By Kevin Zimmerman
Rock's Most Famous Drummer Stays Inspired
One of the legendary wild men of rock, Tommy Lee is now one of the busiest. Having eliminated the booze-and-drugs lifestyle that permeated the now infamous Motley Crüe autobiography, “The Dirt,” Lee’s back to ground the Crüe as its drummer while continuing his solo efforts (two albums to date) and pursuing multiple endeavors. These include his membership in rap-metal band Methods of Mayhem; on-again/off-again supergroup Rock Star Supernova with Guns N’Roses’ Gilby Clarke and Metallica’s Jason Newsted; and as an electronic dance DJ with his Methods Of Mayhem DJ/production partner, DJ Aero.
“They’re all really different,” the 49-year-old multi-talent acknowledges. “They’re very different but all connected. I’m inspired daily by different styles of music constantly. It really comes from all over the place. I remember when I was first getting into the electronic music scene, and the hardcore Mötley fans were like, ‘What the f--- is he doing?’”
It’s the Crüe that will always come first when considering Lee’s musical output, however, a fact underscored by last year’s hugely successful co-headlining tour with Poison and this year’s Feb. 3-19 residency at the Joint at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas – highlighted by Lee’s drum kit being mounted on a real roller coaster.
“Every tour we do, everybody’s always wondering, ‘What’s Tommy Lee going to do next?’ he laughs. “Whenever I go on a roller coaster, I always say the same thing: ‘Man, I have got to find a way to take the cars off this ride and put my drums on the track!’ That’s basically where it all started.”
Though current Crüe sets, of course, lean heavily on the hits like “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Dr. Feelgood,” Lee says the quartet is always kicking around ideas for new tunes and albums.
“I’m sure we’re due for one,” he says, noting that there hasn’t been a new Crüe album since 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles. “All of us have been writing individually -- I write, Nikki’s [Sixx] been writing, and Mick [Mars] as well. At some point here, we’ll pull all of our ideas together as we always do, and then we’ll start sorting through it. I would imagine we’ll probably get there some time [this] year and start working on that.”
Surveying the current scene, Lee questions whether full-length albums are really the way to go anymore. “I’m thinking more EPs, small bodies of work. You know, slaving for a year in the studio to make a whole album when the public only wants one song, it’s just f---ing stupid. It makes no sense on any level. Why not make a four-song EP with absolute bangers on them?”
Does Lee take a different songwriting approach for each of his many ongoing projects? “I just write to write, with no intention,” he says. “For me personally, I’ll write something and think, ‘Wow, that’s crazy, that sounds like it might be good for Mötley.’ It just depends what comes out, and then they kind of find homes. I don’t specifically sit down to write a Mötley Crüe song, so for me that’s how it works. The things that sound like they might be Crüe, I put aside on my hard drive and keep them in that pile.”
Hard to believe that this kind of common sense comes from a man who once intravenously injected Jack Daniels, and whose bad-boy antics of yore can still be gleaned from YouTube, photos and The Dirt.
“It wasn’t one of those things where you have a really bad experience or crash your car or have an ugly fight with your girlfriend where you’re like, ‘Man, I gotta quit drinking,’” he says of his sobriety. “It was just me going, ‘You know what? I’m f---ing bored of this, I’m just going to shun it for a while.”
As for the long-in-development movie version of The Dirt, Lee says progress is being made. It’s way closer than it’s been,” he remarks. “I would imagine we could tell people that will be under way later in the year.”
About to start a new decade on earth -- a concept that oddsmakers would have laughed at 20 years ago -- Lee is happy with where he is in life right now, continuing to push the frontiers beyond the Crüe and into other endeavors, including being part of electronic DJ Deadmau5’s tour this fall. “When I look out [from the stage] now, I see all ages, colors … it’s pretty wild. It’s a sign of longevity. When little kids are coming to check you out, you know you’re doing something right.”