Three Decades of Aggression
23 December 2005
Bastard. The word is certainly abrasive. It’s also not really appropriate as a band name if there was to be any chance of performing on the English TV show, Top Of The Pops. That’s what Lemmy Kilmister’s manager told him back in 1975 when Kilmister decided on his new band’s name after being fired from Hawkwind. The band’s name was soon changed to Motörhead and the legend was born. Over the years, they’ve undergone several personnel changes with most occurring during their early years. Since 1984, guitarist Phil Campbell has remained at Kilmister’s side and from 1992 onwards, Mikkey Dee has been behind the kit.
Most music fans can name plenty of artists and bands that have been around for more than 10 years that are still putting out new albums. Now narrow that list to those who have been around for 20 years. Finally, break it down to those who have been around for 30 years or more. The numbers by this point should certainly be dwindling. It’s an elite club but the members are diverse. It’s one of those rare categories that you can list The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, David Bowie, Aerosmith, Kiss, The Doobie Brothers and Motörhead next to one another. It’s not every day that you get the chance to interview someone from one of hard rock and metal’s most influential acts – an act who celebrates their induction into that 30 year club in 2005.
“I met Lemmy when I was twelve when he came to my home town of Cardiff (Wales) with Hawkwind and he signed my program, I didn’t think I’d be in a band with him then. If somebody had said ‘You’re gonna be in a band with this guy for over twenty years,’ I would’ve said ‘Oh fuck off!’ But you don’t think do you? It just goes on and on and on and we’ve got no intention of stopping. So, as long as we’re writing good stuff and good music that we like and everything, then there’s no reason to stop. I didn’t really think I’d be going this long but you never know, do you? It’s a great life. I mean, it’s a hard life as well … you got fans and things but it’s a great job. There’s a lot worse jobs and it’s a privilege to do it,” begins the husky voiced guitarist Phil Campbell. Simon Milburn sat down with Phil Campbell at the back of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre prior to Motörhead’s performance opening for Mötley Crüe to discuss Motörhead’s monstrous career, recording with Eminem, the changing face of the music industry and his inability to change a guitar string after all these years.
“Just being…,” Campbell continues before being interrupted as Mötley Crüe arrives in a series of black limousines. At least a dozen fans scale the security fence and surrounding trees screaming and yelling wildly. Campbell quickly stands and jokingly blurts out in a silly voice “Shut the fuck up!” before taking his seat and turning his attention back to the interview.
“I’ve done stuff and been involved in things and funny stuff and happenings that I’d never have believed in a million years. And it’s still hard to believe but I know these things have happened. I’m proud of our music and what we’ve achieved. One of the nicest things is that people keep on coming back to see us year after year and stuff which is pretty good. We managed to get a Grammy this year which is always nice, y’know? Just to be going this long with our lifestyle is pretty damned good.”
After being nominated previously in 1991 and 2000, there is an air of recognition that Motörhead’s first Grammy be awarded in 2005 – the year of their 30th anniversary.
“We got nominated a couple of times before. This is the first and probably the only one we’ll ever get.”
Ironically, Motörhead’s win wasn’t for their music. It was for their performance of a song by an artist that they had lost out to previously over a dozen years ago in the same category. Motörhead won the Grammy for their cover of Metallica’s Whiplash, beating the likes of Slipknot, Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage and Cradle Of Filth for the coveted trophy. But as far as Campbell’s concerned, the Grammy doesn’t make up for their previous losses.
“No. It just feels like, if somebody’s giving me bullshit about music, I’ll say ‘Come back and talk to me when you’ve got one of them on your mantle piece.’ It would have been nicer to have got one for our own albums but a Grammy’s a Grammy y’know? It’s the equivalent to an Oscar. As I said in my speech, ‘It’s great. If I wake up for a piss in the middle of the night, I haven’t gotta go down stairs’,” jokes the guitarist.
Campbell agrees that the recognition is a nice reward after 30 years of slogging it out playing music that isn’t necessarily Top 40 friendly.
