Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage
Tommy Lee’s Inner Teen Is Always Excited To Try New Things
Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee always exudes the energy of a young man who is eager for a new dare. He has nothing to prove at this point, having conquered the realm of rock decades ago. But he's always curious about exploring new vistas as heard on his forthcoming solo offering, Andro (out October 16 via Better Noise Music). The first two singles, "Tops" (with Push Push) and "Knock Me Down" (with Killvein) dropped in early June.
The original title for the album was Transgenres, but then Lee learned that in French it means transgender. He ultimately picked the title Andro because it is simple and implies androgyny which ties into the fact that the album is split into male and female energies. There are a total of eight male and five female tracks which continues a long tradition of guest vocalists on Lee albums.
For the 13 tracks on Andro (which clocks in around 32 minutes), Lee abstained from vocals altogether and picked from a growing list of dream musical collaborators—rappers and singers who are new people to most but hit his personal radar. Many of them are in the underground and some seem primed to break bigger. "The world needs to hear these people," he declares. "A lot of them are super unknown and hopefully that's about to change for them."
Lee has an affinity for rappers with British accents like Dizzee Rascal and Foreign Beggars, the latter group represented on two Andro tracks by rapper Pavan Mukhi (aka Orifice Vulgatron). "I just f**king love that kind of accent,” gushes Lee. "It just makes hip-hop or rap sound so much f**king cooler. When I heard Push Push's rap and her South African accent, which is even harder, her style and delivery and accent just freaked me out.” Lee and Push Push created the percussive-heavy "Tops," an anthem of sexual bravado.
Brooke Candy’s appearance on "Demon Bitches," along with Moon Bounce, invokes a similar vibe. "I can't even describe it," says Lee of Candy's tune. "It's hard for me to describe music. You'd hear the song and be kind of scared, yet you'd want to either break shit or dance to it. You'd be trying to figure out which one’s first."
Another British collaborator on Andro is Shotty Horroh, a rap battle champion who has collaborated a few times with deadmau5. Lee had been dying to work with him, and "SOMA COMA" combines a cascade of rapping beats, and a sampled female choir during the lead-in. Hailing from this side of the Atlantic, Canadian singer Lukas Rossi of Rock Star: Supernova fame sings on two tracks. One is called "You Dancy," which Lee says is "super, super f**king sexy and funky and heavy,” and the other is a slower, synthy reinvention of Prince’s originally peppy "When You Were Mine."
Lee heard intense American rapper Killvein a couple of years back and thought, "This kid's a f**king beast. He sounds modern but yet he's got this f**king edgy, retro screamo shit and a slightly industrial vibe." The drummer extended the invite, Killvein was down to give it a go, and he journeyed from Sacramento to Lee’s L.A. studio to bang out two tracks. One of them, "Knock Me Down," is guitar-fueled, beat-driven aggro that feels like Methods of Mayhem times three.
"I know, that kid is on fire," declares Lee. "He just killed it, no pun intended. That's how all the collaborations have gone. There's somebody I've really wanted to work with, and all of a sudden when I write the music, it dictates who should be on it."
The big revelatory moment for Lee came during his session with Julia Sykes from PLYA on the poppy "Make It Back," which he aptly describes as "a super cool EDM sounding track with a shuffle thing going on." He sent her an instrumental version that intrigued her, and when she arrived he asked her if she wanted to hear his idea for the vocal melody. She politely declined because she had some ideas she wanted to test out. Intrigued, Lee gave her free reign.
"So she goes into the studio, and my f**king jaw is on the floor," he recalls. "I got goosebumps because she's singing almost identical what I chopped together with some different acapella [samples]. I’m sitting there flipping the f**k out. We finished doing the work on the track, and I said, ‘Can I play you what I originally had?’ She's like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ We're sitting there listening to it, and now her jaw’s on the ground. ‘How the f**k did that just happen?’ And it'll probably never happen again. But I feel like it's one of those stories I have to share. Because when you're in the studio creating and something like that happens, that never f**king happens like that, it’s just unbelievable, man. I wish that would happen all the time."
Another strong collaborator on the album is King Elle Noir, who Lee proclaims has an "insane beautiful voice" and shows up on on the dreamier pop track "P.R.E.T.T.Y." and the modern R&B-inflected "Make The Storm." "This stuff is super eclectic and hybrid," he says. "I don't think there's one definitive style. It’s hard for me to even categorize this shit. F**k, there's so many genres and sub genres these days."
While Mötley Crüe fans know what to expect from the drummer in the hard rock department, his outside projects have been far less predictable. Methods of Mayhem explored heavy rap-rock sounds. On his two solo releases, Never A Dull Moment (2002) veered into alternative territory, while Tommyland: The Ride (2005) served up classic rock and modern pop influences. He tends to not repeat himself and knows that can drive some fans crazy, particularly dyed in the wool rockers who love the genre that made him famous. But he feels compelled to indulge his creative urges to dive into other genres of music that turn him on.
"I’m really all over the place," confesses Lee. "There's another [Methods of Mayhem] record called Public Disservice Announcement, and I collaborated with actually the entire world with people submitting parts from all over the place online. That was a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun. I'm just trying to keep it real, fresh, new, and keep it moving. This is where I'm at right now."
