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INTERVIEW: Lemmy from Motorhead

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Thirty years old? Still pretty young right? But if you’re thinking of the life expectations of a rock band, it’s a helluva long time. Brace yourself, but Motorhead, once Guinness-certified as the loudest band on earth is 30. In album years, they’ve released 21.

In America they remain part of the Underground scene in many ways, though if you start to look around they’ve infused the mainstream (They have a song in the SpongeBob Squarepants movie for Chrissakes. They sing wrestling star Triple H’s theme song, “The Game.”). And their influence and collaborations with more familiar rock bands is wide. Overseas, in Europe especially, they remain very much a part of the mainstream consciousness.

These days the “they” is Lemmy Kilmister vocal/bass, Phil Campbell, lead guitar and drummer Mikkey Dee.

Motorhead are, for the third time, up for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. As a band they have not won, but Lemmy has won for writing four Ozzy Osbourne songs on his “No More Tears” album. Whether they win or not this year is decided Feb. 13. [Update, they won their Grammy for Whiplash]

Seems like a good time for an interview. This was done Feb. 3, 2005, 1:12 to 1:31 PST.

At work I told them to pass the telephone to me in an adjoining office ext 108, just off the Casa Grande (AZ) Dispatch newsroom. Lemmy called in a little late and I was waiting patiently (yeah that’s it, not nervously) and then the phone rang. Usually the ladies up at the front say, “Hi Temple, so and so is on the phone. I’m putting you through now OK? So I say. Yep, hi there. Is it the call I’ve been expecting? And I get this guy’s voice in return.

Temple Stark: Lemmy?
(Ian) Lemmy Kilmister: Hello? Yes?
Pressed Record

TS: Can I record this I’m going to try some way to get it on the Internet.

LK: OK

TS: How long have you got?

LK: Um about 20 to 25 minutes

TS: Ok, that’s time. You’re probably just doing the rounds here today?

LK: Yeah. We’re doing a few, yeah, because we’re going out on tour

TS: Well I’ll start with this one: There’s a “My Generation” moment in Ace of Spades that begs the obvious question …

LK: NO.

TS: ….. Here’s the verse, which loses something in the reading:

You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t want to live for ever,
And don’t forget the joker!

LK: Now see instead of don’t forget the joker nowadays on stage I say, Well, “but apparently I am.” [laugh]

TS: Why do you still do this? Is it no peace for the wicked?

LK: Well because that’s what they want to hear … uh oh you mean the job not the song?

TS: Yeah not the song, just everything.

LK: Because it’s my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else now. Intellectually I know there was a time in my life when I wasn’t in a rock and roll band but I can’t remember what it felt like.

TS: It was a long time ago … … I think this is my only type of gotcha question: On your Web site, in response to a listener’s question you say you wouldn’t want to end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But you are on the Hollywood Rock Walk.

LK: On the Rock Walk. Well, that’s different.

TS: I didn’t know there was one. But why do you say that? Why do you say you don’t want to be a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Why is it different?

LK: Well when we went there it was really awful. Just atrocious. Have you been there?

TS: No I haven’t.

LK: It’s …. Fer instance, you got a TV set in an incredible waste of space. There’s these corridors with nothing in them. Mind you this is five years ago, I suppose …. They have a TV set showing a clip of an old series supposedly related to that song. Then they have two different songs coming out of two speakers one each side. Figure that one out. I couldn’t.

TS: White noise it sounds like.

LK: Yeah. The biggest room in there is the gift shop, do you know what mean. I just wasn’t very impressed by it.

TS: Is it something about encapsulating it, making it a museum quality to it?

LK: I don’t know what it is. Like I said it was five years ago. Maybe they have their head out of their ass by now but I’m not sure. They really didn’t have it together then.

TS: Have you ever had a chance to visit the EMP? In Seattle?

LK: Which one?

TS: It’s called The Experience Music Project. It’s right underneath the Space Needle.

LK: No, I haven’t, but I’d like to though.

TS: It’s started out based on Jimi Hendrix — a collection started by Paul Allen I think.

LK: That business guy, right? No, I haven’t. I’d like to go see some of that.

TS: I had no idea you guys were still so active. You’re everywhere and busy. Do you get the calls or do you seek out the attention and the cash?

LK: We get the calls, yeah.

