Totally Tommy Lee
Never a dull boy
The man needs no introduction, but he always gets one, complete with an unlikely combination of video jokes and unabashed respect. Tommy Lee, drummer for Eighties icons Mötley Crüe, survived drugs, scandal, and the rock & roll maelstrom to hit the touring circuit this summer with a new CD, Never a Dull Moment. The aptly titled recording finds Lee in good spirits, fielding press interviews from California with a VH1 camera crew in attendance.
Austin Chronicle: So VH1 is taping us?
Tommy Lee: Yes, you're being recorded, is that okay?
AC: Absolutely! Back in about 1983, when you were first touring, MTV was in its infancy and you were in Austin for the first time. I had my video crew backstage to tape y'all backstage. You had a bottle of Jack Daniel's. You very politely sidled up to me and said, "Is it okay if I have this on camera?"
TL: [Laughter] That was a while ago, huh?
AC: Yes, but didn't all those wild times make you who you are?
TL: Exactly, yes. People always ask me that if I regret anything. Not a fucking thing! It's all part of the life program.
AC: So what made you choose Never a Dull Moment as the title for your album? [Snicker]
TL: It's so true, so appropriate. From the time I turned 17 until now, there's never been a dull moment, ever. Ever. Every time I hear that title, I start laughing because it's so true.
AC: Rock & roll is a non-stop business.
TL: Completely non-stop and completely out of control. When there is even a chance for a dull moment, I take full advantage of it. "My God! I have nothing to do for two hours! All right!"
AC: What do you do for yourself when you get that downtime?
TL: I like being outside. It mellows me out. I like to chill, or get on my dirt bike and tear it up. Call some friends, call the family. Normal stuff.
AC: What makes Never a Dull Moment different? What's going to make people buy it?
TL: Ummm ... [pause] ... It's me. It's honest. There's a lot of truth in the record. It has awesome melodies. The production is awesome. I consciously made sure there were a bunch of amazing songs on this record. I think a lot of people are probably wondering about Tommy Lee. "What's he thinking, what's he writing, what's on his mind? He's been through some shit, what's he doing ..." "That guy's a fucking awesome drummer, and he's playing guitar and singing now. Whoa, let me check this out!" I imagine some people are curious.
AC: What was it like stepping out from behind the drums and playing guitar and other instruments?
TL: Ya know, I've been doing that for a while. I don't think a lot of people knew that in the Crüe days, I was playing guitar, singing, and playing bass as well as drums in my home studio, writing demos. The band would record it and the fans would never see that part. So, it isn't as new for me as for the fans, who maybe all of a sudden realize, "Whoa, he's playing guitar and singing." I'd been doing it for a long time, but now I'm doing it for myself.
AC: What was different about recording this album from the Method of Mayhem project?
TL: This is completely my own. I worked on a few songs with the old Method of Mayhem guitarist, but for the most part, I spent a year of my life working on this alone, which was really cool. I got to focus on what it was I wanted to say, what I wanted people to feel, and not have to deal with outside influence. There were two chefs in the kitchen on the previous record.
Working alone was frustrating, too. Sometimes when a part doesn't work, you look around for some help. This time there was no one there. So you gotta figure it out and get through it. It's challenging, that's for sure. But I thrive on it and that's the thing.
AC: What was your take on the Mötley Crüe book last year? It's just come out in paperback.
TL: Awesome book! For a fan to read that, if they don't know the Crüe after reading that, they'll never know them. It was such an ... [laughs] open book into everyone's world. It's exactly what the title is, the dirt. The good times, the bad times, the love, the fights ... you name it, it's all there.
AC: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
TL: A rock star. Totally. I'd sit in my bedroom and play air guitar and play drums on cardboard boxes with headphones on. Pretending I was rocking out in front of an audience.
AC: Are your sons growing up to be rock stars?
TL: I don't know ... They're playing music, banging on drums, playing guitars, piano. They like to sing. I put it all out there for them so whatever they want to play, there's an instrument for each. It's all here for them to experiment with.
AC: What advice would you give them if they wanted to go into the business?
TL: I would probably start with shady managers, 'cause there are a few of them out there. I'm sure I would go around with them and make sure they were talking with the right people and not wasting their time.
AC: What's your favorite toy?
TL: It's weird, but the latest toys I've played with are my kids'. They got some killer toys. I go to Toys "R" Us, and I want all that stuff. I wanna be 5 again. They didn't have any of that stuff! My kids have electric Quadrunners, four-wheel drive Jeeps, and shit like that. They're so lucky and they don't know it! I used to drag around a wagon full of rocks and I thought that was cool.
AC: Every afternoon I stop work at 4pm and watch Judge Judy. What's your guilty pleasure?
TL: Those fuckin' cheesy talk shows, like Jerry Springer. It's total comedy. When I watch it, it's so clear to me that people will do anything to get on TV. It's totally embarrassing. I can't believe people do those things. They don't even care. It's just like, "Wooo! I'm on TV!" It's pathetic. And these shows have been running for a long time, so those people are out there! It's the way we are.
AC: Will you ever be too old to rock & roll?
TL: At some point, yeah. I mean, damn, to perform live and do all that, yeah. At some point ya gotta knock it on the head and pack it up.
AC: Should we tell that to Mick and Keith?
TL: They're not too old yet. They're getting close, but I'm not convinced they're too old.
AC: Rock & roll is like Neverland and musicians are the Lost Boys.
TL: I saw the Stones a few years ago on New Year's Eve at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. And those guys rocked the place! Charlie Watts looked really old, like he was gonna die, but there he was, rockin' out. That's the life. That's cool. That's rock & roll.
Tommy Lee plays Stubb's Tuesday, July 16.