29 November 2010
Articles | Interviews

Interview: Motörhead

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Thirty-five years and 20 studio albums in and the amphetamine-fuelled juggernaut traverses on, titillating, terrifying and entertaining as ever. Like all truly great British institutions, Motörhead just seem to get more popular with age. Like Mark E. Smith, Coronation Street, Morrissey, Monty Python, Yorkshire pudding and James Bond, they somehow keep increasing their fanbase. There’s a new album coming soon, The World Is Yours, and a European tour taking place right now — more proof, if you need it, that Motörhead refuse to wither or capitulate, or even grow old.

Speaking of 007, The World Is Yours sounds like a Bond film title, and there are comparisons to be drawn. Lemmy, who like James has been accused of being a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” is a man of action, a shagger and a charmer. He is the Bond of leering, heavy rock’n’roll — an agent provocateur existing in a parallel dimension; a relic of a bygone age who nonetheless manages to exhilarate modern audiences. The formula doesn’t change much from outing to outing, but the band always remembers to pack in the thrills. The World Is Yours sounds undeniably familiar yet also remarkably fresh. And then there are the girls.

We meet at Stringfellows strip club in central London. Peter Stringfellow isn’t here in person, but his presence hangs over the place like a ghost needing exorcism. He’s in the zebra-print chairs, and in the miles of mirrors on walls and ceilings; he’s in the drinks and the food-on-sticks and the drapes; he’s even peering out of a pile of displaced and incongruous in-flight magazines sat on one of the tables, his ogre-ish grin and orange face inanimate and captured in a moment, like an unwanted sofa on Gumtree. The bar is free and half-naked young women writhe around poles. The collected party of journalists doesn’t really know where to look. They turn their backs to the dancing and chat furtively among themselves. I keep looking, in the name of research, and notice one of the dancers laughing to herself as her nipple falls out of her mesh unitard for the umpteenth time. Some of Motörhead’s dancers are here, too, and one tells me she can’t understand how these girls can dance when the music is being played so quietly. I’m not sure how anyone can dance without two bottles of vodka in them.

A short press conference ensues and then I’m whisked off to a fire escape to meet Lemmy. The location is chosen so he can smoke and he generously dishes out the Marlboro reds like a favourite uncle you’re not really allowed to see. I park myself on a flight of concrete steps and he reclines in one of Stringy’s zebra-print thrones that’s been brought in from the club. Somehow he manages to look good in one of Stringy’s zebra-print thrones, Confederate hat and black Nazi boots set against the cold, bare backdrop of a fire escape; a creature in his own environment.

Lemmy lives in L.A. these days, and I wonder if it’s more difficult to smoke there than here. He doesn’t think there’s much in it.

“L.A. was the first place to ban smoking. It was the fucking waitresses in the fucking bars that did it. I wouldn’t have tipped them had I known.”

When I was outside smoking earlier, I witnessed Lemmy arrive and it brought home just how famous he really is. Old women and men with rucksacks, students and tourists, and people who probably have no more than a passing interest in music, all stopped and gawped in awe.

“Sometimes it’s just horror,” he remarks, wearily.

Motörhead formed in 1975 after Lemmy had been thrown out of space rockers Hawkwind. He’d been busted for drugs on the Canadian border and his decision to form a group was borne out of the need to not get fired again. He’d taken Hawkwind to number three in 1972 with ‘Silver Machine’, which he happened to sing on by chance when lead singer Robert Calvert, who suffered from bipolar disorder, couldn’t make it to the studio. The success of the record further compounded resentment towards the bass player. Motörhead are named after the final song that Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind. Originally they were going to be called Bastard.

Thirty-five years is a long time to hold down a job in this day and age, especially one as precarious as being in the world’s loudest rock band. That’s two years longer than Christ walked the earth.

“And twice as long as the Third Reich,” says Lemmy. “No, three times as long as the Third Reich, next year.”

And you just keep on going.

“Because that’s what I do. I don’t know how to do anything else, and besides it’s a good gig. I recommend it. It beats the shit out of being a journalist, I can tell you that.”

He has a point. Lyrically, the new album is more disaffected than ever, though Lemmy says, “I was disaffected a long time before this”. Yet the title of the album is uncharacteristically upbeat.

“It’s sarcasm. It’s very ironic. ‘The world is yours’ because it’s becoming less and less yours everyday.”

Do you really believe the world is a worse place than when you started the band 35 years ago?

“Yeah, I do. It’s like another planet. You wouldn’t believe what it was like then. If you could go back, you wouldn’t come back here.”

But aren’t those ideas just perpetuated by media scaremongering? A much bigger, more invasive, more ubiquitous media…

“The media told you you’re having a recession, right? Do you have one? Think about it. Have you noticed the effects of it?”

