, he went round showin' it to his mates in the factory.
NT: What's the state of rock today?
Lemmy: It's being strangled by business. They're not signing anybody who's risky, so there goes the whole thing. Also, they're always shrinking budgets, and the first thing to suffer is the band. The business would have built us up and sucked our blood if they could, it's just that we're not easy to market. I insist on control of the artistic side of everything. I won't have them put out the shit they put out; I've seen whole careers wrecked because of a bad album sleeve.
NT: So what's the future of rock n' roll?
Lemmy: There isn't one, unless something changes radically in the next year. There will still be records coming out, but there won't be anything dangerous going on, and rock n' roll is and of itself supposed to be dangerous. It's supposed to be rebellion against nothing, against whatever, for its own sake.
NT: Is Motrhead dangerous?
Lemmy: I think we used to be. But we still do all right; you better be cautious around us. We still have one tooth, and it's very sharp.
NT: How about new bands, like Nirvana?
Lemmy: I like them, there's a lot of rhythm guitar, and the solos aren't all catholic and structured, going up and down the scale; they just play what they're feeling. We could use some more of that. But I don't think they're the ones, Nirvana. It's not the band that's going to make the walls of the city shake again, because it's been absorbed by the business in one swallow, hasn't it? It's what I've seen all my life, bands putting their hands up and marching into captivity. It's incredible.
NT: What do you think of rap?
Lemmy: I hate it. It's tuneless and it's nothing but a drum beat and some guy who can get away with talking instead of singing. I like songs, mate; I don't care for a social message unless there's a song around it.
NT: Do you see any artistic connection between you and fellow Welshman Dylan Thomas?
NT: Who was the first musician that made you say, "That's what I want to do"?
Lemmy: Little Richard. That was the first guy I saw where I knew that was what I wanted to do. I liked a lot of music before that, but when I heard Little Richard, he was the one. I think it was "Jenny Jenny." NT: Was Elvis an influence?
Lemmy: Yeah, for having sideburns. He was a good singer, but he wasn't Little Richard. Little Richard was my boy, the ultimate rock n' roll voice.
NT: You roadied for Jimi Hendrix for a while. How did that come about?
Lemmy: The only guy I knew in London was this guy called Neville, so when I first went down there in early 67, I had nowhere to crash and I called him up. Turns out he was working for Hendrix, and him and Noel Redding were sharing a flat. So I stayed there for a bit. They needed an extra geezer to lift and carry. That's all I did, just lift and carry, but I got to sit and watch him [Hendrix] for free. I was at a lot of the TV and radio shows he did early on, then we did the tour with the Move, the Pink Floyd, the Nice, then we went into the studio and those were all the sessions for Axis: Bold As Love. NT: Does that seem like a million years ago?
Lemmy: It does, kind of, but I still remember exactly how I felt. And I haven't changed.
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NT: Did you party with Hendrix?
Lemmy (chuckling): Well, you know, you party with Hendrix, man . . . Hendrix was a party. Hendrix would go into a room with three girls and in an hour they'd all come out smilin'. He was a fuckin' snake! But he was a really nice guy, exceptionally well-mannered--like Elvis--pull chairs out for chicks and open doors. And certainly the best guitar player you'll ever hear, for innovation on the spot, thinking on the balls of your feet. Clapton would come down and sit on a chair at the back of his [amplifier] stack with his ear on it, trying to figure how he got the feedback. Nobody's done it before or since.
NT: What's the best thing that's come out of being in a band? Lemmy: So many things. I saw the world, I've met people that I admire and respect tremendously. I have made love to women of all persuasions, religions, sizes, weights and colors all over the five continents of the world. NT: Do you listen to anybody that might surprise Motrhead fans? Lemmy: The Everly Brothers. And Abba, perfectly crafted singles. Seamless. I was brought up on singles.
NT: You mention the Lord in your lyrics; do you believe in God?
Lemmy: I believe that we were a mistake, an evolutionary mistake. I believe that the temperature was just right in that swamp that day.
NT: So if humanity is a mistake, what does that make rock n' roll?
Lemmy: It makes it an aberration, which is exactly what it should be.