“Yeah. It was great there in the afternoon. It wasn’t like the big televised time. It was in the afternoon and there were a lot of black artists and producers there all dressed up. They were all going for us. It was great!”
It’s one of many career highlights for Campbell but he is quick to discuss one of his more recent musical achievements that may surprise a few people.
“It’s a highlight but if we were nominated again, I’d never go collect it because it was such bullshit afterwards. We were treated like cattle. They had all of us behind this rope. I played on a track produced by Eminem last year for a guy called Hush. He’s Eminem’s mate. He’s a white rap artist with an album called Bulletproof which they still haven’t sent me yet. But I’ve got the track I played on called Rock Shit which is out on Geffen. That’s something different. They called me up. Thom Panunzio called me up. I was living’ in L.A. Thom produced one of our albums and of all the people in the world, he called me up. It was great.”
Collaborations such as this are definitely something different for the guitarist but something that he is obviously quite proud of and very comfortable with.
“I know Thom. I know it’d be something pretty cool for us for the fact that he called us up and he said ‘Do you want your name on the album for playing? Or do you just want cash for it or something like that?’ I said, ‘Well lemme hear the track first.’ As soon as I heard it, I was like ‘I’ll have my name on that please!’ It’s called Rock Shit. It’s the last track on there. I did this solo thing in like one take. It goes on for about three minutes at the end. I didn’t hear the thing for a year until it came out. I still haven’t got the album. At the end of it, they just fade out all of the other instruments quietly one by one and just leave me playing. It’s weird. It’s just me playing this fucked up shit for about two minutes at the end.”
But in a career full of highlights that spans three decades, there is very little that Campbell would change or do differently.
“I probably wouldn’t have drunken so much,” laughs Campbell. “That really is a difficult one. I have so much fun doing it all. No, not a lot (I’d change).”
With the early years being such a hard slog for any band, things are a little different now for these elder statesmen of the metal scene.
“It’s great. I can knock on any dressing room door of any band whether it’s a rap band or anything. I say, ‘It’s Phil, the guitar player of Motörhead,’ and they let me in. Then they kick the shit out of me when I get in there,” jokes the guitarist. “I must have spent over five million dollars on wine, women and drugs and everything like that, and the rest I’ve wasted…as the saying goes.”
Society deems that a 30th birthday is quite a milestone and that a huge celebration is in order to mark such an occasion. But for Motörhead, it’s business as usual.
“We did one celebratory show in London. (But to mark our 30th anniversary as a band) we went to see a matinee movie, that’s all … with some crisps, that’s all. We just did one gig. It’s just another year for us really.”
The anniversary show from London’s Hammersmith Apollo appears on the bonus DVD that comes as a part of the deluxe 30th anniversary reissue of their latest album, Inferno. It even comes wrapped in Motörhead wrapping paper! But the DVD is something that Campbell is not entirely thrilled about.
“The Inferno extra DVD … I just told ‘em I want all my interviews cut out. I look like a fuckin’ waffling idiot on the interviews. I fuckin’ said ‘I won’t have it! Just put anything else on it… this little squiggle taking a shit or anything. Just don’t put me on it at all. I’m a musician not a bloody poet.’”
It’s not unusual that as a musician, Campbell would much rather let the music do the talking for him. But for this veteran guitarist of one of the world’s most legendary bands, music it seems runs in his family even though he admits something quite startling about his own guitar playing abilities.
“I can’t even put a string on a guitar. Seriously! I’ve been playing guitar for about 35 years and I can play about fifteen instruments and I can’t even put a guitar string on. Apart from my wife and my two dogs, I’m the worst musician in the family. All the kids are doing it. It’s great! I love it!”
As Campbell turns the conversation towards his family, his tone changes and he quickly becomes the proud parent who can’t stop gushing about their kids’ achievements. The idea of his children following in his musical footsteps is something that Campbell would be happy to see them do.