TS: I know about Triple H, the Game. For a while I didn’t know it was you guys. I started listening closer. thinking that sounds a lot like Motorhead and I used the Internet and figured it out.

LK: It’s the vocals isn’t it?

TS: Yep. Exactly. [laughs]

TS: I’m sure Ace of Spades was incorporated somewhere along the way … …

LK: Ace of Spades was in one of Tony Hawks game.

TS: Your songs have been used in wrestling. I’m sure Ace of Spades was incorporated somewhere along the way when Saddam Hussein was captured. Is it just weird to see so much of your work out of your control? Or are you used to it.

LK: We never had control of that song anyway. And It’s just been sold by our ex-manager.

TS: ….. You must hate that, not having control of a lot of your songs.

LK: It’s another 10 years at least.

TS: Hmmmm. I Didn’t know that.

LK: It’s a pretty bad deal you know for musicians really. The musician’s union is no fucking good at all, you know?

TS: Did that start early for you guys?

LK: Yeah, you obviously get robbed when you’re beginning because you don’t take advice cause you’re an arrogant little shit, you know. And you know better than anyone else that it’s not going to happen to you and then of, course, it happens to you immediately, you know?

TS: I have no music talent myself. It’s always been writing.

LK: There you go. I was going to try writing but it was always just songs. It never quite worked, but I have got a book out.

TS: I know, I was going to ask you about that later but I can ask you about it now if you like. Why did you write the book? “White Line Fever,” right?

LK: Yeah. Well, they offered me money you see. [laughs] I’m sure you know what an incentive that is.

TS: Well I imagine people have offered you money for a lot of things, but you chose to write a book.

LK: You don’t get offered a lot of money when you’re a band like Motorhead. That’s for people like David Lee Roth, you know?

TS: That’s to pay for the hair transplants?

LK: Aerosmith must get offered a fortune. We never had a hit in America, you see. Never been in the top 100. So to the people who are the moguls, the marketing people, we don’t mean shit.

TS: I lived in England about 10 years. In the 80s …

LK: Oh right, …

TS: … It’s a little weird to realize you weren’t a big thing over here. You were a pretty big thing over there.

LK: No, well we never did it here, though I’m not really sure why. Well, we we’ve been nominated for a Grammy now again. So maybe third time lucky.

TS: With “Whiplash” right? Does it mean anything if you get it?

LK: Well you know it will improve our standing with all those people who think they’re important. See what I mean?

TS: Is that a little Eminem thing going?

LK: Just that the money is good. It might help us sell more.

TS: I’ve got two weird, quick questions. Two-word questions

LK: OK.

TS: Hollywood. Why?

LK: Well, cause you know, when you’re an English kid growing up you see all them TV shows and it’s the palm trees, you know. [laughs]

TS: They are a wonderful thing.

LK: Yeah they are. When you first come down here you drive down Hollywood Boulevard passing palm trees and you think, Jesus, wow this is great. If you’re an American no doubt you see the Tower of London, you know, whatever it is and have the same reaction. It’s the only other place that speaks English. I’m not going to live in the Bahamas, you know. Not much of a rock scene there. And Australia is too far away. You won’t see me there.

TS: And “You Better Run. in the, um, in the SpongeBob Squarepants movie. Why?

LK: Yeah, well same manager.

TS: Changed to “You Better Swim” right?

LK: Yeah. I thought it was quite funny, really.

TS: Have you seen …

LK: No I haven’t seen it. Not in a hurry either. I don’t mind broadening out though, trying something new. This is a bit broad though.

TS: Did you have the decision there?

LK: Oh yeah, we didn’t have to do it.

TS: OK Well I wasn’t sure. You talked about your ex-manager.

LK: No our manager now. Now he can talk us into a lot of things but he can’t talk us into something we don’t want to do completely.

TS: Well I figured somewhere along the way that’s how it ends up. Where you can control what you do.

LK: Yeah, the buck stops here. Yeah, that’s true.

TS: This is one of my general questions, a while back an album like 1916 seemed a departure for you guys. A look back at history and at war among other things.

LK: Right …

TS: It’s been a few years but what were some of your thoughts back then?

LK: Oh you know I’ve always been a fan of war. …. War’s interesting. When you learn about history you don’t hear about medieval agrarian reform do you? You want to hear about Attila the Hun. Those are the interesting bits. I mean peace is nice to live in but, like, it’s not much fun to read about or watch. So I was always into Westerns, interested in the period ’cause thousands of people fought.

