It’s 10:00 pm in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee’s dragged himself into the house and onto the couch after a day of wrapping up band business. At this point, the only thing Dee wants to do is eat his take-out and watch cable.
The occasion of our conversation is the band’s 21st album Aftershock, the latest installment in Motörhead’s NWOBHM-igniting biker metal. Whether it’s the best or heaviest is debatable, but try telling that to Dee’s face after several missed connections and dropped calls. “It’s not just certain type of songs, it’s all of it,” Dee says. “My goal is to be a wide drummer.”
You should never trust a musician’s opinion of his own album. But as far as diversity goes, the drummer doesn’t exaggerate. There’s a full spectrum of feels and styles represented, from the d-beat of “Going To Mexico” to the double-bass stomp of “Death Machine” and “To The End” to the loping “Lost Women Blues” and laid-back groove of “Dust And Glass.”
While the cowboy hat wearing, handle bar—mustached Lemmy Kilmister has always been the face of the band, its engine is Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell, who have written all the band’s music as a team since 1992 when the drummer came aboard. “Sometimes me and Phil obviously can go a little overboard, stretching it, which is natural I suppose, but then it wouldn’t be Motörhead,” Dee says. “We correct ourselves quick.”
If that sounds like a constraint on creativity, think of it more as safeguarding an institution. When Dee replaced original drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, some longtime fans were downright hostile. Dee kept his perspective. “[Taylor] was such an icon and great drummer and cool guy. They wanted to see him behind the drums – end of story,” Dee recalls. “I remember the first show when I came out and did the first European tour. The backstage area was very tight. The corridors and little rooms here and there were packed with all these Motörhead fans. They stood in Lemmy’s dressing room and said, ’How can you play with this imposter?’ And they thought I was American. [laughs] Lemmy stood up for me though. He said, ’Come back after the show.’ We did the show and it was great. The same bunch of people stood in the same corridor and every single one wanted to shake my hand.”
For a drummer who gained international recognition with the technically demanding King Diamond, the Danish theatrical metal band he played in from the early to mid ’80s, you would think Motörhead’s (relatively) clear-cut beats would be a walk in the park. “In King Diamond the guitarist might play a really twisted part, a little offbeat, and I would think, ’Now it’s time to do some real tricky stuff,’ and then we came to another part where he was doing a very straightforward riff, and I played very straightforward over that. I was kind of guided [by the other musicians] how to arrange my drumming, and with Motörhead, I don’t have that guide.
“It’s a very fine line to what I can do and what I shouldn’t do,” he continues. “No one in the band has ever told me what to play or how to do anything – that’s all on my shoulders. I’ve got to make it sound Motörhead, but I’ve got to make it great for me as well and for the band and the listeners.” Combining precision, speed, and strength with less quantifiable traits such as taste, feel, and groove, Dee is the perfect drum storm. Noted extreme-metal players such as Flo Mounier cite him as a major influence. None of this is meant as any disrespect to Phil Taylor, who was no slouch in the speed department. The double-bass parts on 1979 classic “Overkill” is a live staple and one that drummers ask Dee about to this day.
“But that’s an easy song to play,” says Dee. “The hardest song is usually a mid-tempo song that is very long. When it comes to the third verse and maybe six-and-a-half minutes into it, you don’t have a reference point. When you do really fast songs and songs that have different tempos, you’re moving back and forth, and don’t play the different parts long enough to get lost.”