Interview by Mark Dean || Live photos by Mik Connor Photography
Growing up admiring the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page, Campbell was playing professionally at the age of 13 with cabaret band Contrast on the Welsh club circuit. He bought his first Les Paul in 1973, and only 5 years later (in 1978!) he formed popular heavy metal indie band Persian Risk. Spending several years gigging with Risk, in February 1984 Campbell auditioned for the vacant guitar slot in popular beat group Motörhead. He ended up sharing guitar duties with fellow auditionee (and partner-in-cheap-laughs) Michael Würzel Burston.
In a 32-year Motörcareer, which spanned three drummers, the departure of Würzel and the appearance of a horse onstage, Campbell was a major creative force and identity for the legendary rockers, selling millions of albums, filling dozens of passports and finding fun and games wherever he went. With 16 studio albums under his belt, Campbell has co-written some of Motörhead’s most-loved songs, including “Orgasmatron,” “Going To Brazil,” and “Rock Out.” In fact, since joining the band, Campbell has co-written 90% of Motörhead’s studio output. He has also enjoyed various accolades, including 4 Grammy nominations and one Grammy win (in 2005), two Golden God awards from Metal Hammer magazine, a Kerrang! award, an official proclamation from the City of Los Angeles in August 2015, and a grand total of 16 speeding fines. Bear in mind that Phil is also El Presedente of the Campbell Comedy Corporation.
Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, featuring Campbell alongside his three sons Todd (guitar), Dane (drums), Tyla (bass) and complemented by vocalist Neil Starr have stepped up their touring activities in 2016 and performed a blinder at Europe’s oldest, most prestigious metal festival, Wacken on August 3rd. Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons have just completed work on a self-titled EP, which will be released in November 2016 by UDR Records.
Following a cancelled interview slot at the summer’s Bloodstock Festival, we were fortunate to be able to reschedule when the Bastard Sons tour came through Manchester. Phil himself spent some time with me at the band’s hotel before the evening’s show.
How did the band come about? Obviously, there’s three of your sons in it. Is that something that evolved from family weddings?
Kind of. It was our eldest son, he had a big birthday party about four years ago. We booked a band for him and everything, and then all my kids have always been great musicians. Neil was a friend of ours, he was a startup singer. Then we just went up and did a couple of songs, just at the party. The other band lent us the instruments and stuff. It was fun. We started playing since then. That hasn’t just been since Lemmy sadly passed away. This year obviously, I’ve had more time and we’ve started writing our own material and it’s become a bit more focused.
Is the Bastard Sons going to be a full-time band then? I know your sons were in other bands.
They’re still in other bands. It’s hard, either somebody’s rehearsing or somebody’s off touring, but this is the main thing for the moment.
You recently signed a record deal for the band.
Well, it’s Motorhead Records, I guess. It wasn’t difficult.
Right. Obviously, that’s for the EP and the album, yeah?
Just for an EP for the moment. Somebody actually bought the EP today in Dublin. It’s not supposed to be out until next week so the record company had to contact the bloody shop to stop selling it, but this one lucky guy in Dublin has the only copy for a week.
What about the single from the EP, “Big Mouth“? Is it directed at anybody in particular, or just a general statement?
You’d have to speak to Neal about it. It could be many people basically, couldn’t it?
Yeah, I was just wondering if it was somebody in particular?
On the video, it put things at Donald Trump to me, on the video, and Kanye West and stuff. I don’t know, it’s just a general thing.
Mikey’s off to the Scorpions. I just wondered if any other big bands have been in contact and given you a call?
They know I’m involved with this. I’ve had offers to do projects with people and everything. I’m just happy doing this. I was thinking of retiring you know, but …
I was going to ask, I mean …following Lemmy’s death had the thought of retirement ever crossed your mind?
It’s not going to happen now. Things are too much fun with the kids.
Do you have keep an eye on them, then, when you’re out touring? Obviously, you’ve done the road miles, you have the experience.
They keep an eye on me, actually.
A calming influence so to speak. You’ve played, obviously, with Lemmy, a musical icon. I just wonder if there’s any other musical icons that you’d like to create music with. Obviously, you’ve a very eclectic musical taste, it’s not just rock that you personally enjoy.
Yeah, there’s lots of icons I would like to work with like, Todd Rundgren. I named my son, my eldest son Todd after Todd Rundgren. That’s his name, Rundgren’s his middle name, right. There’s lots really. I’m just lucky a lot of my icons and heroes from when I was starting out in it in my teens have become… I’ve met lots of them. I’ve worked with some of them. Some have become acquaintances. Some have become very close friends. I’m quite lucky and blessed to have that.
What about outside music, do you have any sort of spare time interests or hobbies? Or is it just music everything for you?
I guess walking the dog, things like that, very simple.
How do you view your own musical legacy, going back to those early Persian Risk singles? Is there something that you now disown or embarrasses you?
Yeah, we were good, Persian Risk. I’m proud of it all. Five years I was with the band. I think after I left they went, their direction changed a bit. Carl kept the flag flying and I believe they’re still out on tour now with them, for the moment.
Looking back, you’re proud, it’s a long legacy?
Yeah, yeah. I never sold out. I never played… you know when I was in young teens just to get experience I’d be playing other song styles and stuff. We’d open clubs backing strippers. Pretending I was 18 when I was like 14.
Are you happy in your life right now? Is the glass half-full? Are you optimistic?
Yeah, I’m good. It’s good. I just want to, you know, my kids and my band, you know. It’s just a … I’m proud of all we did, I’ve done in the past and I’m very lucky I have … I don’t have any problems. I have a beautiful family and I have whatever I need.
