By Dr. Abner Mality

Motorhead, titans of boozy, bluesy and brutal rock and roll, are no more. The death of band general and icon Lemmy made no other decision possible. That left his long time co-conspirators Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee without an outlet for their creativity. Mikkey responded quickly by joining none other than the Scorpions. And Mr. Campbell? Well, he didn’t have to look much further than his own living room to find a new band.

The Campbells are apparently quite the musical family. Phil’s “bastard sons” Tyla, Todd and Dane are backing up Dad in his new endeavor, joined by vocalist Neil Starr formerly of Dopamine and Attack! Attack! The result of this familial collaboration is “The Age of Absurdity”, an album that features plenty of hard-hitting Motorhead style rocking of the kind Phil is known for, but mixed with some moody blues and a kind of modern rock sensibility that the Campbell lads have brought to the table.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to bassist Tyla Campbell and singer Neil Starr about the peculiar genesis of Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Tyla, was music something that was natural for you right away or did it take time for you to realize that was going to be your path?

TYLA CAMPBELL: I think growing up being surrounded by music  it was kind of an obvious path to take. We all started by playing the drums, it seemed to be the easiest instrument to play. Phil our Dad would come back home from tour when we were kids and we all picked up on what he was doing. From the time we were six or seven years old, we kind of knew that would be our path.

WC: Neil, what’s the musical background that you came from?

NEIL STARR:  I started to learn how to play guitar when I was about 14, 15 years old after  seeing Nirvana playing on television. I hadn’t heard anything like that before. Just seeing them play that one song on that one TV show made me want to be in a band. I went out the next week and bought a guitar and learned how to play. I went from playing Nirvana covers in my own bedroom to writing my own songs. My first band was called Dopamine. We did a few albums and then I moved on to a second band called Attack, Attack! Again we did a couple of albums and at the end of that period, I joined Phil and his sons when they were called Phil Campbell and the All-Star Band. 18 months ago we changed the name to what it is now and here we are, up to date!

WC:  Tyla, did you and your brothers all have the same musical taste when you grew up or was it all over the map?

TC:  We all liked a bit of everything, we were brought up in different generations. Todd was brought up in the same kind of background as Neil was from…Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Silverchair. Dane and I came a little bit later and were from a different background. I was more into nu-metal, that was the thing when I was growing up. A lot of time I was the only kid really into hard bands when I was growing up. When I was in primary school, all the other kids were listening to Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys, I was listening to Metallica and Joe Satriani and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

WC: Kind of a lonely path to walk, but there’s a lot of pride in it.

TC: Yeah, definitely!

WC: Neil, as far as writing for Phil and the Bastard Sons goes, what are your main duties? Do you write lyrics for the band?

NS: Exactly that, really.  I come up with the vocal melodies and the lyrics. From my point of view, I always like melodies and come up with those first. Once I know what the melody is, I start to come up with lyrics to match the song. I’ll never be one of these people who writes the lyrics first. I’ve always been a person to write the melody first and then come up with the lyrics.

WC: It looks like there’s a wide variety of lyrical subjects but with the name of the album being “The Age of Absurdity”, a lot of it must be about the nonsense in our society today, right?

NS: Yeah, a lot of it links back to that. On a personal note, I use lyric writing as a way of getting things off my chest. I’m not a political person and the band is not a political band, but there are certain elements in the lyrics which will relate to the nonsense you see on television. Crazy, scary stuff. Today in the UK, for example,  there’s a new story where some dad stabbed his 8 year old kid to death. What the hell’s going on, you know?

WC: The big story in the States right now revolves around this family with the 13 kids chained in their house for  20 years. Even if you’re pretty jaded, that’s a pretty disturbing story.

NS: I haven’t even heard that story yet but that’s a prime example of what I’m talking about. We’ve had a few things like that happen in Europe over the last 10, 15 years.. There’s so much craziness going on in the world, it definitely overlaps into some of the album’s songs. It’s part of the idea of the “Age of Absurdity”.

