Mötley Crüe is evil. At least that’s what I thought when I first saw the band’s poster in a Circus magazine 20 years ago. The gritted-teeth poses, Mad Max-inspired leathers and blood-soaked satanic imagery frightened my young, Anglican Church-going mind, and I quickly retreated to the safe confines of a Bon Jovi article. My friend Darren Lavigne would introduce me to the Crüe’s sophomore album Shout at the Devil shortly thereafter, but my initial vision of these four hell-bound sinners stuck in my mind long after I forgot the lyrics to “Too Young to Fall in Love.”
>For many, Mötley Crüe’s public image overshadows its music to this day. Sure, the band has sold tens of millions of albums over the course of its 25-year career (including six million copies of Dr. Feelgood), but every hit record brings a new controversy—car crashes, drug overdoses, in-fighting, sex tapes, tell-all books, reality television shows and prison stints among them. And since the early ’90s, when the Seattle scene pushed Hollywood metal out the mainstream door, the hits have become fewer and farther between and the media circus has intensified.
None of this sits well with bassist Nikki Sixx. “I don’t pay much attention to that stuff,” he says during a desolate stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I just focus on the music. The reality shows and books are just, you know, pretty boring to me, and in the end it’s about writing great music and great hooks, and playing it loud and live.”
Sixx’s great hooks will be on full display when the Crüe hits the Metro Centre on March 2 as part of the Carnival of Sins tour. A two-hour flashback of greatest hits, the concert is a return to form for the band after years of incomplete line-ups and lacklustre albums. Aside from a recent platinum certification for the hits package Red White and Crüe, the band hasn’t had a bona fide hit album since 1991’s Decade of Decadence (another hits package), and the Crüe hasn’t toured with its original members since Tommy Lee left the band in 1999.
Thus far, the comeback has been a resounding success. The Crüe was one of the top concert grossers in 2005, and petitions have circulated online to bring the band to cities around the globe. A Carnival of Sins DVD was recently released, and Sixx says fans can expect a reasonable facsimile of the concert film when they come to Halifax.
“It’s evolved here and there, but it is what it is,” he explains. “It’s a theatrical event. It’s like if Cats came to town and asking, ‘Well, how has the show changed?’
“It’s a push-pull for me personally. I get tired of doing the same thing, but once I get out there I’m happy that I’m playing. We’re as tight as a frog’s ass.”
Being in Mötley Crüe hasn’t been this good in years. Formed in 1981, the band made an immediate splash in Hollywood, selling out shows and making connections with stars like David Lee Roth and Alice Cooper in the process. Within a year of their first gig they were signed to Elektra Records, and by 1984 had a gold album and hundreds of shows under their belts.
“We thought everyone was boring and we wanted to do the opposite of that,” Sixx explains. “It didn’t matter how big we would make something, whether it was lights, guitar sounds or how insane we could make our hair look, we didn’t care. As long as we didn’t end up being like everyone else. It was the Ramones, AC/DC, you know, it was Aerosmith, The New York Dolls. We were combining.”
But for every high point there was a low. Shortly after 1984’s Shout at the Devil tour, singer Vince Neil was charged with vehicular manslaughter for killing friend and Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley while driving drunk and speeding. The band became a household name with the release of the 1985 album Theatre of Pain and its hit single “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” but the success only fuelled the already rampant drug and alcohol problems.
After the lacklustre but immensely popular Girls, Girls, Girls, the band cleaned up its act and released its first (and only) number one album, 1989’s Dr. Feelgood. But their time at the top was short-lived. Seattle’s sweep of the nation in 1992 led to a backlash against the Hollywood glam scene, and in-fighting would lead to Vince Neil’s departure shortly thereafter. Constant line-up changes, solo albums and brief reunions followed, but few people cared. The Crüe would fly under the radar for the next decade.
Today the band is back in full swing and putting together material for a planned 2007 release. Sixx says the ideas are flowing freely.
“We’ve got fuckin’ boatloads,” he says. “I can’t tell you what it’s going to sound like, but it’s going to be loud and ugly and beautiful all at the same time. We make music from a human standpoint, so as we change and go through ups and downs, the music follows that pattern. That’s what’s exciting about it. If it was stagnant, it would be hard to be an artist.”
Some would argue that calling Mötley Crüe artists is a bit of a stretch. While the band’s brash mix of Aerosmith-styled rock, New York glam and punk attitude was a hit with audiences, critics hated the Crüe, easy targets due to their outlandish looks and hard-living lifestyles. And though the band has outlasted all but a few of its ’80s contemporaries, many people still refuse to see any redeeming qualities in the music.
“It’s like rap-rock,” Sixx explains. “Everyone was like, ‘Rap-rock is the most insane thing’ and it’s all anyone would listen to, and now those same people will tell me that this shit is fucking crap.
“I don’t know if it’s extreme,” he continues. “I don’t know if it was that great, but I don’t know if it’s that bad. I don’t know if Mötley Crüe was that great, or if we were ever as bad as the alternative world tried to make us out to be. I don’t know if Zeppelin was that genius, or if they were that much of a dinosaur band, as they were called at one point in the ’70s. They were just a cool band, and I think we’re a cool band.”
Almost as cool as The Beatles, in fact. “We’re honest, it’s so simple,” Sixx says without a hint of hyperbole. “You look at The Beatles: ‘I wanna hold your hand, I wanna hold your hand, I wanna hold your hand’; ‘she’s got the looks that kill, she’s got the looks that kill, she’s got the looks that kill.’ I could have written, ‘She’s got the looks that kill, duh na na na na bill, dah na na na on the window sill, she’s got the looks that kill,’ I could have done that, but it was just like, nail it, hypnotize them, bring it home, keep it simple. It is a really good approach to our vision.”
Right now, Mötley Crüe is Sixx’s main focus. Now sober after numerous drug overdoses and married to actor Donna D’Errico, Sixx no longer relates to the party-hardy lifestyle that was once Mötley Crüe’s trademark.
“I’ve stopped,” he says wearily. “Seen it, done it, not only went to the movie but made the movie. I was young and dumb and full of cum once, but I am just on a different path, man. I just want to make insane music and be focused on what it is I want to do. I am in a very selfish place in my life.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that the rest of the band—or its fans—have mellowed with age. “I’ve got some 18-year-old girl that’s walking down the hall to go down to Tommy’s room, and Tommy’s down there partying and having a good time, and he’s single and he should, and they say something to me and it’s almost like a dog that hears a high-pitched sound,” he says, laughing. “Are you really walking the planet with those thoughts in your mind?”
Mötley Crüe isn’t evil—it’s misunderstood. Like Frankenstein, the band is an uncontrollable beast created by four madmen. Sixx might want to escape the chaos he’s created, but as long as the Crüe continue to rampage around the globe, he’ll have to accept the insanity that inevitably ensues.
“John Lennon, you know, focused on the music,” he says. “People were like, ‘But you’re John from The Beatles,’ and he was like ‘No, leave me alone. I am just a guy named John with a guitar.’ It kind of upset people, but looking back at his legacy, it was a brilliant time in his life. I just want to be part of a four-piece band that makes legendary music and continues to do whatever the fuck we want to do. That’s the most rock and roll thing I can say.”
Mötley Crüe, March 2 at Halifax Metro Centre, 8pm, $73, 451-1221.