Lemmy And Motörhead: Simply Irreplaceable

On Christmas Eve 2008, Ian Fraser Kilmister turns 63 years old.

Irredeemably nicknamed Lemmy thanks to a habit of asking “Lemmy a quid ’til Friday”, the bassist/vocalist has been a recording artist since 1965. Just think about the magnitude of those statements for a moment… This vicar’s son from North Wales has played rock’n’roll, pulled chicks, swigged Jack Daniel’s and snorted speed since before the parents of many Hammer readers were born.

No argument, Lemmy Kilmister deserves your utmost respect.

All the same, rumours about Motörhead’s leader refuse to die. Many times in previous interviews he has poured cold water on the line-up of the band that the critics consider to be definitive (completed by guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and drummer ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor). Gossipmongers insist that Lemmy no longer enjoys performing onstage, and is frustrated by playing Ace Of Spades, the band’s Top 20 hit from 1980, each night. And at a time of life when most of his age group use public transport for free, how much longer does Lemmy realistically expect to board a tour bus?

So on the eve of Motörhead’s new album, Motörizer, let’s address these issues and more. SPV Records have been playing journalists five of the album’s 11 songs, which grates with Lemmy. A CD player is produced, along with the trusty bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Plumes of cigarette smoke billow around the hotel room as Lemmy plays air guitar and drums, mouthing the lyrics to the six unheard tracks. Afterwards, Hammer enquires how it feels to release Motörhead’s 20th studio album.

“Just the same as number 19, only more recent, and a little ahead of number 21,” he replies, grinning. “It’s an album, y’know, but a good one. It’s fab gear.”

‘Fab gear’ would certainly be one way of describing Motörizer, though a quote from drummer Mikkey Dee in the biography goes as far as to call it “one of the wider-ranging Motörhead records ever released”. Does Lemmy really expect people to notice the difference?

“I have no fucking clue,” he shrugs. “It’s very straightforward; I write the songs and I don’t give a fuck whether people like ’em. If they do, it shows I’m still in touch. But there’s no exact science in predicting whether a new album will be liked. If there was I’d be a millionaire, which I’m not.”

None of the songs we heard exactly reinvented the wheel. It’s just a really good, latter-day Motörhead album.

“I suppose that’s fair comment,” affirms Lemmy cautiously. “Mikkey says that ‘This one’s really different’ stuff with every album. But I would say that English Rose is pretty adventurous for us.”

Lyrically, it sounds like an ode to a prick-teaser. Was it written about anyone in particular?

“Yeah, but I won’t tell you who,” he laughs mysteriously. “And she isn’t a prick-teaser – that’s the last thing she is – she’s just late all the time.”

Lemmy is far happier talking about the present than the past, understandable to a certain degree given the consistency of the band’s last few albums, and the way that Motörhead have recruited a whole new generation of fans. However, given the fact that the band formed back in 1975, his opposition to the label of a classic band seems churlish. “We’ve been around for long enough, I guess, but I really don’t think we fit the ‘classic rock’ syndrome,” he explains.

Why not?

“To me, classic rock is Led Zeppelin, who formed in 1968,” he reasons. “I hadn’t even joined Hawkwind in 1968. So I don’t let those comments bother me.”

All the same, because Lemmy is so proud of Motörhead’s most recent output, the band’s past does weigh heavy on his shoulders.

“I try not to give a fuck anymore,” he insists. “Phil [Campbell, guitarist] has been with us for 24 years and Mikkey for almost 15, so that’s long enough to carve their niches. People can go on about Phil [Taylor] and Eddie [Clarke] as much as they like, I know this is the best band I’ve ever been in – no contest. And the albums that we make are contemporary because we’re making them now.”

It’s been written that Bastards, from 1993, and not the more celebrated Overkill, Bomber or Ace Of Spades, is still Lemmy’s favourite of all the band’s albums. Is that true?

“No, it’s actually Phil and Mikkey’s favourite,” he corrects. “I like all of them, except Iron Fist [1982] and Hammered [2002], which were both badly produced.”

For Lemmy to pass negative comment on the band’s recent records is exceedingly rare.

“Well, what went wrong with Hammered wasn’t really [Thom Panunzio] the producer’s fault,” he explains. “He tried to be nice to us. That’s not the way to deal with Motörhead.Cameron [Webb,who oversaw Motörizer and Kiss Of Death in 2006] is much better. He says, ‘Shut up, sit down, fuck off’, and sometimes ‘Do it again’ – even to me. And if he says so then fair enough.”

It’s magnanimous of Lemmy to back down over anything.After all this time,he’s become used to things being done his way. It’s set in stone each year that Motörhead tour the UK during the month of November, having banked the ticket money during the summer. What is it about this routine that appeals to him?

