Back in May, I got to sit down with James Michael and Dj Ashba from Sixx:A.M. to discuss their new CD, Prayers For The Damned. “Sixx” months later, I got to talk to the man who is single-handedly responsible for me picking up a bass guitar and becoming addicted to rock music. I’m talking about the band’s namesake, Nikki Sixx.
I remember being a kid and watching MTV (when they still played music videos) and seeing this hairball of a man play bass while his leather pants were on fire. That video was Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire” and I instantly became obsessed with this man and his band. In 2006, I had the opportunity to talk to Nikki for the first time when Mötley Crüe was kicking off their “Red White and Crüe Tour,” which actually marked the reunion of the band with its original members. While I remember sounding like a giddy little school girl during that interview, it was still amazing to have a chance to talk to my idol.
Ten years later, after getting a chance to hang with singer James Michael and guitarist Dj Ashba up at the Rock N’ Derby Festival in Upstate New York, I began to feel more like a friend of the band. I finally got a chance to chat with Nikki again, and this time, we had a great conversation about Sixx:A.M.’s new CD, Prayers For The Blessed, the band’s upcoming tour with Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown and As Lions, The Heroin Diaries on Broadway and the truth about Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt Movie. Here’s how it all went down:
Nikki, the last time we spoke, you were about to kick-off the Red White and Crüe Tour. If I get to talk to the guy who is single-handedly responsible for making me pick up the bass, every 10 years, I am totally cool with that!
(Laughs) How you doin’? That is awesome!
So, it looks like Sixx:A.M. turned out to be a great retirement plan for you, Nikki…You went from one of the most iconic rock bands of our time to one of the more popular bands in hard rock today…
Thank you, man! We’re having a great time. I think that one of the keys to Sixx:A.M. is, and all due respect to Mötley Crüe…what a great run we had, great brotherhood, and great body of work…I can’t even believe it. I pinch myself and think, “Wow! I got to do that with these three other guys!” But as an artist, you just keep creating. I don’t think that there’s any shelf life on creativity. You just keep going and one day you’re in your 70s and 80s and you’re still doing stuff, and you’re doing it for you. You don’t know what’s out there. You don’t know as a photographer what you’re going to be or as a poet or as a songwriter or a traveling musician. So, you just keep going.
With Sixx:A.M., the answer is never “No.” It’s always, “Yes.” And that I think is the key to part of our camaraderie and our brotherhood and the fact that we’re constantly evolving. And no matter what it is it’s about us feeling good. So, being good to each other, being friends, having fun on stage…If someone has an idea? Let’s try it! The only way a song doesn’t work is if you flush it out and you go, “That didn’t turn out quite the way that we thought.” And it doesn’t take one person to say that. The song says it for you once the ego is out the door.
So, that’s how we were able to do a double album this year and we’re already writing music for the next album. That’s something we’re proud of and it feels good!
I read somewhere that you said that you loved double albums, and while Use Your Illusion from Guns N’ Roses ruined it for me because I felt it could have been consolidated into one great record, you guys did it right by releasing the records separately and allowing us, the fans, to absorb the record. I couldn’t picture consolidating these songs into one record. I love both of them…
Well, here’s how it worked. We knew that we were going to do a double album. And we knew that a bunch of people, including us at times, had that same outlook on double albums, but we didn’t want to put out Prayers For The Damned and have it be 22 songs and like eight of them. It’s like, “OK, now what?” We wanted to people to get Prayers For The Damned, have 11 songs and have them really get into the record, then give them six months, give them Prayers For The Blessed and have another solid 11 songs.
How we did that was we created a list as we were writing music and we’d call one the “Damned” list and one the “Blessed” list and started moving songs back and forth. If Prayers For The Damned was getting stronger than Prayers For The Blessed, then we had to work harder to bring that album up. So, the albums were almost in competition with each other, if that makes any sense. I mean, we were making two individual records and no one wants to put out an album that sucks.
Speaking of the two records, I talked to Dj and James while promoting Prayers For The Damned at two different times and both said that they liked Prayers For The Blessed a little bit more. Would you agree? Or do you like both records equally?
