Motley Crue's Mick Mars: 'I've Always Been About Melody And Tone'

artist: motley crue date: 09/06/2008 category: interviews
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Motley Crue's Mick Mars: 'I've Always Been About Melody And Tone'
Mick Mars came into this world as Robert Alan Deal. He was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on May 4, 1951. His family relocated to California where the young musician played in a series of blues bands; none of them were very good and none of them ever did anything. He finally changed his name to Mick Mars, changed his hair color to jet black, and after placing an ad in a local newspaper, he ran into Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee and with the band name in his back pocket, this new group became Motley Crue. That's how Mick first met his future bandmates back in 1981. Now, 27 years later, he is still with the band. But it hasn't been easy. The band has gone through drug-addicted members, car accidents, management changes, record label changes, and a whole lot more. And the guitarist has seen his fair share of suffering. When he was just 19 years old, Mars suffered from a terrible arthritic disease. As someone who slaps a piece of wood across his shoulders every day, this wasn't the best thing that could happen to him. Additionally, in 2004, he had to undergo hip replacement surgery, In order to keep the pain at bay, he was forced to swallow huge amounts of pain killers. After his surgery, Mick was able to rejoin the band on the road in 2005. And now he is back on stage for the upcoming Cruefest Tour, a monster caravan across the US that will include support by Buckcherry, Sixx:A.M. (Nikki's side project), Papa Roach, and Trapt. In support of their new album, Saints Of Los Angeles, the tour will begin in June and run for several months. The new record is typical Crue, loud thrashing guitars that thunder around Vince Neil's epileptic vocals. Tommy Lee and Nikki Nixx pound out big rock rhythms that are reminiscent of the Dr. Feelgood era songs. Mick talked about the new album and the new tour in pretty hushed tones. His voice was barely louder than a whisper and even over the phone, he sounded weak and fragile. But he did seem upbeat and was really looking forward to the upcoming tour. UG: It's been a long time since the original Motley Crue were together in the studio writing and recording together since the Generation Swine album in 1997. What was the experience like this time with Saints Of Los Angeles? Was there a feeling-out period? Did you come in with guitar ideas? Mick Mars: Mostly what we did was, I would come in with some riffs and things like that. We would record them, I would record them on Pro Tools because everybody was kind of doing their thing, you know? Like Tommy and Vince already had their schedules already pre-planned so we had to kind of plan around that because they had already committed to doing that before. Doing what they needed to do, that is. And so what we did was, Nikki and I would record some things, put them down on ProTools, cut 'em up, splice 'em together, put 'em together, however you want to call it. And had Tommy and Vince do their parts when they had time to do it. And it worked out pretty well. Didn't it feel a little disjointed? I like more like live off the floor kind of thing? But we didn't really have the choice but to do it this way this time and I think it turned out really, really well. You had been doing some writing on your own, Mick? Putting ideas down on Pro Tools and saving them for a rainy day kind of thing? Always, yeah. Because what's good for Motley is cool, but there's a lot of things that I write that's outside the realm of Motley, you know. Say, like I'll write some riffs and say, Ah, you know what? This'll be a good thing for a band called Emery. So, I wrote with them for a bit and I wrote with Machina and DMC, a lot of different people, because I like to do a lot of different styles of music. Not just one. That's the reason for Motley but you know what I mean? But I like to express myself in different ways; not only as like a guitar player but as a songwriter as well. What is it that innately tells you, This is a Motley Crue riff? Of course it's going to be big and loud but some of these other bands you mentioned writing for are also big and loud. Umm, a Motley song is umm, I can feel them; I can pretty much tell right away. Umm, when I write a song for Motley Crue, about two-thirds of it is Motley and then I kind of put a part in that pieces it together, so you can hear the parts together. Usually that part gets re-written by Nikki and I and we'll put it together that way. Then I have another piece of song to take out and play around with, to do something else with it. Mick, I haven't heard these tracks but can you tell us what's involved with some of the songs? What about the opening cut titled LAMF? LAMF is the first track on the thing and it's about 1:21, right? It's the very first track and it isn't really a song; it's kind of an introduction to Face Down in the Dirt. I don't know them all in chronological order. It's like an introductory thing where we do like pretty much on a lot of songs. Like we did on Dr. Feelgood (the intro was a 0:42 piece called T.N.T. [Terror 'N Tinseltown]) and In the Beginning like on Shout at the Devil and things like that. It's kind of an instrumental, kind of an eerie dark piece that's like I said, is about 1:20 long and is an introduction and has that crescendo that goes into like Face Down in the Dirt. And what's going on with Face Down in the Dirt? A lot of the songs are kind of hard for me and I'm not going to try and explain them because I didn't write lyrics on them. No problem. Certainly you can run down the type of guitars you're using. The (Fender) Strat is about all I used. What is it about the Strat that covers all the bases for you? You know, that's a good question. It's a great sounding guitar, first off, and it's one of the best guitars that I've heard acoustically without an amp and with an amp. The tone of it, the ring of it, it seems to be very balanced with the wood and the this sounds boring. No, Mick, not at all. We're doing this interview for serious guitar freaks. So please continue. Well, the way that the wood rings? The way it's set up, the neck; I've had three different necks on it; I've worn it out. Is it a newer guitar or an older one? It looks beat to hell. It's a '96; it's a custom shop. When I was rehearsing with my 'burst, my old one; it was a pieced-together one from a '66, '64, and '65 or '63, somewhere in those years. It was three guitars pieced into one when I bought it and it was pretty beat up and I liked it. But the pickups were kinda broken; they only put out about three ohms or something and some of the pots were like stuck and stuff but I didn't care. And I bought it anyway and I pieced it together and put some humbuckers on it and put some new pots on it and stuff and made it like this guitar that screamed. One of the guys from Fender and saw us rehearsing and liked the idea of that and built me three (of them). I call 'em stressed; beat out, they look like they're 100 years old and have been on the road for many years and that kind of stuff. New guitars to me are cool but when they have some character to them, they're better.