“November’s the best time because the colleges are out in the summer,” he says dismissively. “You couldn’t tour here in the summer.”

But doesn’t it get boring to play the same songs, in the same halls at the same time of year?

“No. We keep selling them out. I’ve sometimes questioned the wisdom of it, but we keep on selling more and more tickets every year.”

But does Lemmy even enjoy playing live anymore, or is touring something he does to top up the pension?

“Of course I do,man,”he bristles. “You don’t make much money from shows. All that travelling and staying in fleabag hotels is such an effort. If I didn’t enjoy it, why would I do it?”

Because it’s part of the mechanics of being in a band?

“It’s what I do. You can be in a band, make records and just go and do prestige gigs – with backing tapes Hahaha! No,if you’re a band you should be on the road. You’ve got to prove yourself; otherwise you’re just a bunch of geezers who go to the studio now and again.” And what about the rumour that he’s sick of playing Ace Of Spades?

“There are a lot of rumours about me,”Lemmy responds sternly. “Don’t listen to ’em. I don’t mind that song [and takes another slug of Jack]. it’s been really good to us. I just wish that people would realise we’ve gone past it now. In America especially, they seem to think we stopped [in 1980].”

If Lemmy thinks the band’s most recent catalogue is so good, what would happen if Motörhead drew a line in the sand and said, ‘From now on we’re only playing songs from Overnight Sensation onwards’?

“That’d never happen,” he frowns. “If I go to see Little Richard I want to see him play Good Golly Miss Molly, or I’ll be pissed off. You can’t not do your hits. People go nuts when we play them.”

But if you took such a drastic course of action, do you think the fans would still come?

“Most of them would, I think,” he shrugs.“But obviously some wouldn’t. That’s what happened when Brian Robertson [ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist] was in the band. The fucking stupid cunt thought Ace Of Spades, Overkill and Bomber were beneath him. Well, where are you now, Brian?”

At this point, Lemmy sits upright “Metal Hammer’s getting a bit cynical about Motörhead, isn’t it?”

No, not really, we reply. It’s just that the media’s changed. Cosy little chats about the new album are out these days.

“Yeah, I suppose it’s better than just stroking a rock star’s plumage,” he grins.

Lemmy goes on to theorise that every rock star sometimes needs taking down a peg or two, even Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

“The last time I saw Pagey I said, ‘What the fuck were you doing with that rapper fucking up a perfectly good Zeppelin song?‘.” he guffaws, referring to Kashmir – 1998’s collaboration with Puff Daddy for the Godzilla soundtrack. Lemmy, of course, has known just about every rock star you could name, from Jimi Hendrix (for whom he actually roadied for six months) to Metallica (who donned Lemmy wigs to play a special Motörhead covers set while celebrating their hero’s 50th birthday in 1995) to Thin Lizzy’s late, great Philip Lynott.

“Phil got into the wrong shit [heroin],” he sighs. “If I’d known I’d have pinned him to the fucking wall.”

One recent concession to the past that Lemmy did make was playing with former guitarist Würzel at this summer’s Download festival. The guitarist’s departure in 1995 had been especially unpleasant.

“It was good to see Würz again,” Lemmy says fondly. “[His girlfriend] emasculated him, he left the band and lost what was most important in his life, replacing it with a bitch and dog – which is which I won’t say.”

At Download, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford said there was a lot of healthy competition among the ‘old guard’ of Motörhead, Priest, Kiss and Saxon.

“There was a lot of ‘Top that, you cunt!’ going on,” Lemmy agrees. “Priest were good – I always make a point of watching them. And I saw two songs by Kiss, one of which – I Was Made For Loving You – made me leave the arena. How can people still call them a credible rock band after a song like that?”

Our time is running short. Does Lemmy see anybody that could don his famous pair of white boots once he’s gone?

“Airbourne are fucking excellent,” he replies after a moment’s consideration, “but today’s rock stars are boring. Most of today’s bands would’ve had rocks thrown at them in the 1970s – they’d have been booed off stage.”

Will Lemmy know when the time to stop finally comes?

“Oh, I dunno, man. Probably. I won’t be able to walk anymore. But I don’t feel like I’m off anywhere soon. Now that I’ve got diabetes, this doctor told me I’d have to stop drinking and taking drugs because they’d be bad for me. I told him they’d done OK for the past 62 years. Don’t give anything up. Rock’n’roll makes you immortal – ’til you die. The trick is not dying.”

And as we wrap up the interview, Lemmy Kilmister has one final, important message.

“We’ve still got an edge and we’re the last of our breed,”he says.“When Motörhead have gone, there will be a hole you can’t fill.”

This was first published in Metal Hammer issue 183.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.