“So why should you go with it? It’s a load of crap. Like the church convinced people there was an invisible man in the sky that sees everything you do.” He grins or maybe grimaces. It’s a look of pleasure and pain. “That’s a good story, too.”

In the dark ages, the multitudes couldn’t read and so therefore relied on trusted clergy to convey information they believed to be the truth, and Lemmy says the fact it was conveniently written in Latin added a further obstacle. But now we live in a more enlightened age, of course.

“You think!?” he barks. “We’re still raping our own children, aren’t we?”

Excuse me? Do you mean the Catholic church?

“No, I mean everybody is. Fathers raping their own children, boy and girl. They put it on the internet and show all the other molesters, too. It’s fucking disgraceful. The greatest communication device known to man, ever, and they use it for child porn. Isn’t it great? You can trust the human race, man, they never fail.”

But surely there have always been good people and there have always been evil, fucked-up people…

“I think it’s too much information. Most people don’t deserve that much information. They can’t cope with it. I mean, half the world hasn’t got the internet because they’re up to their knees in rice paddy. But half the world is becoming more couch potato-like because they never get out of the fucking house anymore. All they do is sit in front of a computer and order their food from a fucking take-out delivery. That’s what it’s becoming. We’re all in our rooms. We’re easier to control if we stay at home.”

So you think it’s all about control? He glances conspiratorially, as if about to impart the unutterable.

“The government, the church, I’m sure they’re in some form of fucking deep conspiracy, although I don’t believe in conspiracies.” He laughs ironically. “But a lot of those conspiracy theories are true, you know. They’re always looking to control you because that way you’ll be a good little citizen. You’ll go to work, you’ll not go on strike, not have long holidays, not start a revolution and they’ll be safe. The main thing is preserving the status quo, right? Because that’s how they make their money. If it changes, they don’t like it.

“That’s why Obama has not been able to do much in America, because for the last year he’s been blocked by Congress and the Senate and it’s going to be even worse now the Republicans have got control of the House of Representatives again. But you have to give the guy more than two years.”

‘Brotherhood Of Man’ is one of the standout tracks on the record, as dark as it is menacing and in a similar vein to ‘Orgasmatron’. Lemmy concurs, claiming that he “couldn’t think of any other voice to do on it. The voice fits it perfectly.” Thankfully, it doesn’t sound anything like the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest winners of the same name.

The lyrics paint a bleak picture of modern times and I wonder what Lemmy would suggest as a solution?

“I don’t see that I have to have a solution, I see that I have to ask the question. I mean, I’m not a politician, so that’s why I can still ask the question. And I’m not a fucking genius, so that’s why I don’t have the answers.”

If the world has changed beyond all recognition in the past 30-odd years, you can bet your ass Lemmy hasn’t. He’s one of the last torchbearers of rock’s ignoble tradition, touchingly devoted to his antediluvian ideals. For a man with his reputation, it’s also a miracle he’s in such good nick.

“That’s just luck,” he claims. “Believe me, I’ve not been putting no Oil of Ulay on every night. This is luck.”

For every Lemmy, or Keith Richards, there must be hundreds who’ve died and made headlines and thousands upon thousands who’ve expired with no fanfare. Lemmy says that moderation is the key and at first I think he’s joking. Lemmy has many stories attached to him and one I heard was that he used to make everyone in his entourage drink to “ensure they weren’t cunts” back in the eighties.

“You have to learn how to be moderate,” he says. “You have to know what’s good for you and what isn’t. What isn’t is overdoing it, and you end up sweating profusely. That’s very bad news and that attracts the police as well. What you’ve gotta learn is how to do it in moderation.

“If you overdo booze, it’ll kill you. If you overdo heroin… well, you don’t even need to overdo heroin, just do heroin and it’ll kill you. If you overdo speed or coke, it’ll send you nuts. But there is a way through it: you can do everything in moderation. You just have to be content with a bit of a buzz and not going to the moon all the time.”

Lemmy’s idea of moderation is to drink all day every day, but without binge drinking. He’s surely lost people along the way.

“No end of them, yeah,” he laments. “Most of my generation that I hung around with are gone. And when I say gone, I don’t mean dead particularly, though I’m sure a lot of them wish they were. There’s a couple in mental hospitals and a couple endlessly going in and out of rehab. Heroin killed my generation and now it’s about to kill this one by the looks of it. How can death be fashionable? Aren’t there enough corpses piled up between 1916 and now?”

“Rock’n’roll is the only true religion,” he opines on new track ‘Get Back In Line’. It’s also life and death stuff.

“Every religion has its masters, my boy!” he says, chuckling demonically. “I believe in rock’n’roll. I’d much rather listen to Little Richard than some asshole preaching to me from a pulpit, because I think Little Richard summed it up a lot better when he said, ‘Tutti frutti, oh Rudy, a wop-bop-a-loom-a-blop-bam-boom.’ I don’t think any priest I ever heard got it quite that right.”

