Motorhead Guitarist: 'We Don't Write For People Who Buy The Records'

artist: motorhead date: 09/01/2006 category: interviews
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Motorhead Guitarist: 'We Don't Write For People Who Buy The Records'
For somewhere around 31 years now, Motorhead has been revving it up, cranking it out, and laying it down, a juggernaut of heavy metal that has borrowed from the blues and the bombastic and the straight up ballsy. Guitarist Phil Campbell has been part of Lemmy's legion in excess of 20 years himself and on the band's newest CD, Kiss Of Death, he displays the type of unique rock guitar lines that has been his calling card for all these years. Ultimate-Guitar: Before we talk about the new album, could we revisit a couple key moments in your past to put this new record in perspective. You joined the band in 1984 which is over 20 years ago now - what was that moment like? How does that impact the new Kiss of Death CD? Phil Campbell: Umm, well, it's a long story. When I joined the band, I was writing a lot of material then, quite a lot of stuff, and I've continued to do so ever since. We've had various lineup changes through the way but we haven't had that many actually; it's been pretty stable for a while now. Just me, Lem, and Mikkey (Dee, drummer) have been doin' this now, this lineup for a long time, and I think it's definitely the best lineup, I think. What about those periods when you were playing with a second guitar player? How did that impact the sound of the band? Did you like playing with another guitarist? I did for a time. It was good; I mean we came up with some great ideas and things and it helped a bit with the writing. But live it used to get pretty chaotic, I think, especially with Lemmy's bass; it's not exactly like a standard, traditional bass sound. It's more like a guitar so you'd have sort of three of us up there battlin' for so many frequencies. And it used to get a bit weird to say the least. I prefer it with a three-piece; it's limiting in its small way, I think, but it's a better sound. I write lots of great material for the three of us and I think the live sound is a lot stronger now than it used to be. What was it like playing with Wurzel? It was great, it was a lot of fun. I used to stay back a little bit more then obviously 'cause Wurz had been running around and he'd be breakin' strings and he'd be bendin' that thing out of tune and all that. So I had to sort of stay back and try and keep it as solid as I could. But it was a lot of fun with Wurz, yeah. And what about the Orgasmatron album in 1986? That was your first recording with the band. Yeah; I think it should have been a good album, I think the songs were good, I think the playing was good on it, and I think the production was pretty poor (album was produced by Bill Laswell who has worked with everyone from Brian Eno to Ginger Baker). I was very disappointed with the production and so was Lemmy. It wasn't heavy enough, the production on it; it could have been good if we re-did it. I might try and get the tapes of it and do it at home and re-mix it just for the hell of it like and just see what we can come up with. And then five years later you did the 1916 album. That was the first album which we recorded in the U.S. and that's a really good record with Pete Solley (has worked with Ted Nugen, Peter Frampton, Mountain, Oingo Boingo and others) producin'. We was all guns blazin' on that one, yeah, we enjoyed makin' that one. It's a much better sound, I think it's a much sharper sound if you compare the two albums. There's a big difference in it and I know which one sounds the best. Mikkey Dee actually joined about a year after the 1916 album was released in 1991. How did he change the sound of the band and perhaps even your approach to the guitar? Unfortunately, Phil Taylor was going through some, I don't know, some of his problems. Because Phil re-joined the band before Mikkey (after leaving) and he just didn't seem, he was a bit ropey at the start and we thought, 'Ah, he's gonna get better, he's gonna get back into it.' But he never did and in the end we had to let Phil go unfortunately 'cause he just wasn't capable of drumming anymore. It was a shame, I don't know what was goin' on with him. He was a great guy, Phil, still is, but he wasn't capable of drummin' anymore. I mean we waited three years hopin' he was gonna improve but he just went downhill so we had to let him go. And then when Mik joined it was really good, a good breath of fresh air. We didn't have to worry about, 'Oh, is he gonna fuck up here?' We knew we could concentrate on what we were doin' instead of listenin' out tryin' to hope the drums weren't gonna fall apart. There was another lineup change in '95 when Wurzel left. Did you have to sort of expand your playing to now fill out the band sound as a trio? Yeah, it was like my suggestion, I said to the boys, 'Look, boys, I think we can do it as a three-piece.' And I said, 'Believe me, we'll give it a try and if it's not happenin', I'll be the first one to say we need another guitar player.' But we went into rehearsals and like after a couple of songs, it all sounded great. But I mean, it was better for me, it made me a better performer now, I'm more confident on stage and everything. And I enjoy it a lot more.
"Once you start writin' for other people in mind, for Motorhead, it is like a kiss of death actually."
