In the 25-plus years that Motorhead has been purveying its fast, furious, high-decibel entertainment, there have been changes and there have been constants.
The World’s Most Brutal Heavy Metal Band has been through five guitarists and four drummers, but has always been anchored by Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister.
Another constant is the band’s effort to regularly release albums.
In his first interview with VG (’94), Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister said, “…if a band can’t put out an album a year, then they ain’t workin.’”
And his combo has taken that credo to heart in the interim, releasing Sacrifice (’95), Overnight Sensation (’96), Snake Bite Love (’98), Everything Louder Than Everyone Else (’99), We Are Motorhead (’00), Boneshaker/25 & Alive (’01), and Hammered in April of this year.
They might’ve missed on a ’97 release, but so what?
That’s still respectable output for any group these days.
“Ow ya doin’, Wil?” chortled “Lemmy” Kilmister, the Godfather of Metal in that inimitable, nicotine-coated rasp of his. The veteran Rickenbacker basher was in an upbeat mood when we talked to him between the U.S. and European segments of Motorhead’s tour to promote its latest album, Hammered (Metal-Is Records), and was willing to discuss any subject. We opted to keep it genial and straightforward.
But don’t be fooled by Lemmy’s abilities when it comes to interviews. The ol’ Oberbefehlshaber is still – to borrow a line he used to describe the entire band on the live album Everything Louder Than Everyone Else – “completely unrepentant,” as exemplified by many of the lyrics on Hammered (the final line of “Brave New World,” states that “…if Jesus showed up now, he’d be in jail by next week”).
We began our dialogue by soliciting his p.o.v. about Motorhead’s return to a three-man lineup when guitarist Wurzel left the band following the release of Bastards in the mid ’90s.
Are you satisfied with the way the subsequent three-man albums have turned out? Yeah. If we hadn’t been, we would’ve changed it by now.
Bass players will want to know what you were using on the intros to “I Don’t Believe A Word” and the title track of Overnight Sensation. The tone on those tracks was huge; presumably the latter song’s intro was done on a open A string, and it sounded like it could have decapitated some listeners. (chuckles) It was a 4×12 cabinet and one of my Marshall heads; no effects… I was sensitive that day (laughs)! The bass was the new carved Rickenbacker [4004LK].
The live double CD was recorded in Hamburg. Is Germany still a stronghold for the band? Yeah, very much so. They stayed with us when everybody else deserted us back in the ’80s. A lot of places dropped us like a brick, except for Germany.
Further details about your Rickenbacker signature bass?
Well, it’s your basic Rickenbacker construction with the one-piece maple neck running all the way through. It’s a beautiful dark wood, hand carved in oak leaves.
I think they’ve got one fellow carving by hand. They’re kind of expensive, but I do think it’s worth it; it’s a really beautiful piece, with a great neck. I’ve got the prototype.
And it has three pickups? Yeah, they made an excellent pickup. In concert, I have the controls full up, and I use the bridge and middle pickups, for the most part.
What about your use of acoustic guitars on albums? That was just on Overnight… I think. We always like to changed a few things. On Hammered, there’s a keyboard on a couple of things.
You’ve also still done the occasional power ballad, such as “One More ****ing Time” on We Are Motorhead. How did you come up with the concept of that, and its intriguing title? I was trying to think of a phrase that went “One more something time,” and I couldn’t think of anything that summed it up better than that. I was pissed off.
There have been other unauthorized live albums that have been marketed since we last talked. One was recorded in Sheffield in ’83 when Brian Robertson was your guitarist, and another was recorded in Brixton when (drummer) Phil Taylor returned. The Wordsworth concert has been remastered and re-released again, too. I’ve heard about ’em, but I haven’t heard any of ’em. The only live albums that are authorized are (No Sleep ‘Til) Hammersmith and the Hamburg album.
There was a bass solo on the ’83 album, just before you went into “(Don’t Need) Religion,” and in the middle of it, you yelled out “The white bass!” That would have been a white Rickenbacker, obviously; I think somebody gave me one to use, but I must’ve broken a string on it.
