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Mötley Crüe

Jun 17, 2019

By Katherine Turman

“Girls Girls Girls,” is a song about… well, duh. “Dr. Feelgood” is the nickname for a drug dealer. Which leads us to “Kickstart my Heart,” a tune about surviving an O.D., with drugs likely supplied by the aforementioned Dr. Feelgood. And let’s not forget “Piece of Your Action,” where Vince Neil sings, “You need me, you tease me / Use you up, throw you away.” All things and songs Motley Crue–who formed in Los Angeles in 1981–lead back to sex, drugs & rock “n’ roll. And that’s the way they—and we, the music fans salivating for the decadence of bands like the New York Dolls—liked it. Until they couldn’t and we didn’t. 

But secretly we both still do: I’m sure Motley wish they didn’t have to be sober. (And frankly, some members likely are not). I’m sure we—women, especially–don’t dig the abuse and disrespect heaped on some Motley-adjacent women. (And that’s just on film.) Yes, that was then, and this is now, but, thanks to “The Dirt,” the new biopic documenting Motley’s initial decade of decadence, we can relive that era in all its glory. And wax nostalgic. And get triggered. And dig out our Spandex and Aqua-net and go to the nearest bar in our stripper heels and do shots of whiskey until we can’t see straight. And that’s just the guys. 

Two of those guys—Motley drummer Tommy Lee and bassist/business man Nikki Sixx—look back at their lives, loves and livers… with  little help from The Dirt director Jeff Tremaine, who brought the band’s bombastic story (based on the book of the same name by Neil Strauss) to the small screen (Neflix), where it’s caused almost as much commotion as the band itself did when they exploded onto the Sunset Strip. 

There are a lot of music movies out recently. What are some of your favorites—and least favorites? 

Nikki Sixx: The top of the list for us for worst movie ever made about rock bands is this lame movie called Rock Star. It’s an embarrassment. If you’re a musician or if you’re in the music industry and you watch that, you’re like, ‘this is the worst movie ever made.’ They didn’t understand the style, they didn’t understand the lingo, they didn’t understand any of it.  And that was always the scariest thing for us; that we could end up with a movie like one of those VH1 movies. Have you ever seen the Meatloaf VH1 movie? It’s like, oh, no! I was always so scared. When we talked to Jeff, he felt the same. By the way, I love Almost Famous and Cameron [Crowe]. But we had a little bit different of a vision for this, and it was Goodfellas, and the narration, and you see the narration in our film, you hear it. And we were talking and actually stopping in the middle of acting and narrating to the camera about something. We loved that. The other movie was Boogie Nights. We loved the griminess of it. And we felt that era-wise, it kind of represented our influences, because everything about the band is from the ’70s. We formed, basically, in January of 1981. So we cut ourselves on punk rock, yet Cheap Trick, T. Rex, but Black Sabbath. It was this blend of looking like the New York Dolls, playing like the Pistols, but having hooks like Elton John. 

Tommy Lee:  That one with Mark Walhberg [Rock Star]… that just sucked. For a guy who has lived that life and knows it extremely well, watching it I was like, ‘that’s not how things happen. Who directed this? I don’t want to say anything bad [Too late – Ed.] but it’s my least favorite. I love Spinal Tap just because it’s fucking retarded. I did enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody but I feel like they really skirted over Freddy Mercury’s homosexuality.  I was like, ‘wait, that’s what made him who he is and how he performs and acts, and that’s what made him such am amazing front man.’ I’m not saying that’s what ‘made’ him, that’s just who he was, and for them not to dig into that a bit more that kinda bummed me out. I wanted to see that part of his life. I’m inquisitive, I can’t help it.  

Jeff Tremaine: Look, I like Bohemian Rhapsody. This movie wasn’t at all influenced by Bohemian Rhapsody. We were making it at the same time. I saw the trailer for that as we were finishing our post [production]. I was happy with it, because our movie’s a lot different. I loved Straight Outta Compton.  When I watched that movie, I never wanted it to end. On a smaller level, there was a Joy Division movie called Control that’s really good. But there aren’t any in this genre of music that I thought were any good. Rock of Ages is intentionally more of a satirical parody; more of a fun ‘80s karaoke party than anything else. If you think about that era and this movie, it’s tricky not to make it not look like it’s a satire or making fun of the scene, the hair and everything. So we intentionally took it down a notch. 

But also I made sure that we got people who truly…like our production designer, Melanie Jones, the DP, Toby Oliver, costume designer, we all grew up in this era. I picked people who really cared about getting it right, not overdoing it, but doing it right. The authenticity was so important to me and to all of the department heads that I hired. And then the hair, the hair was such a huge–I don’t mean that in “big hair,” I mean, goddamn, if we fuck the hair up, this movie is gone. We took a decent part of the budget and dedicated it to getting the hair right.

Do you know what the hair budget was, off the top of your head?

JT: I don’t, but I guarantee, it wasn’t small.

The logline of the movie says that it’s a cautionary tale. But don’t you think some 14-year-old boy in Kansas is gonna see this and be like, “Yeah, this is what I want, I’m heading to LA”?

NS: Well, there’s just things, like Vince used to light me on fire onstage. And then we did a video called “Livewire,” our very first video, and he lit me on fire in the video. It’s just what we did. We were Motley Crue, and we were in our early 20s. Fuck it. We would hear stories about kids who would be trying to light themselves on fire in their bedrooms listening to Motley Crue. You don’t really know where the line is with what you do. That’s why we do talk about this being a cautionary tale, to at least give you the opportunity when you go to watch the film to understand that we’re not glorifying this, in a sense. We just wanted to make a film about something that happened and how a [family survived] within itself.