And that brings us to the Kiss of Death album and the way you and Lemmy and Mikkey now work together after all of these years. How does a Motorhead song take on life and what exactly are the criteria for a song eventually making its way onto an album? I don't know what it is other people think, there's a fine line we've got to hit, you know? And it's gotta be in-between these lines; we want to sort of evolve but we don't want to evolve so the band is recognizable. We write songs for the three of us, we don't write them for anyone else, we don't write for people who buy the records. I know it's a strange thing to say but we don't write for people who buy 'em 'cause we write what we want to write for the three of us. And that's sort of what's kept us going. Actually my oldest son, he wrote the last track, he wrote 'Goin' Down' on this album. He did all the music for that and Lem and Mikk liked that song and that's on the album as well. Once you start writin' for other people in mind, if you're a band in our situation, for Motorhead, it is like a kiss of death actually. 'Cause the purity is gonna go out of there. When I first started, I'd play a guitar solo in the studio and I'd say, 'Well, what do you think of that, boys?' and somebody'd say, 'Ah, that's brilliant' and somebody would say, 'That's the worst thing I've ever heard in my life.' And you'd be there thinking, 'Well, is it brilliant or is it crap?' And things will get confused; you might change one bit and leave another bit and things get watered down and the purity goes like so. So we just write what we feel is good at the time. Then you and the band are the true final arbiters of what ultimately makes its way onto record? Oh, yeah, yeah. The record company don't even attempt to come into the studio and listen beforehand. They know better - they're too bruised. But you do share the stage with a producer and this time you've brought in Cameron Webb for a second appearance (he was on the band's previous album, Inferno)? What is it he brings into the mix? Yeah, Cameron really works really good; he's a very good producer actually, yeah. Does he make comments about solos or talk about guitar tones or identify problem areas in song structure? Yeah, he does all that, yeah. Gets us angry at times so yeah, he's played a really good part on the last two albums. He works with us really good. How did you create some of these guitar tones? What types of instruments and amps are you using? On the record I use a Marshall JCM800 with two Marshall 4x12 cabs. I use a Gibson Les Paul, I used a Minarek guitar from Los Angeles, some PRS's, and that's probably about it I think. And a couple of Lag guitars, I mustn't forget them. That's the Explorer-shaped guitars which I've been using for years. What is it about the Lag guitar that attracted you? It's everything; I've got about six different ones but I've got two Explorer ones which I use. Mainly, the second one they made for me, they tried to do a copy of the first one which was a one-off. They made it for somebody about 15 years ago and the person didn't have it off 'em so they sold it to me and I said, 'You're not havin' this back, folks.' But I just love it. It's a got a great neck on it, a slim neck that you can play up high on it and it sounds great and it stays in tune. I just seem to be able to play it better than any other guitar; I'm more comfortable with that the Lagger number one more than anything really. So you're using the Lagger on the new tracks - can you supply a bit more detail on the track, 'Trigger' which has that harmony guitar section? Do you write a track, record it, and then go back and conceptualize an orchestrated part like this? I know the bit you're on about and I assumed that Lem was gonna sing over them chords. I said, 'You're not gonna sing anything over them chords, Lem?' He said, 'No, I'm not gonna.' So I spent a couple of hours working out something through there to try to make it more interestin'. That's how that works. You also brought in a couple of outside players, CC DeVille and Mike Inez. How did that work out? Yeah, CC plays guitar on 'God Was Never On Your Side.' CD is a friend of our's so I dragged him in the studio one day. And we had a good day fooling around with that and he play on that. And Mike Inez played bass on 'Under the Gun' with Lem so there's two basses on 'Under the Gun.'
"Lemmy's bass is not exactly like a standard, traditional bass sound. It's more like a guitar."
'Under the Gun' contains one of your solos that is colored by the wah-wah. You've used that effect several times on the new album. Sometimes, yeah; I can express myself pretty good with a guitar with a wah-wah. Sometimes it's the only way to get it to cut through live as well; it probably evolved from there, trying to be heard. In the studio I don't use it all the time, I try not to use it all the time. But it is important to have one down there, yeah. And on 'The Devil I Know' you've actually harmonized the solo section. A lot of my solos, they're not worked out especially in the past. So I decided, yeah, to sit down and work a few out for a change. And it's a lot of fun, yeah, if you put your mind to it you can come up with some interesting stuff. The harmonized solo here and some of the other harmonized sections have a sort of Thin Lizzy feel. Were you influenced guitar-wise by that band? Thin Lizzy were popular for doin' harmony guitars, I mean. I wasn't trying to sound like Thin Lizzy or anything but it's just harmony guitars and people associate harmony guitars with Thin Lizzy, I guess. I didn't mean to imply that you were copying Lizzy or anything. I don't mind a comparison with Thin Lizzy actually because they were a fucking great band. On 'Sword of Glory' the solo section is washed with delays and wahs and stuff. Do you like experimenting with outboard gear like this on recordings? Which one is that? Which one is 'Sword of Glory?' You have to hum me the tune. You're kidding me, right? I've only listened to the album once or twice and there's no way I could sing the melody. No, I get confused with titles, man, all the