Swapping secrets with Tommy Lee
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Dan Quinajon
When I knew I was going to have the opportunity to speak with Tommy Lee, I asked some of my friends for some good questions. Unfortunately, most of them wanted dirt. I don't do dirt. I feel that you can find out all the dirt you want about someone right here on the Internet. And, after doing research on Lee, I knew that I was on the right track. As always, my goal was the same, to come away knowing about the person inside the icon. With Lee, I was to learn that he dotes on his children, adores his new love and has spent time reflecting on his past in order to seek a better future.
Lee reminds me in a way of the classic hero in a Greek tragedy, who perseveres despite the odds and eventually receives his reward. Perhaps this is a lot closer to the truth than you would expect, after all Lee is Greek, he keeps bouncing back no matter what life deals him and his new release, "Never a Dull Moment" on MCA Records, is being praised by critics, fans and rockers around the world. Listen in on our chat and learn more interesting facts about one of the baddest boys of rock 'n' roll.
I lead off our conversation borrowing from the statement that I've read several times about "Never a Dull Moment" with the artist/band simply named Tommy Lee -- "How do you feel about your latest solo project?"
"It's weird, sometimes it feels like that, but to me it just feels like my new band," replies Lee. "I did a solo project prior to this called Methods of Mayhem. I guess everyone sees it as more of a solo project because I'm using my name, but it doesn't seem that different to me.''
Lee explains that MOM bassist Marty O'Brien will be on the tour, while Chris Chaney played on the album and MOM drummer Steve Perkins played on the album, while Will Hunt will take over the drums for the tour. Joining the group on the road as well, will be guitarist 3. MOM guitarist Kai Huppenen also lent his time to help Lee pen some of the effort's tunes, but he and a friend in Canada finally got the record deal they had been seeking and Huppenen went on to pursue the project.
Being a musician myself, I have to compare writing techniques with Lee.
"I got home from the Ozz Fest like September of 2000 and you come back from the road with a certain energy from being in front of all these people, energy from the road," says Lee. "So I wanted to set up my home studio, I just got right to work. For some reason I just felt like it was 'Let's go. Let's do this,' all the energy there. I kind of locked myself in my home, I had no social life and I just focused on what it was I wanted to do next. And what you hear is a result of several months writing, kind of disconnecting from everything."
"Do you have a formula?" I ask.
"It's weird because I've actually thought about that, like is there some weird method to the way I do this? I can't figure it out because it's always different. One day I'll grab a guitar out of a case and all of a sudden there's the idea for the song, it came from the guitar first or a drum beat or singing in the car, a melody will come or something. It's totally different, it's never the same." Lee adds, "Whenever you feel it. Sometimes the feeling you get when you get a great idea coming, you never know when it's going to come.''
"I know," I giggle. "I always wake up late at night with ideas. Do you?"
"Totally," Lee laughs. "I cannot sleep, I'm like, 'Okay, I've got to run downstairs.' Thank God I've got a studio in my house or I'd forget everything. I've got to run down and put the idea down, just roughly, so I can sleep now, so I can rest my mind, because I know that tomorrow I'll have this great idea to expound on." Lee goes on, "Have you ever got this idea and you're thinking, 'You know what? It's an awesome idea, I know I'm going to remember this in the morning.' And have you ever not written it down and lost it? I think that's why we have to get up and actually do it these days, because you know you've lost something before doing that.''
Lee was born in Greece and came to America when he was two years old. He grew up on Lyman Avenue in Covina, California, and attended South Hills and Royal Oak High Schools.
"It was a cool spot to grow up in. It really was. There were lots of hills to climb and cool shit, like little rivers down in these canyons near where I live. It was a cool spot to grow up in." Lee pauses and adds, "A shout out to Covina town.''
"Were you influenced by your culture while growing up?" I query.
"My mom big time, my mom's a full-blown Greek and my father's American.," Lee says. "Growing up was fun, I felt like I had two different nationalities to celebrate and live in. It would be so festive and Greek for the Greek holidays and for the American holidays and family stuff, we'd do that. It was fun as a kid having two different lifestyles to enjoy like that.''
I venture, "Do you think you were influenced in any way by Greek music?"
"I don't know if it influenced me," replies Lee. "But it's definitely been around me and every time I hear it, I get a smile on face because people are dancing and enjoying themselves. It's very cool.''
