After Mötley Crüe played what they say was their last-ever concert, on New Year’s Eve 2015, things got weird — even for them. The band had signed a “cessation of touring agreement” in 2014, swearing never to reunite onstage and, as Tommy Lee told Rolling Stone after the gig, it felt a little more final than he had hoped. Nobody said goodbye to him or went to the after party. “I think fucking Nikki unfollowed me on fucking Twitter, like, the next day,” Lee said at the time. “I was like, ‘Wow. OK, dude.'”
Since then, the four members worked on solo projects: Lee worked on new recordings and guested on one of Post Malone’s Beerbongs and Bentleys songs, Nikki Sixx put out two albums with his band Sixx:A.M., Vince Neil hit the road and Mick Mars reportedly worked on a solo album. But they still worked together on a business end, coproducing a biopic about their lives, the upcoming Netflix film The Dirt, and slowly began reconnecting with each other again behind the scenes.
Now they’ve reunited to record four new songs for the soundtrack to The Dirt, and they’ve just released the song, “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” which features a chant-rap by Machine Gun Kelly (who portrays Lee in the film). It’s a revved-up anthem to excess and survival with a catchy, soaring chorus — “Just gimme the dirt!” — and lyrics that reflect on how “they never found a way to break us down.” Two other reflective songs on the soundtrack — “Ride With the Devil” and “Crash and Burn” — also contain “dirt”-specific lyrics, and they threw in a deep, metallic cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” for good (bad?) measure. They even reunited with Dr. Feelgood producer Bob Rock for the affair. The way the band’s so-called “terror twins” — Sixx and Lee — tell it, they just needed some time to get to this point.
“Everything’s cool now,” Lee tells Rolling Stone. “That tour was almost two years straight, and by the end of it, I don’t think anybody wanted to fucking see anybody maybe ever again. It was like a marriage that just got fucking tired. I was the only one there having a big after party with everybody on New Year’s Eve. I was just like, ‘You know what? Fuck you guys.’ After about a year, everybody started to either miss each other or just wonder what happened, and we were in a much different place, so we regrouped and rekindled friendship and the whole thing you do with people you love.”
“Me and Tommy hadn’t really talked or seen each other since the final show, and we went to New Orleans to visit the movie set,” Sixx says. “We’d just needed a breather from each other from over 30 year of being in each other’s faces. It was so nice when me and Tommy started hanging out again.”
“I looked at him and said, ‘Do you realize that I’ve known you longer than I’ve known anyone in my life?'” Lee recalls. “Wives and both of my parents are gone. I said, ‘It’s really cool that we’re able to realize and appreciate how long we’ve known each other and remain the best of friends from here on out, because it’s something extraordinary and truly special that we’ve done together and shared.’ There’s no room for stupid animosity or things that wear on you after touring together for so long. So everybody’s in good spirits now, which is fucking awesome. It wasn’t like that a couple years ago; it was just actually ugly.”
Once they’d reconnected, somebody floated the idea of writing some new music for the film. Sixx insisted that they come up with some songs that were organic. “A lot of new metal has had the swagger sucked out of it,” he says. “It’s just so right on the grid. It sounds like music for a video game.” He also wanted to write lyrics that reflected The Dirt — both the book he co-wrote with his band members and Neil Strauss and the film.
So he wrote “a bunch of songs” called “The Dirt,” though only the new single, with Machine Gun Kelly, got that title. “I figured we would finish one and call it ‘The Dirt,'” Sixx says. “And everyone was like, ‘I like that song, that song and that song.’ So we zeroed in on the song we wanted, which is ‘The Dirt,’ and the label said, ‘Just go rewrite the choruses on the other songs,’ but I never did. I just changed the name of the song. I told Tommy the other day that they were all titled ‘The Dirt,’ and he goes, ‘You’re such a shit.'”
“It was weird,” Lee says. “We were all getting confused, like, ‘Which “Dirt” is this? Is it “The Dirt One,” “The Dirt Two”?’ We had to come up with some new titles.”
