Interview:Planet Mars

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Photo and Story by Lisa Sharken

With its original members - singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars, and drummer Tommy Lee - together again, the current Mötley Crew reunion tour is one of this summer's hottest concert tickets. The Crew exploded out of Los Angeles in the early '80s and set the trends for the glam metal bands that followed. Although they've endured a few temporary lineup changes, the original bad boys are back, hotter than ever, and ready to kick butt.

While it's no secret that Mars was recovering from the major hip replacement surgery he underwent last year(the result of a degenerative bone disease), there was just no way he was going to allow any obstacles to hold him back from a world tour with the Crew! After the tour was announced, rumors immediately spread which speculated that Mars wasn't well enough to undergo the strenuous travel, and that he would have to be temporarily replaced until he fully recovered. "I don't know how these rumors get started, but let me tell you, it's just not true," Mars said with certainty. "I'm feeling great and there's no way I'm missing this tour! It just ain't gonna happen!"

And to date, Mars has proved all those who doubted him to be completely wrong by not missing a single show since the tour began. He's rocking as hard as ever - though perhaps not doing quite so much running around this time. But most importantly, his guitar playing is unaffected and as tight and heavy as can be.

We spoke with Mars as the Crew's tour kicked off. He discussed what it's like to have the old team working together again, and told us about the experience of writing the new material for Crew's latest disc, Red, White & Crew. Although the material on the double-disc is largely a greatest hits collection, there are several new tracks included as well, which were recorded specifically for this album. In addition, Mars detailed the gear he's currently using onstage. From his guitars to the amps and effects he plays through, Mars proudly touts his rig for its massive tone - a tone he claims can rival no other! From a musical aspect, tell us a bit about Mötley Crew's reunion. Although the band never broke up, it's been a while since the original lineup played together. Did things easily fall back into place?

Mick Mars: It had been like seven years since we performed. I think that in the beginning, there was a little bit of animosity, and then talking stuff out, and working out issues. It's family. Have an arrogant venting, and that's done. Once we got rid of the baggage, we got down to work. Although Red, White & Crew is mainly a greatest hits collection, there are several new tunes included.

Mick Mars: Yes, it's a greatest hits album, but there are some other things on there as well, like "Street Fighting Man," which is the old Rolling Stones song. That's a cool song. I think that was Nikki's idea to cover it. "If I Die Tomorrow" is the new single, and I think there's one more new song on there. Describe the group's songwriting process. Do you work individually or work together on ideas?

Mick Mars: It's sometimes a mixture of both. We sometimes come in with individual ideas and then everybody will throw something into the "stew pot" to enhance the song or change a part. A lot of times Nikki and I write songs together. I've written a couple of songs with Tommy, too. But mostly it's just Nikki and I, and Vince writes some. He'll come up with a good melody part for songs. It's individually as well as a collaboration. Is there anything different about the process today compared to the way you worked together in the past?

Mick Mars: Not really. I think once you get a formula down, you pretty much stay with it because it's proven to work. It's pretty much still the old stew pot and us putting stuff together and combining different ideas. Do you often reuse parts that were initially written for other songs or just individual parts which never had a connection to a song?

Mick Mars: Yeah. Sometimes you have a part, but you don't have anything else to go with it. Paul McCartney and John Lennon both had pieces of songs they each wrote which they put together. Like on "Sgt. Pepper's," John Lennon had the first part, then Paul McCartney wrote the middle part with "Woke up, got out of bed" They blended them together with that little instrumental part. That's kind of what we do sometimes, but it's not exactly like we're doing it that radically. It's more like I've got a lick that'll work perfectly in somebody else's piece. I didn't have a whole song together, I just had the lick, and when we put it together, it fits. Tell us about the new single and how that song came together.

Mick Mars: It's kind of hard for me to answer that question because Nikki [Sixx, bassist] wrote that one and he writes lyrics about his life. And I think what he wrote about was each one of us in an experience, where if I were to die tomorrow, what would you think about it? The song is kind of like talking with family and friends about it, and that kind of stuff. Which track from your entire catalog do you consider the best recorded example of your guitar work?

Mick Mars: It's been a long time since I heard them all. I kind of like what I did on "Primal Scream" and I like the direction we were going that one. For this tour, I have to listen to them all again because I forget a lot of stuff that I've done! That's why I've got to woodshed and learn them all again. We're playing a lot more songs that we haven't played in years. For instance, we're going to play "Bastard" from the second album and a lot of songs that we haven't played in years, like "She Goes Down." So I've got to woodshed and relearn them, but it won't be that hard because I know what to do. It's just remembering the parts, and getting the arrangement right. Describe your style and tone.

