There Are No Dull Moments Around Here: An Interview With
by Gail Worley
Tommy Lee is cruising the streets of New York City in a hired car, en route to his hotel. Heís in the Big Bad Apple to promote his new album, a true solo effort on which he plays most instruments and hardly raps at all, called Never a Dull Moment. Time is short, and there is much to talk about. "I think that when I did the Methods Of Mayhem record, some of the hip-hop stuff probably freaked a lot of Motley Crue fans out," he says, then laughs. "They were probably [thinking], "What in the hell is this?" To a dyed-in-the wool Motley Crue fan like myself, these are epic understatements. It would be far closer to the truth, in fact, to confess that Tommy Lee's radical leap from Motley Crue drummer to dreadlocked, hip-hop MC was considered by many to signal the end of days.
That hardly mattered to Lee. Methods Of Mayhem was never about gaining commercial acceptance or toeing the party line of the Motley Crue camp: rather, it was all about the drummer releasing over a decade of pent-up creative expression stifled by his long tenure in Motley Crue. He has now shorn his dreads and created an album of hard rock with a more palatable flavor -- not quite reverting to his spandex-metal roots, and still keeping his heart somewhat in the hip-hop/nu-metal domain. Somehow, it all works. Lee returns to the drums, plays guitar, and effortlessly assumes all vocals for Never a Dull Moment (MCA), a radio-friendly collection of brooding ballads ("Ashamed," "Blue"), catchy dance-metal ("Sunday"), pretty-fly-for a-white-guy funk, and a creative, in-your-face reworking of David Bowieís "Fame" ("Fame 02") thatís certain to raise a few eyebrows. Believe it or not, Lee's singing is far from incidental: he can honestly croon like a pop star or out-shout former Motley Crue cohort Vince Neil on that guyís least-hung over day. Take a bow, Mr. Lee.
Despite his best efforts to reinvent himself musically, Tommy Lee admits he must defend both his creative career choices and his personal life "every day." "Unfortunately, I have to do [defend my music] and also battle a lot of pre-conceived ideas that people have about me, [personally]. Whether theyíve heard some bullshit in the news with my past -- musically or personally --thereís just all of this bullshit in the way that makes it extremely difficult for me just to do what I love to do. Itís crazy sometimes, and it really starts to wear me down. I think in the last year or so Iíve gotten good at not letting it bother me, just doing what I do, and not thinking about everybody else so much."
Tommy addresses the creative and personal frustration heís been up against on the albumís first single, "Hold Me Down," (a top ten hit with a video all over MTV2) on which he sings, "Itís a test to see how much you can take/Itís nothing new." Perhaps the most important life lesson Tommy Lee has learned is that when you canít please everyone, youíve got to please yourself, and when I mention how much I really love his new record, he replies, "I love it too, and Iím really proud of it." In this interview Tommy talked about the making of Never a Dull Moment, reminisced extensively about his days with the Crue and revealed himself to be surprisingly grounded and spiritual guy.
What made you decide to disband Methods Of Mayhem and make an album that has more of a classic, hard rock sound?
You know what? It was weird, when I got home from Ozzfest in September of 2000, I locked myself in my home and I just started writing. I didnít know what I want to do, it was more like [I thought] "letís just write and see where this goes and make this like a natural progression." What you hear is where it went. The more we started listening to it [in the studio] the more my producer started going, "Dude, you know, you can just call this what it is." I was like, "What are you talking about?" And he goes, "Why donít you just call this Tommy Lee?" After thinking about it for awhile, I realized he was right. Thatís when I made that decision, to just go under my own name rather than a "band" name. I havenít really disbanded Methods Of Mayhem, Iím definitely going to do another one of those records, with a shitload of guest stars and have it be, like, this crazy, creative free-for-all -- like the first one was. I want to do that again because I really enjoyed that, that was a fun process.
Since youíre a bonafide solo artist now, and donít have the safety net, so to speak, of being part of a band, does the responsibility for making decisions about how the record will be promoted and how the tour will go, that kind of thing, eventually all come to rest on your shoulders?
Yeah, because [in Motley Crue] we sort of split up the press between four band members and split up interviews and each guy was doing his own separate thing, but also working as a team. Here, itís like the workload is pretty much all on my ass [laughs], which makes it a little more stressful and more difficult. If it doesnít sound good live or it doesnít look good, I have only my own ass to kick. If itís successful and it sounds awesome, and looks killer live, then I guess I can pat myself on the back and take all the credit too. So I guess itís a strange situation, but itís definitely a lot more work, thatís for damn sure. I guess I got my feet wet, doing this with Methods Of Mayhem, which was kind of cool. It helped me get ready for a lot of what is happening now, I think.
You mentioned having to constantly battle preconceived notions about yourself and your music. On the flipside of that, how are you able to use your well-established reputation to create interest in what youíre doing now?
