A Conversation with Phil Campbell of Motörhead

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For all the Metalheads out there, I’ve got some good news. A new Motörhead release is on the way, and it’s sure to satiate your appetite for raw, driving, breakneck Heavy Metal. That’s right, the one and only Motörhead are back with a live record, entitled Louder than Noise…Live in Berlin, which shows the legendary power trio at the height of their powers.

Today, I’ve got Motörhead’s long-time guitarist, Phil Campbell, with us for a chat. We, of course, discuss the new record, but we also touch on Phil’s favorite Motörhead records, his thoughts and memories of Lemmy, what Phil’s band, The Bastards Sons are up to, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to order Motörhead’s new record, Louder than Noise…Live in Berlin; you head over to Nuclear Blast’s website here. If you would like to learn more about Motörhead, you head over to the band’s webpage here, and of course, if you would like to learn more about Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons, you can over to his website here. Enjoy this one. Cheers.

Andrew:
Hi Phil. How are you?

Phil:
I’m good. Thanks for having me.

Andrew:
Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

Phil:
That’s OK. I’ve just had my Sunday night lunch. I’m in a good mood.

Andrew:
OK, great. All right, let’s dive in. How are you holding up during COVID times?

Phil:
Well, you know, we are sort of shut you down, really not much you can do. But, you know, in my band [Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons] we managed to get out a great album [We’re the Bastards] in November, recorded last year. And, you know, just recording on. And trying to write bits and pieces at home. We’ve got gigs booked now to again; whether they’re going to happen or not is another thing. But hopefully, everyone’s getting injections and things. So, it’s looking like a light at the end of the tunnel, my friend.

Andrew:
Yeah. Same thing here. I’m actually scheduled for my vaccine in about two weeks. So maybe there’s a return to normalcy soon here.

Phil:
Yeah, that’ll be great.

Andrew:
Yeah, it would be nice. I actually interviewed you via email in the fall for the We’re the Bastards record. I’m happy to have you back. And that was a really great record. So I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed it. And I appreciated having you then, too.

Phil:
Oh, thanks for this time around!

Andrew:
So we’ve got a really cool Motörhead release. It’s going to be coming out soon, called Louder than Noise…Live in Berlin. So what can you tell us about this really great live album you’ve got coming out?

Phil:
Well, we always taped most of the shows. This one is, you know, we’re sifting through some, we can’t sift through them all in a short period of time, but, as time passes, things get looked at, and we never came across this one really boisterous show in 2012, in front of ten or twelve thousand excited, mostly German fans. Germany’s always been good to us, and it’s a great example of where we were at that time in 2012. It’s pretty hard, and it’s pretty Motörhead. So, we wanted to give the fans something new, something really cool. We’re really pleased with it.

Andrew:
It’s an excellent live album. Many people talk about the early days of Motörheadand that original lineup, but for me and I think many Motörhead fans, yourself, Lemmy, and Mikkey, that’s Motorhead. You guys were so powerful, even as a trio. I think you guys were a trio from, what, ’95 or ’96on? Just so incredibly powerful and just a great live band.

I listened to this digitally. I’ll get the vinyl when it comes out. And it’s like you said, it really is a great live example of the band. You guys were so tight. What was it about that lineup, you three, that gelled so well together there? What was that chemistry that you guys had on stage, aside from the fact that you played together for a long time?

Phil:
Well, we started off when one guy left kind of suddenly. I said to the boys, “Look before we get anyone else, let’s just try out as a rehearsal, a couple of rehearsals, just sort of three days as a trio.” And believe me, I said, “If it’s not going to work like that, I’ll be the first one to say so.” We went into rehearsals, and after like three or four songs, it was obvious it sounded killer. So we kept it as a three-piece and on stage, we respected each other’s playing and, it’s like a strong kinship. We used to get off on the music every night. We love playing our songs. There’s so much energy just going through the motions, and it does help when you actually enjoy your songs like that.

I can’t speak for everybody, but I remember Lemmy famously said once said, “Imagine if a big hit like “Ace of Spades” had been a real turkey of a song.” And we played that every night. [Laughs].

Andrew:
It would have been horrible said, but luckily it was a good song. [Laughs]
.

Phil:
That was his word, “Turkey.” Yeah, we had fun every night. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Yeah, the joy, I think that’s one of the things that really shows through. When you watch videos of you guys playing live together, even toward the end, you could tell you guys really enjoyed not only playing that music and those songs, but you enjoyed playing together. That was an extraordinary vibe that you guys had together. And I think this record definitely captures that.

There’s been a few other Motörhead live albums put out, you know, this is for me, maybe the best one. Would you agree? What are your thoughts on this? How does this record compare to past Motörhead live records?