Mick Mars: I think I have a tone that's bigger and heavier than anybody's on the planet! I defy anybody's tone to be as thick as mine! I think tone is everything. Playing speedy licks and guitar diarrhea is not my style. I play from my heart and soul. I play things that fit the song. They may not be fast or complicated, but it's what's appropriate for the song. What are you playing through onstage?

Mick Mars: For my main sound, I have Soldano SLO100s and Marshall JCM800 model 2203 100 watt amps and 1960BV 4x12 straight cabinets with Vintage 30s. I'm using two VHT Twenty One Hundred model power amps to make the Soldanos and Marshalls sound way louder and bigger. Then I'm using two Rivera LB212 sub-bass cabinets and a Rivera Bonehead through a Crown power amp to make that sound bigger and heavier. I'm playing with five to seven amps onstage. Everything goes into the Bradshaw rack, and then into the speaker cabinets. The effects are in the loops and it's very quiet.

The Bradshaw system is great for multitasking, where I can put effects together with an octave divider and a lot of tremolo with some really deep reverb on it. I have a bunch of different kinds of things. I have an old Eventide H3000 - one of the first made. I have this one Alesis rack that I use for this big swirling Jimi Hendrix thing. I think it's the M1. I use them for a bunch of different reverbs, echo chambers, and tremolos so I can blend things. I also have some Rocktron Hush units to control any noise. I also have the Dunlop rackmount Crybaby, so I have wah controller pedals all over the stage. I use the old Clyde McCoys in the studio, but I use the Dunlop ones live. Then I have a custom made talk box. It's so powerful, it actually shakes my eyeballs! Which guitars are you using live?

Mick Mars: I have about eight guitars on tour. Most are Stratocasters which Fender modified. I put different pickups in them. I can't remember the guy's name who makes them, but he lives in Tennessee. Most pickups put out about seven to seven-and-a-half ohms, and mine are putting out 16. They have more windings. So that's one of my secrets. It just pushes the guitar amp and pushes the speakers harder.

I also use Paul Reed Smith guitars. He's built me custom guitars that are 22-fret models and I have a McCarty that's a 24. But I only take two on tour with me that are flat black and an inch thicker than any other guitar Paul Reed Smith made. How are your guitars set up?

Mick Mars: I use Ernie Ball, .011, .014, .018, .028, .038, .048, and we tune a whole step down. Tell us about your guitar collection. Which of your guitars is your favorite and why?

Mick Mars: I don't have very many guitars left, maybe about 50. My favorite is probably the old white Fender Custom Shop Strat that I play onstage. The neck is maple, the pickup configuration is perfect, and the wood is perfect. It's beat up, and everything about it is just right. I also have the sister guitar to that one, which is black and has the same neck as on the other guitar. They were made at the same time, so they feel and sound pretty much the same. Then I have some guitars that are rare, like a doubleneck Paul Reed Smith. I also have a three-inch thick all-maple McCarty that I wouldn't take anywhere. It's like the old ES-175. For vintage instruments, I have a mint '68 Stratocaster and an Olympic white '69 Stratocaster exactly like the one Hendrix played for "The Star Spangled Banner." Those are my favorites, aside from the guitar I play onstage.

Oh, and check this out: I'm giving a guitar to the Hard Rock Café in Miami! It's an older guitar that I played a lot on the last few tours. The album graphic from Red, White & Crew is going to be painted on the front of this guitar that's going inside the Hard Rock, and they're going to paint the big Stratocaster that's on the roof like my guitar, too! I think it's amazing! How much more of a compliment can you get than that? I'm flattered because they picked me out of all the guitar players on the planet. Why not Eric Clapton? I'm pretty happy about it! What have you been listening to recently?

Mick Mars: A lot of blues, funk, and R&B like George Clinton, and classics like Paul Butterfield, Jeff Beck, Michael Bloomfield, and you can't go wrong with a Hendrix record! I do like some new bands like Maroon 5. They're pretty cool. I also like Nine Inch Nails, though they're not exactly a new band. What advice can you offer to other musicians who want to become better players and develop an individual style?

Mick Mars: Just keep experimenting and keep playing. Do what you want to do and don't cop out.