This article appeared in Issue 14, published in 2007.
As a member of Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee earned fame, fortune and a notorious reputation. While juggling drumming duties for the Crüe and Supernova, he’s embraced his passion for electronic music and has embarked on a nonstop tour as Electro Mayhem with partner DJ Aero. Will the club world accept them when the novelty wears off?
Words: Darren Ressler
Images: Alex Cao
Since rocketing out of L.A.’s hedonistic metal scene in 1981 as the drummer for Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee has sold millions of records, played thousands of sold-out stadium shows and has been involved in more exploits and controversies (arrests, brawls, lawsuits, sex tapes) than Evel Knievel and Eminem combined. Though he’s promised to behave like a good boy on countless occasions, Lee just can’t stop living on the edge. Perhaps that’s why he’s been a favorite subject for the tabloids. (Plus, it’s hard to keep a low profile when you duke it out with your ex-wife’s other ex on a televised awards show.)
Beyond the controlled chaos that’s been a recurring theme of Tommy Lee’s public life, the tattooed rocker has held a secret close to his chest for the past two decades—he loves dance music. And he’s finally ready to spread the word, emerging as one half of the DJ duo Electro Mayhem.
Sitting on a couch at Big Shot’s cover shoot at a studio on the Lower East Side, Lee doesn’t seem like the wild man he’s reputed to be. He’s tall, lanky and, despite his years of hard living, looks great for a guy in his mid-40s. When he sees the interview is going to be about his music rather than his exploits, he relaxes and seems eager to talk about the moment he was stung by the dance music bug, courtesy of Josh Wink’s landmark single, “Higher State of Consciousness.”
“I heard that track right when it came out, and I’m not even sure if it was out in America,” Lee remembers. He hops up and folds his long legs into Indian-style position and he puts away his cell phone. “I was at Ministry of Sound in London with my wife, Pamela, at the time, and right at midnight that track came on. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’” Lee’s eyes look like they’re going to pop out of their sockets, and he starts flailing his arms in the air to imitate a faux orgasm.
DJ Aero and Tommy Lee (a.k.a. Electro Mayhem). Image for Big Shot by Alex Cao.
“I don’t do this very often,” he slowly confides as he leans forward, “but I got up and ran to the DJ booth and was like, ‘Dude, what is this song?!’ And the DJ said, ‘Josh Wink’s “Higher State of Consciousness.”’ I wrote that shit down, and I looked for a long time to find it. Once I got it, I incorporated it into my drum solo. I thought that song was one of the coolest electronic tracks I had ever heard. It was so amazing that it hurt.”
Although Mötley Crüe’s sound is nothing but high-octane rock (and a few winsome ballads for the ladies), Tommy Lee says he’s always listened to a variety of styles. As a kid, he liked disco and any music with a strong beat.
“I’ve been a fan of all kinds of music — industrial, techno, hip-hop, rock —and whenever I’d build a drum solo for the tour, I’d always throw in some loops, sampled sounds and a bunch of crazy shit,” he says. This may come to the chagrin of some fans — especially the ones who scrawled “Disco sucks” on their lockers in high school — but Lee laughs that many who turn up to Mötley Crüe shows still wear denim and leather. Not surprisingly, he laments that they haven’t maintained an open musical mind.
Do Lee’s band mates support his DJ career? Kinda, but not really. “Nikki [Sixx] has come to see us after some Mötley shows. Mick [Mars] definitely wouldn’t come. Vince [Neil] almost came one night, but didn’t. Besides, he’d just show up for the chicks.”
“I think I was inspired not to do the typical drum solo because that’s when everyone gets up to buy a beer or a T-shirt. They think they’ve heard it all before,” Lee maintains. “In fear of that, I did something totally visual, whether it’s spin around upside down, fly over the audience, make the drums levitate or disappear or blow up. Whatever the case, I wanted to complement the visuals with the sound. For me, I’d always go toward electronic music, because that’s something all of these heavy metal kids probably didn’t know about. It switched it up from hearing rock music, and I just wanted to take people into a whole different place for ten minutes.” Continue Reading