Phil:
After listening back to all of them, I know this is a really good one. This has a fresh sound. You know, when we were on fire like we were that night, we never really had bad gigs. Honestly, you could count the really bad gigs we had on one hand in all that time over 30 years. So, again, we were fortunate in that respect. Yes, this is definitely a great live album, and up there with the others. I’m looking forward to it now, and see, we’ll see what the folks think about it.

Andrew:
I’m sure they’re going to love it. Certainly, I think Motörhead put out so many great studio albums, but one of the great things about this is I think to really understand the essence of Motörhead, you had to hear you guys live. And I think that’s another great thing about this.

What led you to want to put this one out? Now, you mentioned that you’ve got a lot of things in the vaults, and in a band like Motörhead that was around as long as it was, I’m sure you’ve got tons in the vault. What led to you wanting to put this one out now? Was there anything that went into the timing?

Phil:
Not, really, no, I don’t think so. We just thought it sounded really cool and put the wheels in motion to get it out there. It’s just good music. It shouldn’t be kept in a drawer for too long because there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve done, stuff we’ve unearthed, and stuff yet to be unearthed. Some of it is really good, I’m sure. And some of it’s not so good, but it’s a bit of a career in itself, just trawling through this stuff. This is definitely a good one. Definitely one of the top gigs we did.

Andrew:
One of the things I wanted to cover was that this was recorded in Germany. And you mentioned Motörhead always had this enduring popularity in Germany and even Europe in general. I think it’s an interesting thing when it comes to Metal. As we know, in the early 90s, all that Grunge stuff came into play, and that sort of hurt the popularity of Metal, at least here in North America and while it’s come back to a certain degree now, in Europe, Metal has always really seemed to endure and thrive. What do you think it is about the European market in general, whether it be Germany or the UK or anywhere, that metal has always seemed to have this ravenous fan base?

Phil:
I don’t know. I don’t really you know, it’s never gone away over there, as you said, whether it’s to the history of Europe and whatever. In years past, when everyone was penetrable, industrialized nations have everything and bad things that have gone on, which keeps it real to some extent. You know, you can’t go anywhere in Europe without seeing a host of Metal t-shirts, whether it’s Thrash Metal or Heavy Metal, it’s never gone away. When grunge came out, it didn’t dip in the slightest.

Over in Europe, we always had great ticket sales and great album sales for everyone, to my knowledge. But I don’t know what it is, really. It could be people, say like Black Sabbath, and they came up from that area, working-class, all industrial, gray, grimy, and smoky. I know there are loads of places all over Europe that got bombed and everything. So, I say we like to keep it real.

Image Credit: Raymond Ahner

Andrew:
Well, I think I agree. It’s like you said, they want to keep it real.

So, I think it’s been just over six years since we lost Lemmy, and I think whenever you guys put out some of this new stuff, especially stuff from the last leg of the career there, it sort of makes you think back on Lemmy. He was such a special character, and nobody knows that better than you. Everyone I’ve talked to lately, from Doro [Pesch] to Lips [Kudlow], they all have these amazing stories of Lemmy and how beloved he was. I can imagine that when you put these types of things out, I’m sure it brings up some of those feelings for you guys too. So, what more can you tell us regarding the legacy of Lemmy? Sort of who he is in terms of the canon of Metal and as a live performer? What are your enduring thoughts on Lemmy?

Phil:
You know, he did things his way or nothing. The band came first. His bad, it came first. You, he just grew up listening to Rock ‘N’ Roll. He just genuinely loved it. You know, he might go into some extremes, but he was a total individual. He was a proper outlaw in the true sense of the word. You know, they won’t ever be anyone like Lemmy again.

Andrew:
I don’t think so either.

Phil:
He’s was a top man. He would give the shirt off his back if you needed it. And he was great fun. He had an amazing sense of humor as well, you know? We used to joke, and we tell jokes on stage during songs, and somehow we managed to be able to hear ourselves talk to each other on stage among all the noise, that must have been a special gift we were given. We used to tell each other to turn it down during the song. [Laughs].

I’d say to Lemmy, “Turn out bass down you,” and Lemmy would say back. “I’ll turn it down after you turn the guitar down, Campbell.” We would say it just jokingly. It was so much fun. Lemmy…he was unique, and there won’t be another one of him.

Andrew:
I think so. I think he was definitely a one of a kind. It’s one of the things that made the band kind of a one of a kind. I think one of the most incredible things, sort of what you alluded to,
was how the band came. First, here’s a guy who toured until the very bitter end. He toured, it seems, until he literally physically could not anymore. And it’s I think that’s sort of like an exclamation point on his legacy.

