Lemmy: The Final Kerrang! Interview
The music world has not only lost a rock legend today, but rather the rock legend. Over many, many years Lemmy has spoken to Kerrang! countless times but, as we all come to terms with his passing, we couldn’t think of anything more fitting than to reprint our Motörhead cover feature from August this year. Here Lemmy – in his own inimitable way – reflects on his life in music.
Sadly, it would be his final Kerrang! interview.
Words: Nick Ruskell
“Do you wanna drink?”
It’s all about the entrance. Especially when it comes to legends. When you interview Bruce Dickinson, the Iron Maiden frontman Alan Partridges his way into the room; big smile, good handshake, usually some incongruous shorts or something. Ozzy Osbourne, meanwhile, will shuffle in and go ‘FUCK ME!’ at the size of whatever massive hotel suite you’re doing the interview in, before taking the piss for 15 minutes. Wait around for Steven Tyler so you can start your Aerosmith chat, and he’ll suddenly appear from out of nowhere, start talking at a mile a minute about shagging, make loads of really loud ‘WOW!’ noises, charm a waitress, tell a saucy story, wink, then vanish in a puff of smoke.
Walk into Lemmy’s room in one of Kensington’s nicest hotels, however, and he is the puff of smoke. Or behind it, anyway. There’s no grand entrance, just a firm ‘Hello, mate’ from behind the detritus of his cigarette. But, as we’ll see, Lemmy isn’t the type for glitz, glamour and self-promoting entrances. But then, he doesn’t need to be, because he is fucking Lemmy from fucking Motörhead. He doesn’t try to be cool. He doesn’t need to.
Motörhead are the best, most enduring rock’n’roll band on Earth; louder than all, able to do in three minutes with three chords and a shitload of volume what most other bands couldn’t manage if they lived to be twice Lemmy’s 69 years. And as their bassist, singer, leader and icon, Lemmy has become the seemingly immortal face of rock’s ability to endure. But that quiet offer of a drink from a rock legend who even your grandmother knows, not trying to impress, but to be polite, is cooler than a million flamboyant, door-bursting entrances.
Of course you know what to say…
“Have you got any water?”
What. A. Twat.
“Fuckin’ hell…” he mocks, in disbelief. “Let’s try that again: do you want a drink?”
And, with the grace of second chances, you get the answer right, Lemmy gets a beer out of the mini-bar, and suddenly you find yourself, to all intents and purposes, in the pub, shooting the shit with the greatest rock’n’roll icon of all time.
“Right, now stop pissing around,” he smiles, pouring himself a vodka and orange. “Let’s talk.”
Lemmy doesn’t like pissing around. Motörhead’s new album, Bad Magic, wasn’t carefully crafted in a fancy studio over the course of a year while songwriters, producers, engineers and other tinkerers endlessly pored over it in order to make everything just-so. Lemmy may be a legend, but it doesn’t mean he has to fart about making a record.
“Fuck that!” he laughs. “In, do it, out. We did the album in about three weeks, same as normal. Some bands spend six months pissing about in the studio – fucking pathetic, isn’t it? Def Leppard are still doing that, and I don’t believe it. Or Metallica – 18 months on an album. Why? It spends all your money!”
Lemmy knows how to make a record. Motörhead have made enough of them. Bad Magic will be their 22nd in a career that celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Albums like Overkill, Ace Of Spades, Bomber and Iron Fist are records you don’t have much of a choice about liking if you’re a rock fan: their fingerprints are all over what’s followed during the last 40 years. Metallica, Green Day, Slipknot, Foo Fighters and everyone else in this magazine have in some way been affected by Motörhead’s music. When the band played at Glastonbury in June, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich could be seen rocking out in the wings as Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee deafened Somerset.
But if Motörhead’s influence and longevity is to be applauded – remember, they may have had their share of members, but they’ve never split up and done the reunion ‘thing’ – then Lemmy himself deserves a standing ovation. Motörhead may be 40, but Lemmy’s “probably got almost 20 years before that playing in bands and stuff”. And during that time, not only has he made some of the best music ever released – and there is no song that sums up the life-affirming power of rock’n’roll quite as perfectly as Ace Of Spades, even on its 8,000th repeat – he’s become a human symbol of a hard-playing, hard-living life.
