An Interview with Mick Mars of Motley Crue
Loud Rude Aggressive Guitarist Available stated the classified ad that Mick Mars placed in an L.A. area newspaper. He was just the kind of musician that bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee were looking for. Soon, the three of 'em, along with singer Vince Neil, formed a raunchy glam-metal band. Nikki wanted to call the group Christmas and I was kind of going, I don't know about that, Mars recalls. He then goes, Well, we need a good name like Mott the Hoople or Quiet Riot. I said, how about Mtley Cre? He went whoa!
With their snarling, riff-packed music and freakishly androgynous stagewear, the Cre pioneered the hair-metal on albums like Shout at the Devil (1983), Girls, Girls, Girls (1987), and the chart-topping Doctor Feelgood (1989). These days, the Cre are living far less recklessly than they did in the Feelgood era, but their new album, New Tattoo, resonates with the same coke-snorting, groupie-bangin vibe. And while they've returned to their vintage guitar-fueled fury on Hell on High Heels, Treat Me Like the Dog I Am, and other nasty, axe-fueled tunes, they've done it without Lee, who bowed out to form techno/rap/metal band Methods of Mayhem. Filling his shoes on the record is former Ozzy Osborne drummer Randy Castillo. Meanwhile, in concert, Hole drummer Samantha Maloney has been filling in for Castillo (who was sidelined with stomach problems). I guess Nikki had been e-mailing with her back and forth, Mars says. He had asked her if she would play drums and she goes, I'm on a plane tonight! Randy is still our drummer, and hes gonna be back, but shes doing a really good job.
Guitar.com: The new record certainly sounds more Cre than your previous album, 1999s Generation Swine.
Mick Mars: I thought Generation Swine was a cool record, experimentally wise, but there's a lot on there that really doesn't sound like a guitar. If I was like Robert Fripp of King Crimson or someone in Nine Inch Nails, it would have been cool, but for Motley it wasn't quite right. I would play some parts and producer Scott Humphrey would run it through a computer in a really bizarre way. I think putting out a product with [singer] John Corabi [1994s Motley Cre] and then putting out Generation Swine, alienated quite a few of our fans. The new stuff is more Motley, in my opinion. This new album would have been the natural progression from Doctor Feelgood and from a song like Primal Scream. I think we gotta rebuild the trust with our fans again. I don't think they trust us now all the way.
Guitar.com: How did producer Mike Clink benefit New Tattoo?
Mars: I would do a lot of guitar parts and then hed call me at home and go, Hey Mick, we need just a little bit more right here. So he was really pushing me to dig in and come up with even more counter rhythms and little melodies weaving in and out of the tracks, which is really cool because thats what I do best. Mike is a guitar-oriented producer.
Guitar.com: Were you upset when Tommy left the band?
Mars: I love Tommy like my brother, and it did kind of bother me that he left. But ya know, in a way, I'm happy for him, because he wasn't into the direction of the band anymore, and it was hurting him performance-wise and hurting us, too. And he's into what he's doing now, and I'm happy for him. I hope he does really well on anything that he does, ya know?
Guitar.com: In concert, during the intro to Home Sweet Home, you now play acoustic guitar where Tommy used to play piano.
Mars: Yeah, since Tommys gone, we could have gone bam! into the song, but I do a little bit of goofin around with an acoustic guitar. It's partly to say, Listen to what you can do with an acoustic guitar, you know what I mean?
Guitar.com: What's the most important element of your guitar playing?
Mars: Tone, to me, is 90 percent of guitar. I'm a fanatic about it. It doesnt matter how fast or how slow you play. When the average person hears something fat or rich, they get off more on it than from something thats played a hundred thousand miles an hour.
Guitar.com: Anything to say about your raucous tone on Shout at the Devil.