Phil:
Yeah. Towards the end, before we went out, we said, “Lem, are you sure you want to do the tour?” And, you know, he wanted to keep going and, you know, with what the man says, the man gets. We didn’t want to stop him from doing what he wanted to do at that point. You know, he did it basically right to the very end of it.

Andrew:
Many people probably would have literally laid down, but he didn’t, and that’s what makes it special. I feel that’s why when we see and hear these later years recordings, they always have that sort of extra-special something, because we know that at that point, there wasn’t a whole lot more time.

So looking back on your time with Motörhead over thirty-two years, what are your favorite albums that you did with the band or maybe even your favorite record? One that really stood out, or maybe one that’s underrated. One that doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves.

Phil:
I think probably Bastards. 1916 is a great, great record as well. Inferno’s a good one and Sacrifice. You know, they all have got different merits. We never purposely put an album out with filler tracks. I think Bastards is probably the most creative and the hardest. I would put the first four songs on, and you know, blow your house up. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Yeah, definitely. That’s an incredible record!

Phil:
That’s just got to be the best for me, and probably 1916. I think that’s also a really underrated Motörhead record.

Andrew:
I can’t disagree with either of those picks, but as far as Motörhead goes, you can’t go wrong.

Phil:
That was our first Grammy nomination for 1916, which is incredible in and of itself. Even after all those years, there we were, drinking in a pub in London one lunchtime at rehearsal, and word came back from our office, and we said, “Is somebody taking the piss?” It was another world to us. Honestly, I thought it was a joke. I said, “You can’t pull out over us.” I didn’t believe it. I thought was a complete joke, though. [Laughs].

Andrew:
It was certainly well deserved.

So, in thirty-two years with Motörhead, what’s one moment that really stands out that would define your time in the band and with Lemmy? What’s a definitive, quintessential Motörhead moment that you remember that sticks out for you? I know there’s got to be a million, so it might be difficult.

Phil:
You know, it isn’t easy. I think, just coming off stage after great gigs. That was the best feeling.

Andrew:
Look, it’s a tough question. I mean, when you’re talking about a band like Motörhead and what you guys accomplished, great records, great shows. I mean, this new live record is even a great addition to the catalog. What can you say? You probably have so many moments, especially with a guy as colorful as Lemmy. I can only imagine the laundry list of stories and moments you have with him and when that band.

Phil:
That said when I rode the horse on stage. That was quite, quite funny. [Laughs].

Andrew:
That’ll work! [Laughs].

Phil:
That’s a good moment. I believe it was available on video. So you can see it on the Internet. It’s not just stills, it’s the full video. [Laughs].

And then after that, and I distributed twenty-five USA Today newspapers page by page while Heaven and Hell were playing. It appeared everyone was reading a big newspaper, right? I was watching from the side while Ronnie James Dio and Tony [Iommi] were playing. We looked across the way just to give us a thumbs up and a big smile. That was a good day. [Laughs].

Andrew:
[Laughs] So, we’ve looked back. Let’s look forward. What’s next after COVID? It looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as you alluded to, and you’ve got this great new record out for with The Bastards. What’s next for you, Phil? Are you going to tour, hopefully? Are you going to hit the states? What’s next on your docket?

Phil:
We hope to get some gigs done by the end of this year. We’ve got a few festivals booked. Man…last year would have been our busiest year. We had so many things booked up, but it didn’t happen. So we’ve got a UK tour booked for November. We have a few festivals in the summer, but we have the late summer to see what happens then. And, you know, just keep on writing at home for the time being. So it’s getting close to getting to a point where things are salvageable. Maybe we can all get together in a room, you know?

It’s not just the musicians. You’ve got technicians all over the place and different crews. You can’t just wander around everywhere straight away. I’ve just been looking forward to getting back on stage and kicking some major ass with The Bastards.

Andrew:
Certainly, don’t forget about us in New York if you can. I’ll be there to see you at your concert if you do come to New York.
I’m on Long Island.

Phil:
Oh, yeah. We used to play down there at the Sun Dance Club.

Andrew:
Yeah. I don’t if that’s even still there now. There are a few small venues here now and cool theaters and things. And of course, New York City always beckons.

Phil:
It didn’t look like it was open when we played it, to be honest. But Long Island. So there’s some good gigs down there, some good clubs.

Andrew:
Certainly, there’s a really cool one called The Paramount that would fit your band perfectly. So don’t forget about us. I’d love to see you live.

Phil:
If they pay us the big money, we’ll go anywhere. [Laughs].

Andrew:
[Laughs]I’ll talk to the powers that be!

Anyway, thank you, Phil. You stay safe. Be well, and good luck with this new record and good luck with The Bastards.

Phil:
Take care of my friend. Take care. Bye bye.

Interested in learning more about the work of Motörhead? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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