“Yeah but I advise them as much as I can. They’re doing really good. They’re all great musicians and stuff. Two of them have a band and everything. We just built a Pro-Tools studio in my house… a digital one for my eldest son. He passed his Music Technology with First Class Honours last year at uni. They’ve got a track coming out on the Electronic Arts Rugby thing that is coming out in March. Their stuff is just the fuckin’ best band I’ve heard for the last ten years. My eldest son sings. Todd Rundgren (Campbell) is his name by the way. Todd, he sings, writes most of the stuff and plays guitar. Then, my middle boy Dane, he drums and my youngest boy Tyler, he’s not in a band but he played in a three piece with his mate, Mike, on bass for two years. So the drummer Dane decided a few years ago that he wanted to take up bass seriously. So I get him this really nice bass that he buys himself and everything. He goes to expensive bass lessons. The first some he comes back learning… what is it? Portrait Of Tracy by Jaco Pastorius … like the hardest thing… I’m going ‘What? What? You’re kidding me!’ Then, my fourteen year old Tyler, at the time, he goes to guitar lessons once a week and I pick him up and I say, ‘So what did you learn today Tyler?’ expecting an Iron Maiden song. He went ‘Oh some Steely Dan song, Dad. Deacon Blues.’ I went ‘You’re fucking kidding me?’ It’s great man. Have you got kids?” Campbell asks.
“No,” I replied and Campbell passed on his congratulations when I told him that I’d only recently gotten married.
There is no doubt that Campbell is very proud of his family and he is quick to share how having children changed his view on life.
“Yeah man, it’s the best thing. Before I had kids, I was like teetering right over on the edge. Now, when you become a parent, you just approach the edge rather cautiously and have a look over. You really do it all for your family then, y’know? I should’ve called them Maserati, Bentley and Rolls Royce though because they’re so fuckin’ expensive, y’know?” Campbell jokes.
For any person on the outside looking in, it would be difficult to truly understand how difficult it would be for touring musicians to balance family life with life on the road. But as the years pass, Campbell explains that it’s easy for the band to strike that balance nowadays.
“We’re all used to it now. We’ve hardened ourselves to it. We’re trying to cut down our work a little bit. We’re trying to cut down our touring by maybe 15 to 20 percent. Just a little bit. The ideal way for me would be three weeks on the road, two weeks at home, three weeks on the road, two weeks at home but it never happens. It’s usually three months on the road then a day and a half at home… go away for three days, come back for two days, go away for two weeks…”
With longevity in the music business becoming scarcer nowadays, Campbell has a very simple and honest response regarding the secret to their success and endurance.
“What our secret is is that we write our music for the three of us. We don’t write it for any fans, for any record company. We write what we wanna play and if people don’t like it, then ok, tough shit. We’re disappointed, but we’ll just do another one. It’s like years ago, I realised. I’d do a guitar solo and say ‘Well, what do you think of that boys?’ and somebody would say ‘Oh that’s fuckin’ amazing!’ and somebody would say ‘Well that’s crap Phil!’ and somebody would say ‘Oh it’s not bad,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Well, what the hell is it?’ You can take constructive criticism from people but it’s not as pure then if you have other ideas come in. That’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve stuck together that long. It’s honest music. If we want to do a track with four or five violins or something like that, it doesn’t matter. If we wanted to do a track with ten recorders or an instrumental with a triangle, it’d still be Motörhead because that’s what we want to do. It’s give and take on the road. We’re all really good friends with each other. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families and stuff. We have a sense of humour. You have to have a sense of humour. Sometimes, I burn my sense of humour out. It’s hard work tryin’ to make these fuckers laugh,” jokes Campbell.
With that kind of philosophy, Motörhead’s future is seemingly endless. But the reality of it is that time catches up with all of us eventually. So the question must be asked as to how much more life there is in Motörhead at this point in time.
“It’s like saying, the next time you have sex with your beautiful wife, how long is it gonna last? You don’t know if it’s gonna last ten minutes… y’know? You do it until you stop enjoying it. I don’t know. We got another three, four or five years in us I guess. You never know do you? But we’re fighting fit. Lem’s well. The only scare with his health was when we found out that he’s diabetic a couple of years ago. His heart’s fine and everything and he’s as fit as a fiddle. They used to work us like five shows a week and then a day off. But we said we don’t want to do more than four shows. We’re fine. We’re doing real good. There are no plans to stop yet.”
