Mikkey Dee sounds tired but happy when Revolver catches up with him by phone at a hotel somewhere in Europe. Having joined the Scorpions in 2016, the former King Diamond/Motörhead drummer is currently pounding the skins on the German metal band's 50th anniversary tour, and he's loving every exhausting minute of it. "I belong on the road, you know?" he laughs. "I'm a road dog!"
Indeed, Dee more than earned his "road dog" stripes during the 23 hard-touring years he spent behind the kit as a member of Motörhead. "Motörhead was a filthy, dirty band that loved to drive around on the roads and play rock & roll," he says, with audible pride. "That's all we were."
Well, that's not all they were. In 2010, Lemmy Kilmister's legendary loud 'n' fast outfit savvily joined the world of rock & roll alcohol branding, releasing Motörhead Shiraz via Australia's Broken Back Winery. The wine was subsequently followed by Motörhead vodka, whisky and several beers, including last year's Born to Lose and Live to Win IPAs, which were produced by San Diego's Amplified Ale Works. Röad Crew, which was originally introduced by Britain's Camerons Brewing in December 2015, shortly before Lemmy's death from cancer, has finally arrived in the U.S. via Arcadia Brewing; the company celebrated the hop-forward IPA's American launch with a raucous party at their Kalamazoo headquarters on June 23rd, featuring performances by Michigan hard rockers Bonehawk and Anguish, Motörhead tribute band Kilmister and the burlesque/acrobat group Bangarang Circus.
We spoke with Dee about the beer's American launch, as well as Motörhead's hands-on approach to beverage branding, and why Lemmy's death isn't really the tragedy that some people have made it out to be.
CONGRATULATIONS ON RÖAD CREW FINALLY MAKING IT TO THE UNITED STATES.
MIKKEY DEE Finally, finally! Yes! I'm very excited about it, because this is good stuff!
THE AMERICAN VERSION OF THE BEER IS 6.2 PERCENT ALCOHOL, WHICH IS ABOUT 1.2 PERCENT HIGHER IN CONTENT THAN ITS BRITISH COUNTERPART. I'M NOT COMPLAINING, BUT WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?
There's so much regulation and different standards around the world, you know? For instance, with our first beer [Motörhead Bastards Lager, brewed by Sweden's Krönleins Bryggeri], it's 4.9 percent, and that is a good percentage for Scandinavia, because it's easier to sell it certain stores and stuff there. I don't really know exactly what the laws for various kinds of alcohol are in the U.S., but that's kind of why, I suppose. The people who actually work with it would know better than I do.
WELL, THAT MAKES SENSE, BECAUSE THERE'S DEFINITELY BEEN A TREND IN AMERICA FOR HEAVILY-HOPPED BEERS WITH HIGHER ALCOHOL CONTENT. AND SINCE IT'S LEGAL TO BUMP IT UP A BIT IN THE STATES, WHY NOT DO IT?
Yeah, but it's also a fine line there, because we don't want to make a beer ... I mean, certain beer tastes better with a limited amount of alcohol. Like, a light lager beer, personally I hate it if it's too strong — no more than four or five percent for me, you know? Darker beers, and ales, they can have a little bit stronger alcohol level.
LEMMY HAD A REPUTATION FOR BEING A BIG WHISKEY GUY. DID HE OCCASIONALLY ENJOY A BEER, AS WELL?
Oh, he loved beer! It was not always his choice of beverage, if he had a choice, but he was a beer drinker, too. He liked a little darker beer, but he seemed to like pretty much everything. [Laughs]
SO IF YOU'D PUT ONE IN FRONT OF HIM, HE WOULDN'T HAVE TURNED IT DOWN?
No, he wouldn't do that. [Laughs]
WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU LIKE TO HAVE A BEER BEFORE GOING ONSTAGE? OR DO PREFER TO DO YOUR DRINKING AFTERWARDS?
I can't drink anything before a show — well, I can, but I choose not to do it, because it kind of screws things up. I mean, if you're going to run a marathon, you don't start the marathon by having a beer, you know? I can only drink water. But after the show, I don't mind a good dinner and some cold beer. That's OK!
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THE FIRST BEER YOU EVER DRANK WAS?
Yes, kind of. It would have been one of those Swedish brands, when I was a teenager, probably a lager beer. I'm more into regular, plain lager. For instance, Labatt's Blue is one of my favorite beers. I like Kronenbourg, Grolsch, and Stella, San Miguel and a lot of other Spanish beers, and Quilmes in Argentina. And in the U.S., I like Miller Genuine Draft — that's my favorite beer!
REALLY? WHAT ABOUT MEXICAN BEERS, LIKE CORONA OR TECATE?
No, they're a little too sweet for me, somehow. I don't mind having one once in a while, with a big slice of lime, but it's not my first choice.
MOTÖRHEAD WASN'T THE SORT OF BAND ONE WOULD HAVE EXPECTED TO GET INTO BEVERAGE BRANDING, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE IT'S BEEN A SUCCESSFUL MOVE.
Yes, but I get upset when I see comments on social media and stuff, like, "Oh yeah, it's all about money — Lem's turning in his grave about all this!" And that is not true, at all. We've been doing this for years. Lemmy was the guy that started the whole thing! [Laughs] The whiskey took us like three years to get it proper where we wanted it, you know? And vodka and wine, and everything we have on the market, we didn't just go out and grab something and go, "Oh, this is fine" — we really worked with our stuff, and made it into a quality beverage. We wanted our stuff to stay, if we were going to put our name on it.
SINCE LEMMY'S NO LONGER WITH US, I SUPPOSE IT'S INEVITABLE THAT SOME PEOPLE WILL ASSUME THAT THIS IS JUST A CASH GRAB.
