Phil Campbell is at home in Wales, taking it easy for a few weeks before life gets hectic again. After spending 32 years playing guitar for Motörhead — a journey that ended in late 2015 with the untimely demise of the band's fearless leader, Lemmy Kilmister — Campbell is about to embark on a European tour with his new band, Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons. "It's going to be chaos," he says. "They never tell me up front that it's going to be chaos, but it always ends up that way. I'm kinda used to that now. It comes with the territory."
Surreally, the Bastard Sons actually features Campbell's three adult sons — Tyla, Todd and Dane — on bass, guitar and drums, respectively, while their friend Neil Starr handles vocals. "It wasn't my idea to call the band that — it was Neil's," Campbell explains with a laugh. "My wife didn't speak to me for three days when she found out the name because she's the mother of all the kids, and they were all born in wedlock. So she wasn't too pleased, but at least I had a quiet three days."
After making their debut in 2016 with a self-titled EP produced by his son and guitarist Todd, Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons are set to unveil their first full-length, The Age of Absurdity, on January 26th. "We made a cracking album, in my opinion," Campbell enthuses. "All the elements are there — the songwriting, the playing, the production, the singing, the lyrics, the artwork. The gods were with us for fucking once in my life, anyway."
[Note: This interview was conducted three days before the death of former Motörhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke.]
WHICH CAME FIRST: THE IDEA TO START A NEW BAND AFTER MOTÖRHEAD, OR TO START A BAND SPECIFICALLY WITH YOUR SONS?
PHIL CAMPBELL Well, we started the band when my son Todd had a major birthday party about two or three years before Motörhead finished. We booked a band, and we all got up and did a few songs with Neil, who we all knew. It sounded good, so we booked some gigs. We were called Phil Campbell's All-Starr band for a few years. We were basically just doing cover songs, but it was really cool, like.
Sadly, when Lem passed away I didn't know what to do. For about four months I couldn't even think straight, basically. Luckily I had my family and my band, so we had a go at writing some new material. That's when we changed the name of the band to Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons.
LEMMY ORIGINALLY WANTED TO CALL HIS BAND BASTARD BEFORE DECIDING ON MOTÖRHEAD, DIDN'T HE?
That's correct, yeah. And [former Motörhead guitarist] Würzel, before he joined Motörhead, was in a band called A Band Called Bastard. Then I came up with the album title Bastards, which I still think is Motörhead's best album. So "bastard" seems to be an operative word in our circles. It's a good word if it's used correctly, I think.
DO YOUR SONS WORK CHEAPER BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUR KIDS?
No, they're fucking expensive motherfuckers — all of them. [Laughs] They're more expensive than Lemmy!
A FATHER PLAYING IN A BAND WITH HIS THREE SONS SEEMS LIKE A PRETTY UNIQUE SITUATION. HAVE YOU EVER COME ACROSS ANYTHING LIKE THAT OVER THE YEARS?
I don't know of any other situations like that, so it's really cool. Loads of people would love to be in my position, I guess. I'm proud of the guys all the time, everyday of my life, but when we're rocking onstage it's just like any other band until I turn around and realize, "Fuck, that's my boy playing this." It doesn't get much better than that, really. I still give 'em hell, but I'm very blessed.
IT MUST BE KINDA STRANGE TO SEE THEM PARTY AND TRY TO "PULL BIRDS" AFTER THE GIG, AS THEY SAY IN THE U.K. …
Well, a couple of them are married. My youngest, Tyla, I believe is unattached at the moment. He still lives with me, and I want to get him out of the house — so come on, girls! [Laughs] They like to have a good time, though. I don't drink anymore, but they have a few drinks. They put me to bed early and go to casinos or go bowling. I'm allowed to go bowling with them, but I've gotta be tucked in by midnight.
WHEN YOU WERE WRITING THE SONGS FOR THE AGE OF ABSURDITY, WERE YOU AT ALL THINKING ABOUT HOW THE MATERIAL MIGHT BE RECEIVED BY MOTÖRHEAD FANS?
Not really, no. It might seem arrogant, but I didn't feel I had to answer to anyone particularly. I'm proud of what I did with Motörhead, and I hope that the fans respect me for what I've done in the past and give me some credence for what I'm attempting now and in the future. We just tried to write good songs at the end of the day. It's a new band — we didn't have a style or nothing. The boys were just trying to keep me off the streets, you know, because it was a big shock with Lem [passing away]. But the support's been incredible from everyone, and I don't think we've disappointed anyone with what we've achieved. I'm looking forward to seeing where the journey takes us.
YOU'VE MADE A VIDEO FOR THE SONG "WELCOME TO HELL," IN WHICH YOU APPEAR IN A COFFIN. THAT'S GOTTA BE THE LAST THING MOTÖRHEAD FANS WANT TO SEE AFTER THE RECENT PASSING OF LEMMY, WÜRZEL AND "PHILTHY" PHIL TAYLOR. WHY DID YOU DO THAT?
