Mikkey Dee: « Motörhead is like an old dog, but it has to be washed sometimes »

“When we put the logo “Motörhead” on, I believe it should sound like Motörhead”, says Mikkey Dee, the trio’s drummer of twenty years. Yes, saying that Motörhead plays like Motörhead is indeed like saying “eureka” after reinventing the wheel. But if some critics want to point that out, the band will take it as a compliment, since it will mean that the job has been done within certain traditions and rules established through a score of albums.

But playing Motörhead isn’t as simple as it sounds; according to the drummer, it’s even “the hardest thing we can do: to write new songs that sound the same”. And if those new songs don’t come knocking, the band just won’t go looking for them and would rather go back on the road. To hell if that means delaying the album release by a year.

The same spirit of honesty and simplicity hovers over this interview with Mikkey Dee, who talks about his “family”, their latest baby, Aftershock, what the next one could possible sound like (a cover album, maybe?), and the health of the great patriarch, Lemmy, who keeps worrying his fans and who, in the end, is doing like any man going on his 68th birthday.

« The perfect Motörhead album is a record that sounds like everything else we’ve done, but new. »

Radio Metal: Three years separate Aftershock from the previous album. Is it because of the touring or because you wanted to perfect your songs during that time?

Mikkey Dee (drummer): No. A lot of people think that we actually worked another year on this album, which is not true. No, the truth is that last year, when we were supposed to do the new album, we didn’t feel like doing it [laughs]. We said : “Fuck it !” and we kept on touring. I remember sitting in LA at one point, we were saying: “Oh my God, we gotta write another album now.” And I said: “I don’t wanna do it”, Lemmy said: [imitating Lemmy’s voice] “I don’t wanna do it”, and Phil said: “Fuck it, I don’t wanna do it, well let’s not do it!” So we continued touring and then we got back together for the album writing in February/March of this year. That’s when we wrote this one. So that’s why, very simple.

You’ve been collaborating with Cameron Webb at the production since Inferno. Do you think you’ve found in him the perfect producer for Motörhead? What’s so special about him?

Yes, I think so. I don’t know how many more, [if he’s going to do the next album for sure], but for the five albums that he’s done – that’s a lot, five albums! – he has worked out perfect for us. He’s the right guy, we know each other very well and he knows how to push Lemmy, Phil and me to the better. He’s such a very competent engineer and producer. It feels right, we like him. When he came on board and we did Inferno, we took a big step forward and then ever since, I think every album is the best sounding album we’ve done ever. Howard Benson was one of these guys too, he did four albums earlier with us I think, Bastards, Sacrifice, Overnight Sensation and Snake Bite Love. He did those four albums, and he was great for us too. Then we were out working with different producer but I think Cameron, yeah, he fits us.

What is his level of contribution in Motörhead’s music? Because he apparently had the idea for the bass run in “Going To Mexico”. Does he often suggest ideas for the songs, in the writing for instance?

In the writing, nothing at all. But he does suggest certain things. He can say: “I think that riff is not the chorus, this is a verse, and that riff is the chorus”, for instance. So in arranging the stuff, yeah, he helps out a little bit.

According to Lemmy you came up with the title “Aftershock”. He also actually once told us that we shouldn’t look for deep meanings with Motörhead, but what does this title inspire you?

No, we don’t think about a huge meaning. When I saw this cover [he shows Aftershock’s cover], I thought of another title, and that title was “After the disaster”. I like that. “After the disaster”, because this looks like a disaster to me [he waves the record]. That’s a bloody disaster. It’s melting… It’s all that’s left on the Earth after the disaster. But they thought it was too long, and I agree and I don’t agree. But then I said: “What about ‘Aftershock’? That’s easy.” And they liked it, so. It’s really just looking at the cover and you go… “Aftershock” is maybe a little bit harder, it looks better. It’s not a big meaning but it sounds good, looks good, and fits the cover.

There’s a song called “Lost Woman Blues”. Is there any link with “Whorehouse Blues”?

No, not really. There’s really not a link… Some people think that Mexico for “Going To Mexico” is like “Going To Brazil”, but it’s not, really. It’s… We’re very simple when we write, we don’t have a plan, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, it’s very spontaneous, and for some reason that seems to work. In the earlier days, we tried to have a plan and do it like more normal bands would do, and it doesn’t work for us! I’m sure that Lemmy has been inspired by his own work of course, from the earlier days maybe, and even me and Phil when we write music, certain songs from the past would inspire us to write what we write now. That’s just very normal I guess, but it’s really not much of a plan. Boring answer, but it’s what it is. We’re much more simple than people think.