TS: It seems like early on in your career you were enamored with all things American – Shoot you in the back. Ace of Spades. Is that true or just a strange perception of mine.

LK: Right. War For War. No it’s true, I mean a lot of my stuff comes out of Westerns. Me and Kirk Douglas, you know. [laughs]

TS: Yeah pretty much when I think of Kirk Douglas, I think of you.

LK: We’re both short, you know. [laughs]

TS: Well what do you feel – this is the mother of all general questions – What do you feel about the world today?

LK: It’s fucked isn’t it? I mean it’s too late to repair it too I feel. I’ve got a very strong suspicious I think that if we stopped doing the bad stuff now then we can save it. But I don’t think we’re going to stop the bad stuff now. I mean it’s not actually the world that cares about us. The world is made out of volcanoes, It’s going to be fine, you know? It’s going to shrug us off like a bad disease. We’re leaving. The only thing we’re purposely destroying is what we need to stay alive, you know?

TS: What do you mean by “the bad stuff?”

LK: You know like emissions and pollution and all that shit. Those are the bad things because they’re going to kill us stone dead and all our kids are all going to be wearing gas masks everywhere.

TS: Sigh. A cheery thought.

LK: Yes I know, but you have to have a sense of humor.

TS: Do you get sick of the idea that I downloaded rather than bought 10 or 20 Motorhead songs, just to refamiliarize myself?

LK: I can’t stop you doing it. I just hope once you hear it, it interests you enough to go buy the album.

TS: I don’t know if you know this part but we’re doing this for a Web site called Blogcritics dot org and if you come to Phoenix probably for my paper. Like I said I ‘m going to try and figure out a way to get it up there.

LK: OK yeah.

TS: Over the years, with everything that has come about what ‘s the best thing technology has brought to you personally?

LK: Oh amplifiers. The electric telephone? [laughs.] I’ll tell you a quick joke. An Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman. The question was, what’s the greatest ever invention? The Englishman says, well I think it was the telephone. The Scotsman says, no, I think it was the probably the electric light bulb. The Irish guy says, the thermos flask. The guys say, why the thermos flask? he says, Well you know you put hot things in it and they stay hot and you put cold things in it and they stay cold. They say, yeah. Well how does it know?

… laughter. …

TS: [laughing] I think I’ve heard that. Another one. Ozzy Osbourne. You’ve been around him a long time?

LK: Yeah. Yeah I have.

TS: Would you ever do anything like “The Osbournes” or “The Surreal Life”?

LK: No, I wouldn’t. I think most people’s real lives are really fucking tedious, you know what I mean? I can’t watch it, the Osbournes. I don’t like peeking into peoples’ front rooms. I don’t think it’s that cool really. Does anyone want to know what anyone is really like all the time? People walking around, cameras fucking everywhere all night. What does it really show? A bunch of people fucking asleep. ha ha. That’s entertainment? God damn, there’s nothing on television.

TS: The Surreal Life was all about putting celebrities together, seeing how they interact or whatever. To me it’s fake. It’s deliberately not real life.

LK: It didn’t work that well did it?

ME: Well, sadly it made it a couple of seasons. …. You do have a new album coming out?

LK: We’re going to be working on it probably February, well it is February, part of March you know, but we wouldn’t get it finished soon

TS: The … It’s coming out in June

LK: I’m sorry?

TS: You know that right? It says it’s coming out in June. It says on your Web site

LK: Well yeah we’re finished with the tour in April so we’ve got May.

Me: Well it’s got the song titles already: Terminal Show. Killers. Suicide. Life’s a Bitch.

LK: That’s the old album.

TS: Oh OK.

LK: That’s the last album which came out last year aaaaha [laughs]. You’re a year behind?

TS: Well I make a mistake once per year. [laughs] What’s the new one then?

LK: It’s called, Inferno.

TS: OK. … OK.

[Note, if you go to the band’s Web site imotorhead.com, and click on Inferno the tracks are listed there. My confusion comes because I took “Unleashed June 2004″ as “Will be unleashed … ” and I’d read that Inferno was released in May so I ignored the year. The album talked about below is the newest one after that.]

LK: Is that the one?

TS: Think so. [embarrassed]

LK: Yeah.

TS: Well you’ll be working on it. So do you have a concept for it yet?

