Of all the outrageous truths about the life and personhood of Tommy Lee, apparently the one that shocks the most is that he’s truly a clever musical chemist – and his genre-blended liquors are guaranteed to satisfy. Bryget Chrisfield spoke to the Mötley Crüe, Methods of Mayhem and solo legend about his new album, Andro.
One of the only fun things about the pandemic is being able to familiarise yourself with celebrity abodes, and Tommy Lee has been conducting most of the interviews to promote his upcoming solo album Andro from the home studio inside which it was created. Our chat is a phoner, though, so T-Bone decides to transfer the action outside. Let’s picture him reclining on a sun-lounge by the pool – smiling and smoking – sporting designer shades, board shorts and slippers. “It’s a really pretty day outside,” he enthuses. Is Tommy ever not 100 percent chuffed on life!?
Given that his studio is onsite, has Tommy’s lockdown life really been that different to whatever he would’ve been doing anyway? “You know what? It’s not at all,” he confirms. “Other than if there wasn’t a pandemic, I would’ve been on tour in June with Mötley doing some stadiums, but other than that…” he trails off, laughing hysterically.
Having fully digested Andro prior to our chat, this pair of ears was particularly drawn to a funky AF track called You Dancy featuring Canadian rocker Lukas Rossi (who you may remember took out the reality TV comp Rock Star: Supernova, which won him the lead-singer role in a super-group rounded out by Lee, guitarist Gilby Clarke and bassist Jason Newsted). This song definitely boasts Prince vibes. “Oh my god! That’s so cool, thank you. I love that track, too; I really, really do,” Lee froths. “It’s super-super-funky and it sounds like something that Prince would do in 2020, right?”
“How do I make this the best it possibly can be? Reach in and touch somebody – you know, their soul – or make ‘em dance or make ‘em jump around or break shit… How do I get to somebody?”
Correct. So has Tommy always been obsessed with Prince? “Completely obsessed,” he answers without hesitation. “I have been a fan forever. God, I was just flicking around on my iPhone and Sign O’ The Times came on, and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ – you know, sometimes you forget you have all these songs. A phone on shuffle mode’ll play something, and I f-cking cranked [Sign O’ The Times] in my car and was freakin’ out! It’s so cool, man. I got the opportunity to meet him a couple of times and he was such a cool dude, and I just loved his music and I still do – always will.” Was Prince shy, as is commonly reported? “He was really shy, really small – like, really tiny – and he was just super-cool,” Tommy reveals. “He was mellow, quiet. But yet the guy just rips vocally, and on guitar, and dances. And you’re like, ‘Where’d that come from?’ All of a sudden he just flips a switch – f-cking amazing!”
Another of Andro‘s highlight moments is actually a Prince cover, When You Were Mine (also featuring Rossi). A vast contrast to Prince’s upbeat, boppy rendering, Tommy’s version instrumentally echoes and amplifies the dark lyrical content. When asked whether he’s harboured the desire to reinterpret this classic Prince tune for a while now, T-Bone offers, “You know what? It’s interesting, because Lukas [Rossi], who’s singing on that track, is also a huge Prince fan. He came to me with the idea of slowing it down and doing that kind of a version, and it just blew my mind! The original is much faster, super-super-poppy, and… I didn’t hear it like that. I thought, ‘I don’t know about covering that, it’s not one of my favourites.’ But slowed down and sexy like that? It’s probably one of my favourite tracks on the record.”
When delivered by Rossi, Prince’s lyrics (“When you were mine/ You were all I ever wanted to do/ Now I spend my time/ Following him whenever he’s with you”) leave the listener feeling concerned about the protagonist/stalker’s welfare. “Yes! Absolutely,” Tommy concurs. “When it’s slowed down, it’s a lot more dramatic and meaningful, you’re right. Those lyrics go flying by you [in the Prince version], ’cause it’s really fast: ‘When you were mi-ine’” he sings, then beatboxes he drum pattern. “It just whips by.
“That’s so cool that you noticed. God, I get so excited when people actually f-cking pay attention and notice because a lot of work goes into it at the end of the day… No matter what I’m working on, I’m like, ‘How do I make this the best it possibly can be? Reach in and touch somebody – you know, their soul – or make ‘em dance or make ‘em jump around or break shit,’ or whatever it is. ‘How do I get to somebody?'”