I ask him to tell me how he discovered rock music.
"I tried to find like." Lee starts, stops and starts over, "It's weird because I tell people this story and my sister, I have a sister who's two years younger than me. You know how if you grow up in a family where you have an older brother, it's kind of like he's turning you on to new records and stuff like that. Well, I didn't have that, so I found this friend of mine who had an older brother and we'd go listen to what he was listening to. It was pretty cool. That's how I got turned on to a lot of music, from an older friend of mine.''
He cites some of his favorite bands as Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, AC/DC and Cheap Trick.
"I'm a big Cheap Trick fan,'' Lee chirps.
"Did you play any instruments when you were growing up?" I ask.
"When I was growing I played, oh my God, I played accordion, the piano, like tap dance, ballet," Lee confides in me. "I did a little of everything. It was weird, but it was very cool though.''
"You did ballet?"
"Yeah, but don't tell anybody,'' Lee says softly.
I tell him that athletes sometimes study dance to better their coordination and relate how, in college, there were often football players in my ballet classes.
"That's cool. For some grace and style,'' says Lee.
I get him to admit to me that he did time, like many young musicians, performing accordion and piano recitals. But then I'm sweet, asking him to tell me about playing drums.
"My mom says that ever since I was tall enough to reach into a silverware drawer, I was pulling out knives, pots and pans, boxes, you name it and I would just beat the hell out of them," Lee recalls. "But I think I got my first drum, my parents got me a snare drum when I was like five and eventually I got a drum kit about a year or so later. Yeah, I think I was about five when I first got serious with the drum.''
"So did you play the drums in school band?"
"Yeah,'' Lee chuckles, seeming embarrassed.
"That's okay,'' I say.
"Everyone thought you were like a band fag though," Lee tells me. "'Oh,
they're in the band, they're gay.'''
"Yeah." I say with sarcasm, "What a geek."
"Yeah, "You're a geek,' whatever, it's like, 'You're a band geek,'" Lee picks up. "But I always thought that the drummers were cool, those guys held down the fort with the bass. So I never considered myself a band geek, it was fun.''
"But you didn't finish school, right?" I ask. "You left for your career?"
"My senior year I decided to quit," Lee confirms. "We got a record deal with Motley Crue, I was like 17, I think. Yeah, we got a record deal and my last year of high school I was fucking determined to play music. When we got our record deal, it was like, 'Aaa--, you know what, I'm outta here. This is what I truly want to do.'''
"Did you work while in high school and in the early days of Crue?"
"Oh yeah, painting houses, cutting lawns, doing gardening stuff," says Lee. "To buy drumsticks, cymbals, all the stuff you always break when you play the drums.''
"What kind of hobbies do you have when you're not busy with music?"
"I like swimming a lot. It just calms me down and, for some reason, I find when I'm under the water, I'm just fucking so happy. Swimming," Lee replies. "I like to get out on my motorcycle, a Harley Softtail Custom. Going out, just going for a putt on that. My dirt bike, if I feel like going fucking crazy, I just go out on that. It's a CR250 Honda.''
I ride too, so of course we have to discuss how great it is to be out on a motorcycle.
"It feels amazing, your hair's blowing in the wind, the sun's starting to set, you're like, 'Oh, this is fucking amazing,''' sums up Lee.
"So what about your kids?" I ask about his sons, Brandon and Dylan. "You do get to see them?"
"I'm seeing them right now about once a week because we're in a pretty gnarly custody battle,'' Lee says, sounding guarded.
"Yes, but I want to know what you do when you're with your children," I respond.
"We go crazy," Lee relaxes. "I took the kids to the Renaissance Faire (in Devore) last weekend, they dug that. We had to leave, it got cut short, but they dug it. I don't think my kids have ever seen anything like that, everybody's dressed up. Their eyeballs were just giant, taking it all in. It was awesome. We swim a lot, we love playing in the pool. They love the water. Ride their little four-wheel trikes and little electric jeeps around. We play video games. My youngest boy, Dylan, he absolutely just crushes on the Tony Hawk game. He's like four and a half and I can't beat him. That's wrong. He keeps going, 'I win Dad, I win.' It's amazing, but enlightening too. We have more fun than humans are allowed to have.''
I decide to go back to music and pick his brain about the scene.