"I can't use the same tone all the way through an album."
Were there any physical reasons for changing to a Stratocaster? Certainly a Fender is a lot lighter than the Gibsons were. Yeah, the guitars, especially the Pauls, started getting a bit heavy. And the Strats were much lighter. It was this stupid inconvenience crap that I own, my AS (ankylosing spondylitis), So this truly is a custom Fender guitar? Oh, yeah, yeah. Back in the day, though, it was the Charvel? Yeah, I actually have quite a few of them left. You know that Fender bought Charvel? That's right. Yeah, the guy that came out that built my guitars for me? I gave him a really nice, pristine Charvel. And he goes, What? You really want me to have this? And I go, Yeah, I want you to have it. He did me like a huge favor so I just gave him a really nice Charvel; one of my best Charvels. Do you think that the sound of the Strat is a little more modern sounding than the Charvels? Some songs are, yes. Some songs are heavier but it's like I can't use the same tone all the way through an album; it would get kind of like redundant and monotonous and so on and so forth. Live I can, I can get away with it and do stuff because it's live and you want to hear that raw, in your face thing. But on a record I feel like I can experiment more; I mean I feel limited as to what I can but tone-wise I like to play with tones and stuff and make the songs sound different from each other. So I can go, Let's do this like a little lighter than the verse. Sometimes I do things like that; like Don't Go Away Mad and Dr. Feelgood and that kind of a deal. They're two different sounding songs. Like Face Down in the Dirt and White Trash Circus (from Saints of Los Angeles). Do you know what I mean? I do. So, the Strat has been the main guitar on the album; what about amps? I always use Marshall and Soldano; I use Rivera, I use VHT; I use Crest. But on the album I was using a (Pro Tools) plug in called Eleven (Eleven LE provides amplifer tones at your fingertips and includes classic Fender, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, Soldano, and Marshall tones). And I would take pretty much what I use live like a Soldano and a Marshall and there's an amp in there called Eleven and a tread plate. And so James Michael (producer of the Saints of Los Angeles album and the lead singer for Nikki Sixx's side project Sixx:A.M.) took those because he heard my sound live so many times that he knew what I sounded like, what my sound it. And he duplicated it as best that you can on Eleven; you can never capture the live sound really but he got pretty close with using just a plug in. Those guitar tones are coming from a plug in? Very cool. Yeah, I love it; I've got the same thing (at his home studio). It's not as good as like real amps but you know what I mean? For like, I can stack as many amps as I want: AC30s or Hi Watts or old plexis and JCM800s and Soldanos and tread plates and all sorts of stuff. Plus you can change different mikes on different speaker boxes and different speaker cabinets and all sorts of stuff; it's very versatile. What about the album's title song? Yeah, the Saints of Los Angeles is about us signing our record deal with Elektra and it's kinda like, the words, It doesn't matter what you say/I'm gonna do it anyway. It's one of those kinds of things and it's about that; about the signing of our first record contract. How does it feel rehearsing for the Cruefest tour? I'm assuming there will be some of the songs from the new album in the set so you have to learn those in order to perform them live. On top of that, you have to make sure all the gear is in order and go through that sort of pre-production. And because all the other support bands are younger (Buckcherry; Sixx:A.M.; Papa Roach; and Trapt) and having the mantle of elder statesmen dropped on the band, there is also that sort of pressure. The only hard part about rehearsing for the tour is re-learning the new songs. Because when you put them down and by the time that they're pieced together, not pieced together but arranged properly and stuff, it comes in a few days. We have full songs but it's like sometimes it changes. It sounds better if we put the verse here and the chorus here. Re-learning them is the hardest part and rehearsing those and just brushing up on our songs that we usually do is fairly easy. So, it's mostly the first part and also like the meetings that's just stupid! It's like, Here's a meeting; here's another meeting. It's like, C'mon, we've gotta rehearse and get this stuff! OK this is the last one but the next day another meeting, you know? So it's like, Dammit, c'mon, we gotta start rehearsing. So that's probably the most difficult part. It is the business of music; sometimes business does get in the way. Sometimes it does, yeah. On a similar note is the fact that the band has weathered all that business all these years. You're going out on another huge tour despite all of those meetings. Does the music still hold that energy and danger it did back in the day? Oh, yeah; I mean, of course. That will never leave because it is new and fresh when I go out on stage. This sounds stupid but it's what I do and I really enjoy my job and I enjoy getting to see the world and getting paid for it. So, it's fun. I feel a lot more comfortable than I did in the early days. You do? Oh, yeah. Going out there, I feel more at ease, which allows me, even on stage, to experiment more because I know where I'm going and what I'm doing more than I was. I suppose that being clean helps a lot, too (much laughter). Do you listen to any of these modern players out there? Do you listen to any of the players in the bands supporting you on this tour? Have you heard any new styles or tones that grab you and make you want to sit down and sort of learn them? Or is it more a feeling of, Let them listen to me. