Mötley Crüe Rise From the Dead

Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Vince Neil discuss the band’s new era and their first single in five years, “Dogs of War.”

Music Features Motley Crue
Mötley Crüe Rise From the Dead

A core memory I have involves me, age 10, sitting at my grandparents’ dining room table and drawing pictures of devils in the style of Ed Hardy’s tattoos. I’ve got my headphones on, a record in my Durabrand portable CD player. It’s Girls, Girls, Girls by Mötley Crüe, gifted to me by my parents on a birthday I no longer remember. But I do remember “Wild Side” flooding my ears and my seventy-something-year-old great aunt throwing a conniption fit about my “satanic art.” “Name dropping no-names, glamorize cocaine, puppets with strings of gold, East LA at midnight,” Vince Neil sang anthemically. “Papa won’t be home tonight, found dead with his best friend’s wife.” Of course, I think, who among us has not experienced the same? Around that time, too, a few family members went and saw Mötley Crüe play a gig at Blossom Music Center and brought me back a T-shirt. It had Neil, Nikki Six, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars on the front, all of them looking as gnarly and mangled as their music had been to me. I worshipped that shirt, wearing it thin after designating it a cornerstone piece in my pre-teen wardrobe—even though I’d never seen Mötley Crüe play live.

But that changed in August 2023, when Alice Cooper invited me to catch his opening set on the tour he was doing with them and Def Leppard. In the 15 years since giving my aunt a coronary through my cartoonish sketches of Lucifer himself, I found myself sitting maybe a dozen rows from the stage at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, eager to finally hear songs like “Kickstart My Heart,” “Too Fast For Love” and “Looks That Kill” live for the first time since I’d discovered them as a rock ‘n’ roll-pilled kid. All around me were Crueheads of every age, shape and creed—all of whom formed a living, breathing museum of fandom, with more than 40 years’ worth of concert memories, tour shirts and good buzzes radiating throughout the stadium. “Every time we’re on stage together, it’s magical,” Neil tells me. “I’m having a blast, and I think [the fans] are, too.”

“You look out there and you see the people that grew up with you and you see them with their kids and, now, you see their kids with their grandkids,” Neil continues. “You see a full family, an eight-year-old boy on dad’s shoulders doing the devil horns and singing the songs. That makes you feel good, because you’ve gone multi-generational. It keeps the crowds coming back. If you can see that, you’re doing good.” Lee, too, echoes a similar sense of joy: “We’re seeing our fans with their kids on their shoulders with the horns up, singing ‘Shout at the Devil.’ And we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, this kid is six years old? How does he know what this is?’ There’s this beautiful, generational thing that’s just transcending into the future mindblowingly—where we’re clearly not done yet.”

Though Mötley Crüe have been on the road pretty consistently since reforming in 2018—aside from the lull in touring during COVID—that headlining stadium tour with Def Leppard effectively rewrote the book on where the band could still even go in 2024, especially as hard rock music gets further and further away from the mainstream than it ever has been before. “We’ve been doing this for so many years and, to go and do this on a stadium level and look out there every night, we’d spend the first three songs just tripping out—going like, ‘Dude, this is fucking insane,’” Lee says. “We’re grateful, because that just doesn’t happen to everybody. If I ever took any of this for granted, forgive me—because what I’m seeing here, we still have work to do. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing for the three of us when we talk to the audience about how grateful we are for today. It happens to very, very few—if it does.”

While many rock acts from Mötley Crüe’s generation hung up their ingenuity long ago and have settled into an era of being a legacy act recycling the hits of yesteryear, Neil, Lee and Sixx aren’t done kicking up a fuss. They’re looking towards a future where they, now more than 40 years in, still have something worth saying. “You’re only as good as your last effort,” Lee says and repeats multiple times during our conversation, and it’s because he and the band aren’t much interested in spinning the tires like many of their peers continue to. “The new vibe and the new energy, from rehearsing to touring, we’re like, ‘Dude, this is incredible. People have to feel this, because this is fucking insane and it’s inspirational and it’s right where we’re at right now,’” Lee continues. “So we were like, ‘Let’s record and give our fans a sense of where they are at these days. What are they feeling? What are they playing?’”