Campbell still has goals – all be it simple ones – which he’d like to achieve before Motörhead’s time comes.
“Just to be proud of our music and stuff and just look after my family and friends. But if the world ended tomorrow, I wouldn’t complain at all really. I’d like to work with Burt Bacharach or someone like that,” he quips with an air of seriousness.
Outside of the gruelling life on the road with Motörhead, Campbell is quite the simple man when he’s taking time away from music and the band.
“I get up in the morning about 11 o’clock. I roll a joint of hash, have a cider, cook, walk my dogs and I play snooker. I don’t leave my house very often now. I’m quite happy just being with my family y’know, taking care of them. We go to gigs sometimes, go bowling. It’s not very crazy, just normal regular stuff. I don’t have to take ‘em to school because a few of ‘em don’t go to school anymore. They’re in uni and they can drive. So I don’t have to get up at seven o’clock. I like walking my dogs.”
Throughout the years of recording, touring and walking his dogs amongst other things, there’s little doubt that Campbell has seen many changes in the music industry during that time.
“It’s more corporate orientated (now). They just see us as a product. Y’know, they put these boy bands together and stuff like that, but good music will always stick through. They’ve never given heavy rock, especially in England… there used to have a Friday rock show with Tommy Vance for two hours on a Friday and that was all. Tommy sadly passed away. But the music scene worldwide is pretty shitty. There’s some fuckin’ crap you hear on TV… garbage. Look at Top Of The Pops! Twenty-five years ago, everyone in England was like ‘Oh it’s Thursday night, Top Of The Pops. Who’ll be on it now?’ We’d have Slade or T-Rex or someone else exciting! It’s a bunch of twats now. Some guy miming, breakdancing or something like that, meaningless lyrics with some song that somebody’s done on a Trinity Triton keyboard and some fuckin’ fat dancers there. Because of the video age, I think a lot of it has to do with it. A song can be a pretty mediocre crap song right, but if it’s got a good video, they might go buy it because of the video. If we just heard it as a record, the song and all that, it’d be like ‘That’s a fuckin’ load of shit!’ I also think that in music stores, they shouldn’t categorize artists. They should put the name of the artist and that’s it. Like heavy metal, and stuff like that, someone might say ‘Oh yeah I’ve heard a heavy metal band before – Uriah Heap. I didn’t like that so I won’t listen to heavy metal again.’ Just put the name on it and take a chance. You’re not getting steered towards the labelling.”
Of course one of the biggest changes to the industry that has occurred during this time is the explosion of the internet and entire Napster file sharing debate.
“In theory, it would kill most of the live scene because if bands didn’t sell records, I mean, we make most of our money by touring. We don’t go platinum. We put an album out and it takes two years to sell a hundred and fifty thousand. If people are downloading an entire album and not selling it, you’re not going to be able to afford to tour and in the end, there’ll be no live gigs. If artists could get some royalties…it’s good, but there’s gotta be a balance y’know. We can’t lose out on any royalties and stuff. We’ve sweated over these things. I’ve sat in my bedroom for 20 years for this and missed the birth of my middle kid doing all this and being away. I’m not gonna do it for fuck all for somebody to just take my royalties away just like that. (snaps his fingers) But we’ll survive.”
As a band that’s played hundreds of stages around the world with all sorts of bands, Campbell is very direct in what he does and doesn’t like and there’s been very little that has grabbed the guitarist’s attention in recent times.
“S.K.W.A.D., my kids’ band, are amazing. I like Tool. What’s the band that…ummm….not The Kaiser Chiefs…Franz Ferdinand! They’re fuckin’ crap! They’re a rip off! One song is a rip off of Ringo Starr’s Back Off Boogaloo. There’s another song they did that’s a rip off of another song. A third song has ripped off another song. So they’re a fuckin’ bunch of poser twats. I don’t like them.”
Campbell is certainly not afraid in coming forward when asked if it’s really a rip off or simply music reinventing itself.