Thatís the good part of having my past follow me, is that sometimes some of that stuff can help. If I decide to have a press conference or decide to go on [Howard] Stern or MTV, pretty much any news network, anywhere [will cover it], and people will show up and will hear what I have to say. Thatís the good part [that] I can use that to my advantage. Even though itís been used to my disadvantage in the past, I can still use it in a different way, which is pretty cool [laughs].
Motley Crue's hard-partying ways have been well-recorded, especially in The Dirt and on your episode of Behind The Music. Looking back, do you think the partying had a negative effect on the music?
Sometimes I think that, and then other times I think, "you know what, that was just that time and it was really cool." Maybe we wouldnít have been as cool or as crazy-sounding as we were, because we were in that state [had we been sober]. Records like Shout at the Devil may not have sounded as fucking badass if we were totally straight, you know? Then again, for Dr. Feelgood we were totally sober, and that was one of our most successful records, so that tends to prove my theory a little wrong as well. For some reason [when I record], I always try to put myself in the state of mind that the listener is going to be in. When theyíre at the concert, very few of those people are going to be standing there, sober, watching your show. So, I try to think about what it would be like live and think about what it would be like, standing there, with a couple of beers in you and a joint, you know, because that's actually how everyoneís going to see you [laughs]. Itís the truth.
Do you have any survival tips for bands into partying, on how to still have a good time but not die?
Yeah, you know what? I got it: stay away from cocaine and heroin. Those two fucking things are so dangerous. Everything else, to me, is pretty cool...well, I shouldnít say everything because there are lot of dangerous drugs out there. But you know what Iím trying to say, itís that thereís a couple of really dangerous drugs out there and Iíve lost some friends to them. Those two that Iíve mentioned -- thereís probably a few others -- just arenít cool and they will definitely ruin your career, or you will die, whichever comes first.
Once youíre dead Iíd guess your career is pretty much ruined.
Well, some people die and then they sell more records, go figure. But Iím not going to sit here and say that all of itís bad, because thatís just not true.
I want to say how much I loved reading The Dirt. It was so awesome, such a great read. After the book was published, was there anything that you revealed about yourself that you wish, with hindsight, you hadnít let come to light?
That was a crazy book. You know what, I think about that sometimes, and I think, "That was a bit of an over-share, T." But then again, I re-examined it, and decided that maybe something I said helped somebody out there. And if it helped one person, who was maybe going through the same thing that I was going through -- even if I felt like I shouldnít say it, or it was an over-share -- then I don't think it [was inappropriate]. Thatís the way I feel about it, I don't really regret saying anything. If somebody gets it, or it helps them, or theyíre like, "Wow man, thatís crazy, I never knew that," maybe itís OK.
I think people just really appreciated how honest you guys were. It made you really seem human.
Exactly. It does show that, too, and I think thatís important because at the end of the day each guy is human and [laughs] [whatís in that book] is definitely the truth.
I was really surprised by your vocals on the album. I think you did a great job with everything, and I especially like "Sunday." I wondered which vocalists youíve drawn inspiration from?
Thereís a lot of guys that I love. Thom Yorke from Radiohead, I like his voice. The Radiohead record, The Bends is my all-time favorite record on the planet. I just think heís got some great melodies and I feel him when he sings. I think thatís what I try to do when I sing a song; hopefully people "feel" me.
I feel you, Tommy.
Thanks sweetie! I think Brandon [Boyd] from Incubus has a great voice and heís on the record with me, on the song "Blue." I like the real melodic singers, but I like the heavy guys too -- the hip-hop/metal guys. I think Fred Durst has got some good flavor.
I have to admit that you sing better than Vince Neil on his best day. Itís really too bad about Vince, isnít it? What happened to him? Itís so sad.
I know, I just saw him in Florida. We did the VH1 Fairway to Heaven golf tournament and I walked up to him and we said hello. We donít get along at all but weíre cordial to each other. I just looked at him and I was like, "Wow! God, whatís happening to him?" Heís so overweight and just looks so sad. I donít really know whatís going on with him but he didnít look very good at all. I felt bad for him. Maybe itís possible that heís still searching for some sort of happiness, maybe he hasnít found it yet. I don't know.
Are you still friends with Nikki Sixx?
Nikki lives around the corner from me and I see him all the time. We talk a lot, and of course weíre still friends. That was our baby, Motley Crue, we put that band together. So, weíre still friends, yes. Heís a great guy and heís a very intelligent guy, too.
After spending a couple of years concentrating on your own thing, writing and performing songs, and not having the drum kit as your primary focus; now that youíve come back to it a bit, do you find that your playing has changed at all?
I wouldnít say so, just because, for as long as I can remember Iíve always been one of those drummers who wonít overplay and wonít underplay. I always try to play what the song needs. I think thatís the most important thing that drummers sometimes overlook. Youíll hear stuff and youíre like, "damn, that guyís just playing too much. The song really isnít calling for that." I still have that same philosophy when I record. The only thing thatís changed for me is that Iíve figured out a new way to do this; when I go to record, I like to do the drums last, if that makes any sense to you. Once the song is done and recorded, I like to go back and then cut the drums, because then I know exactly what the song needs, and what it doesnít need. Sometimes when you cut your bed tracks right off the bat, you donít really know where the vocal is landing and where the background vocals are, and other loops and stuff that are going on. I find that doing the drums last, coming from a drum history, really works well for me. Thatís what Iíve done on the Methodsí record and now on this one.