Famously, Lemmy’s father was a vicar, though he says he never really knew him, leaving baby Ian Kilmister as he did when he was just three months old. “Up until I was about six I thought everybody just had a mother,” he says.

Did that experience shape his anti-religiosity?

“No, not at all. But I did escape the fatherly presence. You know: ‘Let’s go hunting, son, and kill a small furry animal.’ I didn’t get that shit and I didn’t get the fighting between them. That destroys kids even more than if one of them leaves. Parents fighting all the time is fucking awful for a kid.

“I met my father for the first time when I was 25. He offered to pay for me to have lessons as a travelling salesman. I nearly hit him with the pizza he’d just ordered. I said, ‘Fuck you, it’s your terms you’re looking for, not mine. You’re not interested in me, you’re interested in your guilt, so fuck you.’ And off I went.”

Lemmy didn’t need to become a travelling salesman. Instead, he embarked on an incredible journey that runs pervasively through rock history like letters through a stick of rock. He even roadied for the greatest guitarist the world has ever seen, Jimi Hendrix.

“That was a special moment,” he says. “I mean that guy… you listen to him now and it can sound kind of ordinary because a lot of people have learnt to do those solos now — to play like that — but back then he was the only one doing anything like it. And I still ain’t seen nobody even now who can master his control of feedback, because when he played feedback it sounded like an instrument.”

As we’re winding up I ask him why he chose Stringfellows. What’s the point of strip clubs? You’re not really meant to masturbate in public if you’re a gentleman.

“Yeah, but if you’re persuasive you can always get a woman to meet you afterwards,” he says, smiling, embodying the persona of that naughty avuncular elder once again. I’m about to say something, but Lemmy cuts in.

“No, no, I used to do it before I was famous. You have more time before you’re famous because you ain’t got fuck all else to do. Before I was doing all this I was just hanging out in London selling a bit of speed and a bit of dope, and pulling all these birds.”

The Stool Pigeon and Motörhead reconvene the following day at John Henry’s studios off the Caledonian Road. We’re here to chat to drummer Mikkey Dee but we have to wait as Motörhead must practise. Watching most bands rehearse is a punishment on a par with waterboarding. This, however, feels like a rare privilege. Aside from outings in Japan, they’ve not played together in a while, although that’s certainly not apparent once they get going.

Crew lounge around drinking cans of Strongbow while a George Carlin lookalike is discreetly chopping away at something in the corner with his bank card. Their sound guy is blessed with a tremendous porn ponytail and their formidable manager, with her Teutonic rasp, goldilocks and icy demeanour, is exactly how one imagines Nico was in her latter years. Phil Campbell, guitarist, is unassuming, sitting on a chair and doing what he needs to, saying very little. And then there’s Mikkey Dee, drummer par excellence, a likeable, extrovert character with a mighty yellow mane who has the look of a righteous wrestler crossed with an extremely hard panda. You think WWF.

Whenever Motörhead play live, Lemmy always introduces Mikkey as the greatest drummer in the world. Lemmy isn’t given to lying, so how does that make him feel?

“It doesn’t make me go nuts but, yes, it’s nice to hear him say that. He knows that I’ve played with a lot of competent, very technical musicians — guitar heroes and fantastic bass players — but I’ve never played in another band like this. I go on stage and these two just smoke away everything I’ve ever done. That’s what I think of these guys, and it’s very nice to hear that they appreciate that I’m busting my fucking Swedish meatballs out there!”

Mikkey’s ongoing tenure in the band is approaching 20 years now, and I wonder if he ever gets tired of critics harping back to the Lemmy/Phil Taylor/‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke days, proclaiming it will always be the definitive line-up.

“It doesn’t wind me up because Motörhead was a great band in those days,” he says. “They were the originals and I’m also dragging my old shit, King Diamond, behind me. I always get questions about that. But I’ll tell you the difference between today and 15 years back. At a press conference, if 20 questions were asked, 11 would have been about the old days. Today, only one. And people totally have the right — they wanna hear what Lem has to say about the past. It doesn’t piss me off at all. I’m just proud and glad that I could step in 20 years ago. I had two options and that was to either replace Phil Taylor or to put Mikkey Dee in the band. I chose the second.”

So why has this Motörhead incarnation lasted so long when others have faltered?

“Because we are very honest. We go out and give it our absolute everything, and kids today can see and feel that. They have so much access to music. You can’t fool them by faking it like you could in the early eighties or seventies. If Phil wakes up with stomach flu and Lemmy’s got a cold and I just broke a bone in my hand, it doesn’t matter — it’s going to be a good Motörhead show.”

And with that they’re off to start another tour. The hardest working men in showbusiness — official — will always deliver. Like Mikkey says: “Motörhead never fucking dies.”

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