Interview: Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister Answers Your Questions
Motörhead's Motörboat will hit the high seas on September 22-26. The rock-and-roll cruise--featuring performances by Motörhead, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, Down, and many more--will go from Miami, Florida, to Key West, Florida, to Cozumel, Mexico. For tickets and more information, visit MotorheadCruise.com.
In anticipation of this oceanic event, we're revisiting one of our favorite interviews with Motörhead commander in chief Lemmy Kilmister. Here, the vocalist-bassist answered your questions in the "Going Postal" feature of the December/January 2014 issue of Revolver.
by Jon Wiederhorn
For decades, Motörhead commanding general Lemmy Kilmister used to wake up some time after 1 p.m., pour himself his first Jack and Coke of the afternoon, and start the day. Regardless of whether he was recording, rehearsing with his band, playing a gig, doing press or doing nothing, there would be more drinks, maybe some speed, and about a carton of cigarettes. If he were home in L.A., he’d likely perch himself at the bar of the Rainbow Bar and Grill and talk with friends and fans or play the one-arm bandit for a few hours before hitting a strip club.
Lately, however, the 67-year-old legend has had to change his ways following multiple serious health scares. The setbacks started in 2011 when doctors diagnosed him with a life-threatening arrhythmia, an uneven heartbeat that can trigger cardiac arrest. Surgeons inserted a tiny cardioverter-defi brillator (ICD) in his chest, which delivers a jolt of electricity when it detects a dangerously irregular beat. “Me and Slash talk to each other internationally now through electrical signals,” Kilmister jokes. Slash had a similar device implanted in his chest in 2001 because of damage caused by excessive drinking. “I can’t say I was really that surprised when the doctor told me I needed it,” the vocalist-bassist continues. “When you’ve lived the life that I have, you should always expect something like that to crop up. I was not a good boy. I’ve had too much fun.”
The operation was supposed to be routine, but there were complications that caused the metal icon discomfort and required further procedures. When he recovered, Motörhead launched two American tours in 2012 and a European festival tour. Then in late December, Kilmister fell ill in Berlin. “I did a lot of touring for someone with a bad heart,” he explains. “The doctor gave me all kinds of pills for a couple weeks and then I came back to L.A."
Even though he felt like staying in bed many days, Kilmister summoned the energy to write and record Motörhead’s new album, the fiendishly titled 'Aftershock.' The follow-up to 2010’s 'The Wörld Is Yours,' the record is ballsy, bluesy, and bombastic. It’s also impressively diverse. The opening cut, “Heartbreaker,” churns and burns, and “Death Machine” swings like a wrecking ball, but they’re offset by more eclectic tracks like “Lost Woman Blues,” a mellower moustache-in-beer lament with a boogie-blues ending, and “Dust and Glass,” a hooky ballad with (gasp) melodic vocals. In other words, Aftershock is everything fans expect and don’t expect from someone who seems to be in no condition to remain so defiant.
“I had more to defy this time, didn’t I?” Kilmister says. “We started it before I got really sick so most of the bass parts were done and then I did the vocals afterwards, but that was easy for me. I felt so shitty I could hardly walk from the studio to the mic in the control room, but I could still do the vocals. That’s second nature.”
Kilmister has had some more bad health days since finishing 'Aftershock,' but he seems to be on the mend now and he’s taking better care of himself. “I never thought anyone would be able to accuse me of this, but I have an exercise bike in my room now.”
The only drugs he consumes currently are prescription medication, plus he’s down to just two Jack and Cokes a day, and he’s cut out smoking altogether.
“People say, ‘Was it hard to quit smoking?’” Kilmister says. “It’s real easy when you’re coughing yourself to death everyday. I’ve done albums feeling shitty, but I’ve never done an album without artificial stimulants. That was the hardest part. But I got used to it after a while.”
On one of his better days, Kilmister answered letters from the fans about his health, the new album, and his incredible history.
People always say that, like AC/DC and Slayer, you know what you’re gonna get when you put on a Motörhead album. Do you agree, and would you have it any other way?
LEMMY KILMISTER Yeah, I agree, and I’m afraid that’s my fault. I consider Motörhead to be a benevolent dictatorship. If everybody feels strongly that we shouldn’t do something, we won’t do it. But I’ve probably only had to do that about three times in my whole career, which isn’t bad.
Did you want 'Aftershock' to be anything like 'The Wörld Is Yours' or totally different?
We don’t have a plan like that ever. We just get in a room and start to play. We’re not anyone who wants to be saying something special to their kids. We were never like that. We do what we like and we hope you like it as well. I’ve never given a fuck about how everybody else feels except me and my band. Everybody else can go fuck themselves.
You had to stop last year’s Wacken Festival performance after playing only six songs. What happened?
It was strange. The Wacken date was going really good and it sounded really good, too. And then I got this pain in my back that came out of nowhere and it was crippling. When you get to this age, stuff starts going on, ya' know? There’s nothing you can do about it. At this stage, things would be going wrong anyway, even without my history.
What did you learn when you worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix?