"That's such a heavy question. The music scene? To tell you the truth, I don't know if I can answer that, about the scene in general. Music's pretty powerful stuff, it's moving along at a pace that I dig. Every day or every once in a while, I'll hear something really cool and I'll be like, 'God, that's great.' I don't know where I'm going with this," Lee finally admits. "I've been cooped up in the studio for the last year working on the record and when I'm writing the stuff I don't get out much and I don't watch TV much, I just try to not get influenced by what's going on. So I kind of hibernate during that period, so I'm just coming out of hibernation, but I'm getting ready to go on tour so I'm sure I'll get out and check out what's going on. I'd like to do that.''
I go on with the obvious, "Do you use the Internet?" "Oh yeah, every day. I pretty much answer fan mail, which is really cool, and I take care of some business things personally on there and any time I'm looking for information, I use it as a research tool. I don't really sit on there for hours and hours and hours, I've got a lot more things I could be doing. It's cool, man, it's definitely cool.'' Lee gets very serious, "It bums me out when you hear about how many people are burning CDs and not buying records. It bums me out because that's how I feed my kids, that's how you live. This is also my job, although I hate fucking calling it that, I love doing it. But when that happens, it bums me out, it's not cool, it's just not cool.''
"Okay, Tommy," I warn him. "I've got to ask you some tough questions, but I'll try not to be too mean. You seem to have a lot of problems in your relationships, do you make bad choices or are you hard to live with?"
"I don't know if they're bad choices," answers Lee. "As long as you learn something from them and then it wasn't a bad choice. It's bizarre. People change, people grow up, relationships are very interesting creatures. They take a lot of work. You have to invest some time into them and if two people aren't willing to do that, then you don't really have much.''
"Has celebrity been a factor?" I offer.
"That's a different quality and different type of relationship there," explains Lee. "At times it's just too much, there's too much stress, just too much on the relationship, it just takes its toll. It definitely does that. But I shouldn't say few, because there are a bunch of relationships out there like that that are working God bless 'em. That's fucking awesome.''
"So what about a new relationship?" I tread lightly.
"I'm in one now and have been for a year. Her name's Mayte, a beautiful name," Lee glows. "I've been seeing her for about a year, we're engaged actually. She's a lot of things. She's a professional dancer, ballet, belly dancing. She's an amazing dancer and an amazing singer. She's an artist. She's great, she's a great lady. Puerto Rican, beautiful, so mellow. She's just sweet, she oozes sweet. She's super mellow, no drama, it's really nice to see. You know it's good when all your friends are like, 'Damn, you've got to hang on to her.' When you get the peer approval, you know it's cool.''
Lee's not just boasting, Mayte is fantastic. She made her American television debut as the "world's youngest belly dancer." She also toured with Prince as a dancer and backup singer and even taught Britney Spears some moves for the MTV Awards.
I know how hard it can be for a parent to watch a child go through troubles in their life and sometimes it is easier to turn away. But for Lee, his parents have stayed with him through thick and thin.
"Yeah, they've been really supportive. I lost my father a couple of months ago, but they've both been really supportive and amazing parents to me. I've got no complaints there.'' Lee continues, "My mom lives just outside of Las Vegas and she's going to come down to the show there and we'll hang out. She's gonna come see me rock.''
I ask him what we can expect in from his show this tour.
"I was going to do the double drum thing, but I did it last time with the Methods of Mayhem band, so I want to do something different this time, where it's back to the traditional single kit," Lee says. "But my drummer and I, we share this drum thing in the middle of the show that's going to be fucking awesome. It's awesome. I don't want to say to much about it, you've got to come see the shit.''
Lee will be touring in the United States for about two months and then he's off to Europe. He hopes to release another single from "Never a Dull Moment" and make another video.
Before we end our conversation, I ask Lee how he has dealt with all the tragedy in his life.
"Sometimes I think that God gives you all your bad shit to deal with and throws it at you all at once to see what you can deal with. And if you get through it, you're like, 'Hey, that wasn't so bad.' You get through it, it's cool. I feel like I'm looking back on a lot of my troubles for some reason, I feel like I've gotten past them." Lee smiles, "It feels good. I feel like I'm in a good place.''
To learn more about Tommy Lee and his new project, visit www.tommylee.tv
Also check out his House of Blues tour at www.hob.com
To discover the beauty and talent of Mayte, visit www.mayte.com
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