INTERVIEW: Lemmy from Motorhead
There are few things you can really rely on in life. In fact, there are really only three: Your dog will always love you; there will always be Simpsons repeats on TV; and Motorhead will always be Motorhead. Their sound hasn’t changed too much over the years, but just as that claim can be made about AC/DC and Status Quo, Motorhead have created so singular a sound that they could put out the exact same album time after time and get away with it, because it works, dammit. Their new album, The World Is Yours, isn’t a million miles removed from the rest of the band’s catalog, but there’s a ferocity to the performances and a wry smirk to the lyrics that demands repeated listens.
A few weeks before the albums’ release, I fielded a 5am phone call from Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead’s main man, driving force and only consistent member. We’ll pick up the conversation after the sleep-deprived pleasantries. I don’t want you to read about me yawning in Lemmy’s ear.
I like the line in Get Back In Line, ‘Good things come to he who waits, but these days those things suck.’
Yeah, right! It’s true though, isn’t it, you know? Compared to a few years back.
It seems to tie in to the title of the album, The World Is Yours. One the one hand it could be an optimistic statement: ‘The world is yours, go out and take it!’ or it could be entirely pessimistic: ‘The world is yours – and look what you’ve inherited.’
Yeah right! Be careful what you wish for, right? There doesn’t seem to be an overall theme to the album except anger, you know? We easily do them sort of songs. Angry is good for ya. Gets the old synapses crackling, y’know?
Are you playing any of the songs live at the moment?
Yeah, we’re doing Get Back In Line, and we’re doing I Know How To Die, which is a cheerful little song.
Well on the other hand you have Rock & Roll Music – I guess you always have to have a real rocker on there.
Yeah, if you like, the Chuck Berry one. I always manage to sneak one past them like that.
I like that it has that archetypal rock and roll lick.
We do a lot of songs in that format. I really like the old stuff because I’m really old!
I do too! I’m 32 and my dad turned me onto all that stuff when I was little.
Right! So you understand!
Yeah, it’s a great place to start out when learning guitar, before students move on to other stuff.
I don’t know that moving on is a good idea, in a lot of cases, but they have to move on to find out which ones you like to do yourself. You have to be offered all of them before you choose anything, right?
Another album track that really jumps out isBrotherhood of Man. I know you don’t like to be classified as metal, and most of the time you aren’t, but man, that’s a metal song right there!
Yeah, I couldn’t think of any other vocal to do with that riff. It’s very metallish, I suppose, isn’t it, yes. All the same, we did it I asked for forgiveness for it because it was the only way I could think to do it. Or get Ozzy Osbourne to do it.
I saw a really cool bluesy acoustic version of Ace Of Spades that you guys did recently for an ad. Do you play a lot of blues?
We did that for Kronenbourg, Yeah. Well we did Roadhouse Blues on Inferno, and I’ve always liked blues myself, and Phil knows how to do it. It’s nice to bring out the old harmonica every now and then. Why not, y’know?
Was it hard to rearrange it?
Nah, it was easy, that one. I was happy to try different arrangements, but I lost!
Your signature Marshall amp is very cool.
The old Marshall stack. It’s most gratifying, y’know? It proves I was doing something right, I think? They just took one of my old amps, which has been on the road with me for years, and fucked around with it. They didn’t remember making it! They said ‘We have no prints for this. We don’t know what this is! Have you modified it?’ and I said ‘No, I’ve just fitted a new output transformer a couple of times, that was it.’ They were like ‘Oh wow.’ The Lemmy stack is a bit more toppy than the ones I’ve got. They made it a bit too much like a Super Lead amp because that was the only one they had a plan for! Hahaha.
I guess you would have seen some very early Marshalls when you were a roadie for Hendrix?
Yeah, I did that for about six, seven months. He used to use a stack of Marshalls and a stack of… what was it… there was a shop in London used to make their own stacks, and he used to have one of those and a Marshall stack… Music City, yeah. They were both really good. He used to link them together, the output of one into the input of the other, so you’ve got what’s known as a slave amp. It was amazing working with him. Imagine, y’know? Fucking Jimi Hendrix, y’know? Jimi Hendrix!
You’re pretty well known for using Rickenbacker basses. Have you changed what you use much over the years or is it still the same basic bass?
Well they made the Lemmy model of that, right, the carved one, and I’ve been using that for years. I’ve got a couple of other Rickenbackers as well. I mean, I just like the shape, y’know? And the old ones, you used to have to replace the pickups, because the old pickups were shit, but now they’re making the new pickups really good.
What are they like to play? Do you like your basses to play easy or to fight you back?
It’s never easy! I sanded the neck down on them to make it a little easier to run up and down the neck, but other than that it’s just from the shop.
Your bass style is really distinctive. Where does it come from?
It comes from being a guitar player before I was a bass player, really. I like to do a lot of chords and a lot of fill-ins instead of just ‘bom-de-bom-de-bom,’ because that’s fucking boring to me. I always wanted to be able to show off like the guitar players do. I think I managed that alright!
This is an alternate edit of an article I wrote for Mixdown Magazine.