Once all of Andro‘s tracks were recorded and mixed, Tommy had trouble with the sequencing until he decided to split the album into two distinct sides: male and female. Industrial-metal lead single Knock Me Down roundhouse-kicks off the first side, with brutal emerging hip-hop artist Killvein at the helm. The first ‘female’ single release Tops, featuring South African rap-beast Push Push, dropped simultaneously, and still packs a punch, but peaks at ten rather than 11. Something about Tops brings those fellow South African rabble-rousers Die Antwoord to mind. “I think that’s probably what originally attracted me to her style when I heard her a couple of years ago,” Tommy admits.
Then make way for Demon Bitches, featuring West Coast rapper Brooke Candy (who appears in Grimes’ Genesis video) and producer/songwriter/vocalist Moon Bounce. Andro‘s third single, which opens the record’s ‘female’ side, is ferocious like an underground carni-rave. Tommy posted a video of the Jabbawockeez busting moves to Demon Bitches on his Insta page and their chorey really brings the music to life. “Definitely. They bring the music to life, that’s exactly what they’re doing. That’s such a great analogy; I’m gonna steal that,” he guffaws. “Those guys are the f-cking best, man. There’s something about dance. I mean, I took tap dance and ballet lessons as a kid so I’ve always had this love for dance and music – they just go together – and any time I see somebody dance like that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always gravitated towards that stuff. And the Jabbawockeez are just badass. Anybody that can move like that – it’s just crazy, you know. It doesn’t even look real!”
When you consider Tommy’s previous solo albums (2002’s Never A Dull Moment and 2005’s Tommyland: The Ride, which was released in conjunction with Lee’s book of the same name), his work with DJ Aero and the Methods Of Mayhem output (1999’s Gold-certified self-titled album and 2010’s A Public Disservice Announcement), Andro‘s musical leanings shouldn’t really come as a shock. “I know,” Tommy agrees. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand that, because it’s definitely not some new direction. This is kind of what I do any time I do something on my own; I’m constantly splitting and crossing genres and mixing it up into something hopefully brand new, that’s exciting. [To] so many people, I guess, I’m [still] the drummer from Mötley Crüe, and I’m not really allowed to do anything else, you know?” He laughs at the notion. “So, I dunno, maybe this isn’t for them, but whatever.”
A whole new generation of fans were turned onto Mötley Crüe last year via The Dirt, a Netflix biopic based on the band’s best-selling collaborative autobiography, The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. Already a friend of Tommy’s, Machine Gun Kelly was perfectly cast as the Mötley Crüe drummer. “I’ve known the guy for a few years and we just became friends,” Tommy tells. “We are so much alike it’s crazy. When we met, we just knew we would be friends, you know?…He just calls me up one day and he’s like, ‘Dude, you’re not gonna f-ckin’ believe this! I’m playing you in The f-cking Dirt!’ I’m like, ‘WHAT!?’ And I was f-cking so excited.”
MGK called Tommy again when he received the full script, and said he was coming over. “’I wanna f-ckin’ make you proud,’” Tommy mimics his pal. “’I’m gonna f-ckin’ nail this, and I wanna sit with you and go through the whole script, and find out: did it go down this way exactly? And if it didn’t, how did it go down?’ We went through it for several days, and then he went and took four months of drum lessons to nail all of my mannerisms – the style and everything – that I do while I’m playing! And I was just blown away. I’ve never seen anybody with that much dedication to just taking something and making it be the best it could possibly be.”
Did Tommy feel like he was watching himself onscreen at times? He laughs uproariously, “Oh my God, yes! In such a surreal way. I remember sitting down watching the movie with Nikki [Sixx] – Nikki and I watched it countless times – and we looked at each other and went, ‘Is this the weirdest f-cking thing you’ve ever experienced?’ – ‘Yeah, this is really fuckin’ weird’. It’s weird to watch somebody else play you, and then it’s another thing to sit down and realise the scope, where you’re like, ‘Dude, there’s a movie made about our life, and they somehow smashed 20-plus years into an hour and 40 minutes, and this is just crazy! What is happening?!’” He finishes with a huge laugh.
