By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In a spoken-word bit, Henry Rollins tells a story about being on a plane whose take-off has been delayed due to the last-minute arrival of some VIP passengers. The door opens, and in wafts the smell of whiskey and leather, followed by its source: Motörhead, led by inimitable frontman Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, one of the most respected names in hard rock.
The legendary British band has been a model of consistency since 1975, playing grungy rawk at the speed of punk, and always making good on the motto "Everything Louder Than Everyone Else." Lemmy—as in "Lend me a five till Friday," but delivered in his thick, borderline-impenetrable Bri'ish accent—has roots that go back even further. He broke into the music business as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, then went on to psychedelic space-rock band Hawkwind, which famously kicked him out "for doing the wrong kind of drugs."
In 2001, VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock countdown ranked Motörhead at No. 26. The group hit a commercial peak early, when 1981's live No Sleep 'til Hammersmith debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. albums chart. Today, Motörhead is probably best known for the speed-fueled title track of 1980's gold Ace of Spades LP. Nearly three decades later, the 64-year-old singer-bassist still gets around like few others.
Lemmy has collaborated with Dave Grohl, appeared on a Spongebob Squarepants album, written a WWE theme song, recorded with Rollins, penned a song for Ozzy, opened last year's Judas Priest-Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell tour, kept company with The Dropkick Murphys and Social Distortion, and covered Johnny Cash in The Head Cat (a return-to-his-roots rockabilly side project featuring a member of the Stray Cats).
His main band, meanwhile, is no nostalgia act. Motörhead has been a power trio since 1995, when popular guitarist Würzel left. But the group still managed to win a Best Metal Performance Grammy in 2005, and it continues releasing improbably solid albums like 2008's Motörizer LP (the band's 24th).
It's a résumé all the more worth marveling at as, by all accounts, Motörhead's penchant for booze and volume is very real and very relentless. When Lemmy took our call after a Milwaukee sound check, the band was running late because they'd blown out their amps.
He delivered short, punchy answers in a voice with a texture like sandpaper.
What was Hendrix like to work for?
He was great. He was wrecked all the time, plastered. We all...you know? He just needed a pair of hands. There was two of us lookin' after all the stuff. You used the house PA for vocals. There was nothing mic'd up. Just two stacks and a stack of drums.
How did the Motörhead sound develop? When the band began, there was nothing that sounded like it.
There was nothing that sounded like Hawkwind, either.
Where did the sound come from, though?
MC5, I guess. The MC5, people like The Stooges.
Würzel has rejoined you for a few shows in the last year.
When we play in England, he comes up and does a couple songs. It's all right. He's a good boy, you know?
Will there be another album?
I've got to go into the studio in January with Motörhead. So maybe [if we find] some time off.
What does the new Motörhead stuff sound like?
I don't know. We always work in the studio.
I read an article that said you live in a little apartment in L.A.
Yeah, a two-room apartment.
Why such a small place? I'm guessing you could afford something bigger.
It's near [legendary Sunset Strip rock club] the Rainbow, and it's controlled rent. I've been there since 1990, so it's pretty cheap...I'm looking for a slightly bigger place than I've got now, but not a freestanding chateau. I'm not looking for a big house—you can only be in one room at a time.
Do you plan to stay in the U.S., or retire to England eventually?
I'll stay in America. There's more scope.
How long do you see yourself doing the band?
I dunno. How long do you see yourself talking on the phone and writing? You don't know, do you? You can't tell yet. I'm sure it'll all become terribly clear suddenly one day.