same. But that was just me deciding to have fun in the studio, that's all. That's one of the joys of that sort of recordin' process is when you can do stuff like that. A lot of recordings and stuff is not as creative as that. It's all got to be done to create the record at the end of the day but I mean in there listenin' to drums bein' hit and goin' through the same bits all the time, that's not as pleasurable as when nobody's in the studio there around you and you're just there with a producer and you say, 'OK, let's see what we can do this afternoon.' What is the routine like of recording a Motorhead track? How did that process proceed on Kiss of Death? Mikkey puts down the drums himself, he memorizes the songs. He usually does all the drums in four or five days and then he goes back to Sweden. And then I'll put on the rhythms before the bass usually and then I'll come down and put the leads on. But if I feel in the mood, I'll a couple of leads or solos down early if I'm really inspired. Have you always recorded guitars before the bass? Yeah, always. That's very strange. We're a strange band. The ballad, 'God Was Never On Your Side' is kind of a strange song for the band, sort of a low key half-time thing. I played piano on there but they mixed it right down. I gotta kick Cameron's ass for that, yeah, he mixed it right down. He's havin' two tons of cement delivered in his driveway at home one day. And he knows about it as well, he just doesn't know which day (laughs). He'll pull up from the studio late one night and he won't be able to get in his driveway. What about the Ramones' tune, 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S?' It's not on the album (this was the last track on an advanced CD sent to this writer). It's on the promo but I don't think it's on the album, no. Were the Ramones a band that Motorhead listened to? Yeah, we listened to some Ramones' stuff. They weren't the most musical band in the world but they made some good tunes, you know? When they were good they were good and when they were crap they were pretty crap. Like most bands. You mentioned earlier that there is a fine line that Motorhead has to walk stylistically. Is it difficult, all these albums later (Lemmy has been on over 25 of them), to keep coming up with new and original songs that work for the band? Or, by now, is the process a no-brainer? Umm, I wouldn't say it's easier. We have to work at it but we got to be in the mood to do it that's why we don't do one (album) every year. I think we do one about every 18 months. We can do it but it doesn't get any easier definitely. You know, so many bands come out and they come out with stuff and you come up with a riff or somethin' like that and somebody says, 'Oh, that sounds like something from ?' And it's from a band which I've heard of. You say, 'Hmm, better try somethin' else like or whatever.' It doesn't get any easier; we can do it like but it's not easier. And in sort of an opposite way of thinking, can you hear Motorhead's influence on other bands? I listen to a lot of stuff but when I come up with somethin' it's purely Motorhead in mind, you know? It's pointless to listen to somethin' that somebody else has done.
"We want to sort of evolve but we don't want to evolve so the band is recognizable."
But what about your influence on these other bands? I can't say I do honestly, really. You can be influenced by someone and you don't have to sound like 'em, I don't think. But I know what I mean. I can't really see that much myself from all the influences we're supposed to given to people, I don't really hear it too much in other band's music. Maybe a bit of Metallica's early stuff but that's about it really. How did you feel when Metallica covered several Motorhead songs on their Garage, Inc. album? Well, I wish they had recorded and covered some of the tunes which I wrote on. They did all the older stuff with Eddie Clarke so I could have been happier. I wasn't over the moon. It's still good for the band like, yeah, but if they'd recorded a couple of songs that I'd recorded. There are a lot of different songs which I've written that are not very good, you know what I mean? But I thought they might have done one later one but they chose not to do that. Maybe next time when they get bored and they do a cover album perhaps they'll do something more updated then. You mention the earlier period with Fast Eddie Clarke - did you listen to the guitar players who proceeded you to see how they approached Motorhead music? I know what the other Motorhead albums sounded like. But yeah, I did listen back and check the riffs carefully; I wanted to make sure that I'd got the riffs pretty cool, you know? And solo-wise I really just sort of did my own thing, I guess. And then if we take it back to Persian Risk, what type of music were you playing in this band before you joined Motorhead? Umm, they were the band I formed previous to Motorhead. We were goin' for like five years and made a couple of records and did some shows. We did Motorhead's final show with Brian Robertson, we were supportin'. We were good, we were a good band for the time. And then when I joined Motorhead, they sort of changed direction a bit, they went a little bit poppy, I think. But, umm, yeah, we did some good music at the time. Were they musically similar to Motorhead? No, it wasn't as basic at that. It was heavy stuff, we had two guitars and a vocalist. And now that the album is completed, what are your plans? We've got two more summer festivals to do. We've got one in Germany, the Wacken (Open Air) Festival and one the following weekend in Denmark (Skanderborg). And then we've actually got ten weeks off which is amazing for us so we're gonna enjoy that, yeah. Also, two of my boys have an album that they call Skwad. They've got a website and everything and they got 4 star review in Kerrang! And they're amazing. Appreciate it; it's been nice talkin' to ya. 2006 Steven Rosen
More motorhead interviews:
+ Motorhead: 'We Write For Us Three - We Don't Write For Fans' Interviews 03/12/2012
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