Whether by design or by accident, Hollywood’s Grandmaster Recorders studio is not an easy place to find. Address in hand, you’ll wander up and down the sidewalk, going, “No, that can’t be it,” until finally someone comes out to rescue you. Were you to have crossed the road, you’d have seen – in rather large letters – the words, ‘What Fools these Mortals be!’ right above the door. There’s a kind of magic to the place, hidden in plain sight on the busiest of streets, and it’s been practising musical magic since the early 70s, via a who’s-who of artists including Queens Of The Stone Age, Killing Joke, The Black Crowes and Foo Fighters.
Today, there’s alchemy afoot; the sacred art of turning metal into, well, heavier metal. Motörhead have begun work on their 22nd studio album, as yet untitled, but well in progress, guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee already having done their parts and flown home. Bassist/frontman and living legend Lemmy Kilmister remains locked away with longtime producer Cameron Webb, and, remarkably, Hammer has been invited along for a world-exclusive peek behind the scenes./o:p
The studio is dimly lit, a wooden interior conducive to sound, with hand-scrawled notes strewn all over the mixing desk. Lemmy furnishes himself with a cigarette and a vodka and orange, slightly (if only slightly) better for him than his former trademark Jack and Coke. This is Lemmy; approaching 70 and finally slowing down.
With life in the fast lane finally catching up with him, he had a defibrillator fitted for heart problems in 2013, and then suffered a haematoma (a tumour of clotted blood) which set back his recovery, as did going back on the road too soon. The band’s Wacken festival set was cut short and tours were cancelled, and though they’ve been back on form since then, health issues are a concern. The musician looks well today, still with that ineffable Lemmy presence, but he’s noticeably lost weight, and there is a sense that’s perhaps he’s mortal after all. We’d be fools to think otherwise./o:p
Then again, there’s no evidence of Motörhead slowing down, with the aptly named Thunder And Lightning a prime example of the band at its bludgeoning best. We’re played three other new tracks today, all of them unnamed, all of them at a blistering pace. Clearly Lemmy’s health problems haven’t affected his ability to play.
“[They have] a little bit,” he confesses, “but I can play fast. The fast ones are the easy ones – there’s only a couple of notes! I can still play all right, touch wood.”/o:p
Not only can Lemmy still write a riff, he’s still prolific. In total, there are 16 songs in progress: 14 new songs, a reworking of the 1986 Motörhead classic Orgasmatron, and a monumental cover of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, apparently unfinished but nonetheless astonishing.
“It’s a snorter, innit?” grins Lemmy. “That’s gonna piss the Stones right off, I hope! The wrestler Triple H asked us to do it: we did his theme song [The Game], and then another couple of theme songs, so it’s fine if he wants us to cover a song.”
And why the rewrite of Orgasmatron? “They wanted it for an advert in South America,” shrugs Lemmy, “but it got cancelled so we’re stuck with it! Ha ha ha! It was some electric firm or something, very odd, but they were gonna use Max Cavalera’s version so we had to jump in. But we might not be using them, I don’t know yet. As you can see, I’m in the middle of reams of paper right now. The label’s always chasing us, like, ‘We want it yesterday!’ Too bad, motherfucker! You’ll have to wait until it’s finished!
“I always kept control of procedure, y’know? You can’t have people from the record label coming round to see the performing dogs. They tried that with Sony and I fucking locked them out of the studio! I said, ‘I don’t come around your office and fuck everything up, so don’t come around here! You’ve paid the advance so we can do this, but we’ve gotta pay you back, so fuck off!’” ”
Inevitably, a new album means a few new songs in the live set, and a few old songs retired. But while Lemmy is aware of complaints that they didn’t play enough from 2013’s Aftershock on the last tour (just two songs – Lost Woman Blues and Do You Believe), it’s impossible to please everyone.
“We dropped Killed By Death on the last tour and we got howls of agony from all over the place,” he says, “but I’m not gonna put it back. You’ve got to drop some sometimes. Stay Clean and Metropolis have been in the set since about 1906!”
Do you argue about which new songs to play, or do you know which are the standout tracks?
“Well, I know,” laughs Lemmy, “and Mikkey knows, and Phil knows, but it’s not always the same one! That’s how we got stuck doing Killers for fucking months – Phil wanted to play that. We’ll probably put another one off Aftershock on the next tour, and a couple of these, but it’s difficult to know what to drop. Imagine if we didn’t do Stay Clean! And it doesn’t always work: we put Rock ’N’ Roll back in and it died on its feet! And we did one off Another Perfect Day… I can’t remember which one – my mind’s fucked up from all the drugs! Or maybe I’m going senile! I never thought I’d be a grown-up, and I still don’t feel like one, at all! That’s the trouble: your healthy mind is trapped in an unhealthy body. It’s terrible. ‘Can I get another one?’ ‘No, mate, sorry, that’s it!’”/o:p
Let’s not pretend that Lemmy doesn’t know he’s old; he’s not an idiot. Far from it. It’s that razor-sharp mind that’s made him one of the greatest lyricists in the history of rock’n’roll. At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder if age has tempered his writing. Thirty-five years ago, Lemmy didn’t wanna live forever, and now, presumably, that doesn’t seem so unappealing.
“Nah,” shrugs Lemmy. “You wanna live forever? I don’t, not with my health. I mean, I wrote I Know How To Die [on 2010’s The Wörld Is Yours], but I wrote that before I got bad. I don’t think it’s affected me much, because I was always pretty doomy anyway – war and death, the usual subjects. Somehow on this one I’ve written a lot about being locked up, so I don’t know if that’s a portent of anything.”