Yeah, they think that we started this after Lemmy's passing, which is completely wrong. We've been at this for like 10 years now. I don't exactly remember when the red wine came out, but we worked on that for years beforehand to get the proper wine, and with the vodka, we really went back and forth on how to do it right. We had tastings with it, and same with the whisky and the cider. [Aston Manor released Snaggletooth Cider in 2016.] And Lemmy was involved in that — all of us were. Obviously, Lemmy was not involved in the Röad Crew beer, but the Bastards beer he was totally involved with. He was involved up until he died, really.
AND SINCE YOU GUYS PUT SO MUCH HEART, SOUL AND SWEAT INTO THE BAND, WHY WOULDN'T YOU WANT TO MAXIMIZE IT ANY WAY YOU CAN?
Well, that's what I figured. Here's a band that gave its fans everything for 40 years, and we never compromised, so why would we suddenly start compromising with this? [Laughs] Unfortunately, a lot of bands out there that are releasing beverages like we are doing now — wine, whisky, beer — a lot of it is really shit. The band has no clue what it is, and it tastes terrible. But for us, we said, "We'll never do that, at all — we want our stuff to be proper." We are here to stay, not sell something for six months and then it's off the market. We've been building this for years now, you know?
Maybe 10 or 15 years from now, people who are kids now will buy a bottle of our whisky and say to their friends, "You know, there used to be a band called Motörhead!" They might not even know the band, but they're drinking the whiskey because it's their favorite whiskey. Same with the beer. We were just the engine to take it up the hill, but the product has to fly on its own. We work really hard with the products, and hopefully people like it, and they'll drink responsibly and have a good time with it! And then it will live its own life, establish itself on the market, and hopefully stay around for many, many years.
MOTÖRHEAD WAS ONE OF THE FEW BANDS TO GIVE PROPS TO THEIR CREW IN SONG — SO IT'S COOL TO SEE YOU DOING IT WITH THIS BEER, AS WELL.
Absolutely. The crew has been so incredibly important to Motörhead throughout the band's career. Our crew was really hand-picked, we couldn't even give them enough credit for what they did. So it's a cool thing, Röad Crew ... and we were road dogs, you know?
TRULY. RETIREMENT NEVER SEEMED LIKE AN OPTION FOR LEMMY.
Absolutely — that's like asking someone, "When are you gonna stop breathing?" [Laughs] We have no choice, there. Lemmy had no choice. And when he actually passed away, of course everyone was very sad, but people described it as a disaster and a total tragedy, and I don't. I knew Lemmy so well, and he was not a happy man when he was struggling with his health. For him to continue living and not be able to go onstage or on the road, that would have been hell for him. So I keep saying that I'd rather celebrate his life than mourn his death, you know?
He told me when he turned 50 years old, "I've lived the perfect life, Mikkey. If I die tomorrow, I'll die a happy man." And after that, he got another 20 years! He lived 70 years on his terms, and I want to celebrate that instead of calling it a disaster. I would love to have him around, yes, but for him not to be able to go on the road and play rock & roll, that would have been torture for the poor guy, you know? So maybe he passed at the right time.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH MORE OF A TRAGEDY FOR HIM TO HAVE BEEN CONFINED TO HIS APARTMENT OR HIS BED FOR YEARS ON END.
Yeah, I think so! I don't wish anyone sickness, but looking at Lemmy of all people, and seeing how tiny and defenseless he'd become, that was so wrong, you know? And struggling with the songs ... yeah, that was very hard to see. So I think it's very egoistic when people go, "What do you mean, Mikkey? You wouldn't like to have him around?" Yeah, I would like to have him around, but I know how he would have felt. He hated his life when he couldn't go to the casinos, when he couldn't hang out with the chicks, when he couldn't do what he wanted. That was just torture for the poor guy, and for him to live another 10 or 15 years in that way, that would have been terrible!
HOW LONG DID LEMMY ACTUALLY LIVE WITH THOSE KINDS OF RESTRICTIONS, WHERE HE WASN'T FULLY ABLE TO LIVE ON HIS OWN TERMS?
Well, it started by the end of 2012, Whenever we had to cancel a show here or there, people would immediately start saying that Lemmy was seriously ill, but he really wasn't. It's just that Lemmy didn't follow doctor's orders whatsoever. He'd say, "What do they know? They're just fucking doctors!" [Laughs] That was his way of seeing it. So small problems became bigger problems, because he just didn't care whatsoever about taking care of himself, and it was kind of like a snowball effect. He made a few efforts here and there to shape up, and he thought it was terrible — he told me how boring everything was. He said, "Fuck this! I can't live like that." But we had no idea that he was how sick as he was. He didn't eat. He was really not doing right things, you know? In the end, he was really trying hard to take care of himself, but it was just too late.
Lemmy said to me, "What do I care? I had a good fucking run of it. Fuck this shit!" He was so sick and tired of the fact that he couldn't continue life on his terms, and that his health was taking him down. But he lived 70 years. It's not as though he passed away when he was 45, you know? He had a good life. I miss him tremendously, and I would love to be able to call him like we always did when we were off tour, but I also know how he was. Up until the end of 2012, here's a man we'd never even seen have a cold. He was never sick. And then, all of a sudden, this guy collapses in front of you, and has a problem taking care of the most simple stuff. We had to start choosing the songs, and pull down the tempos, and he started to forget stuff ... It was really hard to stand on the side and see that.
HAS LEMMY'S PASSING MOTIVATED YOU TO TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOURSELF?
Yeah, but I always have. I've always taken care of myself in a decent way. I don't work out all the time, but I do a lot of sports. I've never been into taking drugs, ever. I party on beers, and that's it. I do what I can so that I can be on the road, and be professional and work very hard, and then everything else comes in second. I feel like I play better than I ever have, so I'm in good spirits, here!