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Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Tommy Lee

The Mötley Crüe drummer on the band’s new single, working with John 5, and why “ that shit is bangin’”
Mötley Crüe (Credit: Ross Halfin)
Mötley Crüe (Credit: Ross Halfin)

There aren’t many rock ‘n roll drummers who are recognized names in the average household. Some exceptions to this are Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Travis Barker, and the most talked about them all, Tommy Lee. Lee’s life has been unintentionally public, and, in the process, people have built a character around him. It’s an interesting one, unequal parts beauty and beast. 

Starting this May, Mötley Crüe hit the road, performing headlining slots at festivals such as Welcome to Rockville, Summerfest, Louder Than Life and Aftershock, as well as county fairs and their own arena-sized shows. Ahead of that, they are releasing their first new music since the additional songs they recorded for the soundtrack to their Netflix biopic, The Dirt, based on the Neil Strauss biography of the same name.

“Dogs of War” is released today, April 26, along with a wholly CGI music video. Written by the Crüe’s primary songwriter and bassist, Nikki Sixx, Lee, and their new guitarist, the incomparable John 5, the song is classic Crüe with a 3.0 upgrade. Harder and heavier than they’ve historically been, “Dogs of War” breaks up the crunch and grind with stadium-ready, signature Crüe cries of “whoa-oh.” Vocalist Vince Neil sounds in rare form, maximizing on the studio’s capabilities and delivering a sing-along-ability that rivals that of 1989’s “Kickstart My Heart.” The video for “Dogs of War” plays like a Grand Theft Auto cutscene with the band experiencing countless destructive scenarios, including going to hell and to space, but returning resilient—not unlike real life. “Dogs of War” is a worthy addition to the Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum group’s 100 million-selling catalog.

(Single Art Courtesy of Big Machine Records)

The song is another landmark in what has been a busy couple of years for Mötley Crüe. In January 2024, they opened the virtual Crüeseum, “the world’s most notorious museum,” featuring memorabilia and personal items from the group. They also resurrected their S.I.N. Club fan club. They have been in the throes of celebrating their 40th anniversary since 2021. August of this year is the 35th anniversary of Dr. Feelgood. Beginning in 2022, they played stadiums with Def Leppard as part of The Stadium Tour in North America, which extended to The World Tour in 2023. 

When Lee Zooms in to update SPIN on all things Mötley Crüe, he is amped, to say the least. His eyes sparkle behind tinted, black-rimmed glasses. His blue headphones push his middle-parted hair forward so it forms curtains around his face. In his right hand Lee clutches a blue lighter and, in his left, a cigarette. From a chain necklace, a medallion hangs over his black T-shirt, partially blocking the word “WEHO,” which is spelled with white outlines of bodies. If there is skin visible, it is tattooed, including his triceps, where the ink has faded into tattoo blue.

There isn’t enough evidence on Lee’s face to justify his 60-plus years. There is also no sign of his recent hand surgery, which he shared with his followers on Instagram. Lee is ready to go.

You’re headlining several festivals this year. What are your memories of playing the U.S. Festival in 1983 during the early Mötley Crüe years?

TOMMY LEE: I can tell you, flying over 200,000 people in a helicopter, I think I’m 19, and I’m looking out the window, and literally I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re playing there?” I had no idea what we were getting into. A festival, yeah, but flying over that and then sitting down behind the drums and looking out at just dust, I couldn’t see where the crowd ended. You look out at the ocean, and it just keeps going forever. That’s what it was like, and I was just like, “Oh, my god. Oh, my fucking god. This is insane.” Nobody really knew who the hell we were. We were playing in front of 200,000 people, and most people were tripping out going, “Who the fuck are these guys?”

As “Dogs of War” was starting to take shape, what feelings did it give you?

We recorded because we were experiencing something that we haven’t experienced in a long time with John 5 and his fucking energy. His new blood reactivated all of us. We’re like “Fuck!” We’re rehearsing to go play shows with a bunch of music that we’ve all been playing for a while. During that process, we’re like, “Oh, man, boy, this sure would be different if it’s something we wrote from the ground up.” Nikki and I and John started coming up with some ideas, and we were like, “You know, we need to record this. Our fans need to feel this new energy.” It’s not something you can explain. You have to hear it and feel it. We always say, “You’re only as good as your last effort,” and we hadn’t done any new music in a while. This whole situation is begging for us to put out what we’re feeling, where we’re at, what we are doing. “What’s fucking blowing you guys’ skirts up these days?” Boom, this is it. What you hear when you hear it is where we are at right here and now. 

It’s identifiable as Mötley Crüe, but circa 2024.

Yeah, Vince’s voice certainly does that because he has such a fucking distinctive sounding voice. Musically, to me, it sounds like right now. That shit is bangin’. To me, it sounds new, but it has its moments of sounding like what people would be used to, but it definitely has some new modern feeling happening. We’re not really dynamic guys. It’s pretty dynamic for Mötley to dive down so low in the verses and kind of creep around and then just explode in the choruses. We don’t do that kind of stuff a whole lot. It’s new and it’s different and it’s the same all in the same breath.

John 5 comes to Mötley with an impressive CV and references (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth). What’s it been like playing with him?

You know what? If you were to go up to him and go, “Dude, play me bluegrass meets classical,” he would literally go, “Okay.” A rock guitarist would never know how to play that. He can play fucking anything, and it’s scary. He’s from another dimension. To me, at the end of the day, you can be the most incredible, influential, talented person on the planet, but if you’re an asshole, none of it matters. He is, hands down, the nicest man I know. He is such a fucking sweetheart. I mean, we’re in heaven. We just laugh the whole time and just groove on how fucking rad it is we get to all play together. It’s wild.

You had Bob Rock in the producer’s seat again for “Dogs of War.” You’ve worked with him for so long at this point—is there a shorthand in your communication with him?

When we first worked with him is when it all clicked. This guy immediately grabs a stool, a microphone, and a guitar, and he was like the fifth member of Mötley Crüe. He would be in the fucking recording with us. We’d be like, “Oh, let’s put the bridge after this chorus,” or “Let’s move it here. Let’s try this. Let’s change these chords here.” He was always in the trenches with us, and not a lot of talking. A lot of playing and listening and going, “Ahh, that’s it!” We communicate in a really great way and we communicate together and we’re all kind of going for the same thing. Going with Bob is an obvious clear choice because we get each other and we get each other quickly. In the studio, it moves pretty damn fast. We will get everything kind of massaged, go away for the day, listen to what we did, and come back and be like either, “Make a few changes” or “Dude, this is money. Let’s just fucking record it, go!” Bob’s the best.

What was behind the decision to go all CGI in the “Dogs of War” video?

I call it sauteed in wrong sauce. It’s just fucked up. We’ve never done a fucked-up animated piece, and it just captures the vibe. Hopefully it has as much impact as the sonic version does. It’s one of those where you got to watch it a few times because there’s all kinds of crazy shit going on.

And who are the “Dogs of War?”

That’s a good question. Maybe it’s us? You’d have to ask Nikki who he thinks that is, but I’m sure it probably refers to many. It could be us. It could be “them.” It’s open-ended. Who knows?