Mick Mars and Keith Nelson interview: Two For The Road
As the hard-rocking Crüe Fest tour gets underway, Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars and Buckcherry's Keith Nelson discuss their bands’ latest albums and why guitarists have the toughest job in the business.
"Put on your shades, grab a wine glass, and smash it on the bar.” When Mick Mars talks, people listen. The Mötley Crüe guitarist is perched on a stool at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the West Hollywood club that’s been the site of countless debauched moments in Mötley history, not to mention those of many of their rock-and-roll forebears, peers and followers. He is observing intently as a photographer snaps away at Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson. Which is when, black cap pulled low over his eyes and peering out from behind dark sunglasses, Mars gives the aforementioned command.
Nelson sends broken glass flying in every direction. Unfortunately, the shot is missed.
“Do it again,” Mars instructs him. “But this time fill the cup with ice—it’ll look like glass when it smashes.”
Nelson brings his arm down hard, and shards of glass and ice erupt off the bar and spray around the room like BB pellets. The shot is captured (and looks very, very cool). Mars smiles. “Done it a million times,” he says of the glass and ice combo. “Always works like a charm.”
Despite his apparent photographic expertise, Mars has not been summoned to the Rainbow on this day to act as an impromptu lensman for this Guitar World shoot. Nor have he and Nelson been brought together merely to bust up the joint. Rather, the two guitarists are here with Guitar World to talk shop—and there’s lots of shop to talk.
At the top of the list for Mars is Saints of Los Angeles (Mötley/Eleven Seven), Mötley Crüe’s first new studio disc in eight years, and their first in almost a dozen to feature the original lineup of Mars, singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee. Taken as a whole, the album’s songs loosely recount Mötley’s rise to fame—it’s something of a “soundtrack” to the band’s 2001 best-selling autobiography (and soon-to-be film) The Dirt. Without a doubt, it’s the most vibrant, engrossing and downright rocking Crüe effort in a very long time. From the sinister churn of the title track to the punk-trash stomp of “Face Down in the Dirt” to the glammy pop of “Down at the Whisky,” Saints of Los Angeles succeeds where recent Crüe discs have come up short, retaining the classic Mötley sound while updating it for the modern musical world.
As with every record throughout the band’s 27-year recording career, at the center of it all is Mars’ thick, grinding guitar riffs—rarely celebrated, always underappreciated. “There are some people that recognize what I do,” Mars says, “but a lot more that don’t. I’m used to that. I will say, though, a few years back when we were on the road with Aerosmith, those guys were bowing to my playing and my tone.”
Nelson, for his part, concurs with the Aerosmith men. “The first Mötley record I ever heard was Shout at the Devil, and Mick’s guitar on that was where it all came together for me. You could sing the riffs. You could sing the solos. It hit me right between the eyes like a hammer.”
Nelson and his Buckcherry bandmates are currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on their upcoming full-length. However, their most recent album, 2006’s 15, has not yet finished its run. The album’s fifth single, the smash power ballad “Sorry,” is still riding high on the charts, and, along with the raunchy “Crazy Bitch,” has pushed 15 past sales of one million. Not bad for a band that, after rising to fame with their 1999 debut single, “Lit Up,” crashed, burned and dissolved in fairly short order, and as recently as 2005 couldn’t convince an American record label to give them the time of day.
The one that did was Mötley’s label, Eleven Seven, which brings us to another reason Guitar World has brought Mars and Nelson together on this day: to discuss Crüe Fest, Mötley Crüe’s summer tour with Buckcherry. Rounding out the bill are several artists associated with either Eleven Seven or its allied management company, 10th Street Entertainment, including Trapt, Papa Roach and
Sixx:AM, the band headed by Nikki Sixx. The jaunt—part rock extravaganza, part sly marketing move—is shaping up to be one of the hottest tickets of the summer.
On a warm afternoon in Hollywood, Mars and Nelson broke bread—and a few wine glasses—with Guitar World and talked Crüe Fest, their respective bands and the state of the music industry. They also discussed their favorite pieces of gear, their shared love of the blues, and why guitarists have the hardest job in rock and roll.
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