Must be nice to be sharing it, as I said creating music with your own sons.
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Yeah.
I’m sure you never thought that you would be recording and also touring with your three sons.
No, I mean, about four years ago, we played Download with Motorhead and on the same day, obviously Download is a three-day festival, on the same day Todd and Dean were playing in Straight Lines at Download, and Tyla was playing with his band. I think that’s probably a first. I don’t think many people could say that.
Obviously, you’ve done all the big festivals like Wacken, the Download. How do you view playing small venues? Is that something that gives you a different perspective where you see the audience right there in your face rather than spanning a big vast field or stadium?
It’s a lot of fun. I mean some of the dressing rooms are a bit dodgy. Like today’s one, I saw it and I just booked the room here. (hotel opposite the venue)
Right, a back to basics tour quite literally at times?
I’ve always liked more intimate stuff. We’re not going to sell, this band at the moment, we’re not going… I’d rather play a two hundred seat club, two hundred and up, like a hundred people in or a hundred and twenty people in, than to try and do a fifteen hundred seat theater.
That’s being realistic, isn’t it?
Yeah, more realistic like. I don’t mind, staying at the Travel Lodges and stuff, it’s good for me now. It’s about the music at the end of the day and having fun, right?
It is, it is. You still have that passion and drive for the music?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s still there.
Do you have any unfulfilled hopes and dreams? I mean you must have ticked quite a few boxes over the years.
I want to get my solo record finished, which I was a quarter of the way through it and then I concentrated on the EP. Next year I want to finish my solo, try and get my solo record out by this time next year. Then also do a full EP, a full album with the Bastard Sons, get most of that done. Then concentrate in 2018 on my book which is not going to be my life’s story. It’s just going to be the fun things, the funny outrageous shit.
I’m sure you’ve a lot of amusing stories and tales to tell?
Being in the band with Lemmy for so long, I mean you must have enough for two or three books.
Definitely. More than that, yeah.
Does fame come at a price? I mean, you still seem relatively grounded. Is there ever a time where you’re out from your immediate family or whatever, and you just get fed up being harassed?
Before, I had never been like Michael Jackson fame or nothing like that. If you get asked to autograph an album or something locally, and it’s fine. You drink too much or you smoke too much because of your circumstances, which I don’t do anymore any way, my vices have been all knocked on the head.
Smoking, drinking, both?
Yeah, yeah, I got hypnotized for the smoking and that. I mean, health-wise it can take its toll. That’s probably the main thing, fame as you said comes at a price, it’s probably that.
If you could give your younger self, back in the Persian Risk days, one piece of advice, what would it be?
That’s a good one. Have fun, like, enjoy it. Which I do. I make sure I have my fun every day.
Solo album, you said you had a quarter of it done. Are the songs all finalized and that?
Yeah, I’ve got about… it’s about eight songs written. Nothing fully recorded yet. I got Chris Fehn, the percussionist with Slipknot, with the big nose? He’s done the drums on the one track. I’ve got lots of other people which are doing stuff for me now on it.
Can you reveal any more names to me at the moment?
No, I can’t yet, no, no, no. It will be some Motorhead type stuff on it. They’re playing the piano on a bunch of songs on the tracks. I don’t care if it sells ten copies, I don’t care. I just want to be proud of it.
Yeah, even the EP is quite diverse, I mean you’ve got a range of different sounding tracks and different musical styles over 4-5 songs.
I didn’t want to bore people. I wanted to get something out quick without languishing over it. We didn’t want to bore people and we thought, right, we’ll put these five songs out. It’s great. My son Todd, he has his own big recording studio, so we did it down there. It’s not a problem. Todd’s the genius behind the production.
What about the set list for these shows? Obviously, it’s going to feature songs from your past, maybe some influences.
We do “Ace of Spades.” Everyone wants to hear that. We’ve kept the set the same so far for these shows because it’s been working well. We always try to do some obscure Motorhead songs that people haven’t heard for twenty years.
That would be great for the fans to hear some obscurities I bet?
We do that. Some of my favorite like, Sabbath songs and there’s ZZ Top in there and a few others.
I read something that stated there was also a David Bowie track played live.
Yeah, yeah, we do a Bowie song in there, yeah.
That’s a bit different. People aren’t going to expect stuff like that.
We did a Bowie cover with Motorhead before which was not released.
I was going to say I haven’t heard that but that’s why. Just a final one. Who would you like to interview? If you could sit down face to face with you asking the questions?
He would have been quite an engaging and entertaining interview, I would imagine.
That’d be good.
(Phil starts to discuss the Motorhead album Aftershock)
My father died when we were doing this.
Right, so obviously that 1 most out of all your Motorhead catalogue is going to have some more difficult and personal memories attached to it.
Do you go back and listen to your own back catalogue?
Sometimes, yeah. If I’ve got nothing else I can think of playing. It’s good stuff, you know. As Lem said, “Just lucky Motorhead got famous for a good song, Ace of Spades.” He said, “Imagine if we got famous for a big turkey of a song, having to play that every night, you know?”
Just wondering regarding the No Remorse compilation, did you re-record all the early stuff for that album, which was your first Motorhead album?
No, no, we just did four new songs. I’m only on four which I recorded. I was in a Persian Risk publishing contract at the time, so “Killed by Death” doesn’t say my name for writing but I co-wrote. We just did four tracks including “Locomotives,” and “Killed by Death.” All the other stuff was other stuff.
Brilliant. Thank you, very much.
Are you staying for the show then?
Absolutely. I am really looking forward to it. Thanks again.