« I remember when we wrote the first ballad, people were kind of shocked, they almost fainted. […] Come on, every song doesn’t have to go two hundred miles an hour. »

Both “Lost Woman Blues” and “Dust And Glass” have a bluesy ZZ Top feeling. Do you somehow feel close to this band or could they be an influence for Motörhead?

Well yes, we love ZZ Top, we love AC/DC, we love real rock bands. Rock, blues, and metal bands, the real bands that write proper bluesy, rocky, hard music… It doesn’t matter, they’re just really good songwriters. ZZ Top is a fantastic band to listen and to watch live, and so is AC/DC, so is Iron Maiden, so is Metallica, the real bands around that can write cool stuff. And always, of course you can say you’re not inspired, we don’t sit around a table like this talking about writing an AC/DC or a ZZ Top song, no, but sometimes you get inspired by these bands as well and maybe a little part comes in, and before you know it, people pick up on the fact that it sounds like this or that, and I go: “Yeah, it actually does…” Sometimes we don’t even hear it until you tell us.

[He starts to take snuff]

Tobacco! It’s Swedish. Very strange.

I know! I’ve never tried but I know it’s a Swedish thing.

Don’t try that [laughs].

Lemmy and Phil Campbell both told us a couple of years ago about an idea they had for an all acoustic/bluesy album. Is it something that’s still on the agenda?

I don’t know about the acoustic part, but we’d like to do a cover album. I’d say we would pick maybe 4 songs each, and then put it on the record. That’s a big idea, and maybe the next album will be a cover album, I don’t know.

I wanted to ask you about that actually: what kind of covers could be expected on a Motörhead cover album?

I don’t know. I just know that me and Phil were laughing very hard one day when we said one of us would chose a Celine Dion or Barbra Streisand song for Lemmy to sing [laughs]. No, it’s a joke, but it’d be fun to hear Lemmy sing something really high, it would kill him! [laughs] Or what’s the Bon Jovi song… What’s it called… « Living On A Prayer »! No but I’m sure we’d pick what we like the most: Lemmy loves the Beatles and would probably pick a Jimi Hendrix song, something like that, and myself, I would love to cover maybe a Deep Purple song… You never know. I think it’d be a huge variety of songs, but that would also be the charm and the interest of that album.

Overall, lyrically this album is pretty aggressive, like many Motörhead albums. Would you say that Motörhead’s music could be considered as a kind of punching bag, so to speak, for you or for the listener?

Yeah, it is in a way… It has always been a very aggressive, very hard, and very non-compromised music, and I believe you can hear that. I’m sure there’s some songwriters all over the world that listen to some of our songs and say: “Oh, if only they would have done this with this song, it would have been a smash hit!” But see, we don’t write music because of that, which means that we’re not compromising. The three of us write what we like and then we release it. If you like it it’s a great bonus, we say: “Hey, fantastic!”, but if you say it’s a shit album and that’s a terrible song that’s OK too because the three of us really like it. That makes an album very real, and everything that’s real, especially in this musical style, is gonna be a punching bag for other bands and for us. It’s a very real thing, you know. It’s not compromised, it’s not written to sell billions of albums and die after two months of listening. It’s supposed to be an album that you stick with for the rest of your life.

« Just because it’s Lemmy, if he has a runny nose, people get worried! »

Aftershock features quite a few surprises like “Lost Woman Blues” or “Dust And Glass”, and has some quite melodic and not so speedy moments. Do you think that this album proves that Motörhead’s repertoire is more diverse than one would think?

Yeah, but we’ve done that in the past too. I remember when we wrote the first ballad, people were kind of shocked, they almost fainted: “Motörhead have a ballad?!” Come on, every song doesn’t have to go two hundred miles an hour. It’s the way we feel when we write it. I remember me and Phil wrote maybe two or three mid-tempo songs, the same type of songs, for this album and I came in a couple of days later and said: “We need to write slow songs or up-tempo songs.” And I believe we wrote the riff of Heartbreaker, and we were like: “Yeah, this is fucking great”, and the next day, we came back and we wrote a really slow, bluesy riff. When I say we don’t have a plan for the album, I mean that we don’t sit before this and try to plan out the record. But in the rehearsal studio, yes, we do have a plan, we try to variate what we’re going to focus on today. If me and Phil write three or four riffs that are fucking slamming, I go: “Look, Phil, no, let’s not write a fast song today, let’s write something fucking bluesy”, and then we focus on that. Maybe something comes out, maybe not. Maybe we go back and write something fast and then two weeks later we write something very bluesy. But at least, you need to have a view of how many songs you have done here. I mean, it’s easy to write only fast songs, it’s easy to write only mid-tempo or just ballads. The hard part is to have a good, wide record: at the end, you need to have ten, twelve, fourteen songs that are very different, all of them. That’s hard.

