Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars speaks out.
Sixx & Mars on the "SOLA" summer tour 2008.
From Beatdotcom by Nick Snelling
He’s the little hunched one. The sinister gnome-like character in the background, dressed in raven black, features hidden under a crinkled top hat. Like some cartoon villain, he at times resembles the dour Wednesday from the Addams Family, but for all the notoriety of his fellow band members, Mick Mars’ monstrous slide-work and signature guitar riffs make him the quiet man behind Mötley Crüe’s sleezy brand of glam rock, an act that is now celebrating their 27th Anniversary with a new album Saints Of Los Angeles.
Mars is calling from Jones Beach, halfway between New Jersey and New York, in the midst of CRÜE FEST, a massive American stadium tour dubbed ‘The Loudest Show On Earth’ and the latest branch of the Mötley Crüe franchise. So then, should we be imagining the guitarist in stately repose, occupying the spa bath of some plush suite, surrounded by buxom young bikinied ladies, just like the Crüe of legend would suggest? “If that’s what you want to think, then I’m not phased.” chuckles the guitarist. “It’s actually nowhere near as exciting as you might imagine – I’m just here hanging out with my girlfriend having coffee. She’s from Sweden,” he adds as an afterthought. “Just mellowing out. I tried to prep myself before a show, and not get too wound up, so when I go onstage I can be real relaxed.”
Saints Of Los Angeles is the first Crüe record in almost ten years featuring the original line-up. How does he feel it stacks up against their back catalogue? “Most of it, I really like,” muses Mars. “There’s a couple of songs on there, like every album that we’ve done, that I call ‘fillers’. But for the majority, I think it’s a really good direction and step that we’ve taken.”
The process for writing and recording was a different one for the band this time – rather than rehearsing and jamming the songs as a normal band, individual schedules forbade it, so most of records came together in the studio after Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx (the band’s prevalent songwriters) assembled the songs piecemeal. “It was mainly constructed in the studio as a couple of the other guys had prior commitments to do other things, so Nikki and I did a lot of writing, along with James Michael and DJ Ashba (Sixx’s partners in the SIXX A.M project), using ProTools. It meant that we got to explore a lot of our ideas without any limitations. In the old days, we’d rehearse and then sit down to record it, and if we went ‘oh, I wonder what it would sound like if put the chorus where the verse is’ then we’d have to re-record it. Nowadays, you can just chop it, move it around, listen and go ‘oh no, that sucks’ or ‘yeah, that works’, you know? It gave us a lot more freedom.”
Part of the band’s infamous legacy of excess is also their reputation for infighting and some serious tantrum-throwing. What does the guitarist put down to the fact, that even after all the internal bickering and members coming and going, the original Mötley Crüe have ultimately been drawn back together in the end? “I think from the very beginning, even back in the early ‘80s when we were really naïve, our goal back was to be like the Stones and stay together,” he says. “But what we didn’t know about was all the rough spots along the way; drugs, alcohol abuse, egotistical stuff….but now, we’ve all reached a point where all four of us know where home is – and that’s Mötley Crüe. Generally, I think we all share that goal now, and it also okay for us all now to go off and do other things, experiment, have solo projects, but there’s always something in our minds saying ‘ this is our real gig, right here.’”
Mick says the Crüe are like brothers, and as such there is always also going to be squabbling. So as for avoiding falling back into conditioned behaviour and old patterns, especially when they’re on the road in each others space all the time, he says it is par for the course. “I think there’s nothing wrong with it. Everybody’s human, and there are days when we’re all being a complete ass, having a bad day or whatever. But we’ve learnt to cope with that, because we all know each other really well. We still make mistakes, but the bottom line is we understand each other a lot better now than we used to.”
Making things easier, Mars no longer parties as hard these days. “The other guys have some fun, but Nikki and I have girlfriends that we really love, and although that might sound wimpy, it’s just we choose not to,” he says. “Put it this way, I have things I like to think about more than feeling bad the next day from getting high.”
Perhaps it’s just the perception of the fans, but as the older one in the band – Mars turned 57 in May – the guitarist always seemed to be the one above all the petty squabbling the other members indulged in, the one thinking ‘can’t we all just get along and make this about the music?’ Would this be an accurate reading? “You got it exactly right,” he says, laughing. “But they’re slowly catching up – now they know what it’s like to be 48. Now it’s like ‘oh, now we know what old Mick was talking about!’”