Mars: I think [producer] Tom Werman and [mixer] Geoff Workman had a lot to do with it. I like Tom, he's a good buddy, but the way that he would get tones would make the guitar sound really honky, like its going through a horn or something. So when he'd leave the room, I'd say Geoff, come on , come on it was kinda sneaky and wed open it up a little bit more. Still, when I hear that record, I still go God damn, man. There was still too much of that honkiness in there. I wanted more fatness.
Guitar.com: A few year later, on Dr. Feelgood, your tone got meatier.
Mars: That album especially was like, thats what I'm wanting. It was thick and heavy. I've always liked bands like Hendrix and Cream, where they had lots of heavy guitar. And I was starting to do that right there.
Guitar.com: Do you practice guitar often?
Mars: I do sit in my room and practice all the time, usually like four hours a day. And when the scheduling is weird and I don't have any time to practice, I can notice the difference when I go on stageoh yeah. My fingers are much stiffer and I don't hit the right notes sometimes.
Guitar.com: Have you always practiced a lot?
Mars: Not in my drinkin days. Oh lordy. At about 86, I was peakin on the drinkin thing. I was drinkin way, way too much. And I felt horrible and I was actually robbing the band as well as fans of the real songs, because I'd fuck em up. And I just woke up one day and went, whoa, what the hell ya doin? (laughs). So I just dug more into my guitar, as opposed to alcohol.
Guitar.com: How do you typically come up with guitar parts?
Mars: Sometimes I stumble upon them when I'm goofin around. Sometimes Nikki will come up to me with an idea and I'll take and enhance what he's trying to put across. It comes from a bunch of different ways. Sometimes I'll listen to an old Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin record and thatll inspire something.
Guitar.com: At what points in a recording process do you usually lay down guitar tracks?
Mars: I usually put down a scratch rhythm part and then we try to get the bass guitar and the drums right. And then I come back and play the rhythm guitar, and then I double and sometimes triple it. And then I kind of share time with Vince and that allows me to play some guitar between his vocal parts. And I'm there for the whole time. If it takes a year to record the album, I'm there every day [of the process].
Guitar.com: The band has certainly cleaned up since the late 80's. Back then, Nikki was addicted to heroin for about a year.
Mars: All of his heroes like Sid Vicious and Keith Richards were junkies. So it was like, I'm gonna play around with it and check it out. It was part of the game, part of the growing. And after he OD'd, it kind of woke him up a little. But then the next day, when he got out of the hospital and shot up again and he woke up with the needle in his arm and all this blood running, he finally went, ya know what? uh-uh.
Guitar.com: Your first album was originally released independently before Elektra picked it up.
Mars: I had a friend who had a brother in law that wanted to financially back a rock and roll band. He was kind of my secret weapon (laughs). When I started playing with Tommy and Nikki, I told him about them and went, Yeah, I think these are the guys. So we started a little record label called Lethr Records, bought cloths, and got a bunch of equipment, and released the album. The thing that was interesting was how many record labels turned us down until they saw our self-released album out there selling well all over the place in California. I wish I still had all the rejection letters.
Guitar.com: What were you trying to convey with the glam clothing?
Mars: There were bands like The Knack, who wore skinny ties, and other bands just wore Levis and just t-shirts, and somehow we wanted to go way beyond that and get more theatrical, but not to try to emulate Kiss or anything like that but to be our own animal and say check this out.
Guitar.com: How did you feel about the group being labeled a hair band?
Mars: I kind of borrow this from a model: She says labels are for cans.
Guitar.com: Were you influenced at all by glam-punkers the New York Dolls?
Mars: I think Nikki was into the New York Dolls, Kiss and the Sex Pistols. I was more influenced by the blues bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Electric Flags, and even Bad Company.
Guitar.com: What's the strangest thing thats ever happened to you on tour?
Mars: Not too many strange things happen to me, but years ago, Tommy was streakin up and down the hallway in a hotel in Denver, and I got arrested. An old lady poked her head out the door and saw Tommy, and at the time he had long black hair like mine, and she said, some guy with long hair. Cops knocked on my door. She screamed, Thats him! thats him!