Mikkey Dee: Shock The System
Quick And Dirty
Dee made his Motörhead recording debut on 1992’s March Ör Die, although it wound up being more of a cameo appearance. The band had already tracked most of the drum parts with metal mainstay Tommy Aldridge. As much as the band wanted their “new guy” to re-cut the tracks, the label’s budget wouldn’t cover it, so Dee played on a few of the songs, sharing drumming credits with Aldridge.
Dee had a reputation for tracking drums with King Diamond without any musical accompaniment – not even a click track. He continued to track in this way with Motörhead until 2003, when the three members began recording basics as a band. But, for some reason, Dee decided to dust off his old technique for about half the tracks on Aftershock.
“If I have Phil play along, [I’ll keep his guitar] very low in the background.” This works because of the spontaneity and speed with which the Campbell-Dee team works together. “Sometimes it’s almost ridiculous,” Dee says. “Me and Phil will be at SIR [Studio Instrument Rentals, in Los Angeles] and we just can’t believe how quickly we come up with these pretty cool songs.”
That no-frills M.O. is quintessential Motörhead. “We tried to do it a more conventional way and it just doesn’t seem to work for us.” Dee is referring to 2000 release Hammered, which the band wrote songs for and then demoed – and then rewrote and demoed again. Perhaps it was an interesting exercise, but Dee ultimately found it to be pointless. “It doesn’t matter how many times you demo a song,” he explains. “Six months later, when you think you finished, you are going to think, ’Why didn’t I do that?’ So we just save our time and energy. ’This is great!’ Put it on tape, and that’s it.”
As far as miking and tones, it’s a pretty standard stuff during the drum tracking. “I don’t have too many tricks up my sleeve,” he says. “It comes more to the tuning of the drums. I really tune them down.”
Even though Sonor’s lug locks enable super-low tunings, Dee is ever vigilant during performances. “I take my kit apart quite a lot,” he adds. “I tune it back up so that I get the wood to sound in the drum more than the drumhead itself. I get them to sound like cannons.”
Diamonds Aren’t Forever
Dee’s drumming pedigree is deep. In the early 1960s, his uncle played in The Drifters, a famous Swedish pop band that Dee describes as “the Beatles of Sweden.” However, it was an older cousin, Gunnar, who played in a rock band in the late ’60s, doing covers of Johnny Winter and Cream, who inspired him to be a drummer. His first major influence was Ian Paice of Deep Purple, and later, Brian Downey of Thin Lizzy. “Everything Paice put his sticks to sounded amazing, because it was real musicianship – just microphones on the drums,” Dee says. “It’s because of his roundedness, and that’s what I have been trying to get to as a drummer.” (Dee also refers to Neil Peart and Steve Smith as “heroes.”)
Soon enough, Dee earned a reputation as a go-to drummer for local bands in Gothenburg. It was flattering at first, but then he realized that he was merely a clone of his heroes, Paice and Downey. “And that’s when I started to rehearse like a maniac, trying to find my own style.” It amazed other drummers that he was self-taught. “I was more going on what I heard,” Dee says. “I kind of got interested in [musical notation] for a while. I know how to read notes and stuff, but I haven’t really used it and played to it in so many years that I probably suck at it, but that did interest me for a while.”
Dee began to show real promise in Nadir – a local band that allowed him to cut his teeth – booking three to four shows a week while his mother took care of the accounting. But the music scene on the West Coast of Sweden was way too pop for him, so after moving to Copenhagen, Denmark, he joined glam-metal outfit Geisha.
One night in 1985, while hanging in the bars after a show, he met a few guys that complimented him on his playing. They had just left the influential proto—black metal band Mercyful Fate and wanted to start a new band. After Dee introduced them to guitar player Andy LaRocque, King Diamond was born.
The new prog-oriented band quickly created a buzz in Denmark, but their sales tripled when they started touring the States. And yet just as their momentum seemed to be accelerating, the band’s internal rapport began to decline. Diamond was suddenly less willing to co-write with other bandmembers and made it clear that only he would conduct interviews with the press.
“I got very disappointed in that,” recalls Dee. “I said, ’Look, if you just want a background drummer, it ain’t gonna be me.’ I thought we were a band and that we all did this together and we were fighting forwards. We were very happy that our music was taking off in the way that it did. But that didn’t seem to be King’s idea, so that was one of the reasons I left.”
The other reason was that Dee had settled in L.A. and started jamming with other musicians. His name got around quick, not only on the hair-metal Mecca of the Sunset Strip but also as a session player, even contributing to the soundtrack to the cult horror film Hellraiser.
It was a busy and productive time, but Dee was bored. “I had so much stress in my body by sitting playing simple straight-ahead beats,” he says of that time. “I couldn’t rock out. I felt very incompetent as a drummer. I panicked and I said, ’I don’t want to play this any more. I need to just rock out on something.’”
Don Dokken to the rescue. The singer recruited Dee to play on his 1990 solo album Up From The Ashes. It was an awesome lineup with John Norum (Europe) on guitar and Peter Baltes (Accept) on bass, but it fell apart quickly. “Don said, ’I don’t think the second album is going to happen. If you need to move on Mikkey, you do that.’ I said, ’I ain’t gonna leave a sinking ship here. I think we can still do it.’ I felt that I belonged in the heavier division of bands. I was really missing that.”
During his L.A. period, Dee got offered the Motörhead gig twice – once in 1986 and once in 1990 – but the drummer had to decline both times. “It sounds really bad, but when they asked me I was very happy with King Diamond. We were just coming alive, big time, so I didn’t leave them, because I enjoyed what I was doing. The second time I was doing an 11-month tour with Dokken and I wasn’t just going to leave that. So the third time Lem asked me, I said, ’Let’s give it a shot.’”
Motörhead was getting a second wind in the U.S. at this point, heading out with Ozzy Osborne on the 1991 No More Tears Tour, then later with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. “I called [Motörhead’s] manager and asked for a week or so to practice,” Dee says. “Lemmy called me back 20 minutes later going, ’How about two days?’ I go, ’Two days?! Look, man, we need to rehearse.’ He was like, ’If you play half as good as you did in ’86 you’ll be fine.’”Dee learned 20 songs in two days. All agreed Motörhead hadn’t sounded this good in 15 years. If Dee was busy before, now he was swamped. Motörhead is notoriously prolific, putting out an album every two years on average. It also meant turning down other lucrative offers for session work or sub gigs. Even when there was time, Dee still turned offers down. “My head wasn’t in it,” he explains. “I’m not going to do a record just to get paid for it.” The only exception was German thrash legends Helloween who invited him to subon 2003’s Rabbit Don’t Come Easy.
“That turned out to be a great record,” he adds. “I love to do awesome music, but I need to be in it a 150 percent or I just won’t do it.”