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, I know what you mean. Umm, yes, sometimes I listen to different guitar players and hear what they're doing and so on and so forth. But I don't listen to the point of where I all of a sudden I subconsciously get that in my mind and all of a sudden I go like, Hey, check out this! And it's somebody else's lick. You know what I mean? It's like, there's a fine line in there but there are lots of good guitar players now. In the '80s it was all shred and no melody and nowadays guitar players are playing more melody and more melodic than they have before; getting back to real rock and roll roots I guess you would call it. Which is really good for me because I've always been about melody and tone and memorable solos and things like that. It's good to hear that again.
"The only hard part about rehearsing for the tour is re-learning the new songs."
Are there any solos from the new album that grab you when you listen to them? Yeah; on the Saints of Los Angeles, I had two solos already done for it. The first one that I wrote was kind of, it had two or three notes that didn't quite exactly sound the way that I wanted 'em to and so I rewrote it again. And it turned out the way that it did, of course. And it was fairly easy to do that one. White Trash Circus was a really fun one because it was trashy, so I tried a trashy solo on it. And it's like a messy, trashy kind of thing but it's still memorable, you know what I mean? There's some parts that I wished was mixed a little louder but it's done now so it's all good. But it's like when you put on earphones (headphones) it's like, Oh, man, I didn't hear that part before! So it works out well. I work on scales and things; but I try and keep it melodic for a solo. A lot of things I work out, then there are some that whatever comes off, that's what I use. But then when you do it live, it's different; you have to do it the same way you played it on the record and you can't remember what you were doing. Jumping subjects here, the band has a film coming out in 2009 based on the band's book, The Dirt? Umm; we've been working on that for a while. I'm not sure when it will be starting production. As far as I know, I don't know if we have a director in mind yet; I mean we've had several but it's a matter of getting the right director to understand what music is. I don't know if you ever saw that movie they made on Jimi Hendrix that was on HBO? It was so bad; that isn't what Jimi Hendrix was like at all. And it's like when they do the movie, I want it to be true to what we are about. And if it has to be rated X then so be it; but it won't be. But you know what I mean, more true to us. The right director will be able to do it. And I guess that I read a couple scripts that weren't that; it wasn't good. And I think that probably at least Nikki and I would be there to go like, to the director, Uh, dude, that ain't the way it was! You know what I mean? Direct the director. You touched on it earlier, Mick, the fact that you're clean and I'm guessing the entire band is clean. Do you think that is reflected in the music? In terms of performance and technique? Could these songs have been played by the band back in the '80s when everybody was sort of out of control? Yeah, I know what you mean. But, here's the thing - the band was all the way clean when we did Feelgood; that's the only time. There are a couple of us that are clean now, and a couple of us that are kinda - not me - but there are a couple of other guys in the band that still like to dabble (laughter). Drink and that kind of stuff. Would you have been able to play these songs if you were still getting high? As far as me being able to pull this off? Probably not. 'Cause my brain was so clouded up with drugs were my choice. I drank for a while but it didn't really, I didn't like it that much. When I went to drugs, not hard drugs but prescription drugs, they nearly killed me. I would never be able to do what I do now on that stuff. Mick Mars and Motley Crue truly occupy a unique place in music history. You've survived band breakups and overdoses and the business itself and changing music styles. Can you describe what that feels like now in 2007? Or, when they close the books on Motley and write the final page, what would you like to see written there? Umm, I would like to be remembered as umm, I'm not really doing anything really different than lots of guitar players have before. But I think I would like to be remembered more like in the vein of like a Clapton or a Beck or a Hendrix or those guys. Which is setting my standards high and that means I still got a long way to go. I really do appreciate your time and honesty, Mick. I hope that you take care of you and my hat is off to you for surviving that terrible back ordeal and for getting past all the drugs. That's a huge accomplishment - maybe even bigger than the music itself. That's all good. Thank you, Steven. Bye Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
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