This is the 21th Motörhead album, and you’ve been in the band for more than twenty years now. How do you manage at this point, as music writers, to continue making music without repeating yourselves or having the feeling to do so?

The perfect Motörhead album is a record that sounds like everything else we’ve done, but new. That is the goal. Sometimes I read the reviews after a record came out and they wrote: “Oh well, here is the new Motörhead album. There’s no surprises. It sounds pretty much the same but it sounds great, so we give it a 3 or a 4.” In the article, it sounds like it’s something bad that it sounds the same. But to us that is perfect, because it’s the hardest thing we can do: to write new songs that sound the same. Motörhead has a very tight little frame we can work within… We can experiment a little bit like we’ve done on this album for instance, and it inspires us a lot too, but we can’t go too far, because it’s not Motörhead then, it’s something else, and you should do a solo album if you wanna do something else. When we put the logo “Motörhead” on, I believe it should sound like Motörhead. But it’s okay to have a few extra little things like that. And on this album, yes we did maybe a little more than on some other albums. But overall, I think it’s great that we write songs that are typical Motörhead songs, but new. People recognize it. So that’s the best comment we can get, really, when sometimes journalists think that it’s a bad thing: “This album, unfortunately, sounds the same.” Me, I go: “Oh great, thank you!”, because we don’t wanna take ten step forward, we wanna take one step forward. We took a huge step I think with Inferno, and then very small steps until this album again. Now, it’s a pretty big step, but it’s not too big of a step, it’s not like we’re running across the street and people go: “Is this a Motörhead album I just heard?! It sounds like this or this or this, but not Motörhead!” Then it’s dangerous. So I wanted to hear: “Yeah, this is typical Motörhead, I know what I’m getting.” But it’s new Motörhead songs, fresh Motörhead songs. It’s like I said before: it’s like an old dog, but it has to be washed sometimes. Wash off the old fucking dog so it smells good today! That’s this album.

What makes the band still excited to make new music after all this time?

I’d say we’re inspired by ourselves, the way we tour; we’re three guys that enjoy each other and as company, and as family… I always say that an album is a reflection of how the band feels about touring, and touring is always a reflection of what the last album has been like. So it takes over. It’s like they can look into your eyes and see how you live: you have a liver problem here or any other health problem… It’s the same thing! It’s a reflection. All the time, the touring is a reflection of the last album. If we did a great album, it’s gonna be exciting to go and play these songs. If we did a shit album, then you don’t know which song you gonna play and the tour is not so fun. If the tour is great, it’s easier to get inspired to go to the studio and continue that. You’re in a good mood and you’re playing well, you feel good together then fuck yeah, let’s do another album! We did not feel that last year. We toured and we did great but the inspiration was not there. We were sitting at the Rainbow talking about that. Have you ever been there?


It’s a rock club. We sat there with our manager, we had pizza, pepperoni-sausage I believe, and he was telling us: “Look, OK. Here is the schedule about the time frame when we want you guys to start, maybe you should come over here, and blahblahblah…” We looked at each other and I said to them: “I don’t wanna fucking do it now! I have nothing to give!” And Lemmy said [he does Lemmy’s voice]: “I don’t wanna do an album!”, and Phil said: “I don’t wanna do it!” So we said we were not going to do an album, and he just sat there going: “What?!”, and that was it! At this point, we weren’t inspired. We continued touring last year, did great, fantastic shows, met new people… And in January, we thought: “Wow, we’re ready to it! Let’s do it!”

« I drink pretty much only beer […] It’s better than drinking whiskey or vodka, and instead of having a Big Mac, French fries and a Coca Cola, I’m having a Big Mac and a beer! »

I’m sure you get that question a lot but Lemmy had some health issues at this year’s Wacken Festival. He also had problems with his voice last year. The hard rock and metal community is worrying about him. What would you say to the fans that are getting worried about Lemmy?