Mar’s slide guitar and bluesy approach to heavy rock has been an integral part of the Crüe’s sound – has he ever considered returning to his roots and making a blues album? “Absolutely, and I am going to do that,” the guitarist enthuses. “My plans are a little different from what the other guys in the band have done with their solo stuff. Have you heard the albums Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, or the Beatle’s Sergeant Peppers or Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix? Those albums have something more to them that just the music, something special that stands out. What I wanna do is record with a lot of my friends who I’ve met over the years, a bunch of really different talented musicians, to all come in and do something. Different singers, guitar players, bass players from all types of bands – kinda like what Hendrix did on Electric Ladyland – and then I’m gonna record it at Electric Ladyland studios, and you can only get it on vinyl,” he laughs. “I’ve got it all worked out.”
Back in the early 2000, things weren’t so rosy for Mars. The band were on permanent hiatus, he was beset by financial woes and virtually broke, and to make things worse, the guitarist was in the midst of depression due to a progressive lifelong arthritic condition called called Ankylosing Spondylitis. So debilitating was it, at one point, Mars was reported to have given up playing guitar. Needless to say, he’s happy and relieved to be back friends with his instrument once more. “It took a while, with this stupid condition,” he says glumly, adding that the litany of painkillers and “quick-fix medication” he was prescribed by doctors actually ended up exacerbating the illness and preventing him from recovering. “I kept getting worse and worse, and I just stopped playing guitar for almost two years. Nowadays, it’s not so bad, but back then when I was high on all that stuff and Mötley were having a break, I knew if I didn’t stop I was gonna die. In the end, I have to go to a neuro-psychiatrist to straighten me up and he said to me ‘just hold the guitar for an hour a day – don’t play it, just hold it.’” Mars can now laugh at the memory, “It was pretty bizarre but I got through it, and in the end I think I’m actually a better player because of it.”
It’s been suggested that the self-titled Mötley Crüe album recorded in 1994 with John Corabi on vocals (after original frontman Vince Neil was unceremoniously dumped in 1992) is actually the band’s best work. Mötley Crüe had an ambitious musicality to it, and it seemed for the first time the band had actually stretched themselves to construct an album unlike anything they’d done before. Far from being insulted (Neil is now back in the band, and new album getting mixed reviews), Mars is delighted. “Absolutely!” he says, happily agreeing. “I feel the same. That Corabi album was like really, really good to me. It was a step away and above anything we’d done before, and a lot more guitar-orientated. It was heavy, it had great songs. To me, I think that when people like yourself come to understand and listen to that album they’ll also go ‘wow, that is the best Mötley record!’ It’s my favourite as well, so thank you!”
Unfortunately, whether it was a case of Mötley Crüe releasing that album in the midst of the grunge-era, when they were regarded as relics of the hair-metal glam, or just bad timing, the Corabi album tanked sales-wise. Mars is philosophical about it now. “I think a lot of Mötley fans…and I don’t like this comparison, but it’s the only one I can think of….thought it was like going to see The Beatles without one of the Beatles. The fans just couldn’t see John in the band…and maybe if Vince had sung on it, it would be up there with one of all-time albums, who knows?”
How does Mars respond to the cynics who might suggest that this new album is just another cash-in on the recent romantic resurgence of Mötley Crüe’s popularity and infamy, another product to be flogged, in the same way Kiss have flogged a dead horse all these years? “I would probably say ‘umm, talk to Mick Jagger.’” He laughs. “No, that isn’t the case at all. Look at Mick, he’s still up there doing it like he’s 16 years old, and that’s not for money, that’s cos he loves it. That’s the same with us – we love what we do. It’s not about exploiting our legacy. How can you exploit something which is already a house-hold name, you know? We do this because we want to – we really sat down together and thought this album out, in the same way as we worked together to make this Crüe Fest even more special for the fans. It’s not about the money. We’ve made millions and could all retire now if we wanted…but fuck that! We do it because we love it.”
On a final note, when the much-rumoured film of The Dirt, Neil Strauss’ notorious biography of Mötley Crüe, is finally released – what famous actor would Mars like to see play him? “I wanna go hand-pick some bum that I find under the Santa Monica Pier,” he laughs heartily. “That would be perfect, but if Paramount wanted us to choose some legitimate actor, then I would have to go with Johnny Depp…I reckon he could play me pretty well.
A big thanks to Nick and Beat . com