Mötley Crüe have the accolades. They’ve sold over 100 million records, released more than 20 Top 40 rock hits, have survived more than a handful of overdoses (Sixx himself was once declared clinically dead for two minutes after OD’ing on heroin), car crashes, a perfect sync of “Home Sweet Home” in Hot Tub Time Machine and, above all, the damning viper pit of rock ‘n’ roll. When Netflix greenlit an adaptation of the band’s collaborative autobiography The Dirt and released it in 2019, a new generation of fans entered Mötley Crüe’s orbit—and it, quite literally, got the band back together after having played their “final show” on New Year’s Eve in 2015. “All these new fans were saying ‘We want to see Mötley Crüe, we’ve never seen them before.’ You just gotta keep going and don’t ever sell out. We just do it the way we do it, and we do pretty good,” Neil says.

After retiring their self-titled record label in 2015 and selling their back catalogue to BMG Rights Management in 2021, Mötley Crüe found themselves in a unique place: They were humming around on some new material (their first batch after recording “The Dirt (Est. 1981)” for the film five years ago), demoing in a studio in the Valley with Barry Pointer and not staring down the barrel of any expectations. While at home between sessions, Sixx and his wife were watching The Handmaid’s Tale and, upon reading the Latin phrase “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum” (which roughly translates to “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”), he pulled out the notes app on his phone and started stream-of-consciousness writing what would become the lyrics for “Dogs of War.” “We didn’t really know what we were going to do with [‘Dogs of War’], which is kind of a cool feeling—to not be like ‘Okay, we’re going to record this song and we got a deadline and then we’re going to release the video and we gotta have it in time for the tour,’ Sixx explains. “That’s how the business works but, in this case, it was just like, ‘Let’s record because we’re having fun,’ and then we figured it out.”

“Dogs of War,” in terms of statement songs, reintroduces Mötley Crüe to audiences of old and new with the same lick of ferocity that’s defined their sound for over four decades. It’s heavy and jacked-up on skyscraping, pungent riffs—courtesy of lead guitarist John 5, whose presence on stage and in the studio has completely transformed the band’s trajectory since Mars’ departure in 2022. “He was what the doctor ordered,” Lee insists. “It was a big injection of life, energy. It was what we needed at that moment, like ‘Fuck, there it is. This is it. We’re clearly not done yet.’”

John 5 and Sixx go back as far as when the latter’s former side project Sixx:A.M. was making music in the late 2000s—and the two musicians even co-wrote the Mainstream Rock #1 hit “Lies of the Beautiful People” together. Sixx is candidly thankful that he can depend on John 5 to pull down his side of the stage these days, citing that Rob Zombie’s former right-hand-man’s inclusion in the band “just made sense.” “Mick’s taking care of himself and we are, too,” Sixx says, reflecting on his ex-bandmate’s absence. “We had two choices, right? We could fold and leave Live Nation in the lurch and fuck over Def Leppard and disappoint our fans, because a member couldn’t continue to perform—or, we could find the right fit for us, as a band, so that whatever we want to do musically, or touring wise, would fit.”

For a band of Mötley Crüe’s stature to rise from the ashes of studio dormancy with a centerpiece like “Dogs of War,” it continues to emphasize that, despite the erosion of contemporary rock radio and the smorgasbord of streaming services to choose from, bands still see the value in touring and putting out music. ““It feels good to go out there and do your job,” Neil says. “We’ve slowed down a little bit. I mean, I have—but that’s gonna happen in your sixties. [You’re] a little slower, but you’re still out there singing and still out there having a good time and putting on a show and having fun with the audience. That’s what it’s all about.” Despite Neil’s proclamation that he and Mötley Crüe have slowed down, “Dogs of War” chugs along without losing much steam. It’s a pedal-to-the-metal tsunami of circuit-breaking rock ‘n’ roll, produced by Bob Rock, that evokes all of the checkpoints in the band’s career so far. “That new energy, it’s got some flavors of what the band is about and its present, past and future,” Lee adds.

