Motorhead Roll On

Lemmy Kilmister talks new DVD, new book, old habits

Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.
Steve Rapport/Photoshot/Getty Images
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.
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From the time that Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead sprung to life from a title to one of the last songs he wrote for Hawkwind, there have been those who hoped that the group would not-so-quietly go away. More than two decades later, Motorhead continues to rock louder than any other band, trailed by the more commercially successful, yet less iconoclastic, bleating of their bastard spawn of hard rock offspring. And unlike other bands that hit the big two-five, Motorhead aren't sipping the spring water, eating fiber and sitting squat-legged in yoga classes. The group forges forward, warts and all, drinking, popping and smoking anything in its path.

And in this anniversary year, there's more Motorhead coming your way than usual. The group released its umpteenth album, Hammered, in the spring; its first DVD, Boneshaker is due next month; and Kilmister's autobiography is set for publication this fall. The three releases make for a vivid multi-media look at a rock & roll original: from the most unlikely tale of a vicar's son -- who worked as a horsebreaker and Hendrix roadie before settling into one of the more influential bands in rock history -- to that oft-misunderstood group that mostly celebrated early rock & roll by trying to play it louder.

So tell me a little about your DVD.

Ah, The Boneshaker, it's quite good isn't it?

Yeah, you guys caught a great performance. So do you own a DVD player?

No, laughs, it's actually a funny thing. I don't. I keep meaning to get one, kinda like I keep meaning to get a computer, but I'd never get out of the fucking house with all that stuff. I'd be doing games all the bloody time.

This is unchartered territory for Motorhead. What prompted a DVD?

We wanted to record it for the posterity or whatever it is. I nodded off through the tenth anniversary, we never did anything on the twentieth, so the twenty-fifth made sense.

Ever think you wouldn't make fifteen or twenty-five years?

Well yeah, when you form a band, you think, maybe five years if you're lucky. And it sort of stretched a bit [laughs]. I'm really happy with the band, I think we're a good band. We certainly fill a niche that will be unfilled forever after we're gone. Whether people like it or not is not important. I think we're necessary. I think you deserve us [laughs]. So I think we should be put down for eons to come.

Well, styles have come and gone, and you're still you.

I know. I think by this time we should have our own category, Motorhead music [laughs]. We'll be the end of it.

It's something of a defiant stance; culture seems to put a premium on reinvention.

I know, isn't it weird all that retrospective stuff? If the new music's so good, then how come they have to wallow in the past?

It seems to come down to style again. If you run out of ideas, look back and grab one.

Well, you know, these kids haven't had time to perfect a style, they have to have a hit record by the time they've been formed three weeks, a lot of 'em, and then they're just discarded by the record companies. I think it's got to quite a disgusting level. And now the record companies are all screaming their heads off about losing money, and they still don't get it. They still don't understand why. Manufactured music is only that. It's not lasting. People can't formulate an affection for it. Because it's obviously pipeline shit, you know?

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that flying below the major label radar has been good for you. There wasn't that attempt to alter the band or sound.

Well they did try on several occasions. When we were on Sony, it was like a bloody nightmare. I don't know why the record company signs a band and then tries to change them beyond all recognition into something they already have. I just don't get it. What's the matter with these idiots? Well, they're idiots, I guess I answered my own question.

Has it ever felt like a job to you?

Oh, no it's my life, man. It's my life completely. It stopped being a job a long time ago. 'Cause I know intellectually, there was a time when I wasn't in Motorhead, but I can't actually remember it [laughs].

Much is made of turnover within the band over the years, but you guys always seem to sound like Motorhead, regardless of who's playing.

The central axis is the music that we originally started out doing with Eddie and Paul in the band. They've gone but the basic idea is the same, because it was my idea, and I'm still here. And other people come in and contribute their styles, and we try some experimental stuff like the track "1916" and the new track "Serial Killer," we do different stuff within the genre, but we keep in the genre, because we thought the original idea was a good one. I don't see why one would change it for the sake of fashion . . . fuck that.

So how did you come to be a Hendrix roadie?