What actor did you dream of to play you? 

TL: In my sick little mind, I thought–and this is before the band had discussions as far as what we wanted to do with actors–I thought Johnny Depp  would  be rad. But I’m glad we didn’t go that route. We all started talking about it, and for us to use established actors where people will have some preconceived notion of who they are and what they’ve done isn’t what we wanted. We decided early on that we wanted unknown, up and coming young energy to pull this off. I’m so glad that we did that. I think it turned out fantastic. The casting to me is just money. Each guy’s mannerisms, the way they talk, the way they play, the way they move, I’m blown away. It’s couldn’t be better. 

JT: I’ll tell you one story that probably won’t come up, but I wanna tell you. The casting process–Colson, Machine Gun Kelly, was just destined to play Tommy Lee. I didn’t know it at the time. But when I met him, he just filmed himself auditioning as Tommy. I was like, holy shit. I had no idea he could act. I had never seen him in anything. I’d met him a long time ago. So he sent this great tape. I’m like holy shit, so we set up a meeting, and I met with him.

I didn’t realize it, but that tattoo on the top of his right…he’s covered in tattoos, which makes him a bad choice to play Tommy, because Tommy is covered in tattoos. So every day we had to paint Colson red and then put makeup over his body, because Tommy’s half naked half of the movie, too. So we had to cover all his tattoos, and then we had to put Tommy Lee’s tattoos on top of the cover–it was a pain in the ass for him. But anyway, just the destiny of it was that Tommy Lee has a big tattoo across his abdomen that says “mayhem,” and he has that exact font on the top of his right wrist. And then on the inside of his left wrist, he’s got the Jackass logo tattooed. [A film Tremaine directed.] And so I’m like, ‘motherfucker, you are just born for this role.’ I knew that I wanted someone that understood the life, and he definitely influenced all the [other actors], and they all lived a little bit through his rock ’n’ roll behavior, you know. But then I wanted to surround him with great actors, so it was a good balance.

Nikki, is it true that you and Tommy hadn’t even seen each other since your last Motley Crue show at Staples in Los Angeles… which makes it several years of silence?

NS: No, me and Tommy were not talking. We had different ideas for a lot of stuff, and we were just on different pages. When the tour ended, that was it. Because me and him were best friends. They called us the Terror Twins. And it has just been really hard. It was hard on me, because I missed him. And he called me later, he really missed me too. But we just were so fuckin’ stubborn, both of us. And then [on set] in New Orleans together, this beautiful friendship rekindled. I talked to Vince. Mick is quiet. Nobody really talks to Mick very often. I talked to Vince. But me and Tommy had not talked. And it was so great. We spent so many days together. And we were hoping Vince was gonna come one day too, but he had a problem getting there on a plane, something happened.  It would’ve been great if all four could’ve been there, but me and Tommy were there.

There are some new songs for The Dirt, as well as an odd cover song. Tell me about that. 

NS: This idea popped into my head about an EP, for some reason. I was like, ‘Oh, man, we need another song.’ All of a sudden, Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ pops in my head, and I was like, ‘That is a bad idea.’ I called [producer] Bob Rock and said, ‘I’ve got this idea for us to cover ‘Like a Virgin.’” In 2019, Vince singing, ‘Like a virgin, touched for the very first time,’is kind of punk rock in a weird fucking way.

So I said, ‘I don’t think the guys in the band are gonna get it, because it’s kind of an out there idea.’ So I just went and demoed it up a  songwriter/producer named Sahaj and guitarist John 5. I went over to Tommy’s house first. And I said, ‘I’m gonna play you something, and it’s a really bad idea.’ And he started laughing. He’s like, ‘Why are you going to play it for me?’ And I go, ‘Because I can’t stop thinking about it.’

I play it for him, and he’s sitting there, and all of a sudden his face lights up. And he says the same thing. He goes, “’This is kind of fucked up and punk rock, isn’t it, for us to do?’ So I talked to Vince and Mick, and they’re like, ‘We’re down.’ So Bob Rock produced that song, and it’s kind of a nod to Metallica a little bit, because Metallica recorded The Black Album after they heard the Dr. Feelgood album. They used Bob Rock. So the beginning of ‘Like a Virgin,’ we kind of took the influence from this rap band called Suicideboys. There’s weird keyboards happening, and they’re kind of out of tune, and this groove starts, and there’s this raking guitar that goes, “RA-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka, RA-ka-ka.” Man, it was our nod to Metallica.’ And then Bob’s idea was to take the chorus and make it half-time. So it’s just big, open–it’s at half-time. It’s really great. Every time fans online are like, ‘Did you do a Madonna song? You guys suck now.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, wait till you hear it.’

Were you all in the studio together? 

TL: Nikki and I were here together doing bass and drum tracks, then Mick came in a probably a week later, here to my home studio. Vince did his vocals in Nashville. So we were all together, kind of. It’s kinda how people make records these days. Not very many people all get in the studio together, because it’s so easy to send files over the Internet, and record from another country. Which is awesome. I’m about a week away from finishing my record, which I’ve been working two years on. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s my Methods of Mayhem. It’s really fun. Half the record is all female energy. The other half is all male. It’s really eclectic. I think people are doing to enjoy it. There’s heavy stuff, rock stuff, dance stuff. That’s just where I am in my head; I’m all over the place. 

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