Desert Rock Festival headliner Lemmy Kilmister, Motörhead founder, tells Time Out about living with his legend
When we were told that we’d be interviewing Lemmy from Motörhead we were excited. Really, really excited. This is, after all, the guy who only took up the guitar at school because he thought it would get the girls interested (it did), but nevertheless went on to roadie for Jimi Hendrix, play in Hawkwind and found Motörhead, one of the most beloved rock ’n’ roll acts in the world. But if we’re honest, the real reason we got excited was because of Lemmy himself. A man around whom outrageous anecdotes, rumours and myths swarm like locusts, he’s spent the best part of 40 years being picked apart by a media fascinated by his dalliances with girls, drink and unbridled debauchery.
But when we finally get through to Lemmy at half-past midnight (he’s 12 hours away in LA, though we wouldn’t dare admit to feeling a bit sleepy – what would he think?), he is wryer and more laconic than we expect. Surely we can get him riled up over Blunt, the anodyne anti-Lemmy? Sadly not. ‘I don’t listen to him much,’ says Lemmy with a vocal shrug, ‘He’s doing his best I suppose. He doesn’t really rock much does he?’
Damn. But when we ask if modern rock is boring these days, Lemmy starts to pick up speed. ‘It seems to be all kind of samey. It’s time for another Sex Pistols, I think. Time for someone to kick music up the a***. We could do with it, too, after all this f****** hip hop.
So what’s so wrong with hip hop? ‘It’s musically devoid of any f***** talent whatsoever. It’s mostly words playing over a stolen drumbeat. I love black music – I grew up on it – and if you’re going to tell me that the legacy of blues, rock ’n’ roll and [record labels] Stax and Motown is hip hop then I’m going to disagree with you.’
And for his part, Lemmy believes that Motörhead – a band he’s always described as rock ’n’ roll rather than metal – is keeping the flame alive. ‘It hasn’t been lost yet – a lot of people come to see our shows. We don’t sell a lot of albums any more but we sure do sell a lot of tickets. We get a lot of 14- and 15-year-old fans.’
We wonder whether – no matter how timeless tracks like ‘Ace Of Spades’ are – those kids are at least in part attracted to Lemmy the legend: the self-deprecating icon who’s appeared in everything from Kit Kat adverts to Beavis And Butthead. He’s even starring as ‘Kill Master’ (a play on his surname, Kilmister) in the upcoming heavy-metal videogame Brütal Legend.
Is his own legend a millstone around his neck? ‘I think it’s funny,’ he laughs. ‘I mean, there’s an action figure of me out now. But it’s just publicity, you know?’ Still, we ponder, holding a little plastic model of ourselves would be weird. ‘But you haven’t been soiling your soul in public for years like we have,’ says Lemmy bluntly, ‘so it all works out, I suppose.’
It’s a poetic line, but the band haven’t been the only ones ‘soiling their souls’ – gossip-hungry newspapers and hyperbolic fans have thrown their own muck into Motörhead’s spin. But even Lemmy says the line between the portrayal and the man is thin. ‘It’s not 100 per cent accurate – nobody can live that life all the time. But all the same, what you see is what you get, more or less: I wear the same clothes on stage as in real life and I don’t scream when I’m announcing songs. I’m pretty reasonable.’
Despite the rock lifestyle, then, what is it that’s kept the likes of him and Keith Richards going when others have become dribbling wrecks? ‘Luck. Pure luck. People burn out because they do too much of whatever it is.’ So is he a man of moderation? ‘Yeah, I guess’ he laughs, ‘I wasn’t always, but I am now.’
Motörhead headline the Dubai Desert Rock Festival, March 6