Interview: Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee on his drum setup, new music and The Dirt

Is Tommy Lee having a blast on the current Motley Crue tour. Yes, he is! © Antonin Kratochvil/VII/Corbis

"The good word is 'rock!'" says Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, calling in from a tour stop in Uncansville, Connecticut, where the Crüe, along with opening acts Poison and the New York Dolls are set to play the Mohegan Sun Arena. "The sun is out, my girlfriend is with me, and later on we're gonna rock shit in Connecticut! Life is good, my man."

Yes, the irrepressible drummer is as irrepressible as always. With soundcheck looming and kick-back timing winding down, Lee gave MusicRadar the skinny on the social media aspects of the current Mötley Crüe tour. In addition, he talked about his spectacular roller coaster drum setup, what plans the band has for making new music and the status of the long-gestating film version of their best-selling autobiography, The Dirt.

Mötley Crüe asked online fans to have a real say in this tour. How's that worked out?

"It's been pretty cool, really dope. The fans picked the opening bands, they picked the songs they wanted to hear - we let 'em guide the whole thing. A lot of the songs they named are the same ones that we would've picked, which is cool - I guess we're still on the same wavelength.

"Too Young To Fall In Love was an interesting choice. I don't think we've played that song live once, ever. Maybe we did a long, long time ago, but it's not a staple of our set by any means. And Smokin' In The Boys Room, it's been years since we did that one. Those are just a couple. We flip-flop them around so we don't do the same show every night."

Talk about mounting your drum kit on a giant roller coaster. How did that come about?

"Every tour we do, everybody's always wondering, What's Tommy Lee going to do next? What new, wild and crazy thing is he going to come up with? And what's funny is, the thrill-seeker and the amusement park fan in me took over this time. 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.

"One day, I drew a design for the whole thing on a cocktail napkin. And, of course, on a roller coaster car there's always an extra seat, so I realized I had room to put another place at my kit for somebody else. What could be better than taking a fan along for the ride?"

Was there any kind of trial-and-error process in getting it right?

"Not so much. The motor, the speed, the weight of the drums, the weight of the people, which they simulated with sandbags - everything was pretty calculated before we tested it out for real. They welded down the drums, and away I went!" [laughs]

You ride the roller coaster while performing a drum solo. How long did it take you to get used to it?

[laughs] "I still don't know if I'm used to it! Everything to do with this is absolutely wrong. Playing upside down is insane. It's two or three times more difficult than what's normal. Your feet want to come off the pedals, your arms want to drop down - all of your body is fighting gravity. The only time it's comfortable is when you're in the down position; the rest of the time, everything's fucking out of control. The drum roller coaster is wild! [laughs]

Video warning: Listen with headphones. NSFW!

What could you possibly do next to top this?

"Well, I've got some ideas, my man. You'll probably be seeing them at some point."

How about getting shot out of a cannon?

[laughs] "That's good. I was thinking of getting shot out of a pink elephant's ass. Nobody's done that before."

OK, you're messing with me. But I was being serious.

"I was messing with you. The cannon's good, but I think it's been done before. If we were able to put me and my whole drum set in the cannon, though, that would be cool. Yeah, that could go on the list. It'd be a pretty short drum solo."

On another topic, recently you said that you didn't feel recording albums was worth it anymore, that making singles was the way to go.

"That's right. I'm thinking more EPs, though - 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 fucking stupid. It makes no sense on any level.

"That's my opinion for my solo stuff and Mötley Crüe. It doesn't mean my band will necessarily agree with me. But my attitude is, why not make a four-song EP with absolute bangers on them? I think it makes perfect sense. If you look at the charts and the statistics, it'll show you that people don't buy albums anymore, they buy singles. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out."

Have you talked to any of the other members of the Crüe about this?

"I've mentioned it to Nikki. We haven't come to any kind of decision on what to do, but he knows my feelings and where I stand on the matter. Now, for Mötley, if we have something different, like the soundtrack to The Dirt, for example, then that's an exception. If we're scoring the movie and adding songs and things, then a full album has a purpose.

"Other than that, just to make a record for the sake of making a record, it doesn't make sense anymore. I'd rather release four songs at a time, that'd be great. And more often, too. So much of the time bands take a year or two before they put anything out. It's like, 'Jesus Christ, guys! I thought you all broke up by now.' I'm sick of all that. Let's do two four-song EPs a year. To me, that's a winning proposition. The days of making those big, drawn-out albums are over."

Lee rehearses in Los Angeles with Nikki Sixx (left) and Mick Mars (right). © Antonin Kratochvil/VII/Corbis

Does the band have any new material written?

"Nikki's got some stuff kickin' around, I've got a few things kickin' around. Whether I'm writing solo stuff, electronic stuff or material for Mötley, I just write to write. I come up with it and put things in different piles. I guess some of the things I have could be for Mötley Crüe."

You mentioned the movie version of The Dirt. What's the status of the production?

"That's a good question. I wish I had more info for you. All I know is that it's moving forward, which is a good sign. That's about all I know. There's a few directors who are being talked to, but nothing's firmed up yet. We'll see what happens."

If you had to draw up your wish list, who would you like to play you?

[laughs] "We've all talked about that. Getting unknown actors would be cool if they have what it takes. Known actors and stars, that's fine, too. Russell Brand has showed interest in playing either me or Nikki, and he'd be great. Johnny Depp would be cool. He's one of my favorite actors, and he's a musician, too. I could definitely see him in the film."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.