Bass Player caught up with Lemmy upon completion of his most recent US tour in support of Bad Magic. In addition to granting the interview, he also graciously accepted a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2015 edition of Bass Player Live in Los Angeles, CA. The following Q&A is from the same interview that appears in the holiday issue cover story.
You mentioned Paul McCartney as an influence. What did you like about playing?
I don’t know really. When you hear the Beatles records you never know who played what because they all played everything. There were solos that Paul played on a lot of the more famous songs. He played the solo on “Taxman (Revolver, Parlophone, 1966),” which everyone always says, “Listen to George.” But if you listen to the live Japanese album with George’s band [Live in Japan Dark Horse, 1992], he [George] doesn’t do that solo. He didn’t like it, so it makes you wonder.
Who are some of your other musical influences?
My influences are everybody from the 1956 to ’59 era. That’s when I came up. After that it was the Beatles, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Zeppelin. Then of course punk was great for me. I like punk. Motörhead came up the same time as punk.
Was a Rickenbacker your first bass, or did you play something prior to that?
The first bass I ever had was a German Hopf bass. I bought it off of the synthesizer player in Hawkwind for five pounds. He bought it at an auction at Heathrow airport. Somebody left it on a plane. I still haven’t paid him. He lives in Canada now so I probably never will [laughs].
“Motorhead” was one of the last tunes you ever wrote with Hawkwind. Was this a precursor to Motörhead, the band?
Not really. It was much slower, had a much bassier tone and a violin solo in it. It’s not like we are now. Phil Taylor (former Motörhead drummer) turned it up a notch. Me and Taylor were like Entwistle and Moon on that version. I like them both for different reasons. They are different songs almost, so I can enjoy it twice [laughs].
Delving back into the Motörhead catalog, what memories do you have of writing “Overkill?”
Phil Taylor started that with the bass drum pattern. We wrote that in about ten minutes.
What about writing and recording “Ace of Spades?”
We recorded that at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth. I never thought it was any better than any of our other songs.
What about “One Track Mind?” That marked the arrival of Brian Robertson on guitar.
That was written between me and Brian. We were just jamming. He had the [sings intro riff] part and I had the verse bit.
And “Killed By Death?”
Bronze Records wanted to put out a compilation, so I said, “Ok, but we have to put four new songs on it—one on each side, by the new line-up [which featured Phil Campbell and Würzel on guitars and ex-Saxon drummer Pete Gill]. They agreed. So we did “Killed by Death,” “Snaggletooth,” “Steal Your Face” and “Locomotive.” Four really good songs. Just after that we started getting popular again [laughs].
Do you record with the same rig that you use live?
I use just one cabinet in the studio because it’s a pain in the ass getting them up and down the stairs. I’m turned up pretty good. And I don’t use much DI—only as maybe an undertone.
Motörhead was briefly a four-piece in the ‘80s, with two guitarists. Did you have to change anything about your tone or playing style at that time?
I didn’t change my tone. I couldn’t decide between Phil and Würzel when they came to audition. The morning they were supposed to fight it out for the job Phil Taylor left. So, for about four or five hours that day it was only me in Motörhead [laughs]. So, I hired them both.
You have a very loyal fan base. Is that the key to Motörhead’s longevity?
They stick with us—they’re faithful. And we’ve never let them down, that’s why probably. We keep delivering what they like. I was in the Beatles fan club. Every time they put a record out it was like a different band half the time. There were only a couple of tracks that kept the thread going. And that’s what I try to do with Motörhead. We don’t change as much as the Beatles used to, but we do change on a couple of tracks every time—we try to keep the interest going.
To what do you attribute Motörhead’s perennial underdog status?
A lot of the time it’s very much a fact of whether you’re a new band or whether you’re young, which we’re neither. We get hundreds of thousands of people at the shows but they just don’t buy the albums. We’ve never been in the American Top 100, even with the old line-up.
The current line-up with Phil and Mickey has been solid since 1995. But Motörhead went through many line-up changes early on: “Fast” Eddie Clarke, Brian Robertson, Pete Gill, Phil Taylor. Was that ever discouraging?
Yeah, you get discouraged, but you can’t stay that way because it’s not producing anything. If you give up, you definitely got nothing. If you keep trying you might get lucky and we got lucky.
-Grab the Holiday issue of Bass Player to read the full Lemmy Kilmister cover story, or stay tuned for the online edition.