That makes sense because then you know what to accent. Someone I interviewed told me that he finds if he lays down all the drum tracks first, all the drums sound the same, whereas if you do it one track at a time, itís a richer sounding record. It was Mike Portnoy who told me that, actually.
Yeah, you know what, that can happen, too. You cut all the drums at once and then youíre like, "well, fuck, every song sounds the same because the drums sound the same." Often youíll find that [that approach] really changes things because maybe the song doesnít need that big of bombastic sounding drum set for this section. Thatís the cool part about doing that last.
When you play live, will you play drums?
Iím singing and playing guitar. Then, halfway through the show, me and my drummer (Will Hunt of Skrape and Stuck Mojo) will both beat the fucking shit out of drums for a bit.
The song "Body Architects" is my favorite song on the album, and I wondered if there was some kind of spiritual undertone in the lyrics?
Totally. You know what, I was sitting there one day and Iím like, "man Iíve got to write about this," because -- and itís probably been going on for as long as I can remember -- everyone seems to always be searching externally for everything. [In a search for] some sort of satisfaction or happiness, theyíre looking externally for things to make them happy -- whether it be sex or drugs or alcohol or religion -- when really, everything that you need is inside you. I really believe that. In the chorus, Iím trying to remind people that [quotes lyrics] "Weíre the architects of the bodies we inhabit." Thatís where that song came from, itís conception [came from thinking] maybe this will remind people to really just look in the mirror.
I think people tend to underestimate you and what youíre about.
I think so, too. With my background, coming from Motley Crue, which makes people think, "Oh, heís probably just writing lyrics about partying and chicks." Fuck, I hate that, when people think that, because... like, I read a review of my new record in Blender, and the guy, I don't think he listened to the record. I was tripping, because some of the lyrics he recited arenít even on the record! He says, "basically, the recordís about chicks and partying." And Iím like, "Dude, what record were you listening to?"
Maybe he was listening to Andrew W.K. There was a very interesting part of The Dirt that explained a bandís commercial success in relation to "The Cog Theory." I always wanted to ask which member of the band came up with that?
Thatís Nikkiís theory, yeah. Heís smart like that, heh heh. Thatís his whole perception of how this all works and how everything goes in cycles. Fashion, fads, trends, music, lifestyles; it just all comes back around in ten year increments. And you know what? Heís kinda right [laughs].
Itís genius. I like especially the example of Santanaís career: how he was just at radar level for 25 years and then the album, Supernatural, just blew up like a bomb.
To me, thatís the most insane phenomena. Like, What? Santanaís fucking giant right now. I remember when that went down and I was so stunned. Wow, how crazy is that? You never, ever know do you? Itís so bizarre that way. [Laughs] Thatís why my recordís called Never a Dull Moment, because, I swear to God, it just is never dull. You never know whatís going to happen sometimes, or what you thinkís going to happen never happens, or when you least expect it, the Santana record comes along and just blows up. No disrespect -- because heís awesome -- but holy shit!
Did you watch any episodes of The Osbournes?
Iíve known the Osbournes for several years now, and so that show is nothing new to me. Iíve seen that for years. But yeah, I have seen it. I mean, I know them; theyíre funny.
Who would have imagined it would make Ozzy the new Superstar of the Universe?
I know, go figure. Itís another thing like Santana. Out of fucking nowhere -- BOOM! -- itís giant! Ozzy Osbourne is now the Allstar TV Show Guy. Thatís crazy.
Do you think that there is any chance of you playing with the members of Motley Crue again, the recent and very sad death of Randy Castillo notwithstanding?
Talk about weird, I just saw the guy a few months ago. He came to see me and Stephen Perkins, from Janeís Addiction -- he was my Methods of Mayhem drummer -- and we did this Drum Day LA thing and he was there. His hair was gone from chemo and he had this scar on his neck and he was like, "Yeah, they removed it and Iím good. The therapyís good and Iím in remission." And the next thing I hear, I got an e-mail from somebody saying heíd died. That freaked me out. But to answer your question, [sighs] you know, like Michael Jordan was saying,"Never say never," about getting back together with the Crue. But right now, I donít see it happening any time in the near future. Iím just doing my own thing.
Do you feel that youíve achieved more success than you anticipated when you split from Motley Crue?
Yeah, because I really didnít have any expectations. I always feel that if itís successful, killer; if itís not, then thatís cool, too. Iím happy doing what Iím doing, and if you have that kind of attitude then everything else from there on is a bonus. The Methods record went gold in America, Japan, Canada. For my first solo effort, thatís fucking phenomenal. For this new record, who knows where that will end up? I canít complain [laughs].
Tommy Lee is currently on tour.