Motley Crue interview, 1997

LA Weekly, 11/97
by Greg Burk

Here’s a bunch of motherhumpin’ rock stars for ya. Never wore flannel, never whined about their low self-esteem, never hipped or hopped. Two of them slide up to rehearsal in matching Ferraris; bassist Nikki Sixx’s license plate reads HUSTLR, a tribute to the skin mag on whose December cover the guys posed -- around a naked babe crouched astride a silver platter, with an apple stuck in her mouth, suckling-pig style. They are fully leathered, fully tattooed. Singer Vince Neil looks distracted throughout our interview, no doubt because of the painfully extensive new trapezius etchings he has just bared for everyone’s admiration.

They look healthy. Neil pops vitamin supplements, which he calls “the drugs of the ’90s.” (The band markets a beverage called Motley Brue: no alcohol, but packed with ginseng and echinacea.) Guitarist Mick Mars, who had become a bit of a heavy hulker, has gotten skinny (though he’s still graveyard pale). Drummer Tommy Lee denies he was ever fitness-obsessed -- “In high school, you couldn’t be a jock and be in a band” -- but testifies that you’ve got to be in trim to go out and shred every night. And as we talk (September), the group is about to hit the pavement on a nationwide tour, the first with this original lineup since Neil split in 1992; advance tickets are being sucked up like free beer.

A salubrious Crue? Sure. A tanned Sixx insists that, contrary to image, partying has always come second: “We would get pretty slaughtered after the show, but most of the time we had our shit together before the show. That was our priority -- to kick ass.”

When confronted with the suspicion that Motley Crue is treading the devil’s path to moderation and maturity, Sixx defends the band, pointing to this year’s Generation Swine album -- “It’s a very mature immature work” -- and live “Motley Crue vs. the Earth” show: “We’ll have hundreds of corporate logos being splattered all over a video screen. It’s almost assaultive of the audience, and then in the end, of course, the biggest pig of all is us -- this big Motley Crue trademark.”

Brags of juvenility aside, Generation Swine is not exactly Girls, Girls, Girls, which after all was 10 years ago. Swine wallows artfully in confessions and contradictions, and jettisons the clean, lean hard-rock production that raked in four multiplatinum albums.

Imagine if you can the band that crafted the 1983 blowjob anthem “Ten Seconds to Love” sighing on Swine, via Sixx’s lyrics on “Flush,” “I’m a sinking ship/on a sea of bliss/I’m not O.K. . . . Do I wanna die?” Or how about Lee’s “Confessions”: “I’m going down, breaking down . . . Time 4 a prayer”? “Beauty” has a former needle buddy now staring HIV in the face. And when Sixx assails the world’s evil and hypocrisy, as he does in “Let Us Prey” and “A Rat Like Me,” he chooses the word “I” to speak through the adversary’s mouth -- complaining, essentially, to the mirror. An indiscreet listener might be tempted to call this sophistication.

The layered thinking carries over into the mixing strategy, which resulted in a new sound -- all necromantic effects and digitalized noise eruptions. The hit choreography show Stomp, which creates percussion broadsides out of massed broom and bucket riffs, inspired the band’s approach. Sixx also credits producer Scott Humphrey, who’d long assisted former Crue producer Bob Rock and had edited Metallica’s black album: “Scott was really influential in pushing everybody, like he’d go, ‘You know what, let’s cram it through this and through this and back through here,’ and he brought lots of analog vintage synth stuff along with him that we’d never had access to.” They experimented, used their mistakes, messed with samples (like a quarter hitting a glass table), cut tracks up (“Digital technology makes it really easy,” says Lee), wrote in the studio.

Now and then they even did things backward, like dubbing the drums last. Says Lee, “It’s fun to say, now let’s fuckin’ lose those drums, I’m gonna make ’em better, ’cause now there’s a clear picture as to what it really needs.”

In the six months of recording, Mars, a tastefully vicious axman with a Bebop Deluxe tattoo on his forearm, had ample opportunity to defile his guitar sounds, using “about a dozen pedals” -- dig the trash-compacted chord he hammers out from nowhere in the middle of “Generation Swine.” “When we start floating,” he says, “it’s my job to take you away from that.”

You might think Neil’s Lurch-like croak on “Find Myself” and “Beauty” was due to some advanced audio effect. “No,” he reveals, “that was actually a hangover. That came from drinking all night, and my throat was really low and raspy, and Scott goes, ‘Dude, track a song.’ So I went and sang, and it was just, like, perfect. It’s hard to re-create, though.”

“Sometimes,” says Sixx, “sounding good isn’t necessarily right.”

Despite all the dirt, Generation Swine retains the hook-consciousness that generated such tunefully hard hits as “Piece of Your Action” (1982), “Looks That Kill” (1983) and “Dr. Feelgood” (1989).The new album is so dense that it might not sink in immediately, but repeated listenings reveal further depths and imbeds the melodies and riffs deeper in the cortex. “Flush” is a grand, enormous slow-rocker; “Beauty” grinds and stomps with dinosaurian inevitability; “A Rat Like Me” thrashes chaotically; every song displays Neil’s tough yet wimpy pop croon, which cuts through the murk the way the more soulful voice of John Corabi, Neil’s replacement for the last few years, never quite could. Swine is insidious, not to say addictive.

Corabi, of course, is suing Motley Crue for underpaying him, which the band denies. It’s just more rock divorce-court action, seemingly as intrinsic to the scene as guitar strings. The Crue rock on regardless, just as they’ve forgotten the fisticuffs that precipitated Neil’s split for a brief and unremarkable solo career. “There’s nothing different in the four of us than where we started in ’81, playing the Starwood,” says Neil. “We still think the same. We’re still warped.”

One tends to believe him; the Crue still bullshit around and laugh like the drinking buddies they’ve always been. Mars, who turns out to be an extremely soft-spoken gentleman in contrast to his glowering image, relates for the thousandth time how he became acquainted with Sixx through the tradition-honored process of buying booze for the then-underage rockdude. They all love fantasy/horror movies; Mars says he sits in front of the Sci-Fi Channel all day making up riffs. The subject leads to a forum on Wes Craven’s The Scream.

Sixx: “The acting was pathetic.”

Neil: “Acting? So what?”

Lee: “It just went on and on and on. Like, just kill the fuckin’ bitch.”

Asked whose ass they’d like to kick if they had the chance, the Crue display unanimity.

“The guy with Funniest Home Videos,” says Lee.

“Bob Sagit!” everybody yells.

Lee: “He had to be the high school punching bag.”

Sixx: “He’s the Antichrist!”

Neil: “Mister Rogers scares the shit out of me.”

Sixx: “He’s the guy who shows up with an Uzi at a little kids’ school. ‘Enough of you little bastards. Lay down!’”

And on it goes. Rock stars, yukking it up the way they should -- what the hell, they’re professional juveniles! They may get serious once in awhile, but don’t hold it against them. At core, Motley Crue will never grow up.