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Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons Keep Rock ’n’ Roll in the Family

Watch the video for "Spiders," and read our chat with Campbell about rock 'n' roll, and Donald Trump, and why he's the worst musician in the family.

When I call up Phil Campbell, he's just about to pop out for a curry. The former Motörhead​ guitarist is in Manchester, midway through a club tour with his new (or at least, new to many of us) project, Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons​. It's a fitting moniker, since Campbell is joined by his sons Todd, Tyla, and Dane (on guitar, bass, and drums, respectively), which means the band is very much a family affair (and that rock 'n' roll is literally the family business). The Campbells also recruited vocalist Neil Starr ​(formerly of Attack Attack!—which seemed bizarre to me, until Campbell reminded me of just how small the music scene is in South Wales and how friendly everyone within it is with one another), who lends a powerhouse wail to the band's groovy, anthemic rock 'n roll tunes.

Formerly known as Phil Campbell's All Starr Band, they changed their name and made the transition from occasional side project into Campbell's main gig earlier this year, after a period wracked with unexpected grief and uncertainty. The untimely demise of iconic rock 'n' roll hellraisers Motörhead​—and their arguably even more iconic frontman, Lemmy Kilmister—sent shockwaves through the metal and rock communities, but hit the man's nearest and dearest the hardest. Campbell joined Motörhead​​ in 1984, and has spent the lion's share of his life as a musician playing guitar with and traveling the world alongside Kilmister. When we spoke, he mentioned how the first three months post-mortem left him numb, in a state of utter shock—in one fell swoop, his entire life had been upended. 

He didn't let it stop him, though. While many of us would've sworn off music—or at least taken an extended hiatus—after such a devastating loss, Campbell did no such thing. Now that his All Starr band has permuted into the Bastard Sons (which, it must be said, is a way more badass name, that Lemmy probably would've loved), the Welsh quintet have hit the ground running. They're about to release their five-song, self-titled debut EP, which was recorded at Todd Campbell's Stombox Studios and mixed by Motörhead​producer Cameron Webb. With the release date mere days away, Campbell—someone whose personal discography numbers in the dozens—seems over the moon about it. 

We only had a short time allotted to talk—after dinner, he had a gig to play—but throughout the course of our conversation, he repeatedly returned to how good it feels to be playing again, especially alongside his kids. He's extremely proud of them—of their talent as musicians, and of their appreciation for music itself, which is his other big obsession. 

Something I've noticed about interviewing rock musicians from older generations is that they're far less likely to adhere to genres (or to give a shit about them at all), whether we're talking Charlie Daniels or Dee Snider. Even as their own output varies (sometimes wildly) form one another's, what they all have in common is a burning love for music itself. That's the biggest takeaway from my chat with Phil—that his love for music truly is what keeps him going, and a passionate desire to what share that love with the generations that come after him. That's why he's playing small clubs on a UK tour in the middle of November, instead of sitting at home enjoying the fruits of his many years of service. As he says later on, "it's a giving thing, not a taking thing."

The EP is currently available for preorder​ on iTunes, and officially drops via UDR​/Motörhead​ Music​on November 18 (unless, of course, you're that one lucky Irish fan who stumbled across a copy early—but I'll let Phil explain that bit below). We're also premiering the music video for "Spiders" below, which is chock full of black and white footage of the Bastards in action.

Noisey: So, how are you holding up now that the world's gone to shit?
Phil Campbell: Well, it's a bit of a shock for everyone, isn't it? I don't really try to get in politics, but I don't think he's going to be any good, I can't even look at Donald Trump, really. It's not good, there's lots of pissed off people, and it must be worse for a lot of you over in the US; you guys must be feeling pretty bad.

Yeah, it's absolutely terrible. Though, there's also this idea​ that, whenever we have a particularly shit leader, heavy metal and punk respond with newfound aggression and energy, so perhaps there's that to look forward to. 
Can you imagine what Green Day will come out with now? There'll be a new version of American Idiot . It's pretty sick, really, he's not qualified to do anything but be a dickhead with five billion dollars, he's not in touch with the common people; he's got no idea how to treat ladies, or anybody, really. I'm just going to carry on with music, and wish you all the best—wish the world the best, because the thing is, it's not just about you in the US, this affects everyone! Unfortunately, that guy's been put in a really powerful position now, and he doesn't think things out, obviously. We'll see what happens the next few weeks.

Focusing on music is a constructive way to process it.
That's a good avenue to think of, to keep the music going—to take your mind off it at the very least

It's a good way to cope with horrible things. You've go this new project now, after losing such a close friend in Lemmy and having Motörhead​ end— are you channeling some of that emotion and energy into this newer project, to sort of help you keep moving?
Yeah, of course. We've been a band for three and a half years, it's my little side project; after Lem sadly passed away, we didn't form then—we changed the name in the summertime, we thought we could get a better name, and things have sort of taken off since then. It was just a fun project, but it is kind of a new band in a way; this is the first time we've been writing original material, we were just playing party songs and stuff we all enjoyed, but it's really good! We've got the EP, which is out November the 18—though apparently, someone bought it in Ireland today, in Dublin! We've had fantastic reviews, and done a lot of gigs, we've done some great festivals this summer, we've got a cruise next year, lots of stuff—it's been looking up! I can't complain, it's great.