WC: This can go out to both of you. Is there one particular song on the new album that you feel most affiliated with or have the most connection to?

TC: Neil, you go first. I have to think and you know the lyrics more than me.

NS: The one song that surprised me the most when we recorded it was “Dark Days”. We weren’t even sure it was going to make the album. We recorded it and it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album. Four or five months ago, we didn’t think it was going to be on the album, much less wind up as one of our favorites. A lot of journalists have said that’s one of their favorite songs as well.. The most fun I had writing a song was with “Dropping The Needle”. I wrote that about a love for music and an addiction to music, I tried to relate aspects of the old vinyl players to drug addiction. I had some fun trying to think of things they had in common. They both have needles, for example. That was the most fun for me to write but if I had to go with one song on the album, it would probably be “Dark Days”.

TC: I think I’d have to do with “Dropping the Needle” as well. I just like the way that Neil came up with the lyrics and the metaphors between addiction and music. That was definitely the one I liked the most.

WC: That song was really to the point. It was pretty immediate, you didn’t have to ponder the lyrics. It doesn’t waste any time.

TC: Yeah, we try not to overwrite a song. That song lasted 2 minutes. It didn’t need anything else. Make your point and move on to the next one.

WC: Tyla, when you were growing up, was their musical competition between you and your brothers, pushing each other to see who could write the hottest lick or come up with the best idea?

TC: I don’t think there was any competition, really. We’d actually help each other. I’m the youngest son so sometimes Todd would teach me a riff on guitar or Dane would help me out with the drums. I was pretty late when it came to guitar. I didn’t enjoy the lessons that much but I caught on and I settled on playing the bass. It’s easier playing four strings instead of six!

WC: Neil, the music has that rough and bluesy vibe of Motorhead but you bring a different kind of vocal style, you add a different kind of feel to Phil’s playing. I know you mentioned Nirvana and Silverchair but what were some of your other vocal influences?

NS:  Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. I listen to a lot of quite varied music, actually. I love Michael Jackson, I love Prince, Stevie Wonder.. It’s not just rock music, but if I had to pick one big influence on me, I would say its Pearl Jam.. Eddie is definitely my favorite singer and somebody I would one day like to share a stage with. For me, that would be the ultimate dream come true, to do a show with Pearl Jam. To be honest, I’m into anybody with a good melody and a good voice. I’m not into the screaming vocal style. I do like to hear the melody in a singer.

WC: Tyla, the dynamic in this band has to be different than anything else out there. What was writing and collaborating with your Dad like? Was he like the general of the army?

TC: He was very laid back, actually. We all had our ideas. All of us sons are in other bands and we write songs. It was good to have five voices all chipping in ideas. You don’t always get that in other bands. Sometimes it’s one main songwriter or maybe two songwriters. All of u wrote, even Neil came up with the odd guitar riff here and there because he plays guitar as well. He’s a  strong ukulele player as well. (laughs).

NS: I actually worked on these songs with Phil. He said it’s actually been quite a positive thing for him, there’s not as much focus on him to come up with material. He’s found it very liberating for us to bring in ideas as well. There’s less pressure. In Motorhead, there was three people. There’s five in our band.

WC: The music has a lot of that Motorhead vibe but it’s mixed in with more of a modern rock sensibility. Would you agree with that?

TC:  I think so. My Dad was brought up with all the old classic rock music while us young guys put in our other influences. There’s a lot of classic rock but it’s got a new edge, a new vibe to it. I think it’s a perfect balance, there’s something for everyone. 

NS: I think some of the songs go in a slightly different direction than they would have if Phil had been writing them for Motorhead.  But there are definitely some riffs on the album that you would have no problem hearing them on a Motorhead album. I think “Ringleader” is a good example of that where the chorus is a big more half time and a bit different than if Phil had brought the song to Motorhead. It would have gone in a different direction. We give it a different twist and I think that gives us more of an individual identity as a band. But there’s obviously going to be comparisons to MOtorhead. I think some of these songs would have wound up being Motorhead songs if they had done another album.