LK: We do not plan things. It’s like I always figure if you make plans they usually fuck up, you know? If you just go in, like, under the knife you usually come up with something decent.

TS: Well along those lines, astonishingly you guys have retained a regular album release schedule. More than 20 albums to date. Almost one a year. ….

LK: Yeah, almost.

TS: Is that important to you? Or more important to the record labels?

LK: That’s what rock and roll bands are supposed to do, you know? Get their work out and produce as much as they can. We can do it that fast so we do. I mean if it takes your stuff years like Def Leppard maybe it’s like the way they work, you know. There you go. But I wouldn’t trust the public to remember me seven years later.

TS: Like Guns and Roses. Something like that?

LK: Oh Christ, I don’t know what’s happened to that.

TS: I know. it’s tragic.

LK: Is it 10 years now?

TS: At least. … … Over the years, what kind of run-ins have you had with people, parents being outraged? A song like “Jailbait” for example?

LEM: Actually, we don’t get any, you know? We once toured with Ozzy in 1981, we had Mohicans for Jesus outside the gate in California. All these weirdoes with Mohican (Mohawk) haircuts and crosses around their necks saying the devil is in us. The devil is not in them. The devil is in the White House, you know.

TS: And, um, is that mostly because, like you said, you’re not big in America? America seems, seems to, don’t get me wrong, ….. to react a little strongly?

LK: Well America, see, is a split thing, you know? Well, you’ve got half of it is like bloody sick hippies and the other half goes to church five times a day you know? it’s like that. It’s really, it depends on who gets a hold of it first, you know.

TS: It’s a big country, from one coast to the other.

LK: Well I like to upset people, you know? I think people should be upset. I think people should stop pretending everything is just dandy and Mickey Mouse is in the White House and everything is going to be wonderful ’cause it isn’t, you know? I mean the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and everybody is just going, “Oh yes, but, ah, we have a new phone.” [laughter] Or, “Look at the SUV I just got. Isn’t it neat?” And that’s not how it is, you know? It’s not good enough. People should be woken up a bit, I think. Trouble is, in America when you make a big row everybody resents it.

TS: I think it is tough for people who have traveled to look at some of how America sees itself. I say that as a journalist and I’m sure I screwing myself a little bit.

LK: Yeah there’s a lot of cuddly branding going on, you know?

TS: But just looking in. I mean I grew up in England in my teen years and that’s kind of when most of your opinions are formed. …

LK: Yeah, right.

TS; I was a proud American there and I come back here and, well, I’m still a proud American but, like I said, it’s the whole coast-to-coast thing it’s ….

LK: Yeah … but not as proud … [laughter]

TS: Things change. It depends on what year it is.

LK: Yeah, of course it does. You know I just can’t believe America voted Bush back in.

TS: I’ll have to say no comment on that.

LK: I tell you what, I saw it coming because he had nobody against him, you know? But it was a damn close run thing I’ll say that much. So at least it was hard won. People are apologizing on the Internet now aren’t they? [laughter]

TS: I’ve seen that. Absolutely. The biggest thing I’ve got against American elections – I just wish they didn’t have to cost so much.

LK: Yeah. Then again I don’t know if Kerry would have been any better anyway. You know? I guess we’re not going to find out either.

TS: Probably not.

LK: I don’t have any beef for Tony Blair either just in case you think I’m being .. you know? I think Tony Blair is George Bush’s poodle as far as I can see.

TS: I’ve heard that. And I don’t know this may … this may be a difficult one but I was going to ask, What is the one rumor – wrong – that has persisted over the years about you or your group?

LK: Consistently?

TS: Yes.

LK: Um, well that’s we’re morons, basically.

laughter

TS: Well you might keep on enforcing that each year.

LK: Well no, we don’t, actually, because if you talk to us you’ll find we’re fairly intelligent.

TS: That’s true. Most people don’t get to talk to you, though.

LK: No, but people don’t even try because they think we’re morons.

laughter

TS: I believe this year marks your 60th year on Earth. Is that correct?

LK: 60? Yes. It’s my 60th year now.

TS: Is that a painful thought or not?

LK: Well it’s inevitable really if you’re 59.

TS: Very true

LK: What are you going to do, you know?

TS: Hopefully nothing bad. To continue …. Drink of choice nowadays?

LK: Oh, Jack and Coke.