Rock music is such a generational thing—you see parents taking their kids to metal shows and passing down records—and this project is a living example of that.
Well, when I was off the road with Motörhead​, I used to just play with my mates in pubs and stuff. The kids were all born four years apart, so whenever they would become four or five years old, I'd drag them down to the pub, and they'd sit behind the drum kit, or be playing guitars in the house. They've developed into amazing musicians; apart from my wife and the dog, I'm the worst musician in the house! I'm proud to say it. But it is a generational thing. With Motörhead​, I remember at least on one occasion when four generations came to one show, they came backstage—there was a grandfather, a father, a son, and the son's son! We had some pictures with them; that's pretty cool. I think the grandfather was dancing more than the youngsters! I think he enjoyed it most.

There's no rules, is it, with music? That's the good thing about it; it's like art, you can do what you want.

What's it like to make music with your kids? How does your role change? Is it a democratic process, or are you still Dad?
Well, I'm Dad—it's got my name on the tickets—but they still give me hell . It is kind of democratic, but I always end up losing the vote . It's okay, it's good—we have little disagreements now and then, but it's all finished in ten minutes. We know we have a good thing going, and we really enjoy playing onstage, playing those songs we've all loved for many years, and now we're doing our own original material, and everything seems to be good. People are rooting for us.

The outpouring of appreciation and grief when Lem passed away really blew my mind, you know, and during those first three months, I was just in shock. It's been a lot more difficult since those first three months; reality's kicking in now. I'm trying to get out of that a little bit now. It's really difficult, but we left a brilliant legacy with Motörhead​ and the music, and it's there for everybody to enjoy for the rest of time.

After spending so much time with your kids and working on new music with them, what would you say surprises you the most about the younger generation's perception of heavy metal and rock 'n' roll?
They've had different influences than myself over the years, but they just like music—all genres of music, and it's a good blend, they're all music fanatics, which, if you want to do something properly, you've got to have passion for the music, and I'm proud to have my boys playing onstage with me. I remember Brian May saying to me last year, 'Iy must be amazing to have three kids playing with you in a band. My children never got the music bug, so I envy you for being blessed like that.' So I have to remember that, it's really cool.

The songs on the EP are very radio-friendly, and definitely a bit more accessible than what you're known for; where did this sound come from? Did you intentionally go for a sound that's different from Motörhead​?
Nah, we just write every song as a song; we don't try to go in a particular direction, really. The songwriting, to us, is still new, with the Bastard Sons now together. A cool song is a cool song. We have some of the best musicians in the band, we have an amazing vocalist, Neill Starr—like you said, before this, he was in Attack Attack, and before then, he was in Dopamine, a really fantastic band from Wales. If we put all our experience together, hopefully we'll come up with some good stuff. We're not trying to go in a direction. Perhaps we'll develop in a direction—this is just an EP at the moment.

How did you hook up with Neill? One would think that Attack Attack! and Motörhead​ would travel in quite different circles!
My son Todd used to record Neill, in both bands—Todd has his own recording studio, he's had it for ten years, he's played second guitar with Dopamine, so it's all a little group. As you can imagine, down in South Wales, it's not a big place; people start to hang out together, and everyone chips in. We've all known Neill for years—probably 15 years now. He's a class act, and we're really lucky to get him.

He's certainly got an impressive voice, and makes excellent use of it on "Life in Space"—though it was pretty surprising to find a ballad of all things on a record with your name on it.
It might be unexpected for you, but for us, nothing's unexpected! It's just a really good song. Todd came up with the acoustic riff to that one, and we all added our own bits to it; I added the Mellotron guitar, and then Neill came in with this beautiful melody—the tone of his voice is so pure on there. I think there's five amazingly strong songs on the EP, and I haven't got fed up with it yet. I'm really stoked, and can't wait for it to be released—although, it's out in Ireland now in a certain record shop . Oh! Tyla's just shouted at me now that it's been taken down now—they got the Friday wrong! So one person's managed to buy it .

We've got lots of work next year. I'm trying to carry on with my solo record as well, and trying to work on a full album for the Bastard Sons, and then, if the music goes good next year, then I'll start work in 2018 on my book of all the funny Motörhead​ stuff. So I've got plenty to keep me out of trouble!

One last question before I let you go grab that curry: why do you think we still need rock 'n' roll?
Because you can party your ass off, and forget about your job, and get drunk—it's a feeling, an indefinable buzz you get. You can't really put it into words. It's just, you know, it puts a smile on people's faces, and they enjoy it. They go out on a Friday night, they get drunk, and they listen to their favorite bands. It doesn't hurt anyone, it doesn't harm anyone—it's giving thing, not a taking thing. If you don't want to go to a rock 'n' roll show, you just don't go—nobody's forcing you to go! Rock 'n' roll gives, it doesn't take. It's like a medicine, or a bottle of wine–I don't see many people complaining about it, not since Tipper Gore and all them a long time ago.

It doesn't let you down, at the end of the day. As Lem said, "Rock 'n' roll is the only thing that doesn't let you down." And he's right.

Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons are currently on tour in the UK:
Nov 18 The Venue - Selby, UK
Nov 19 Kasbah - Coventry, UK
Nov 24 Boston Music Room - London, UK
Nov 25 Open Live Music Venue - Norwich, UK
Nov 26 The Gateway @ Seaton Town Hall - Seaton, UK
Dec 2 Planet Rockstock - Porthcawl, UK
Dec 31 The Muni - Pontypridd, UK

Kim Kelly is thinking about starting a band with her dad on Twitter​.