The newest version of the Wordsworth concert actually sounds fairly decent; better than earlier releases of it… It never was very good; maybe they digitized it.
You also cut your mutton chops and grew them back since our last interview. I had ’em for 14 years before I cut ’em; I just woke up one morning and wondered what I’d look like if I did it. So I shaved ’em off, then got lazy and grew ’em back, and besides, it’s hard to shave around the moles.
Details on the 25th anniversary concert? It was done at Brixton Academy in London, in October 2000. There’s a DVD of it, and if you order it there’s an aural CD as well. (The DVD) has old clips and old videos,
Eddie Clarke sat in. After he was in Fastway, he did a solo album, but now I think he’s livin’ off his royalties. We couldn’t get Phil Taylor, but I’ll tell you who did come – (Queen guitarist) Brian May!
Most observers would see Queen’s style versus Motorhead’s an incredible paradox… Didn’t matter to me; he asked to come down and play, y’know? And we said, “Of course!” I knew he was gonna play on “Overkill,” and we started that song, then this thing flashed past me, crashed down to his knees, doing this rock star thing, and it was Brian (laughs)! I mean, he never really moved that much in Queen. He might have posed a bit, but with us, he came flyin’ straight out in front!
What’s different about the new album? Well, obviously, it’s gonna sound like Motorhead, but we still try to change the parameter. I like to stick a couple of odd things in; we’ve got a spoken-word thing on this album – which we’ve never done before – keyboards on a couple of things, synthesizer saxophones on “Mine All Mine.”
“Brave New World” is one of the angriest songs you’ve written in quite a while. Aw, there’s always one of them; I like to have a go at the government. You’ll find one on every album. This one’s about putting lunatics out on the street… that’s really gonna help, isn’t it? Turnin’ out asylums onto the street to become homeless persons, then bitch about ’em and lock ’em up…
No power ballads on the new album? It wasn’t a deliberate move; I just hadn’t written one. We don’t have a particular plan.
Why did you opt to do “Serial Killer” as a spoken word track?
Well, I’d had those words for about 10 years, just kickin’ around, and I wanted to finally do something with them. They’re quite scary, but I couldn’t work a tune around ’em, ‘coz they don’t “scat.” So I thought “**** it; I’ll try to record just the words on their own to see how it sounds.”
Try listening to it in the dark (laughs)! (Professional wrestler) Triple H is on “Serial Killer,” double-tracked with me.
What about the wrestling theme on the album (“The Game”)? It’s not our song, it’s their song, but Triple H said he’d like for us to record it for him to use. But they’ve got another band that recorded it now; it’s terrible; Triple H don’t like it.
Has (New York Mets catcher) Mike Piazza ever sat in with you on drums? I heard he’s a fan. Not yet. He came to my birthday party, He’s a nice guy.
Hammered concludes with another live version of “Overnight Sensation,” recorded, according to the liner notes “somewhere in Europe” in 2000. That was the record company, thinkin’ they needed an extra track. I don’t get it, myself.
As prolific as you are when it comes to songwriting, how long do you think you can arrange major chords to create songs? How many more songs do you think you can come up with? Aw, about 10,000, I should think (chuckles). We use a couple of minor chords now and again, but you can’t play minors on the bass, so I don’t tend to write in minor!
How long is the European segment of the Hammered tour going to last? About two months, same as the American tour.
How much of the tour will be in Germany? About a third. It’s difficult to find a place (in Europe) where we haven’t played before. This time, we’re going to Greece and Italy; we haven’t been to Greece for a while.
How many of your European gigs are in former Communist Bloc countries? You don’t get a lot of gigs like that; maybe two or three per tour, but Estonia has been one where they have regular shows now. Bulgaria is “sketchy;” Russia seems to be running a good entertainment thing now. No shows in Romania, and East Germany is part of Germany now, so it don’t matter. They like to have plenty of shows when they can go nuts, ‘coz they didn’t have any shows for years, y’know?
You’re now in the latter half of your ’50s. How much longer are you going to keep playing this loud and this fast? As long as people show up for it. What else am I gonna do?
This article originally appeared in VG November 2002 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.