TS: OK. Very good. Last two questions. Well I, kind of, already asked this one, but why did you write a book?

LK: Yeah we did that. Because they offered me money. I would have left it a bit later until it was nearer the end, but there you go. But I probably wouldn’t have remembered as much, anyway.

TS: And are you still learning your instrument, still learning your bass?

LK: Oh yeah. You never stop doing that.

TS; Is there something you do to help yourself learn?

LK: No. You know playing every night you learn how to back off from the precipice. [laugh] You know when you’re plunging off into unknown territory. I’ve only been playing the bass since 1971 so it’s not amazingly long …

TS: I don’t know. It encompasses my entire life.

LK: … Yeah but … Only since my teens really.

TS: Is there a …. Is there a reason that you keep on touring, keep on working?

LK: Yeah, because I think we’re good at what we do and I think we’re viable. I think we deserve to be there. I think you deserve us.

laughter.

TS: I’ve enjoyed a lot the albums over the years. So thank you.

LK: Thank you, sir.

TS: I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get a chance to talk to you …. Not that I tried very hard, right? …

LK: There you go …

TS: … But I’m glad I did today and good luck.

LK: Thank you. You too.

TS: I’ll look out for you.

LK: Come and see us when we play …. where are you at?

TS: Phoenix, well Casa Grande to the south.

LK: Phoenix. Well we’re supposed to be playing there in Arizona. I’m trying to get to play there again. So we’ll see how it goes.

TS: OK

LK: OK man

TS: Great. Thanks a lot.

LK: You too. Bye bye

TS: Take care.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.
  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    i wanna join mohicans for jesus. I used to have a mohican, so maybe i could get a retrospective membership or somesuch. Seriosuly, though, great interview Temple. I love the whole as-is transcript, too. Unedited. Warts and all, as is fitting for sir L. I find it hard to believe, though, that Motorhead aren’t big in the states. i just assumed they were one of the ROCK GIANTS like, i dunno, Motley Crue or Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch.

    Interestingly, motorhead were one of the few metal bands it was ok for punks to like. Probably the shared love of amphetamine (which is where the name comes from, i belive)

    Whatever. Great stuff.

  • Eric Olsen

    super job Temple, thanks, a real sense of who Lemmy is and how he thinks. I think Motorhead’s greatness and relative lack of popularity is probably because they don’t easily fit any given category, sort of like speed-grunge or just maximum rock ‘n’ roll or something: much more organic
    than most of what gets called “metal,” but too roaring and wired to be “punk” – much harder to market that way.

  • HW Saxton

    Waaay back in time around the early 80’s
    Motorhead was the only “ROCK” band that
    it was cool for the punk rock types to
    admit to liking.

    Of course,the punks were still listening
    to their Sabbath,Van Halen,Kiss etc but,
    if you admitted it,your friends would be
    giving you grief about how “Un-Cool” you
    were to be listening to stuff like that
    instead of worshipping at the altar of
    The Germs,Black Flag,X,et al.exclusively

    I saw Motorhead open for Ozzy many years
    back and the crowd was pretty well split
    between Punks and Headbangers.Majority
    of the punks left after Motorheads set.

  • Eric Olsen

    and the favor is returned, remember the Motorhead song “Ramones” from the 1916 album?

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    “come on baby, eat the rich….” Good interview, TS….

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Thanks Doug. For some reason – perhaps because of the expected shorter answers – I felt the need to inject a bit more of myself in this inerview and keep the conversation flowing. That would be at least one of he main differences so far between most of the interviews I conduct and the one’s with people in te arts, musicians.

    I wish I had been able to get the sound quality good enough for an audio take. But it was not happening.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Great interview, Temple — you get a real sense for who Lemmy is and what he’s about. The phenomena of wearing Motorhead tee-shirts as some kind of cultural/personal statement makes a lot more sense to me now.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    PS Motorhead won their Best Metal Performance Grammy. Wooo-hoooh.

    That’s awesome.

  • gmacgrl

    Great interview. I heard somewhere that Lemmy is having health problems, possible liver (not that it would be suprising!) damage. Sounds like he is not slowing down, so maybe a rumor is all that it is.

    Good interview.

  • http://turningdownthesuck.blogspot.com/2010/03/music-artists-who-should-have-reality.html lemmy fan

    i totally agree lemmy should have a reality show