Phil Campbell Of The Bastard Sons And Motörhead Talks Grief, Touring And A Possible Solo Record
In a rehearsal room at Musicbox Studios in Cardiff a four-piece are killing time waiting for their de facto leader to turn up by running through an impromptu version of the Foo Fighters Times Like These before switching into Australia, the Manic Street Preachers’ emotional, escapist anthem from 1996. Phil Campbell, however, is customarily late.
When he finally arrives, the man who played guitar in Motörhead for 32 years will jokingly blame his tardiness on the ills of the local bus service. His band-mates will shrug, then plug in and tear into Big Mouth – one of the most anthemic tunes of their recently written repertoire.
Phil’s wayward time-keeping is nothing new to those in the room, not least of all because three of them are his actual his sons: Tyla (bass), Todd (guitar) and Dane (drums). Frontman Neil Starr, meanwhile, bemoans the fact that, while the other three enjoy a steady supply of home-made, foiled wrapped sandwiches courtesy of their mother Gaynor, he is left to eat a bag of crisps. He is, of course, joking. Due to the familial nature of the band, Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons are a tight-knit unit who, in the two years since Lemmy’s passing, have been brought even closer together.
In that time, the quintet have grown from a band who formed to play the occasional party into a well-drilled outfit that have toured relentlessly, playing endless gigs including a string of European stadium shows with Guns N’ Roses at the personal request of Duff McKagan. Meanwhile, the band’s debut album, The Age Of Absurdity (released in January on the Nuclear Blast label), has helped cement the outfit’s distinct musical identity.
Watching the Bastard Sons in a confided space, you sense that each member has defined responsibilities. Tyla, for instance, uses the odd moment of spare time to make a call to deal with forthcoming tour logistics. “He organises a lot of what we do,” smiles Phil Campbell, proudly.
The band run through a swiftly scribbled set for Kerrang!’s benefit as the cameras roll and the proceedings are captured for our Band Practice series. Without an audience, there is no need for any kind of performance. Instead, what you get is a barrage of remarkably loud rock’n’roll delivered with the minimum of fuss.
Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons at Kerrang!‘s Band Practice
Later, Phil Campbell admits that he has no time for “airs and graces” or the accoutrements of rock star life. As we start talking, it becomes evident that he is fiercely proud of the past, but ready to embrace the future…
When Lemmy passed away and Motörhead ended did you consider giving up playing?
I did consider it for a while. I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on. It was just such a weird feeling. Even though we all knew Lem was ill, he just went really quick. And to be honest, I didn’t know what to do for a while. It was just the way I was grieving.
The band wasn’t put together after that as such, as you know. It was known as The All-Starr Band and we played Todd’s party and then we did things like Bloodstock. It was an on-going band and after Lem passed away we got a few more gigs. It was good therapy for me and I was lucky that I had my family behind me. Who knows what would’ve happened if I hadn’t. I could’ve gone into full-on depression. was lucky that I had this and it helped me heal along the way.
Then, we decided to change the name. When we played Wacken [in 2016] they were expecting The All-Starr Band, we dropped this massive backdrop that read Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons. That was the start, really.
It went from something you were doing on the side to your main focus in one fell swoop…
Yeah. And we got a real tour bus and everything (laughs)! It’s been going good and the boys all deserve it. They’ve all had their own bands in the past to varying degrees of success but they’re all amazing musicians and songwriters in their own right. We’ll see how far this takes us, but so far it’s going great.
For those who hadn’t seen you live, the first sign of life came in July 2017 when you put out your first self-titled EP.
Yeah. It was a wicked EP, too. And people seemed to like it, so that was great. We played some major gigs and then we signed to Nuclear Blast and it was time to make a proper record. Those Guns N’ Roses shows in the summer were great for us, so it evolved very quickly into a working rock’n’roll band. We’ve had so many great reviews in the process. In fact, I don’t think we’ve had one bad review.
It’s a very different set-up from Motörhead though.