I had been in a very successful band in the north of England, but they were only local. So I moved down to London and I wound up sleeping on the floor of a guy I knew who used to be a roadie for the Who and the Merseybeats. And it just happened that he was the roadie for Hendrix, who was new at the time. They just needed an extra guy for this period of eight months, and I was just there. And I was cheap, you know.

So you were comfier with that job than working with horses?

Ah, you've done your homework, very good. I was gonna be a horse breaker, that was my dream, and then I heard little Richard and literally that was it. I thought, "That sounds great. He sounds like he's really having a fucking good time." And then I learned that there were women connected to it as well [laughs]. So that was it.

I don't suppose you get to ride many horses in Los Angeles.

They do have some in Rufus Park, but it's not the same thing you know. I'd like to go out riding in Nevada or Arizona, out in the desert you know. I haven't been on a horse in ten years, I should go out and do it though. Cause you never lose it you know.

So the Motorhead sound was the sound you heard in your head when you first decided to start a band?

It's pretty close. Obviously nothing's exact, nothing's perfect. I don't exactly know what the original idea was. I guess we wanted to be like the MC5 crossed with Elvis Presley [laughs]. And I think we achieved a good bit of that. But I haven't got the high notes he's got.

This might sound odd, but I hear a bit of country music in what Motorhead does. Do you listen to much of that?

I remember before rock & roll, before there even was any. I remember when Elvis came out, and Bill Haley. A lot of the early rock was country, it's just these people didn't know it. Carl Perkins was country for sure. All that picking, and the vocals, it was country with a bit more of an edge, and then the blues came in there and it became the real thing. And that's the best music, some great shitkicking country music mixed with the downhome blues guys. It was fucking great, it's the greatest fucking fusion there's ever been.

So do you find getting out there and playing harder now than two decades ago?

No, it changes you know. You can't keep up the same enthusiasm for twenty-five years, but it's good enough. I still get a charge out of going out there. The one thing is the same, on a good night when you can hear everything perfect and everybody's playing well and the crowd is going nuts, it's still better than sex, you know. And I like sex.

What comes in third place?

Let's see, watching the sun rise or some fucking thing [laughs]. A cold beer on a hot day, you know.

So after twenty-five years, you have any words of wisdom you can share?

The greatest wisdom in the world is a very simple phrase, and it's very corny I suppose, but it's treat people how you would like them to treat you is the basic thing. I've always found it's absolutely true, man, it's the best advice there is. Why should you think you're any better. 'Cause you're not.

Those who don't know better might be surprised by that answer.

They don't understand, you know, we've never incited anybody to do anything evil. We've never preached violence as a solution to anything. We don't have a political stance, we're apolitical. I hate all politicians, they're all lyin' cheatin' thieves. But some other bands fall for it, they align themselves with some sort of political campaign. We should be an escape from that shit, we get it put down our throats all fucking day. You should be able to listen to music and not have to think about all the real world crap.

So rock oughta be escapism?

Like all great music, it's the same. You sit and listen to Beethoven and it's the same. It's better music, obviously, but it's still escapism.

OK, any words of warning?

If you're gonna be in a band, always read the small print. And possibly sign a false name if you can get away with it. And get an accountant before you get a manager [laughs]. And never let your manager be your accountant. I did it too, so if you're looking for wisdom, don't look at me, we're not really successful [laughs].

Do you have a favorite hangover cure?

Well, to get a hangover you got to stop drinking [laughs]. I've never been much of a fan of that.

Can you recall the first album you ever bought?

"Knee Deep in the Blues" by Tommy Steele. It was an old Guy Mitchell number, it would have been about 1957. I'd seen the guy do it on TV, because in those days there was no coverage of rock & roll. We didn't know certain black performers were black 'cause we never got pictures of 'em. You'd just get the record, like it was from some other planet and you didn't know anything about any of the artists. They just sounded great, so you played it. You learned all the words but you didn't really know the artist.

And the labels weren't particularly forthcoming.

It's a funny thing, all that racism bullshit, which is still going on to a certain extent. It seems to be an American thing, this particular kind of racism. I mean, the British started the slave trade, but we didn't raise 'em up and knock 'em down as much as you guys. You still hear all this shit about Jesse Owens showing Hitler, and he'd come home and couldn't get a fucking steak, cause he couldn't eat in the fucking restaurant.