Tommy spent most of the ’80s and ’90s touring with Mötley Crüe, but also hit the clubs on occasion, and remembers the first time he ever heard Josh Wink’s Higher State Of Consciousness (first released in 1995) as a glowstick moment. “Maybe the second time we were in Europe, I remember going to this f-cking crazy club called Ministry Of Sound in London… I walked in and I heard his music playing at such a loud volume, and [it] was the most incredible shit I had ever heard in my life,” Tommy recalls. “It literally changed my life. You know when people have these life-changing moments hearing music? That’s definitely one of them: where I ran up to the DJ booth and went, ‘F-ck, who is this? What is this?’ The DJ told me what it was, and that was sort of my – I don’t even want to say ‘peek’ into the electronic world. That was me just getting dropped off, right bang-smack in the middle of it, and [there was] all this stuff to go explore. One thing led to another, and there you have it! That’s where [my love of dance music] started, and I’ll never forget that.”
Tommy also DJs alongside one of his Methods Of Mayhem bandmates, Aero, with the pair often hosting Mötley Crüe after-parties. Australian fans were given the opportunity to catch the duo in action following shows on Mötley Crüe’s The Final Tour (which has turned out to be about as accurate as Farnsey’s The Last Time Tour) of 2015, or their double-headline tour with KISS in 2013. Gotta admit, it was pretty amusing watching swarms of Crüeheads entering nightclubs, post-show, mistakenly expecting Tommy to spin metal records and then not really knowing how to dance to the type of choons he drops with Aero. Tommy laughs, “Yes, this is true, and that’s really fun to watch. You can see the open-minded people going, ‘Oh, this is f-cking cool,’ and then you see the other people kind of standing there wondering what the f-ck they’re listening to – which is cool, because it’s also a challenge for me, you know? It’s like, ‘I know I can win these people over, let me try this,’ and we’ll find something in the set that’ll move them. I’ll look over and see their heads boppin’ or I’ll see them startin’ to move and I’m like, ‘Aaaaah, I got you!’”
The tunes Tommy has curated to accompany his famous drum solos over the years should also hint toward his diverse taste in music. “You would think, right? All my drum solos,” Tommy points out. “We’re playing in front of a shitload of Crüe fans. When it comes time for the drums, I’m doing my own thing. And over the years I’ve constantly been throwing shit at people to open their minds to some different styles of music, and some different sounds that will freak ‘em out and, you know, hopefully turn somebody on to some new styles. Then again, there’s the people that just like to watch you play drums. But I’ve always tried to inject the future sound of music; since I can remember I’ve always been trying to do that: ‘What can I do here to make this really fuckin’ wild,’ you know?”
Tommy’s most recent drum contraption was the Crüecifly – a roller coaster affixed to the roof that moved down a track towards the back of the stadium, simultaneously rotating to show off his mad, upside-down drumming skills. Carl Orff’s soundtrack of impending doom, O Fortuna, introed the Crüecifly section of The Final Tour show, during which Tommy drummed over snippets of songs including Go by The Chemical Brothers, Disclosure’s Latch (feat. Sam Smith) and Need You Tonight by INXS.
“I can’t really explain the feeling that you get of looking at everybody upside down,” says Tommy. “Because I’m upside down, they’re upside down… I do miss it. I mean, physically I miss it, but also visually. Every night I looked out I would see the whole f-cking place – you know, tens of thousands of people – with their f-cking cellphones up in the air filming this incredible thing happening! And I’m looking around and everybody is bugging out right now, ‘This is so cooool!’ So I miss that.”
Performing from the Crüecifly has gotta be the most intoxicating natural high you can experience as well. “Yeah, especially when it’s something that you said as a kid, you know? You’re like [employs Baby Tommy voice] ‘Man, one day I’m gonna fuckin’ – I dunno – play drums on a roller coaster and I’m gonna fly down all the way in the arena!’ And then that day comes and you’re actually doing it and you’re like, ‘FUCK! This is NUTS!’ You know? Yeah, I loved it and I’ll always miss it.”
Andro by Tommy Lee is out October 16 via Better Noise.