Like a cowboy with a bass and a tour bus rather than a horse and a gun, Lemmy is music’s coolest outlaw. A whisky-drinking drug dustbin who somehow never seemed overly affected by his excesses (once telling K!, “I drink a bottle of bourbon a day, but I don’t get falling-down drunk”), who always seemed far more intelligent, sharp and lucid than your stereotypical rock knuckledragger. Even after a night on the pop. Rather than ‘no class’ (in the words of a 1979 single), Lemmy seems to have distilled it to a great strength, and drunk the whole bottle. Even when discussing his rumoured tally with the ladies – estimated at over 3,000 – he shrugs and says, “That’s not that many considering how old I am and that I’ve never been married.”If he has, it’s been to music. In fact, his love affair with it goes back such a long way that he can “remember a time before rock’n’roll”.
“Before Elvis, there wasn’t anything remotely like it,” he recalls today. “You had your mother’s records, and that was about it. And then Elvis came along, and suddenly it was like, ‘I know what I want to do with my life now: I wanna be a rock’n’roller!’ It changed the whole world, man. Nothing was the same.”
Enraptured by this new discovery, the young Lemmy – then known as Ian Kilmister, his nickname coming from his habit of borrowing money, saying, “Lemmy a fiver ’til Monday” – got involved. He played guitar at first, before taking a job as a roadie for none other than Jimi Hendrix. But he wasn’t just carrying flight cases.
“Everyone was taking acid, man!” he laughs at the era’s memories. “I’d pick it up for Hendrix and we’d share it. We were off our heads on it constantly, and it was great acid, man. Really high quality.”
Eventually, he joined acid-fried ’70s psych-lords Hawkwind, singing on their 1972 Top Three hit, Silver Machine. But that, too, did not last, and he was kicked out of the band after getting busted with drugs on tour in America. As a final roll of the dice, Lem headed home and started a new group. But this time, it would be on his own terms.
“I’d been fired by every fucking band I was in,” he recalls today. “So, after I was kicked out of Hawkwind, I figured, ‘Well, if I formed my own band, they can’t fucking throw me out. I was driving it, I was going to be the one in charge. Maybe even see what it’s like to fire a few people for myself if I need to, heh.”
What happened next saw Motörhead become one of the most important bands in music history. Where Hawkwind were a psychedelic dream of a band who would regularly play all-nighters (“We’d have a slow-strobe, the sort that gives you epileptic fits, going constantly to blow people’s minds…”), this new band were a football riot, a thrown pint glass. Nobody had heard music as fast, hard or loud before. Punks forgave the band’s long hair on account of their fearsome racket, while metal fans took to the ’Head’s aggressive, no-shit sound as a natural next step. In their wake, Judas Priest upped the speed, and a young band called Iron Maiden emerged with a similarly brawling street spirit. Even in America, these three English oiks running on amphetamines and adrenaline were becoming a hit. Lemmy recalls one young fan the first time they met.
“Him and a mate came around to our hotel when we played in LA in about 1980, professing to be our number-one fans in the world,” tells Lemmy today. “They were like, ‘Can we come and drink with you?’ We said, ‘Sure.’ We got them so drunk that this kid went, ‘Lemmy, can I go to your bathroom?’ I took him in there and he was sick all over himself. I threw him one of the towels, and he threw up on that, too!”And that was the first time Lemmy met Lars Ulrich and his mate Cliff Burton. We’re not sure who has the cooler story out of it.
Forty years in, not much has changed. These days, Lemmy is older, wiser, in less good health than he once was, admittedly (the smoking and drinking today are in defiance of doctor’s orders). But as far as the band goes, it’s business as usual. Some groups of Motörhead’s vintage leave half a decade or more between albums – Bad Magic comes two just years after its predecessor, Aftershock, itself three years after The Wörld Is Yours. So, the status of Motörhead is pretty good right now. Ask Lemmy about the state of rock’n’roll in general, though, and he’s typically honest in his reply.
“I think it’s pretty poor right now,” he says. “We’re waiting for something, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s for the death of rock’n’roll, y’know? I really don’t know. I don’t understand what we’re waiting for at the moment, because we’ve been waiting for a long time. We deserve something, but we ain’t getting it. “I don’t know why half of [modern bands] are together, ’cause they don’t deserve to be,” he continues, with a ‘what are you gonna do?’ smile. “All they do is make a fucking racket. I think we’re still looking for an answer to punk, to be quite honest with you, ’cause Nirvana wasn’t it, y’know? They were the closest, but that didn’t last. I like some bands. I like Foo Fighters and Evanescence and stuff. But I don’t know if we’re going to get a real thing like punk again.”
Not that Lemmy actually gives a shit. He’s a music fan, yes, but Motörhead have never followed anybody else’s orders. Imagine that – a world where you could tell Lemmy what to do. Unthinkable, isn’t it? They’ve always done what they wanted and stuck two fingers up to everything else. And even now, Motörhead tour relentlessly, all over the world, partly because it’s all they know.
