It's hard to believe 10 years ago Motörhead gained the auspicious title of "world's loudest band." They broke the decibel level held by The Who in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Radio stations, however, wouldn't touch 'em. To many, the band looked like a bunch of bikers led by a croaker named Lemmy who fell short only to Keith Richards in his ability to flout the effects of unhealthy living.
Those brave enough to buy a Motörhead album were met with what seemed at first like an undifferentiated roar. Lemmy hoarsely catapulted through every song as it were his last, his words tumbling over each other atop the riffage of Fast Eddie Clark. "Love Me Like A Reptile," "Fast and Loose," and "(We Are the) Road Crew" and others defined how hard rock could (and should) be.
These days, Motörhead skirt respectability. Their songs, still the undifferentiated roar that radio's allergic to, find a sizable audience between the curious metal mongers and gutsy progressive rockers. They were even nominated for a Grammy last year, for the album 1916.
They're in LA. now, finishing up the band's next album. They'll start touring in July, supporting Ozzy Osbourne. By phone, I talked to the good-natured, but sleepy-eyed guitarist Würzel just as he was waking up in his LA. hotel room.
Rox: Where are you recording?
Würzel: A place called Music Grinder, a studio on Hollywood Boulevard. We used it last time.
Rox: What's your daily schedule? ?
Würzel: Well, I get up and drink as much as I can and I go into the studio. That's usually what we do. But it's okay.
The album's going well. Actually we're ahead of schedule now. We should finish it this week.
It cost us a fortune, the last one did. We spent about five months on the last album. Of course, you have to pay all this money back. So the hell with that. We're doing it quicker this time, so it's been six weeks."
Rox: How does it sound?
Würzel: It sounds okay. . . It gets louder by the day, which is good.
It's very difficult for me to compare the songs with the last album, because I purposely haven't listened to the last album all the time we've been writing this one. I don't want the last one to influence me in any way.
Rox: Do you have a title for the new album?
Würzel: Let me think. We didn't have last week.
It depends what the titles of the tracks are. We like to title the album after one track, and we like that track to be good. But if the best track on the new album isn't a strong enough title, then we'll get a title from elsewhere.
"Stand" it could be called. There's an other track on there called "March or Die," so it could be that.
Rox: What are those two songs like?
Würzel: "Stand" is a rock 'n' roll song, and "March or Die," is one of those things we like to experiment with in the studio, like "Dreamtime or Nightmare" off the last album. Lemmy just stuck the bass on there and shoved off to New York to do the CMJ Conference, and I finished all my guitar parts. I said we should play all this backward guitar on it, so it sounded quite good. I just made as much noise as I possibly could.
Rox: What are some of the other songs on the album?
Würzel: "Name In Vain," "Jack The Ripper," [and a cover of Ted Nugent's] "Cat Scratch Fever." We thought, 'Well, there's a good anthem in America.' That's not a bad song to cover and we can do it heavier than Ted, so we did. And we don't drag dead deer around the stage. [Laughs]
Rox: I read an interview last year where Lemmy said that 1916 was a make-or-break album. If it didn't do well, the group would break up, he said. So I guess the album was a success....
Würzel: Well, yeah, it was a fair old change for the band. We really were looking just to experiment. We were just fucking fed up with playing three or four chords all the time.
It's a difficult band to write for because you have to get a new audience in somehow, but we also don't want to lose the old one, because we really like the old audience. Obviously we really like the old songs.
If the musical direction changes, then it's just that's where we are at the moment. [Pauses] I hope that doesn't sound too cliché; that don't sound too Woodstock, man. Oh, it can't be Woodstock, we drink too much fucking beer! [Laughs]
Oh I'm waking up now, I'm even sitting up in bed. I do one sit-up every morning ... I sit up when I wake up! [Laughs]
Rox: So where do you all live?
Würzel: I live in London, Phil Campbell lives in Wales and Lemmy lives in Los Angeles. He [Lemmy] loves Los Angeles. I don't like taking asshole pills that often so I don't want to live there.
Rox: You joined the band in 1984 to replace Fast Eddie Clark....
Würzel: In February. Phil and I joined the same day.
Rox: How did you originally hook up with the band?
Würzel: We auditioned through an interview actually. Not an ad, just an interview in the paper saying the band was looking for another guitar player and they'd probably end up with an unknown guitarist. So I wrote a note to them saying `I'm the most unknown guitarist there is' [laughs], and I sent them a little demo tape. I never really expected a reply.
About four days later Lemmy phoned me up. He said, 'Hey, come on up and audition,' and then I came back to where I lived. Then I got another call asking me for another audition. We kept doing like that until the end when there was only me and Phil Campbell left. I then finally met Lemmy the day of our playoff.
We didn't even play that day, we just went straight down to the pub and started to down a few drinks. Lemmy started talking away and then hired us both.
It's not just how you play, you have to be a certain sort of person to be in a band like this. You've got to be fucking crazy to start with.
Rox: Wore you you in any groups before Motörhead?
Würzel: Quite a few, but nobody would of ever heard of them. They were just local bands. They used to play in a 70-mile radius of the place. England's a small place, 70 miles is halfway across the country! [Laughs]
Rox: What do you think of some of the new bands coming out?
Würzel: Ahhh, some of them are really good. Some of them are piles of shit. But that applies to all periods, all times. Nobody in the band likes thrash music; nobody likes death-metal.
We went on tour in Germany during Christmas time six quick dates there - and we had five thrash bands supporting us. Phil and I watched every single night, and we got to see what it was about. I don't really understand the music. You got to be 18 to be able to play it at that speed. I couldn't believe the drummers, where the hell do these guys get their stamina from?
I love Metallica. I think they're fantastic, but it's not what I'd call death metal.
Rox: What do you think of the new Seattle bands?
Würzel: Fantastic. I fucking love that. I bought Nevermind straight away. I just heard one track and thought, 'Who the hell's that?' No insult intended, but I thought it was somebody left over from the punk scene in the U.K, because there was all these punks that sounded like Nirvana.
Rox: Do you think you've mellowed since joining the band?
Würzel: Oh yeah, a little bit. It's funny you should mention that. I was talking to Phil about that that. When we're out on the road, I don't think it is any different than it was in 1984. We still party all the time, we still have a great time on the road. It's just one big fucking party. I'm surprised we ever get to the end of some tours. Everybody's out of it by the time we've been on the tour bus for two days.
Rox: 1916 was nominated for a Grammy last year....
Würzel: That was fucking superb. I couldn't believe it. I got a phone call and they said, 'Oh you've been nominated for a Grammy. You're in the last 25.' I thought, bloody 'ell, that was great.' So I went straight to the pub to celebrate and had a few pints.
About a week later I got a phone call saying, 'You're now in the top five. 'Fucking hell, we could actually win it!' And then I went down to the pub. Gotta celebrate something.
So we were very pleased with that. Metallica won, but at least we were in the last five, which was real good for us. It surprised us. We didn't expect that.
Rox: It's about time someone started appreciating Motörhead's subtler qualities.
Würzel: Yeah [laughs], subtler qualities, I like that. I don't think this band has any subtler qualities!