It All Adds Up
Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister once said – in describing what the band sounded like – if they moved in next door to you, your lawn would die. Despite a larger-than-life personality and revolving membership (mostly solid since ’92), they’ve always been about the music. Consistently ragged – the terrifying rattle of a thousand Hells Angels storming down the turnpike – and stubborn in the trend-defying, AC/DC and Slayer mold, Motorhead have produced no-frills, gut-punch, broken-muffler metal since 1975.
Appearing: February 19th at Congress Theater in Chicago.
To not discuss Motorhead in a musical context – who knows? I’m half expecting my keyboard to spark flames and warp around my fingers. But the night we phone Kilmister at home in Los Angeles, the topic at hand is his business later in the evening: attending the West Coast premiere of the film documentary about him (not Motorhead), titled Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son Of A Bitch. The expository piece makes a one-night engagement with Chicago on the 10th at the Music Box in Lakeview, and offers a validating, though humanizing portrait of a dyed-in-the-wool wildman.
Luckily for us (and our keyboard), new music’s on tap as well. Motorhead’s 20th album, The World Is Yours (self-released but distributed through EMI), finally arrives this month in the United States. It’s the amalgamation or distillation of all the Motorhead records, including the almighty Orgasmatron strains in “Brotherhood Of Man.” Before stepping out for the evening, Kilmister shared a few words, including one changed aspect: “I don’t skip up the stairs anymore. That’s one part of growing up: I’m getting older.”
IE: Is tonight the big night?
Lemmy Kilmister: It’s one of them, you know. We have a few.
IE: Have you seen the movie already?
LK: I’d seen it first a couple weeks after wrap. [The directors granted him final cut.]
IE: What do you wear tonight?
LK: Some shoulder straps and a frock, you know. No, my cleanest shirt and my cleanest pair of pants, I suppose.
IE: No tuxedo T-shirts or butterfly collars?
LK: I don’t think so. It’s not really me, is it?
IE: That’s the whole thing. People expect the movie to get to the bottom of you and you show up in something outlandish to confuse them.
LK: That’d be something more for our show at Convent Garden in London. I wore a tuxedo that night – a white one.
IE: What was having cameras around like? Was it disconcerting? Did you find yourself acting differently?
LK: It was a pain in the ass, actually. [Laughs.] We let them do it, so we had to be there and help them out.
IE: You’ve done tour films in the past – was it much different?
LK: Not really. It just went on longer. It covered a few years there. It was in the making with a cast of thousands.
IE: When you first found out about it, did it stir you and excite you, or were you reserved?
LK: Well, we said go away and do a pilot, and then let’s have a look at it. It was really good, so we said go ahead.
IE: How did it impact recording and writing?
LK: Some of it was in the studio, but not much, because you can’t interfere with the creative process.
IE: How have your methods changed over the years?
LK: Pretty much we’ve kind of refined it. It works on its own now. We’ve been doing it
IE: Are there things you’ve wanted to try – as you’ve accrued experience – or expand what the band do in the studio?
LK: Well we’ve done a few experimental things over the years. We did one track with no guitars or drums really. Just harmonium and cello and a few snare drums. On 1916, that was, in ’91. We do the occasional branch-out.
IE: Not just in arranging or writing aspects, but in commanding the studio experience itself. You’ve been in recording studios for more than half your life.
LK: This producer, Cameron Webb, has done the last three albums and this one makes his fourth. He does a very good job, doesn’t he. We really work well together. And I’m really happy with this.
IE: With the new album coming out, was it expedited to release around the same time as the film, once it was known when one or the other would be ready?
LK: It writes itself, sometimes. Most of the riffs and backbone come from Mikkey [Dee, drums] and Phil [Campbell, guitar] and I kind of come in and arrange them – mess them about, drive ’em crazy. I’m good at that. They never write for singers, but I understand about singers. They’d rather it be a guitar solo or drums the whole time. I have to go in and arrange it so there’s some verses.
IE: Do you argue still?
LK: Well, you know. If you’re in someone’s back pocket all the time and on a bus – you’re going to argue sometimes. There’s no problems.
IE: Do you miss old tensions?
LK: Oh, no. [Laughs.] I don’t miss that at all.
IE: So you guys let things go much more quickly?
LK: Instead of living with it? Yeah. You can chase things to the end, but the end isn’t usually worth the chase.
IE: Do you now have more time to dive into other things?
LK: Um, yeah. It gives me more time to chase women, I suppose.
IE: Is that because it takes more time to chase women now?
LK: Well, I don’t do it as much. But I catch more of them now, I think.
IE: What does Lemmy look forward to when he wakes up in the morning, though?
LK: I’m lucky because I’m living in L.A., so the weather’s pretty good. Usually. It’s so much easier to get up when the sun’s out than with the rain belting down. Not like good ol’ England. Or good ol’ New York or Philadelphia. Where are you based out of?
LK: Chicago? Yes. Really good weather there now, isn’t it?
IE: Lots of gray, lots of snow.
LK: Overcast. You’ve had a lot of snow this winter, yeah?
IE: We got a little bit the other day, but I think Boston got killed today. It’s all right. It makes us tougher.
LK: You’d think. You should get out of there, man. But not the suburbs.
IE: Do you ever go back home?
LK: Not really, not unless we’re working there. I spent 34 years in England – that’s enough, I think. Don’t know. It’s really miserable there and the prices are so high I don’t know how anybody survives it. But home is in your head, see. If you’re not happy in your head, you’ll never be happy anywhere. The rest is the details. I can get along with anybody.
IE: How has touring changed over the years?
LK: The buses are better. The driver was always banging a hammer on the engine back in the day. I still like it. It’s a lot more comfortable, but less fun because it’s more security. I feel like I’m working in a security firm now. We used to get lots of women [backstage], but now, of course, they don’t get in.
IE: Does touring still do it for you?
LK: I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s great, I love it, and I’m lucky.
— Steve Forstneger
For the full interview, grab the February issue of Illinois Entertainer, free throughout Chicagoland.