“Tommy laughed because nobody at the label ever said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this chorus sounds just like the last chorus,'” Sixx says. “Of course it does. I didn’t change it. I just literally was like, ‘I’ll call this one “Ride with the Devil.”‘ And then Tommy’s like, ‘Is that too much like “Shout at the Devil”?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty close.’ He goes, ‘Let’s keep it.’ We just were a little reckless and had a lot of fun with it.”
Once they picked which one would be the real, final, officially 100 percent, no-doubts-about-it “The Dirt,” the band reached out to Machine Gun Kelly to see if he’d add some flare to the track. “I’ve been trying to get him on one of my [solo] tracks, and schedules haven’t worked out,” says Lee, who was working on a “sexier, slower” cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” for his upcoming project when he spoke to Rolling Stone. “But he got right back to us and jumped on the track. I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve been trying to get you on one of my tracks forever, dude.’ I’m gonna kick his ass later. But I love it. It came out great.”
For his part, MGK jumped at the chance because he felt the track had “such a vintage Mötley Crüe feel.” He was initially tentative and had told Sixx he’d only do it if it felt right, but he was moved. “I’d told him, ‘I don’t want to rap on here, because I feel like it’s not something a Mötley Crüe fan base would want to hear,'” he tells Rolling Stone. “I remember getting to the studio and taking this approach of this chant, and once I I’d laid it down I brought my boys in to hear it. They had never heard me come off like that on a song. I made sure that this was something that every single person could sing along with, and it felt right and badass.”
MGK’s lyrics read like Mötley Crüe’s Mafia blood oath: “Gimme more sex, more tats, more blood, more pain, more threats, more fast, torn jeans, cocaine, more French strippers with the big red lips making big tips showing off the nice big tits — haugh.”
“Nikki had one lyric change,” the rapper says. “I remember I put ‘morphine’ as one of the rhyming words in there, and he asked me take that out of respect for the opioid epidemic. I thought that was really awesome, because I come from Ohio, which is a huge opiate state, so I replaced ‘morphine’ with ‘torn jeans.'”
The last song on the soundtrack might be the hardest for diehard Crüe fans to swallow, but somehow they pulled it off: Mötley Crüe covered “Like a Virgin.” Sixx got the idea when he was taking his dogs on his daily two-mile walk. The way he recalls it, the idea just popped into his head. “I looked up like I was talking to God, and I was like, ‘That’s a really bad idea,'” he remembers. “But it’s pretty funny.” He called up producer Rock, who said he doubted it would work. So he demoed up an arrangement on his own and decided to present it to the band. It’s a minor-key, almost doom metal take on the track with no vestiges of Nile Rodger’s scratchy guitars or Madonna’s playfulness left to it.
“I went over to Tommy’s house, and Bob Rock was over there,” Sixx recalls. “I said, ‘I’m gonna play you something and go in the other room so in case you don’t like it, you won’t punch me in the face.’ And Tommy started laughing. I started playing it and all of a sudden, you just saw Tommy’s face light up.”
“I heard the demo and it was like, ‘This is fucking genius,'” Lee says. “When it drops down into half-time, it gets so heavy. This is right up our alley and sort of ironic that Vince is singing ‘Like a Virgin,’ which is not even close. Or for that matter of fact, all of us.
“I have to say, it was really great having all the guys here in my studio in my house working together again,” Lee continues. “It was really, really cool.”
With everybody getting along again, the film out next month and the band’s 40th anniversary a couple of years away, the state of Mötley Crüe is in a surprisingly good place at the moment. Just don’t expect to see them on a stage again. “Sometimes I look out at my friends, like the guys in Aerosmith and Metallica, and I’m like, ‘God damn it, did we retire too soon?'” Sixx says. “But there will be no one-offs in our future. Maybe we’ll just get together and jam in Mick Mars’ front room.”