The drummer says he wrestled internally with whether to release Andro under his own name or as another project. "Somebody might see my name on it and go, ‘I know what that's going to be’ and not even give it a shot," he observes. "Or the reverse, ‘Oh, Tommy, that could be cool.’ Or just a random unknown name, and then all of a sudden the shit just blows up because no one knows who the f**k it is. They think it's some new band. You have no idea how much I internally struggle with that, especially for new music."
Despite having worked on his latest project for two years, Lee is not sick of Andro. He feels he has a good handle on the music he is exploring. "I do know what I'm doing when it comes to this stuff, and I know what moves people so hopefully everyone will enjoy it, man," he says.
When speaking with the animated drummer, one can sense that there will always be a part of him that remains a perpetual teenager who does not want to grow up. "God, that's so true," agrees Lee, laughing. "I’m a Toys R Us kid. I’m 57 going on 15. It’s a number, man. None of it matters."
He certainly wants the party to continue with the Mötley Crüe/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett summer stadium tour, which was originally slated to kick off in June 2020 but has been postponed to summer 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"I think what will be interesting to see is just how much fun everybody's going to have when it's okay to go out and party,” muses Lee on when the tour actually happens. "Get your dance on and do all that again."
Assuming the 2021 tour does take place, it's possible that some in their audience might be wearing gloves and masks, which will make for a surreal sight and a sign of the times.
"Yeah, that's very possible," says Lee. "We've been touring Japan for years, and as long as we've been going there, the cab drivers wear white gloves. They wear masks when people even have just a little cold. I've seen people in masks and gloves for years, and they just do it on being respectful and clean to their their community. I can't tell you how many thousands of people I've seen in masks, whether they're on planes or cabs or trains. It’s interesting. So maybe some of this rubs off on on the U.S. if somebody does have a little cold or cough, they put a f**king mask on and stop giving it to people. These masks don't prevent you from getting sick. They were designed to stop particles flying out of your mouth to transmit them. They're never designed to stop it coming into your respiratory system. It's for the infected to wear so they don't infect anybody else, and I think a lot of people have that confused.”
With regards to that stadium tour, the quartet is reuniting to do, as Lee remind us, something that they swore they would never do again. After New Year’s Eve on 2015, the foursome agreed to cease performing collectively or under any other configurations using the name of Mötley Crüe. But last year their long-planned Netflix biopic The Dirt became a megahit that reportedly attracted tens of millions of viewers, lured in a younger generation of fans, set off a massive spike in music streams and book sales, and led to a demand for renewed touring.
"We wanted to go out on top," declares Lee of their farewell tour. "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass. We would laugh and get bummed—like, how many more reunion tours are these f**king bands gonna do? We don't want to beat those guys, so we're just going to bounce now and everybody will just do whatever they're going to do musically [outside of Crüe]. I guess the lesson here is just never say never because honestly, if you asked me in in 2018, 2019 if we were going to play again I would have said nope. I wouldn't even even thought about it. All of a sudden, you’ve got Live Nation coming through asking about a stadium tour with us and Def Leppard and we're like, What? I'm sure like myself, the rest of the guys are probably missing it. There's certainly a lot to miss about going out and playing in front of 20,000 people every night, and now in a stadium for 50 or 60,000 a night. We've never done a stadium tour. So we were like, 'F**k it. Let's go play.'"
While the group contemplates hitting the road again, one wonders if there has been time in quarantine to consider new life perspectives.
"I wish I could say that I'm thinking about things differently," admits Lee, turning more serious. "But I just trust that the universe, which is much greater than any of us, has a plan. Somebody online was saying that this is God's way of sending us all to our rooms to go think about what we've done. I thought that's really f**king profound in so many different ways. And so cool. I never thought about it that way. And you know what? Maybe this is just one big way of everybody taking advantage of this time to look within and maybe learn something new, get to know yourself even more, go inside instead of externally for things. Maybe this is really a good thing in the face of what's actually happening. Other than putting on a mask and gloves to bounce out of here for food or what have you, I'm just like the rest of the sheep just trying to follow the rules to do whatever I can to not get it or spread it or be a part of that. Yes, I guess I have made some changes and thoughts towards it, but nothing nothing monumental other than just trying to just be safe."
When asked about the possibility of solo shows supporting his new album, Lee is enthusiastic about the idea. But he recalls the learning experience of doing the first Methods of Mayhem album in 1999, which featured guest appearances from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Kim, George Clinton and Mix Master Mike. He soon discovered that organizing a lengthy package tour with such big names was not feasible.
"Everybody's got their own bands and lives, right? I learned a valuable lesson," he recollects. "After the Mötley tour is done, I would love to play some shows. But instead of making a whole tour out of it, just pick seven or eight major cities in the U.S. like New York, L.A., and Chicago. I could easily get a bunch of artists that have collaborated with me to commit to, what, two weeks? But to commit to six months, now that ain't gonna happen."
Of course, if our coronavirus pandemic does not alleviate as expected, perhaps he could just do a concert live from Tommy's living room? "Yeah, dude!” he cheers, laughing heartily, that big kid back again. “F**k, we could go live. That’d be rad too."