I’d say that just because it’s Lemmy, if he has a runny nose, people get worried! I’ve played with him for 20 years, and when we tour with all the crew members and the buses, you meet a lot of new people and shake hands, especially me putting my fingers in my mouth with the snuff… After two or three weeks of touring, I go [he coughs], I got a fever, but Lemmy, over all these years, isn’t even having a runny nose! Never a problem! So as soon as Lemmy gets a little cold, people are very worried, like “Oh, what’s going on?!” Lemmy’s recovering in LA, yes he had some health issues here, he was very sick. He was fatigued and tired… He wanted to continue, but the doctor said: “Look, you can’t play right now. It’s summer in Europe, it’s 35 degrees everywhere where you’re gonna play… Don’t do it!” And Lemmy said: “You know what? Okay, fuck it.” The media makes it into a huge thing… It was a little bit of a deal because Lemmy was sick. He didn’t feel very good, but not that bad. He wasn’t that bad as the media wanted him to be. For us in Motörhead, every time a little thing happen with this band, it has a huge aftershock, ripple effect. I can talk to colleagues in other bands and they’re like: “My guitar player fucked up his pinky finger so we can’t play for two weeks.”, and maybe they have to cancel two shows. When we say we have to cancel two weeks, we have to cancel ten shows. It always becomes so big when a little thing happens… But I understand fans are worried. Lemmy’s 68 years-old today, he’s not 28 years-old anymore. I don’t say that he’s old, but he is 68, and I’m 50 and Phil is 52. We’re not 20 years-old anymore, we’re still very strong, but we have to think about what the doctors say. If they say to me: “Mikkey, it’s 42 degrees out there, if you play, you will fall off and you might hurt yourself bad”, I will say to the doctors: “You know what? I’ll give it a try, but if I can’t, I’ll leave stage.” That’s how it goes. But Lemmy’s recovering, we got a month and a half until the tour, he’s happy as a clam and we’re looking forward to come and tour with the album. When it comes to the health, you never know. All you can do is try to recover and mentally prepare yourself to get back out there, because it’s so much hard work.

In two years, it’ll be Motörhead’s 40th anniversary. Are you planning something special?

We haven’t even started thinking about that yet. We went through the 25th anniversary, the 30th, the 35th, and people makes it “Woooow!”, like it’s a big thing. The three of us, we go: “Oh, is it? OK!” I remember what Lemmy said, after the 30th anniversary, when people were asking about it the next year: “Well, this is even more special now because it’s 31 years! Why are you talking about the 30th, it’s even more special now, it’s 31, it’s one more year!” So… I don’t know. 40 years is extreme, yes, I agree, and I hope that we will plan something fun, but I don’t know what yet. We never know what’s gonna happen. Maybe it’s time for a new DVD. We released one last year… Or something else, a very special thing. I’m sure something will happen.

You have the reputation of being a very metal, hard hitting drummer. Is this how you would define yourself or would you say that it’s reductive?

No, I’m even playing harder now than I did 15 years ago, because I’m stronger now than I was 15 years ago. I got more routine now, I know so much more… If you have a good self-esteem and good confidence, you play much better. I had good confidence my whole career, I don’t say that I didn’t, but obviously, the longer you play the more you grow within yourself, and as a drummer I feel more complete today than I did 5 years ago or 10, 15 or 20 years ago. So I have not reduced my power, because I know I’m known for very fast, hard and energetic drumming, and I like to keep it that way. I’m not slowing down, that’s almost the opposite, I’ve probably increased it a little bit within the last few years, because I think it’s important for me to feel that I can play this good still, you know? And I do a lot of sports and I try to take care of me more than I did before. I have to mentally prepare myself more today than 5, 10 or 20 years ago, but when we actually hit the stage, it’s better. I’m more complete, I feel more confident, more relaxed, and when I’m relaxed I play better and harder. Sometimes I remember, when you’re feeling nervous, you can stiff up and not be yourself… But now, it’s easy for me to be good when I feel that I’m good. It’s more work before today than it was when I was younger: I have to mentally prepare myself, physically prepare myself. I have a personal trainer now since one year and a half, and I’m working out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when I’m in Sweden with him: I jog to the gym, that’s 3,5km, he works me one hour, and I jog back. He works me so hard to keep me in physical shape! And I drink pretty much only beer, especially French 1664, it’s my favorite, and it’s better than drinking whiskey or vodka, and instead of having a Big Mac, French fries and a Coca Cola, I’m having a Big Mac and a beer! So you think about little things, you prepare yourself, and when I hit the stage, I’m harder today than I was.

Interview conducted face to face on September, 20th 2013 by Chloé
Questions: Spaceman
Transcription: Chloé
Introduction: Animal

Official Motörhead’s website : www.imotorhead.com

Album Aftershock, out since October, 22nd 2013 via UDR Music.

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