Locked up? Jail or the nuthouse?
“Jail, not the loony bin!” Lemmy laughs. “I’m not a loony, whatever I am, but I am jailbait!”/o:p
Does lyric writing still come easy to him?
“Not as easy as it used to, because you run out of themes, y’know. But you can never say all the things you can against war, and you’ll never say enough against child molesting and things like that. It just bothers me about this locked-up thing! But we’ve got some good words on Thunder And Lightning: ‘Standing on stage / promises made. Out of the cage / raving and fighting. Maybe you’ll fly / maybe you’ll die. Fire in the sky / thunder and lightning.’”
Are there no stones you feel you’ve left unturned lyrically?
“Well, I never advertised drugs much, although I did do Built For Speed.”
And Motörhead, Snaggletooth… to be fair, there are actually quite a few about speed!
“Yeah,” concedes Lemmy, “but at least I didn’t do a Lou Reed on the kids. How many kids died because of [Velvet Underground hit] Heroin? It makes you into an evil person, heroin. It makes you into the sort of person who’ll purposely infect a kid just so they have someone to shoot up with. It’s a monstrous drug, the worst drug ever! I don’t remember anyone dying on anything else, just heroin and downers. I never saw anyone die of a heart attack from speed, and I never saw anyone die from cocaine, because you couldn’t afford it!
“I laid into the Welsh parliament about that. They invited me to speak on the subject of drugs [in 2005] because a council man had seen me moan about heroin on TV or something, and I went in and said they should legalise it! That way you could rate it and control it, and you’d get rid of all the dealers who are shooting each other. It wasn’t the answer he was looking for and I think he was a bit dismayed!”/o:p
Lemmy’s has been nothing if not an interesting life, from Hotpoint factory worker to rock’n’roll legend, and, in his own way, immortality. He can be stubborn as a mule, but you could ask for no greater friend than the good guy in black. And if you don’t know his contribution to music, you may as well just fuck off. If Lemmy’s not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame it’s because he is rock’n’roll! And, frankly, it’s disgraceful that he’s not in the HOF, but then Motörhead have always seemed satisfied with their place on the bill, so long as they can crank it up and kick some ass.
“Yeah,” Lemmy smiles, “I really like being top of the second echelon so we don’t have to top the bill, and you come offstage and there’s just paper cups blowing about. We come offstage and there’s still some chicks there! That’s always good! And there’s still a crowd to tell you how great you are. Or not! Ha ha! Although now that gigs are run by security firms, nobody gets backstage. They tried to kick Phil Campbell’s mum and dad out of Hammersmith Odeon once, like two 70-year-old people were trying to sneak into a Motörhead show!”
The funny thing is that Lemmy says “70-year-old” like he’s talking about some other generation. Seventy-year-olds do old people stuff, like drinking tea and playing bingo. Lemmy drinks vodka and orange in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, and plays rock’n’roll. And, although it’s unthinkable, one day he won’t, and maybe this will be Motörhead’s last album, and the end of an era. Put simply, Lemmy can’t play forever.
“No, I can’t play for much longer,” he says. “Getting old is the worst thing that can happen to anybody. I don’t recommend it. It’s no fun waking up in hospital. I’d never done that in my life! Well, except for one time when we overdosed. That was a story! This geezer in the network [of Lemmy’s friends and drug dealers] pulled this nurse, and he said she was gonna bring us sulphate [amphetamines].
“He walked in with this huge jar of white powder, and we’re all like pigs, immediately. It was atropine sulphate – belladonna! It’s fucking poison! We woke up in hospital and my mate, Jeff, was across the ward in the other bed. It was like: ‘OK, not prison, hospital.’ I went, ‘Jeff, we’re in hospital, wow! We’ve gotta get out of here quietly.’ We got out of bed and it was like, ‘Aargh! They’re all over the floor!’ We had hallucinations for two weeks! And that was after the antidote. The guy said we’d had 200 times the overdose, and 10 minutes later we’d have both died.”
Lemmy lets out that familiar cackle, unrepentant as ever. He pours himself another drink, but it’s a shorter glass these days.
Asked to reflect upon a musical journey that may be coming to an end, and where the new album might rank as their swansong, Lemmy laughs.
“Oh, I don’t fucking know! I don’t know what people will like! I like the songs, but I don’t know which album is the best. I think Aftershock will take some beating. Aftershock did well, it got to Number 22 over here, but I guess my favourite album would probably be Ace Of Spades, because it did it for us, y’know? And still does it for us, like, ‘Hey, dude! Ace Of Spades!’ That made us into a household name.”
But it’s more than that. Motörhead is more than a band, more than a household name: it’s a way of life, a community spanning several generations, Motörhead for life! Hell, Motörhead have changed lives!
“Yeah, I know,” grins Lemmy, a contented man. “We seem to have been an influence for the better, which is good. We brought a kid out of a coma once. He got in a terrible bike crash and half his head was gone. We went and played one of our albums, and said hello, and the kid woke up about a week later. We did about four or five of those, but he was the only one that woke up. That’s worth your whole career.”
And the thing you need to know about Lemmy is he means it. The awards are nice when they come his way, as are the drugs and girls, which came his way with rather more frequency than the awards, but 40 years of Motörhead will outlive the lot of us, and he’s rightly proud of that. But, perhaps more than anything, Lemmy wants to be remembered as a good man. And, frankly, they don’t come much better.
MOTÖRHEAD’S 22ND ALBUM IS DUE LATER THIS YEAR/o:p