“I live on the bus,” Lemmy says. “That’s the story, innit – home is where you leave your shit.” Technically, that’s in LA, in an apartment just around the corner from infamous rock dive The Rainbow Bar & Grill (“My local,” he calls it), but nowadays Lemmy is happiest when he can hear the rumbling of wheels beneath him.“The place I feel the most at home is with the boys in the band and the crew on the road,” he admits. “I don’t even know where I live any more. I have an apartment in LA, but I’m not even sure where home is, really. I haven’t done for years.”
All this time on the road has not been without its cost, though. Decades of knocking back Jack, taking drugs and smoking like a chimney made Lemmy seem, like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, another man with a famous appetite for life’s fastest lane, indestructible. But the last couple of years have seen Motörhead having to call in sick, cancel tours and, during last year’s Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, abandon their set midway through so Lemmy could be taken to hospital.
“I’ve had some health scares,” he admits, “and I’ve had to really cut back on smoking and drinking and whatever. But it is what it is. I’ve had a good life, a good run. I do what I do still. I’m sure I’ll die on the road, one way or another.”
Are you afraid of that?
What do you think happens when you die?
“I don’t know.” Then he smiles. “I’ll tell you when I find out.”
That’s not something we want to think about too much right now, but this attitude sums up Lemmy. This devotion not just to a band, but to the life the band has given him, is what’s helped make Lemmy the icon he is. But use that word – or ‘legend’, or ‘hero’, or any of the other tags you can hang on him – to his face, and he’ll just casually shrug it off.
“Whatever I seem to be, that’s what I am – that’s the whole story right there,” is how he mulls over the notion that he’s anything other than Lemmy The Bloke.
So, when people call you a legend, how does that make you feel?
“As long as they don’t believe it, that’s alright.”
Can you understand why people say it?
“Well, who wouldn’t want a hero somewhere in their lives? And it might as well be me, ’cause I don’t take the piss out of them for it, and I don’t laugh at them because of it.”
That’s one thing I think people do see in you.
“Yeah, but I’m not a legend. I never thought of myself as being special in particular. Maybe I make brilliant music, but that’s about it.”
Do you always just think of yourself as Lemmy From Motörhead?
“Sort of,” he muses. “You probably see it differently because you’re young. We’ve always been around for you, haven’t we? But we haven’t always been around for me. I spent the first 30 years of my life without Motörhead, so there’s all that to think about. I’m just me; it’s not my job to do other people’s thinking about me for them.”
If you were to be the philosopher for a moment, what would you say that all this has taught you about the meaning of life?
“I never cared,” he shrugs. “See, that’s the great thing about me, I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck if I’m famous or not. I’m always going to be like, ‘It doesn’t really matter.’”
Again, that’s very Lemmy. Don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter. Fuck it. Which is about as close to fatherly advice as you’ll get out of the man. Nobody tells Lemmy what to do, and he’s not going to do that to anyone else, either.
“I don’t give advice,” he says when asked. “I don’t say, ‘Do this, and do that, and don’t do this and don’t do all that.’ I’m all finished with that stuff, y’know. Whatever problems I had, [younger people] won’t run into, ’cause it was a different planet then. And I don’t think you should give advice anyway, I think it’s a really bad idea. People should make their own decisions and mistakes. That’s how I did it.”
Neither does Lemmy ‘do’ regrets. He once said, “I’ve given my life to rock’n’roll, and rock’n’roll has given me my life,” as fine a trade-off as one could imagine. He’s only ever had one real job, which his father got him, working as an engineer in the Hotpoint washing machine factory. But that didn’t last long. “I grew my hair ’til they fired me,” he chuckles. “And I’ve been on the road ever since.” Instead, Lemmy has been a pirate of the road. A genuine rock lifer who does what he does because it’s his whole life. And even in his imagination, it couldn’t have been any other way.
“There’s always shit you can bitch about in life,” he concludes. “Some people will always say, ‘I could have been an architect,’ or something. Well, fuck off.” And as he stubs out his fag and bids Kerrang! goodbye, hat perched firmly, proudly on his head, you’re glad. Lemmy is a reluctant hero. But that’s what makes him who he is. He and his band haven’t changed in four decades, they still work like dogs, and will do until, perhaps, the bitter end comes. And that’s just how Lemmy always wants it to be.
We’d say ‘Never change’, but it would be fruitless. Lemmy never will. And thank fuck for that.
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