Such is the power of Motörhead’s legend that the band’s name itself has become a word rarely just uttered, but more often screamed as a battle cry that carries with it the weight of myth and operates as an invocation of the band’s louder-faster-harder ethos in any context. Take a moment and scream it aloud yourself, dear reader: Motörhead! You feel powerful, don’t you? Good.
While we need not further extol the greatness of the primal sonic maelstroms Motörhead has dealt in for the past 40 years, it is worth reminding our readership — who may have forgotten after this many years — that these sounds have directly influenced arguably every punk, metal, and hardcore band since the day a one Ian Fraser Kilmister (better known among mortals as Lemmy) founded the group in 1975. Despite some recent health scares involving Lemmy, the band is back on the road celebrating 40 years of disturbing the peace and inspiring musicians to make “everything louder than everyone else” with the release of Bad Magic, a chart-topping testament to the potency of the band’s sound, which has remained gloriously unfucked-with since ‘75.
Motörhead will be making a triumphant return to South Florida with a show at the Pompano Beach Amphitheater before embarking upon the loudest cruise to ever assault the Bahamas, the Motörboat Cruise! We caught up with the band’s longtime drum powerhouse (and a metal legend in his own right), Mikkey Dee, to discuss the new album, Motörhead’s writing process, staying true to Motörhead’s sound, and why the band is like Spinal Tap without a script.
New Times: Hey Mikkey! How has the tour been going now that Lemmy is back at it?
Mikkey Dee: We’re slowly getting back in the game, you know? We’re doing OK right now, and I think we’ll sound really good when we get on the tour in full swing, and things will be alright. We’re looking forward to the cruise, as well! That’ll be a lot of fun!
Do you personally enjoy the Motörboat cruise? I’ve interviewed bands that have done the other metal cruises and couldn’t handle being at sea for too long.
We had a lot of fun last year! It’s not the longest cruise, which makes it just perfect. I love being out there on the water and rockin’ out! So yeah, we absolutely look forward to it!
Bad Magic, to me, is a true testament to the undying potency of Motörhead. Is there something specifically that you can attribute that continued potency to? How does this band stay so strong sonically after this many years?
It’s a really simple answer, actually, and that is that we never compromise with our music, or really anything around the band. The three of us write the music and we decide everything that happens with the band, and if it’s the three of us, it’s going to come out OK. We don’t let outside people interfere with our shit.
It’s really important that you do your own shit, and I don’t believe a lot of other bands have kept it as closed as we have, at least not for the whole time they’ve been a band. They let people into their writing process; people tell them things that will help them sell more records and it backfires most of the time, taking these shortcuts. We’ve never really done that. We’ve really never cared if we sell more records or not. Of course, it’s a bonus if people like it and it’s an album that sells well like this one is — that’s great for us obviously, and we love that — but that’s not the reason we wrote the album to begin with. This is something the three of us like to do, and we do it our way or we don’t do it all. That’s why it comes out honestly.
"They let people into their writing process; people tell them things that will help them sell more records and it backfires most of the time, taking these shortcuts. We’ve never really done that."
We also always write very spontaneously, and we’re not trying to write certain songs that will make the record easier to play on the radio, or whatever other bullshit. We’ve never sat around and planned our records. We just write what we feel and if we think it’s good, we’re happy. If that type of honesty is the main ingredient in a band and your guiding philosophy, you can’t go wrong, you know?
I’ve heard you say that the band is extremely committed to sounding like itself without repeating itself. How do you go about making a fresh statement that still sounds distinctly true to Motörhead’s established sound, without plagiarizing your own music?
Well, I agree with you and I disagree a little. I do think that we sometimes, maybe not repeat ourselves, but we do write some very similar stuff. But that’s what we want to do! We want to sound the same, but make something new. Our writing process is very spontaneous, and it’s fresh writing. We don’t sit around and nitpick with our songs and go back and forth; we write a song, record it, and bam — it’s history! That’s how it works for us.
I don’t think a lot of people realize how involved you are in the writing process.
It’s usually myself and Phil writing most of the music together. We take the songs to maybe eighty or ninety percent, actually, and then the three of us piece it all together. I’d say by the end of the process, we’ve all written around a third each — though we obviously don’t chop it up like that — but it is Phil [Campbell] and I that start off with riffs and brainstorm the our songs in the beginning.
I’ve read that there were intentions to write and record a follow-up record to Aftershock much earlier that had been abandoned. What made now the right time to do the record? Was there any specific inspiration at work?
No, not really. We just felt that it was good timing to go in when we did as we wanted a little break from touring and we felt kind of inspired at the time, now that the band marked a 40th anniversary, and we wanted an album out this year to make that special.
We love working with him and he’s been involved with this band for almost 12 years now, and he’s become the ultimate guy for us at this point. Sometimes he’ll argue that we should look for a different angle, but we’ve loved everything we’ve done since Inferno with Cameron, and he’s just so capable and knows us personally so well ... he doesn’t try to change us, he just tries to bring out the best in us. That’s very hard. To come in and tell Lemmy that a vocal doesn’t sound good and asking him to change things, or telling me that I need to step up my game on the drums — it takes something to stand up to us and tell us we can do it better without being an ass about it.
Cameron works really hard, and we’ve had producers before that have come into the studio and gone, “Hey guys! I know exactly how you need to sound,” and we go, “No, we know exactly how the door is going to sound slamming when we kick you out of here!” because that is just not the right approach to this band.
Again, we decide what we do, we write it, we just need someone in our corner to help us bring out the best in that instead of trying to change us, like a lot of other producers try to. Cameron likes us the way we are and he just tries to improve us in that context and bring out the best in us. So, it was the right call.
Yeah, absolutely! It’s stronger than ever. It’s a family, we know each other very well. We have our ups and downs like anyone, but we work really well together and it’s a well-oiled machine that I think still kicks ass to this day. We’re obviously very happy with how things have played out for us over the years.
I was really excited to see that Queen’s Brian May made a solo cameo on the album! How did he wind up getting involved?
Phil gets the credit for that one. Phil is in constant contact with Brian, and I think he just tossed out the question and Brian was excited to do it! He’s shared the stage with us several times, so it was very cool to have him on the record.
Do you still get the same rush from heavy metal after all these years?
Yeah, absolutely! Otherwise I couldn’t keep doing it, to tell you the truth. It’s such hard work being in a band like Motörhead, which tours so hard and even records hard. We release a record every other year — I don’t know of any other band in our peer group that does that and stays on the road the way we do.
On the flipside, whatever turned me on twenty, or thirty years ago isn’t going to be the same thing that gets me going today. When I was out with King Diamond in the early ‘80s, I prioritized different things in those days than I do now. In the end, it’s still as fun — just in a different way.
You’ve spent more time working with Lemmy than arguably anyone else. What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen him do that I can print with incriminating anyone?
Oh, it’s like Spinal Tap without the script! That’s the hardest question you could possibly ask me because crazy shit just happens all the time with this band and it’s almost impossible to pick a single moment. It’s just such a good time. The three of us truly have a lot of fun and Lemmy is a sarcastic motherfucker with such a great sense of humor and so does Phil, and we’re all on the same level, but we’re also all completely different and that’s what makes this work! Somehow, this machine works and we inspire each other in a way and we all know what to do without saying anything.
Motörhead with Anthrax and Crobot. 7 p.m. Saturday, September 26 at Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1801 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Tickets cost $38 to $78 via ticketmaster.com.