I guess at this very moment, because it’s coming out, I feel really excited about it…I’m always like that right before a record comes out. I can’t wait for everybody to hear the whole album. But I don’t know, man, I listened to them both back to back a couple days ago, and I just really felt like it’s a good listening experience from top to bottom. They’re similar albums, but there’s also enough difference so that you don’t go, “Alriiiiight!” Ya know?
I mean, I love radio, I’m in radio, I listen to lots of music, and one of the complaints that I have is that things become very same to same. And I don’t feel that Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin sound like the same band, and I don’t feel Queen and somebody else sound like the same band, and it wasn’t important for us to not sound like anybody else, so we want to take some chances. The downside to that is, we might not fit in quote-unquote format, but we’re finding that it really works for us and that radio has been giving us lots of love and that feels good too. So, I feel that we’re in a little bit of a win-win situation.
Speaking of radio airplay, I listened to Prayers For The Blessed a bunch of times last night and I love every song, and one of the standouts for me was “Maybe It’s Time”, but I have a feeling radio is going to really love your cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”! That sounded amazing!
That song…we’re all fans of that song. I was friends with Harry. We were in Poland. We were on the airplane. We were jet lagged and tired. We were on the road for a month and a half just grinding it out, and I fell asleep watching a movie and I heard that song and I kind of woke up, and it was the end of a movie. We got into the airport and I pulled it up and played it for James and Dj, and they were like, “Oh, man! I love this song!” And James was like, “You know, that melody sounds like something that we would do.” And Dj was like, “You know the chord structure…” It was right then where we went, “Well, maybe we should record it.”
Now, we thought maybe it would be a bonus track or maybe something down the road. We didn’t know. And that’s kind of what’s special about the song. We got it done and we were like, “OK, this is going on Prayers For The Blessed. And I heard that same statement that you said from so many people, that it’s like a really nice surprise.
Speaking of James and Dj, I got to chat with James over lunch in catering at Rock ‘N’ Derby in Upstate New York back in May for over an hour about songwriting and production, and for you, it must be such an awesome feeling to have collaborators like him and Dj to write music with since you were the main songwriter for so many years for Mötley Crüe…
You know, I’m probably going to say something that you probably don’t hear from a lot of songwriters…I don’t want to write all the songs. I want to be like, “What’s that idea that James has?” And then see if I have something to bring, or maybe I have an idea, and then Dj would be like, “Let me take that like this.” And that’s what I love about the band. It’s so much more enjoyable to have people with collaborate with.
In the early part of my career, I was a songwriter by choice and by passion, but it was kind of the only guy in Mötley Crüe. Then eventually, the other guys started diving in and I’m able to look at things and go, “What’s that riff?” Mick Mars would just give me cassettes full of riffs and I would be like, “What a cool riff,” and as a songwriter, I’m like, “How can I put something to that?” And this is a little different process because we kind of do everything in a circle, and so it’s a lot of bouncing off and we have a vocalist like James. He can kind of do all these different things. Where Mötley Crüe, Vince was an amazing singer, but we were a specific kind of an animal, so when you’ve been doing something for a long time, you’re like, “I can still be in a rock band because I love it, but I can do something a little bit different.” It doesn’t mean it’s fresher or better. It just means as an artist, you’re able to experience something new and in the same world, and that’s really exciting!
Well, since you’ve been writing as Sixx:A.M., your songs have been top-notched. You guys have really set the bar high for songwriters in our genre to try to compete with you…
(Laughs) I’m not gonna tell you it’s easy. At the end of the process, we were just like, “Wow!” And that’s also kind of cool, to set a bar and to actually make it. But it’s hard. That’s a lot of lyrics, a lot of guitar notes, a lot of editing, recording, microphones, amps, drums…I mean, if you really had to think about 22 songs, that’s a lot of stuff. What I love about music is when you know that side of it, you can look at a piece of music and go, “Man, they really put a lot into that.” But a listener that doesn’t know that can just listen to it and just go, “I like it” or “I don’t like it” and that’s cool too.