Yes. It’s nothing like Motörhead. Like Lemmy used to say, “Unless you were a Beatle it was impossible to know what being in The Beatles was like.” You could surmise and ponder what it was really like but you’d never actually know. It’s the same with Motörhead. The big difference is that I have to behave myself now because the kids are in the band too!
I’ve calmed down a lot actually. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, and that’s been good for me. But I miss the people in Motörhead – the band, the crew, the camaraderie. But it’s good now because we’re playing decent venues and the crowd are into it. We’re at a point where we’ve got our own audience now, which is great.
The main thing for me is that we produce great music. It’s classic hard rock, I suppose. If it wasn’t working and I wasn’t into it I’d admit it, and say “Boys, let’s just play a couple of parties and leave it at that.” But the music is really good and it feels great.
How does the band actually write?
It’s a five-way collaboration to be honest, and it’s easier than writing with Motörhead. With Motörhead it was basically me coming up with nearly all the riffs and it was difficult. Lem contributed all his musical bits, lyrics and melodies and Mikkey [Dee, drums] would come up with a few riffs too, but a lot of it was on me. When you’ve done so many albums, it’s not easy coming up with something fresh and which befits the style of the band, and what gets us off. With this band it’s five of us working on this.
Todd came up with a lot of stuff, Neil came up with all the melodies and a lot of lyrics, Tyla came up with some riffs and so did Dane. Dane and Neil also play guitar so it was easier for me. I think with basically two generations too it makes it interesting. There’s my influences and the boys’ influences, and they are different so the combination makes it a little bit more special. We can take influences from any genre too. They take what they were brought up with and so do I, but both things gel together.
Todd came in with quite a few songs that were almost complete. I’d add a few riffs to his stuff. I think Dark Days, was one of Todd’s. So was Ringleader. Tyla came up Freak Show. These are just the basic things, and then we all chipped in. It was a good collaboration. The least I have to think about and worry about, the better it is for me (laughs)! I just come in and put the icing on the cake!
Lyrically speaking, as an album The Age Of Absurdity is quite dark.
I think something spurred Neil on. Todd came up with the title, The Age Of Absurdity. Neil can tell you a lot more about the lyrics than I can, but he had this sense of how crazy the world is that we live in now. It’s not really a full concept album, as such, but it’s definitely about the way then world is, and I think people can relate to most of the tracks because of that. When we play live, the audience are really into the words, and the audience is really broad too. We get in seven to 70 year-olds, which is always a good sign. They’re all singing the lyrics.
Talking of the boys’ influences, it was interesting to hear them running through Foo Fighters and Manics covers before you arrived at rehearsals.
Oh, they were doing that, were they? I love listening to them when they do that. They always do covers during soundcheck and it’s all stuff that they grew up with. A lot of those songs – like those Manics songs – I know the songs, but I would have no idea how to play them. It’s great when they play together like that.
You’ve just announced a headline UK tour later in the year, so will there be a second Bastard Sons album?
Yes. We’re probably going to start on the next Bastard Sons album soon. We’ve got a few riffs but nothing concrete. And we’ll try and get that out next year.
So what about your long-awaited solo record?
I’ve been working on it for about 20 years! It’s probably 70 per cent done. I’ve been fortunate to have Rob Halford, Dee Snider, Mick Mars, [Slipknot’s] Chris Fehn, Whitfield Crane, Joe Satriani, [Skindred’s] Benji Webb play on there. I’ve got some of my heroes on there, for sure. Real incredible talent but I just need to get on and finish it. I’d like to get it out by the end of this year. Like I say, it’s almost taken 20 years, so I probably need to get on with it now.
Tickets for Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons’s headline UK tour are available now. The band play the following UK dates in November, while all other European shows can be found here.
8 Hafan Y Mor Pwllheli Hard Rock Hell Festival
9 Blackpool Waterloo Music Venue
10 Stoke Sugarmill
11 Glasgow G2
13 Inverness Ironworks
14 Newcastle University
15 York Fibbers
16 Manchester Rebellion
17 London Boston Music Room
19 Norwich Waterfront Studios
20 Birmingham Asylum
22 Cardiff The Globe
23 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
24 Plymouth The Junction
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