“You feel like you’ve always gotta make some sort of statement to let people know you’re still in the moment, you’re still in the game here when you don’t have to be,” Lee continues. “We don’t really give up easily when it comes to doing anything. We want to do it the best we can and have our fans be like, ‘Fuck, man, dude, did you see that? Did you hear that?’ From the live shows to the recordings, our threshold has been set so fucking high that, I think, we’re keeping with our own expectations. That’s a job in itself, because we’re not easily impressed.”

And that threshold—the expectations Mötley Crüe have set for themselves—gets obliterated by the “Dogs of War” music video, which taps into the band’s status quo to, according to Lee, “do things that we’ve never done.” Created by Nick DenBoer—known also as Smearballs—the video is a CGI, Walking Dead-style rendering of the band getting the shit kicked out of them and then, miraculously, surviving it all in the name of playing one last gig. It’s a nod to Mötley Crüe’s existence and how much of a miracle that is in its own right.

Check out their long resume of fuck-ups and near-death experiences, and it’s clear that “Dogs of War” is, at the end of the day, an earned token of perseverance. When I first played through the clip, DenBoer’s signature “How fucked up can I make this?” edge flourishes immediately. It was a natural fit—two artists who drool over the phrase “anything goes” collaborating on four minutes of fuckery. Lee had previously met DenBoer at a party at deadmau5’s house years ago, to which DenBoer showed the drummer a video he’d been working on—and it positively floored him in the most grotesque way possible, leading Smearballs to make a video of Lee later on. “I was like, ‘Dude, this is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen,’” Lee says. “And I’ve seen a lot of animated things, but this shit was next level. So, I made some music for it and we put it out there for fun.” They’ve been friends ever since.

Sixx likens the “Dogs of War” video to when he and Lee got really into sequencers while making Girls, Girls, Girls, or toying with loops like they did in the late 1990s. “It just follows our interest level, to be honest,” he says. “[The ‘Dogs of War’ video] was fun because there was really no boundary. There was no record company, [we didn’t] worry about if it’s in or out of fashion. We just jammed on this idea of ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down.’” This idea of people who are dogging and grinding you away, it echoes the message of who Mötley Crüe is and what future they’re looking towards. “I will stand my ground, I will not back down,” Neil shouts out, as the band embraces the idea of staring mortality in the face and conquering it—wrapped up in a blanket of a straight-to-the-point, anthemic demeanor, as if to say: Who gives a fuck what you think about us? It’s a battle-cry you can recognize, even if you don’t need it.

“That’s Mötley’s theme: Don’t let people get you down,” Sixx says. “Whether people like us or don’t like us, it actually doesn’t really matter to us—in the sense of we need to be accepted or we need to not be hated. We beat our own drum. As far as being socially-minded, we’re not 25-year-old guys crashing cars and snorting cocaine. We have families and we’ve been around a long time. But, in its own way, it’s a little bit of a social commentary, lightly, coming from a band that’s not really a social commentary type of band. I don’t think we’ve thought about ‘Oh, well, let’s say something really moving’—because I don’t know if it is moving. But, for us, it was honest.”

Mötley Crüe have been teasing new music for a few years now, and “Dogs of War” delivers on the band’s long-held promise. They’ve signed with Big Machine, who’ve made noise recently through their work with artists like Dolly Parton and Florida Georgia Line—acts that don’t necessarily parallel their own sonic blueprint. But Mötley Crüe believe in their new label home and their ability to embrace and chase the vibrancy of their muse with them, and the no-stones-left-unturned ambition of this new chapter certainly corroborates that truth right now. There’s a moment during the “Dogs of War” music video where the band, covered in blood, gashed to bits and missing limbs, still manage to take the stage and shred while on the brink of death. It’s the kind of heart Mötley Crüe has worn on their sleeve for 40 years, and it was the kind of energy I saw them inject into the crowd last year at Ohio Stadium. And, it’s only a taste of what’s to come. “You can’t kill us,” Neil assures me, chuckling. “We become zombies.”

Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.

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