Now, you’re back on tour with an incredible tour package of Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown, Sixx:A.M. and As Lions. For you mainly, does it feel weird to have to go back to being a support act after being a major headliner for 30-somewhat years? Or do you feel there’s less pressure for you?
It’s not a pressure thing. You have to earn it. I don’t believe that I’m entitled to anything, until I earn it. So, I had promoters saying to management…So, before they got to know Sixx:A.M., knowing mostly me, they’d be like, “Nikki wants to do what?” And he goes, “This band is like shit hot!” And he knows that with James and Dj that these guys can work their way up the ladder. And they’re like, “Well, what about his ego and doesn’t he have enough money?” My manager would say, “He doesn’t care about that!”
I love what I do, and I’ll tell you when we get off stage every night, the crowd knows what we know, and that’s all that we’re doing out here. We’re educating people, supporting Shinedown. When Shinedown goes on, that audience is lit up and I know when Five Finger goes on, they are lit up. That makes me feel good. Do I think we’re gonna be a support band forever? Oh, hell no. I’m way too competitive for that, dude! (laughs)
I have two questions left, but for the sake of time, I will make this one big question. Are you still bringing The Heroin Diaries to Broadway? And the only Mötley Crüe question I really wanted to ask because I really want to hear the answer from the horse’s mouth about this…The Dirt Movie. Is this still a work in progress?
Yes, they’re both 100 percent in progress. Unlike the music business, which we understand and are able to work it since records are a lot easier to make than movies or a Broadway play, which is even harder. They take time. And you were kind of referencing the albums and how you felt that they were really great albums, and the thing is it doesn’t serve anybody in any way to release a bad album. There are enough bad albums out there to last forever. It also doesn’t serve anybody any good that their band that they like or a band that they like from a distance to put out a bad movie. Or a totally not thought out play based on a book with music in it that’s by a band that is really starting to get some attention. So, my thing is always, let’s get it right and then let’s get it! And that’s cool.
So, we’re now in a really good jet stream of stuff happening and I gotta say that I feel pretty damn grateful that I got to stand on stage with Mick Mars, now I get to stand on stage with Dj Ashba. I had Tommy Lee, who is an amazing drummer, now my drummer Dustin Steinke is just a great drummer. I feel so blessed. Vince was such a unique and original and cool vocalist and now I’m standing next to James, and we have two amazing background vocalists, who are trained and can just sing their asses off. So, I’m able to be grateful, but also be in the moment.
The other thing that I wanted to say that is kind of cool is like we just take it upon ourselves in that Dj designed both of these album covers, we have tons of video cameras out here, and if you go to our Instagram account, you can see a bunch of videos that are up there that we actually do ourselves. James does all the editing. He cuts them together. Everybody’s filming. As soon as we get off stage, he puts them together. That’s fantastic because you’re getting it from the band. And I got my cameras out here. I’m shooting the band…Just quick shots backstage, behind the scenes, editing and dumping that stuff up there. We’re really trying to give the audience, the fans and the lookie-loos the experience that they don’t get anywhere else. It’s not paid advertising. It’s really a band that really wrote two albums that’s really on the road that really loves each other and doing our own content. It’s such a good feeling!
Well, where do you go from here? I mean, you’ve done everything! You’re the epitome of a rock star icon, you’ve become a popular radio talk show host, a NewYork Times Best Seller, a clothing designer, a photographer…the list goes on and on. What could be next?
Well, you know what you do? You receive stuff in life the way that you perceive it. So, it’s pretty simple. You go, “This is the way that I want my life, and this how I would like people around me that I love their life to be.” And then you do that. It’s one foot in front of the other. It’s not like some magic thing where you go, “Oh, I can see myself doing this.” And then it happens, but you have to put the work in, and I guess that’s why I told you all the stuff that we’re doing, so you can go, “Oh, these guys really care!”
Catch Nikki and Sixx:A.M. live on tour with Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown and As Lions at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ on Saturday, Nov. 26, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Dec. 1, and the Giant Center at Hersheypark on Dec. 2. Prayers For The Blessed is on sale now where ever CDs are sold or downloaded. Trust me, you want this CD! For more info on Sixx:A.M., visit SixxAMmusic.com.