Because the electric dental chair we rented was really uncomfortable, so I just thought I'd have a lay down for ten minutes! [Laughs]
THE BONUS TRACK ON THE CD VERSION OF THE ALBUM IS A COVER OF HAWKWIND'S 1972 SINGLE "SILVER MACHINE," WHICH LEMMY SANG WHEN HE WAS IN THAT BAND. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH THAT SONG?
I remember seeing them do it on Top Of The Pops, and it's just a cool boogie riff, innit? The video is pretty bizarre, and they've got a fucking weird guy with a fucking terrible voice singing it. [Laughs] I loved it straight away, and I think I bought it right when it got in the Top 10 [in 1972]. Sometime in the mid-2000s, I suggested to Lem that we do it with Motörhead, and we played it off and on for about five years. It went down well, so when we were doing cover songs with the All-Starr Band, "Silver Machine" is one of the ones we decided to do. And now it's carried on into the Bastard Sons.
YOU'VE GOT HAWKWIND'S DAVE BROCK SINGING AND PLAYING GUITAR AND SYNTH ON YOUR VERSION. DID IT TAKE MUCH CONVINCING TO GET HIM TO DO IT?
Dave used to occasionally turn up to Motörhead shows, and he was always a sweetheart. I'd see him about once every three or four years when we were in Britain, but then we got a bit closer with him when the Bastard Sons supported Hawkwind on a couple of nice shows later on. So I called him up and asked him if he fancied playing on our cover. He recorded it the same day because it was raining and he couldn't go outside on his farm! [Laughs] Proper hippie stuff, man.
IS IT TRUE YOU GOT LEMMY'S AUTOGRAPH AT A HAWKWIND GIG WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
Yeah, when I was 12. I still have the program, which I cannot find at the moment, but I know it's in my vaults. I went to see Hawkwind at Cardiff Capitol Theatre, which was about 12 miles away from where I live. It's no longer there, sadly. It was my first time seeing Hawkwind, and they freaked the shit out of me. They had all these amazing lights and all this weird sci-fi shit. Being the little kid that I was, I just stayed out in the foyer for about 20 minutes afterwards hoping to see them. Lem was the only band member that came out, and he signed my program with his old style autograph, going all the way down the page on his picture. If somebody said to me that day that I'd be in a big band with this guy and win Grammies and go around the world, I'd have thought they were crazy. But it just proves that anything can happen.
DID YOU TELL LEMMY THAT STORY AFTER YOU'D JOINED MOTÖRHEAD?
Yeah, but he didn't remember it. He did remember when I turned up to my audition with three different types of amphetamine, though.
Yeah — orange, white and pink!
AND I BET HE TOOK ALL THREE.
Of course he did. He tested them all, didn't he? And I got a job! [Laughs]
YOU DID SOME RECORDING WITH ROB HALFORD AND SLIPKNOT'S CHRIS FEHN A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO. WHATEVER HAPPENED WITH THAT?
That's actually part of my solo record, which is really going well now. I've been trying to do it for years and years, but Motörhead was always so busy. And when we decided to do the Bastards album, I had to put it on hold again. But I've got Chris Fehn on there, Mick Mars, Rob Halford, Dee Snider, Joe Satriani, Whitfield Crane, Benji Webbe from Skindred — and Matt Sorum is on a track as well.
TALK ABOUT AN ALL-STAR BAND …
Yeah, but it's a totally different thing than Bastards. I'm playing piano — really bad piano — on some tracks, but I'm about three-quarters done with it. All my kids will be involved at some point as well. I'd like to get it finished this year. Failing that, the first half of 2019. I had to make sure the Bastards album was on the money first.
WILL YOU BE DOING ANY VOCALS ON YOUR SOLO RECORD?
Dee Snider wanted me to sing one line — just the one — but I'm not sure yet. We'll see. [Laughs] We might do a disco track or something. You never fucking know. The good thing about music is that there're no rules. I'm lucky enough to have my own recording studio just down the road from the house, so I can be spontaneous. My son Todd is a brilliant engineer and producer, so he takes care of everything. I haven't got a clue. I've been playing for 48 years and I can't even put a string on a guitar, so I definitely have no idea how to work a mixing desk!
WE UNDERSTAND YOU'RE WORKING ON AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS WELL. WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THAT?
I'm working with these two Swedish guys who are amazing. That's another thing I've had to put off because of the Bastards album — and then my house in Wales flooded, so I had to deal with that. But it might come out in a few years. It won't be a regular autobiography, like what school I went to and all that boring stuff. [Laughs] It'll just be the funny stories — the stuff that nobody's gonna believe anyway!