He taught me how to find drugs in the most unlikely places because that was part of my job for him. But I also learned about theatrics and performing. He was so effortlessly cool and he would move like an elegant spider. He was always interested in the crowd. He made very bad jokes because he was so out of his mind. People couldn’t figure out what he was talking about by the time he was finished. But he was certainly the best guitar player you’ll ever see, probably ever.
You’ve said The Beatles are your greatest influence. Can you hear that in your music?
You might find it if you looked very deep, but I’ve never. Influences are only influences, they’re not a blueprint. I was very influenced as a young teenager by the Everly Brothers as well, but you can’t hear it in Motörhead. I was also influenced by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard. I actually think everything’s an influence, even if it’s an influence not to do something.
At first, people didn’t react all that favorably to Motörhead. How did you handle the negative response?
Well, in the 1976 'Sounds' magazine poll, we got our own category: “Best Worst Band in the World.” I certainly wore that with pride. It was on the posters.
When “Ace of Spades” became a hit, did your record company try to convince you to make more commercial music
No, because they were quite happy with us in England the way we were and we couldn’t get signed in America until well after 'No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith' came out, and that was a No. 1 record in Europe! 'Ace of Spades' was No. 4 and Bomber was No. 6. But in America, nobody wanted to know us. I don’t think we looked cute enough. We sort of fit right in between the old surge of British heavy metal like Deep Purple and just before the new surge of heavy metal, which was Iron Maiden. So we were fucked for a while.
Everyone knows Metallica are big Motörhead fans, but it is true that Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was the president of the Motörhead fan club in Copenhagen?
No. Him and Cliff [Burton, Metallica’s late bassist] arrived when I was in L.A. and they said they were the president and vice president of our fan club on the West Coast. It turned out there’s only two of them in it. And then poor old Lars tried to match me drink for drink. He didn’t make it. They really were just kids then, but they were incredibly dedicated. I always thought that band was going to be OK as long as they had Lars in it.
Do you feel like you ignited the thrash movement?
A lot of bands give us credit, but I didn’t like all of them. Some of it was thrash and some of it was more like trash. There was a lot of both. It sorted itself out in the end because those bad bands are gone. But I didn’t have anything against the Sunset Strip scene or anything. Some of the more melodic stuff was great music. I didn’t give a fuck how they dressed it up, Mötley Crüe are a great band, and if it’s good rock and roll, I like it. Like Skunk Anansie now—they’re fantastic.
For a short while after Fast Eddie Clarke left, you had Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson in the band. Why didn’t that work out?
—Phillip “The Nail” Johnson
We did 'Another Perfect Day' with Brian, which was a great album. But Brian just couldn’t keep it together. He was quite out of it all the time, drunk. He’s a bad drunk. He just didn’t fit in with Motörhead in every way you could think of. It was [ex-drummer] Phil Taylor’s idea to have him join because Phil was a big Thin Lizzy fan. But Brian dressed inappropriately onstage in green shorts and ballet pumps and he didn’t want to play our old songs, which was what people wanted to hear.
What’s your funniest groupie story?
I once got a blowjob during a gig. It was in the ’70s and this girl got onto the stage, pulled down my pants, and did her thing. I kept performing. I couldn’t stop the show. It wouldn’t have been professional. But then there’s other stories I love that don’t actually involve sex. One time, we had to smuggle [guitarist] Phil Campbell out of the hotel in Connecticut because he was drunk as a cunt as usual and he was making obscene suggestions to one of the receptionists and she called the cops on him. We had to get one of our roadies disguised as somebody else to get him out through the back fire escape and run for it.
When people talk about you, they often speak about drinking first thing in the morning and partying hard and getting laid. Is that all superficial or is it an important part of your legacy?
It’s superficial, but it’s very important. It’s made everything more fun.
Even people outside the metal scene, like Dave Grohl, consider you a rock-and-roll icon. Do you consider that a major compliment?
It really is, you know. When somebody like Dave Grohl says, “Fuck all this. Lemmy is the king of rock and roll,” that’s pretty good, isn’t it? You know, I don’t really know how to deal with it because obviously you can’t believe it. But he’s saying it, so it’s a very respectable thing that I’m very appreciative of. I love Dave.
Do you have any plans to retire?
No, I ain’t done yet with the music. After I get better, we’re gonna try to tour again, and if I can’t do that full-on, I want to do another album with [the rockabilly band] Head Cat, and, of course, I want to do a couple more Motörhead records. But the next thing I’ve got coming out is my solo album, which is almost done. I still want to do a track with [Skunk Anansie vocalist] Skin before I put it out. There are two tracks with the Reverend Horton Heat, two with The Damned, a track with Dave Grohl, and a track with Joan Jett. Right now we’re thinking of calling it False Teeth for the Deaf. It’s all just great rock and roll, that’s the only way to describe it. Some of it is bluesy and some isn’t. It’s not Motörhead, but obviously there are elements in common.
There has been an active online campaign launched to get you voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Is it important to you to be a part of that crowd with some of your idols like The Beatles and Chuck Berry?
It doesn’t matter to me. The biggest room in that place is the gift shop. I don’t really care about being the best of anything. I just want to be good and I want to be recognized. We never set out to be the loudest band in the world. It just turned out that way. And in the end, I just want to be remembered for being an honest man. Really, I don’t mind how I’m remembered as long as I’m not remembered as an asshole.