There's something fascinating about Motörhead's longevity. Nearly 40 years ago, the English band fused together heavy metal and punk -- fueled by healthy doses of whiskey -- to become one of the early pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Few bands have survived for so long without displaying a distinct evolution in sound or style, or ever-changing show themes or concepts that keeps veteran fans on their toes and rallies new ones. Yes, heavy metal fans value consistency, and Motörhead serves up boatloads. The band fell into stride a long time ago, but they aren't aiming to release the next break-out album or try a new crazy stage show -- they're just looking to reinforce their own classic Motörhead sound. As drummer Mikkey Dee says, "The perfect Motörhead album is a record that sounds like everything we've done, but is new."
The band helped revolutionize heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s with such albums as Overkill and Ace of Spades, then sparked and fueled the speed and thrash metal scene for generations of bands to come. Lead singer, bassist and songwriter Lemmy Kilmister has a name that's synonymous with being invincible, while guitarist Phil Campbell began playing guitar professionally at age 13. Rounding out the lineup is Mikkey Dee, who solidified his legendary percussion skills before he even joined Motörhead with gigs in King Diamond and Dokken.
Motörhead's evolution is making sure that their music is what Dee calls "transparent and written as a soundtrack to life." If life was lived at no less than 126 decibels. That mentality always seems to work for them: 2013's Aftershock, their 21st album, marked Motörhead's biggest selling first week and highest U.S. chart debut numbers to date. If you haven't heard it, get a taste with such tracks as "Lost Women Blues" and "Death Machine." Just delicious.
The power trio has sold more than 30 million albums with their unique dynamic, and spurred an array of hits over the years that have been featured in movies ranging from Superbad to Hellraiser III to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. At the end of 2013 they had to cancel their tour due to Lemmy's health concerns after he collapsed on stage. But now the band is back in the touring saddle, booking shows at Coachella this year, as well as their first stab at the increasingly popular concert cruises. Motörhead's Motorboat (already dubbed "The Loudest Boat In The World") will set sail to Key West this September alongside Megadeth, Anthrax, Zakk Wylde, Danko Jones and more.
Up on the Sun spoke with drummer Mikkey Dee the day before they kicked off their new tour in L.A. -- it was eight months since they had played on stage, the longest in Dee's entire career. We chatted about the secret to success, generational music, and the Motörhead cruise.
Up on the Sun: How are you guys doing today?
Mikkey Dee: Great! We're actually rehearsing right now for our kick-off show tomorrow in L.A. There's a lot of excitement and tension around here!
Why do you think Motörhead has achieved such longevity?
I think it's just that; the music is great, timeless and appeals to a wide range of music fans. With Motörhead, we never try to sound like something other than ourselves. We represent that solid, classic, good songwriting, rock 'n' roll. Hard and heavy, bluesy rock 'n' roll. We're uncompromising and make music that stands the test of time. The majority of people who are into great music like what's not fake or trendy; our music is transparent and written to be a soundtrack to life. Plus, we're three guys who are very close and comfortable with each other. We're inspired by ourselves, the way we write music, tour, and record. Get along as a family. An album reflects what's going on in the band, especially during touring, while touring reflects what the last album was like.
If someone had never heard Motörhead, what two albums would you give them that represents the band?
Well, this last album, Aftershock, was really fantastic and displays a lot of our skill level and depth, of course, since it is our most recent. But I'd have to say also Orgasmatron (1986), or even Bastards (1993). On second thought, I think that the person should just buy all the Motörhead albums and decide for themselves!
So with the album Aftershock, the band's 21st studio album thus far (and named one of 2013's best by a lot of rock critics), can you give me your take on how you think the band has progressed in its style from say, some of the first hit albums in the '80s?
We've definitely evolved in terms of our skill level, of course, as well as figuring out the mark we ultimately want to make on the music industry. But with Motörhead we never try to sound like something other than ourselves. We would just leave go do a side project or solo album if one of us were so inclined. The perfect Motörhead album is a record that sounds like everything we've done, but is new. In fact, I read some review awhile back that was spot on: the writer said that Aftershock sounded like a classic Motörhead album, just with different songs. If anyone says that as a negative comment, we take it as a compliment because that's who we are: Motörhead. That's exactly what we want to do. We never want someone to hear the album and say, "that doesn't sound like Motörhead" or "what are they trying to do?" On the other hand, one of the hardest things we can do is to write new songs that sound the same. We are fine playing around with different styles, going from slower bluesy tempos to speed metal.
I'm actually a little bit nervous; we're about to kick off our first show tomorrow. I haven't been on a stage in eight months since we had to cancel our tour when Lemmy wasn't feeling too well. In 30 years, I don't think I've ever not been on a stage for that long. But I'm so glad Lemmy is feeling better.
So he's doing really well?
For the time being, at least. But you can't help but think about all the things that can go wrong in a production on tour.
You guys haven't played any of the new songs from Aftershock live on stage yet, right?
No, because we had to stop the tour last fall. So we haven't had a chance to play any of those songs live on stage.
So are you feeling anxiety about playing any of those songs, or do you not get anxiety over new music anymore?
Nah, I don't get nervous about playing new songs anymore. It's anxiety over what could go wrong with production: lighting, sound, and so forth. I'm sure it'll be fine, but there's always that in the back of your mind.
Plus, you guys have the Motörhead Cruise this fall.
Yes! That's very exciting. I think that's September? October? That is going to be such a fun time, out on the boat playing music with some of our favorite people and other musicians! It's a great set-up for the fans.
Motörhead has never had a music cruise before, right?
No, we haven't. We can't wait for it. So from King Diamond to Don Dokken to Motörhead, you have been a major element of some extremely influential rock and metal bands. Give me two things that you think have contributed to your success.
Well I'm very . . . How do you say it? [Long pause.] I can't figure out the word . . . I look at my work very closely and judge it a lot. That's how I've been since the very beginning of being a drummer. So you're just really critical of your own work?
Yes. That's it. I challenge myself to work hard and examine every single thing I'm doing in my work and in music. Plus, I play harder now than I did 15 years ago because I'm stronger. And I have an established routine. I mean; clearly I'm Motörhead's drummer, but that self-dedication, preservation and determination is reflected in my entire career. It's important to me to be the best I can be no matter what. You've seen some of the best times in music, particularly rock n roll. Is there a musical decade you wish you could've been a part of?
Hmm . . . [Long pause.] I don't think so, as I've been around for some pretty kickass music...The only other thing I can think of is the '60s, since I was too young to be a part of that musical era, obviously. [Long pause.] But, no. I think that I was in the perfect decade of music for myself, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
If you could master one instrument what would it be?
Well, I do play the guitar and the piano. I've always really liked those instruments, but the drums are definitely my thing -- I am a drummer and have been since I was a kid.
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