Keep Us on the Road
Motörhead's most natural habitat is on the road. The British speed-metal trio has been almost constantly on tour since its inception in 1975. No offense to Bob Dylan, but front man Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister and his henchmen have been putting Dylan's so-called "Never Ending Tour" to shame for two decades now.
The band's 2011 tour was documented for the recent DVD/CD set The Wörld Is Ours - Vol 1 - Everywhere Further Than Everyplace Else, which shows off their still-brutalizing live show. Still, Lemmy swears it hasn't affected his hearing at all, even after more than 35 years.
"I can hear you asking me about it, right?" he says while on tour in Canada. "You know people keep going on about how harmful it is, but it's never hurt my ears."
Motörhead has been stable for two decades. Guitarist Phil Campbell came aboard in 1984, when the band was still a quartet featuring the late Michael "Würzel" Burston. Drummer Mikkey Dee hopped on in 1992, and the band has been a trio ever since.
Is this the best Motörhead lineup Lemmy has ever been a part of?
"It's difficult to say that, because there are different styles that have been in the band," he says. "I would say this is the best as far as consistency goes. Keeping up with ourselves, we've never slacked off and done an easy album."
Staying on the road has been vital for the band. Lemmy has said it's the only place he wants to be, both in interviews and in songs like "Keep Us on the Road" and "We Are the Road Crew." Recording an album every two years or so has ensured Motörhead constantly has something new to say to audiences, which now range from very young children with their parental units to hard-bitten punks, metalheads, bikers and curious pop-culture gawkers.
Drummer Dee seems to remember only the beginnings of tours, which really have no ending when it comes to Motörhead.
"When do tours start and when do they end?" Dee says. "I remember this one starting for me in Saratoga, New York, in 1992. And it still hasn't ended."
The band's latest album, 2010's The World Is Yours, proved that just when one would imagine a 35-year-old metal group quieting down, they instead recorded yet another loud, snotty disc that put most of last year's hard-rock releases to shame.
Motörhead is keeping its sets on this tour relatively short, only about a dozen songs a night. It's mostly the classics with one new cut thrown in, but for Kilmister, the old songs mesh with the band's more recent work with ease.
"In terms of the band and my memory, [1984's] 'Killed by Death' is fairly new," Lemmy says.
Dee notes that the band could tour without new material, but that wouldn't be the Motörhead way anyhow.
"A band like us doesn't rise or fall with a new album," he says. "It's preferable to have a new record out and start out fresh, but to tell you the truth, I think we can do a full U.S. tour, take a week off and then go off again."
The band's legacy also dictates the boundaries of new Motörhead recordings.
"Our fans wanna hear the same songs, but new songs," Dee says. "It needs to sound totally like Motörhead, but new. We do have a fairly narrow framework to work in, but I think we should work in that. We can't go in too many extreme directions."
Lemmy has been a touring rock musician since his teens in the early '60s, when he joined Blackpool group The Rockin' Vickers. He also did a short stint as a roadie for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, before joining influential space-rockers Hawkwind.
He didn't even start out playing bass. Lemmy was a self-described "mediocre" rhythm guitarist who stole the gig from a bassist who left his equipment with Hawkwind before a free gig. Lemmy's lack of bass skill led to his unique playing technique — or lack thereof, as he would say — and would inform that chugging 'Head sound. He strums his bass like a guitar.
Motörhead has also given their name to a line of shiraz, with plans for a rosé and even a brand of vodka, all sold on their official Web site. Lemmy sticks with the rosé himself, though.
Known for his ever-present cigarette and tumbler of Jack Daniel's and Coke, Kilmister says his other favorite whiskey is Evan Williams, though its limited distribution around the world makes it hard to drink on tours.
"It's 90 proof," he reminds us.
Motörhead's music had always had an outlaw spirit and certain cowboy aesthetic, which makes Lemmy a ready-made Texan. He already wears the cowboy hat and boots, belt buckles and pearl-snap shirts. He also sings about perseverance and self-reliance, true Texas traits.
It also doesn't hurt that the Lone Star State has a relaxed view on weapons of almost any kind, which would appeal to a World War II collector like Kilmister. Motörhead has been coming to the Houston area since 1981, so Lemmy could always move here and start a band with Billy Gibbons, right?
"It's really too hot there," says the longtime L.A. resident. "It was 112 degrees last summer. If I had to move anywhere, it would be Austin.
He also rules out any fanciful ideas of an eardrum-punishing Gibbons/Kilmister power duo.
"I guess I could get an air-conditioned trailer," Lemmy figures. "We're too old!"
Asked about staving off boredom while on tour, Lemmy's tastes turn out to be not as decadent as one would think — aside from the really fun stuff. Who knew he was such a fan of smartphone games?
"I have a couple of the Angry Birds games, and I got Temple Run," he says. "I just play until I get the three coins. I got an iPad, you know, too. And an iPhone. Upwardly mobile, mobile phones."
How about a Twitter account? Fans would surely drool at every word...
"I don't want to talk to people, mainly, and everyone slips up on there," Lemmy says. "I'm terribly private anyway, I don't like to discuss what I am doing every day, and I lead a very boring life. 'Went to the gig, went to the hotel and went to the bus.' Not that electrifying, right?"
Lemmy has now seen the planet through the windows of vans, planes and buses for 50 years. Rock and roll is Lemmy, and as has been said by countless fans all over the world, Lemmy is rock and roll.
"It's what we are supposed to be doing," he says. "This isn't a job, this is a life. Other bands will never find out who they really are if they don't strive."
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