Do you keep a home in the U.K.?

Nah, I can't afford one. But this is a great country to live in. There's a lot of flaws in it, but there's a lot of flaws in every country. But at least the wild side is really wild. And I like that.

Ever think you'd live somewhere other than Los Angeles?

I'd like to live in Vegas for awhile, of course I'd be broke then.

Perhaps you could land a long term engagement at a casino.

I don't think we're sort of casino music [laughs].

So is your book, "White Line Fever," ever gonna see the light of day?

Yeah, I'm going through the final draft right now. Should be out in November, I believe. On Simon and Schuster.

I didn't know a publisher had picked it up. That's great.

Hopefully, yeah. We thought that about Sony [laughs].

Any parts you regret writing?

Yeah, the publisher sent it back and underlined most of those pieces, I was quite pleased I got another chance, you know.

What's the biggest Motorhead misconception?

That we're morons, you know. Or that we're unmusical. Because it just isn't true.

Perhaps the biker gear scared people away.

Well, I never had a bike, you know [laughs]. I drink too much to have a fucking bike. You get in the cab, "Take me home!" I don't have to find a parking spot, it's much more fun to get in a cab and go "Bye!"

And you don't have to spend the night sleeping on a pool table.

I know, that's weird too. And then there's all the flies and shit in your teeth. And the rain, being in the rain on a bike is the most miserable fucking experience God ever invented.

Like a fat guy on ice skates.

That's very good, I like that. It's like you're diagonally parked in a parallel universe [laughs].

Last band you heard that you really admired?

Skunk and Anansie, they're wonderful. They broke up last year, unfortunately, but they did three albums that are absolutely top of the mark. A black, lesbian baldheaded singer, who is really pissed off. They were a magic band, all the instrumentalists were great, her voice was unbelievable. Sorry, I got another fucking call, hold on.

I'm so popular these days. Even at my advanced age.

Are these callers offering you gigs and money?

God no, they're offering me sex. Well one of 'em at least. I mean, I accepted of course, you never know when you're not gonna get anymore [laughs].

Times have changed.

Thank you, oh Lord, for this gift of AIDS to teach us a fucking lesson. Just when we all had our pants down, enjoying ourselves, bingo. Sometimes, I fucking think God would have made a wonderful Pope [laughs].

So every few years, it seems a fringe culture latches onto Motorhead. Skaters, pro wrestling. What's the initial draw?

The thing is the fuck you-ness. It's always a minority at the time. 'Cause skateboards were a minority music at the time, and wrestling, well it wasn't in a minority, but it was looked down upon by real sportsmen. I don't particularly like wrestling, it's a bit obvious for me, but at the same time, there's some great characters in it. It's not actually a sport anymore, it's a show, it's a circus. It's so awful, some of them shouldn't be acting, they should go back to wrestling. But some of that soap opera bullshit is really quite funny. But the guys we met connected to it, are total gentlemen.

How about a soap opera of a different stripe; have you seen Ozzy's show?

I haven't seen it yet. We were in Europe when it was on, and I haven't gotten around to watching it, but I'm sure I'm not gonna like it. People don't realize he's not acting. It's a little bit close to the bone. "There but for the grace of God" kinda thing, you know. And it's a shame about Sharon now, she's sick.

Yeah, though she seems pretty tough.

Very true. I can't believe that cancer dared to go near her. She'd just bite it off and spit it out. She's a tough baby, I've known her for what, twenty-five years, she's excellent.

So as the frontman for what was once called the worst band in the world, do you feel smug at this point in your career?

People get that wrong. We were the best worst band in the world [laughs]. We had our own category that year. I feel that we must be kinda vindicated by now. Anyway, it was only the NME, which is a shit paper to start with.

So what's up next for you guys?

There's one more show in Switzerland, and that's the end of the European festivals. Then we're going to go to Brazil, and then we're going to do a fall tour of Europe and then England as well. So we're gonna be kept busy up in 'til Christmas at least.

Places being a horse breaker might not have taken you . . .

Sure, yeah, I mean, you can't ride to Brazil. You'd drown, you know.

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