WC: Speaking of Motorhead, was it common for you guys to hang out with the band? Were Lemmy and Mikkey regular visitors to the Campbell household or did you just see them from afar?

TC: Every time Motorhead went on tour in the UK, we’d go to the London show. We’d say hello backstage and hang out and go to the afterparty. I believe Lemmy came to our house once for a cup of tea when the tour bus pulled up but I was too young to remember much about it. I remember one time we went over to Jim Marshall’s house and had dinner with him, my Dad and Lemmy. Me and my brothers were on the local pub quiz machine and we weren’t doing too well. Lemmy came by and helped us out for the next hour and gave us the answer to every question imaginable. He was a really intelligent man. They were always very approachable to us and would say hello.

WC: Lemmy was one of the best lyric writers in all of rock and roll, I thought

TC: Yeah, I definitely agree, especially with ballads like “Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me” and “I’m a Nice Guy”, those are excellent He was a genius.

WC: Did you have any interaction with them, Neil?

NS: I only saw them a few times, to be honest. We did the Motorboat as well, which Motorhead also played, but I didn’t really interact much. I don’t have any stories about meeting Lemmy. I met Mikkey a bit more than I did Lemmy.on the boat. I saw them play a few times when they played locally.

WC: It’s been a tough 18 months if you’re a fan of the classic lineup. They all departed around the same time, almost as if it was planned that way.

TC: Yeah, it’s a big shame.  I remember seeing an image on the Internet shortly after Fast Eddie passed. It was a picture of the “Ace of Spades” cover but with nobody on it…just an empty sky. That hit me hard, that did.

WC: I just saw a video for a new Saxon song called “They Played Rock N Roll”, which was their tribute to MOtorhead. It’s an awesome video because it has a lot of footage from ’79, 80, 81. It will be hard to beat that as a musical tribute. Tyla, you mentioned that you have another band that you play in. Could you tell us a little about that?

TC: I play guitar in this band called People & Poets. It’s still a rock band but it’s not heavy rock. It’s more like a Bruce Springsteen, Kings of Leon . We just recorded our second album which will be coming out in a couple of months. I don’t know if your standard Motorhead fan would be into it, but if you’re up for listening to new music, feel free to check out People & Poets.

WC: Very good. Neil, what other projects are you involved with?

NS: I’m technically in a band called States and Empires which has one album out, but then things got pretty busy with Phil and this band so I don’t see things progressing too much with that in the near future. I want to make sure I give a 100% commitment to this band. The album that States and Empires did was called “Freedom”. I just recorded a ukulele album a few weeks ago. I started playing ukulele about three years ago and I wound up writing a bunch of songs that I really wasn’t meaning to. I just decided to record them a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if there’s any plan to do anything with it. I want to record them to get them off my mind, to some extent. Otherwise I’ve got all these songs in my head and I just wind up confusing myself. Even though it’s completely different from my other work.

WC: That’s a very interesting sideline I imagine doing that kind of material keeps you fresh.

NS: Again, it’s kind of an influence from Pearl Jam since they were known to use the ukulele. When enjoy writing songs, you just keep doing it all the time and get them down on tape so you don’t forget those ideas.

WC: What are some of the live plans for Phil and the Bastard Sons?

TC: We’re about to go out on a European tour in a month’s time to promote the album, then we’ve got a few festivals in Europe. Then towards the end of the year we’ll have another UK tour and hopefully we’ll be able to do some American dates as well by the end of the year. That’s if everything goes according to plan, but in this industry, nothing ever goes according to plan.

WC: Any last words?

NS: We just hope people will take the time out of their day to check out the album. In an ideal world they’ll get something positive from it. We had a lot of fun writing it and we’re all really proud of every one of the songs Hopefully people will check out and enjoy it and if they do, they can fingers crossed see us live in the future. That’s the thing I enjoy the most, playing the songs live. That’s my favorite part of being in a band, actually.