Tommy Lee on Mötley Crüe’s New Single “Dogs of War” and How He’s Still Trying to Figure Out the Meaning of Life

When asked what he’s focusing on today, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee says more than anything else, he’s just trying to be better. For the notorious music icon who seems to have lived as many lives as he has hit records, the purpose of life as he sees it now is to exist in the moment and be better than he was before, whether that was last year or last decade. For Lee, whose band released its newest single “Dogs of War” today (April 26) along with a new music video, the hope is to push ahead with a little more grace than he had previously.

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“What’s the meaning of life? I’m still trying to figure it out,” Lee tells American Songwriter. “I think the meaning of life is, f–k—I’m just trying to be a good student and listen and take it in and honestly I’ve really been on this living for the actual f–king moment. What are we doing right now and how can I be a better person, be a better father, be a better f–king drummer? How can you just be better?”

What Matters Most

The 61-year-old musician doesn’t spend much time looking ahead or in the past. Instead, he says, he’s all about exploring the present. “I definitely wasn’t like this years ago,” he explains. “I’m going to say the past probably six or seven years, I’ve just started to work and live in right where I’m at. I found myself wasting a lot of time and energy, worrying or thinking about things in the future and stuff in the past I don’t have any f–king control over or can change anyway. Maybe that’s just getting older—you start to realize the things that matter and that absolutely do not matter.”

Of course, Lee’s band, which went on tour with Def Leppard in 2023 and recently signed with Big Machine Records, is one of the most infamous rock groups of all time, both for its hit singles, popular records, and its recklessness reputation. There’s no getting around it, Mötley Crüe is one of the most rebellious (and at times destructive) groups in rock history—it was part of their aura and mystique, for better and worse—and it’s often what their fans are drawn to most.

[RELATED: Behind the Band Name: Mötley Crüe]

Sending a Message

But Lee and his crew are still here (though founding guitarist Mick Mars, who suffers from health issues, has been replaced by rocker John 5). Founded in 1981, Mötley Crüe has created a lengthy legacy for itself over four-plus decades of work. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, with members coming and going and dealing with various personal issues. But the group is back now with one of the best songs of their career. “Dogs of War” is catchy, hard-hitting, and portends more big things for a group synonymous with partying and leaving it all out on the stage. And it’s their new song, which is all about fighting for your right to be yourself, that displays the group’s thesis now.

“Maybe it’s [about] sending messages that are inspiring and uplifting and encouraging people to f–king, you know, live,” Lee says. “To be conscious and don’t let other things or other people or other stuff take you down.”

The Legacy Thing is Real

These days, as the group plays to big audiences, Lee says he sees the band’s living memory growing. It’s not just that their fans that have stayed with them, but many of them are bringing their kids to concerts now. “When we play live,” he says, “there’s something that’s been happening over these last few years that has confirmed for me and the guys in the band that the legacy thing is real. You’re playing the drums and it’s full on stadiums f–king packed and we’re rocking out and I see a bunch of kids on dads’ shoulders and kids f–king singing ‘Shout at the Devil’ with the devil horns up and it hits you, like, ‘Whoa, hold up, that kid’s like 7 years old!’ He’s carrying—he’s pulling this along to the next generation and he’s part of the legacy.”

Lee says he would wonder in his rare quiet moments what the memory of the band would be. Now, he sees what the future will be for Mötley Crüe thanks to those young people in the crowd. “Like, wow,” he says, “that’s awesome. Mission complete!”

“Dogs of War”

What those kids will be listening to this year is the new track “Dogs of War,” and what they’ll be watching is the new animated music video complete with skeletons, dog-people, pig-people, fighter jets, police cars, severed bodies, guitar solos, spiders with women’s limbs for legs, robots and more.

“The video is f–king insane,” Lee says. “It’s something we’ve never done. And I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it.” The band, which is celebrating the 35th anniversary of their groundbreaking album Dr. Feelgood this year, is also set to hit the summer festival circuit beginning in May and running through October. It’s a new era for the band with even more on the way for the future.

As for the new track, that came together when Lee, bassist Nikki Sixx and John 5 met to “hammer on a few things,” says Lee. Then they got into the studio, jammed together and laid down their thoughts. “We had a bunch of new energy and ideas,” Lee says. “Nikki and I and [lead singer] Vince [Neil], we always believed that you’re only as good as your last effort. We don’t rely too much on what we’ve done [in the past].” But now they’ve captured something fresh and exciting, Lee says. That’s the capability of music—it provides a rush unlike anything else.

“I love how it f–king penetrates your f–king soul,” Lee says. “The fact that when you hear something, it can take you to that place. You can remember what it smelled like, remember what you were doing. What the weather was like. Name something else on the planet that’s like that. That’s out there for your ears to pick up that can literally drive your being. That’s some powerful s–t, man. I think what I love about music is its power.”

A Drumming Spectacle

For Lee, though, the job requires the same big percussive spectacle he’s come to be known for. “I love that the guys really rely on me to make sure it feels right and it’s moving and it’s infectious,” Lee says of his playing. “Drums are a real tribal thing. If the tempo of the song isn’t moving right, you got a dud. The song could be f–king amazing, but if it’s not feeling right, that’s a big thing. So, I like that the guys can look back and depend on me to make sure everything’s feeling right.

“I don’t think there’s anything I don’t love about drumming with Mötley. It’s a f–king blast. And the guys let me do whatever the f–k I want when it comes time to creating the spectacle. I’ve put together some of the most incredible drum spectacles ever done and some that nobody else will ever do.”

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Photo by Ross Halfin / Courtesy Big Machine Records

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