“Nah, it’s a rip off. That one … bah bah bah ba dum (Phil sings in tune)…I remember the song. They’ve taken like 75 percent of that. It’s too much. It’s too much. There’s nothing wrong with taking a little bit and using it for something else but they’re a bunch of prats people like that.”
But when it comes to describing the current state of the metal scene, Campbell is very blunt with his views on it.
“I don’t know what I’d call it. But I either like a song or I fuckin’ don’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s nu-metal or whatever. Either a song’s fuckin’ cool or not. That’s another thing – we’re labelling again. It’s just some fuckin’ smart arsed journalist trying to say that he was the forerunner of whatever. It’s just music! To tell you the truth, I don’t bother listening to radio ‘cos it’s crap anyway. I turn the radio on just for the football results. But just about every decent album that comes out that comes through my house, my kids have got it…all sorts of stuff. So I do get to listen to quite a bit of stuff which is cool. If they think it’s something I should listen to, then I’ll listen to it. But apart from that, I take care of Motörhead’s music. Good luck to all of the bands.”
Campbell, Kilmister and Dee are only a couple of hours away from taking care of the Brisbane crowd on the second show of their Australian tour supporting Mötley Crüe by doing what they do best – rock ‘n’ roll. It’s been 14 years since Motörhead last graced our shores and Campbell is quick to recount some of the good and the bad of that tour.
“Oh yeah. We played on the Gold Coast in Surfers Paradise…a place called Bombay Rock one night. We had 1500 people there. It was packed. The next show was like six miles just down the road down the coast… twelve people there. We must have sucked so bad that first night. We played in Jindabyne but there was no snow there. It was the wrong time of the year. There were twenty eight people, and a comedian went on before us. I ‘spose we’ve had about six weeks down here.”
Of course, there is always the ugly and that came in the form of their performance at the Gold Coast’s now defunct Playroom in 1991 where punters were hurling beer cans stageward early on during Motörhead’s performance. After warning the crowd about stopping the show if their behaviour didn’t cease, Motörhead simply walked off stage after only a few songs.
“Yeah, fuckin’ right y’know? I’ve had fireworks just miss my head. The worst one for me was in Belgrade in this festival. Somebody had taken the time use a glass cutter to chop off about that much (his fingers indicating about a 1cm) off of the bottom of a wine bottle and then shape it into a nunchaku star and fuckin’ throw it at me. It missed my eye by about that much (again indicating with his fingers about 2cm from the right side of his face). I just fuckin’ walked off. The promoter was shittin’ himself. I said, ‘I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ on man. You can forget it!’ They convinced me eventually and they assured me that it wouldn’t happen again. It just ruins it. It somebody doesn’t like me or whatever if I fuckin’ shagged his sister years before and, probably I have,” jokes Campbell. “People throw stuff at me like that and go ‘Hey wanker!’. I say ‘What’s your problem? Did I shag your girlfriend last time?’ There’s no need to throw stuff. I don’t know why they bother to come. It’s not cool to do that. We can’t see nothing. We’re in the dark. It’s cowardly. If you wanna come up, come up afterwards and say ‘C’mon, I wanna fuckin’ punch you Phil!’ y’know?”
Even after all this time, there are still a few bands that Campbell would love to tour with.
“(I’d like to be) Gwen Stefani’s roadie,” jokes Campbell. “I’d like to tour with Tool. Anyone… ZZ Top…anyone that’s fun. This is great touring with Crüe for the first time. They wanted us to do it. They’re big fans of ours. Tommy always plays our music. I’m sure they thought as well that our recent resurgence over the last couple of years, y’know the Spongebob thing and all the rest, our profile, we’re doing better than ever now over the last five or six years, and it just seemed like a good idea. Either that, or some manager sucked some cock somewhere,” laughs Campbell.
Motörhead's latest album, Inferno, has been re-issued as a 30th anniversary issue with a bonus DVD and is available on Steamhammer/S.P.V. through Riot! Distribution. For more information on Motörhead, check out www.imotorhead.com.