As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on through the dog days of summer, social distancing and self-isolation have begun to wear us all down to the point that even Tommy Lee has entered a contemplative state of mind. And unless you’ve been living under a sex-drugs-rock-‘n’-roll rock for the past 30-plus years, you know that’s a rare thing.
Nevertheless, as the 57-year-old Motley Crue drummer tells SPIN during a chat over — what else? — Zoom on a recent afternoon, “I think one of the beautiful things about the pandemic is that it’s given everybody a chance to fucking slow down, and actually even stop. You can just look around at the beautiful plants, look at your relationships, look at what you’re really good at that you could be better at, look at what you’re bad at. There’s so many things to think about, because we’re usually moving so fast.”
It’s a nice sentiment. Tranquil, even. But it’s also a lie. Because while Lee might act as if he’s spent his quarantine days doing little more than stopping to smell the proverbial roses, he’s actually been holed up in his Calabasas compound making crazy-ass electro-rap-dance-funk-industrial music with people named Killvein and Shotty Horroh and Push Push and King Elle Noir, all in the service of creating his new solo album, the soon-to-be-released Andro. And when he’s not doing that, he’s been, among other things, blasting Trump on Twitter, shooting TikTok videos out by his pool, remixing a Tyla Yaweh/Post Malone banger named, um, “Tommy Lee” and generally getting his rocks off through all manner of mayhem, sonic and otherwise.
Which is, in fact, more or less exactly what we would expect from Tommy Lee. To find out more about what he’s been up to, read on.
SPIN: How did Andro come together?
Tommy Lee: I’ve been working on it for, shit, like almost two years. When I write, there’s sort of no method. But I ended up with a bunch of fucking cool songs, and then I have a list of people that I’ve always wanted to [collaborate] with or who I’ve admired something that they’ve done. And as I’d be listening to a track, I’d be like, “Oh, this track is sick. This would be perfect for so-and-so.” We’d reach out, send them the track and within a day or so we’re over here banging it out. That’s pretty much how it went down.
You’ve talked about the album’s title, Andro, expressing this sort of male/female dichotomy that’s evident in the music.
I wrestled with the sequencing of the record, but then finally I was like, “You know what? Something’s not flowing about this. It’s not working.” So then I looked at it, and not by any choice or plan I realized I had an equal amount of male and female energy tracks. So I ended up separating them and kind of giving each their own side to play on. I speak like it’s some old-school album, but in my mind when I’m making a record, I’m trying to keep it as something that you can listen to from front to back.
So anyway, once I separated the two I was like, “That’s it!” Then a friend of mine suggested the name Andro and I was like, “Fuck, that perfectly describes what’s going on here.” Because there’s a male and a female side to the record, and they sort of dance harmoniously at the same time, even though they’re separate, you know?
It’s an interesting approach, especially in relation to Motley, where there’s not so much of a female perspective to be found in the music.
Yeah. Yeah. [Acts offended] What’re you tryin’ to say…
Well, maybe around the Theatre of Pain era you had the female look going a little bit…
[Laughs] Well, I mean, even though a lot of dudes won’t admit it, we all have a female side and a male side. And anyone that thinks we don’t is completely fucking confused.
What was the first electronic type of music that you ever got into?
Well, some of the early funk I listened to was electronic. It was drum machines and keyboards. So I was young, like probably 14 or 15, getting into funk music. But I think where I really lost my fucking mind was I was in London and I was at this club called the Ministry of Sound. Super popular, crazy club. I mean, there’s a warning sign at the door when you enter; it says, “You’re now entering sound pressure levels of 123dB,” or some crazy number. It is loud as fuck. It’s like, ‘boom boom boom’ and you’re going, “Oh my god, this is fucking insane!”
I remember at midnight this song came on — it was a song by Josh Wink called “Higher State of Consciousness.” And dude, I just…stopped. I was like, What the fuck am I hearing? I ran to the DJ booth and asked what it was because it literally sent me…there were sounds I hadn’t heard before. I was moved, bro. I swear to god, if it was on film, I may have flown around the room. And that got me into all these possibilities of these unknown sounds and sounds you can create with a computer that you can’t do on a guitar or a drum. It’s not possible. So anyway, that was kind of my awakening moment, hearing something my ears had never heard and just literally flipping out.
Was that the same feeling you got from rock ‘n’ roll when you were younger?
The exact same thing. I remember bouncing up and down on my bed, going ‘doing doing doing’ in front of my sliding closet mirrors, playing fucking air guitar and drums on cardboard boxes to Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, and feeling like, “I love this! I want this! I’m going to be this one day!” That kind of shit. Same thing.
I have to ask about the track “Tommy Lee,” which appears on Andro in a remixed version. Did the song only come across your radar after Tyla Yaweh and Post Malone put it together?
That’s exactly how it went down. They reached out to my manager and said, “Hey, we’ve got a song called ‘Tommy Lee’ we want to make sure that Tommy’s cool with it.” And I was like, “Fuck, yeah.” It’s like the ultimate shout-out. And I love Post. I played drums on Post’s Beerbongs & Bentleys record a year or so ago. So I heard the track, and it was amazing. And once I was cool with it, the next question was, “Hey, will Tommy remix it?” Of course. It’s just like, This’ll be wild, you know? Just for the credits: “Tommy Lee,” featuring Tyla Yaweh and Post Malone and…Tommy Lee! So I did a super rocked-out version and they loved it.
There’s a pop-culture notion of the rock star as the classic outlaw-type character, and in a way, it feels like you, Tommy Lee, almost work as an avatar for the debauchery and general wildness people associate with that lifestyle. Which is sort of what the song gets at?
I mean, I did this thing a little while ago, an online show [Genius.com’s “Between the Lines”]. And the show was all about lyrics and all these shout-outs. And I was surprised. I mean, dude, there’s a lot of fucking big, huge rap and hip-hop dudes shouting me out. I was like, “What’s going on with that?” But it’s cool that I represent that or mean that to them to where they’ll shout me out in a song. I had no idea how many there were. Like, “Whoa, this is fucking nuts, dude!”
Sure, but answer this honestly: Can any of these guys really tear it up at Tommy Lee levels?
[Laughs] Um, well…I mean, some of them do. Post for sure does. And fucking Diddy is a maniac. He fucking parties like…like a rock star! So you know, a lot of them do…and some of them don’t.