I’ve never kept it a secret in all of my columns that Mötley Crüe might be my favorite band of all time. I’ve also never kept it a secret that bassist Nikki Sixx has been my idol since childhood. That being said, when Sixx:A.M., Nikki’s side-project, released The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack back in 2007, there was a new excitement in me like a little school girl that Nikki Sixx was going to be doing this for a little while longer even after Mötley Crüe hung up their instruments for good. Well, the latter actually happens at the end of 2015 and Sixx:A.M. hits the road for the first time this month since Crue Fest in 2009, something Sixx:A.M. fans have been longing for since. Sixx:A.M. has released two studio albums since The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, which rumors are saying is being turned into a Broadway play. In 2011, they released This Is Gonna Hurt and this past October, Modern Vintage.
On April 24, Sixx:A.M. brings their sold-out show to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, then the Best Buy Theater in NYC on April 27 and the Electric Factory in Philly on April 28. They won’t be coming alone, though. Tagging along will be Apocalyptica and just added on certain dates from Japan, Vamps. Back in October, Apocalyptica was added to the Eleven Seven Music family. They are the label owned by Mötley Crüe’s manager, Allen Kovac, and houses a roster including Mötley Crüe, Sixx:A.M., Buckcherry, Papa Roach, Hellyeah, Drowning Pool…you get the idea. They’re in great company! Not bad for a former Metallica tribute band! Well, Apocalyptica’s eighth studio CD and Eleven Seven Music debut, Shadowmaker, dropped this week. To celebrate the CD’s release and their tour together, I got on a three-way call with Sixx:A.M. singer James Michael and Apocalyptica drummer Mikko Siren. Here’s how it all went down:
This is the first tour for Sixx:A.M. since Crue Fest back in 2008. We’ve been asking for it and now it’s finally here. How exciting is it for you, James?
James Michael: It is so exciting! Ever since we did Crue Fest, it was like wetting our lips and we discovered at that point that we definitely were cut out to do this. We were a band because up until that point, we really were not thinking of ourselves as a band. And Crue Fest was so much fun, and then sadly for the next several years, we just were not able to make a tour work for any of us because of our schedules. So, this is literally a dream come true for all three of us. We just couldn’t be happier. Now, to be able to put together a show with three full studio length records under our belt is a real luxury for us.
Three records worth of material for your first tour is a lot of music…
JM: It really is. It didn’t even really occur to us that that would be the case until we started putting together the setlist. We were like, “Wow, we actually do have a lot of songs for a band that is as young as we are as far as what we’ve done together.” It’s good to have that many songs to choose from, but it’s been a lot of fun shaping the show and of course, we could not be more excited to have Apocalyptica out there with us because it’s going to make for just an incredible night of music.
Mikko, how exciting is it for you and the rest of Apocalyptica to be a part of this long-awaited tour?
MIKKO SIREN: It’s really amazing! We have toured America a lot, but being a part of this tour and to be able to be support for Sixx:A.M., that’s really like a step up for us. We are just absolutely excited. I also think, as James just said, that the evening is just going to be absolutely amazing, musically. It’s really thrilling and who knows where it will take us. Maybe we will end up making music together, but it will be a fantastic tour I am sure.
Now, did you guys in Apocalyptica grow up as fans of Nikki Sixx’s work?
MS: How could you not? I don’t think it’s possible if you listen to rock music in general that you wouldn’t grow up into that thing. Of course, being in Mötley Crüe was a big thing, but when I listened to the first album of Sixx:A.M. back in 2009 for the first time, it was really something that kicked me then big time and of course, you would never think that you’d be sharing the stage with a person that you like or you look up to every night. It’s kind of like amazing for us.
Now, VAMPS have recently been added to the tour. Did you guys really bring them back from Japan with you when you were out there back in February?
JM: (Laughs) You know what? It was so fun. We went over and played Tokyo and we did a show with the VAMPS and we were just blown away by their fanbase, by their show and their production. They’re just such an incredible band. And what we really loved about this idea is just making this a real global tour, a celebration of global music. Especially with social media and everything becoming so global, it just made a lot of sense for us to combine music from all around the world. That’s what we started doing with this tour.
Mikko, have you heard of this band the VAMPS, and are you a fan of their music as well?
MS: I must admit that I did not know the band before I heard they were going to be on the same tour then of course, I went to check them out and listen to their stuff and we’ve been privileged with Japanese bands before and that’s a whole different ballgame. Just like James said, trying to combine this music from all over the world, it’s like a cultural thing. They look so different. I’ve never heard of VAMPS. I’ve never seen them live, but their music is great! Normally, Japanese bands are able to pull out amazing shows.
Now, James…Bravo on Modern Vintage! I am such a huge fan of everything Sixx:A.M. has put out so far. Not only because Nikki is an idol of mine, but you and Nikki together, as songwriters, has been a match made in heaven. Did these new songs on Modern Vintage just flow out of you?
JM: Well, thank you for saying that and yeah, they really did. I think that what’s exciting about this record for us is that I feel like we really found our sweet spot as songwriters together as a songwriting team, and that’s always an exciting moment in any creative chemistry to get to the point where you feel like you can just finish each other’s sentences. And as much as a cliché as that is, it’s a very important moment to reach in any songwriting team, and I feel like we really did that in Modern Vintage. So, it’s been exciting for us to reach this point of our partnership and then be able to push those boundaries back even further and then explore even further with the confidence that we now know that we’ve got each other’s backs and we can really lean heavily on each other in the songwriting world.
Now, Mikko, back in October, Apocalyptica joined the Eleven Seven Music roster and on April 21, you’ll be releasing your new CD, Shadowmaker. The band’s come a long way from being a Metallica tribute band. What can you say about joining a roster like the bands on Eleven Seven Music and putting out your seventh CD release under their label?
MS: It’s really, really amazing! The whole thing, how I feel about Eleven Seven Music, is that they’re not like a record company how I’ve seen them. It’s kind of a family thing in a way that they’re so passionate and so tied together and how they pick their bands. They really put the effort in. They wouldn’t find a band that they couldn’t believe that they can push forward and it’s really like feeling you work together with those people and it’s all about the people. It’s just an amazing personnel they have over there like Allen Kovac being the head of the team. He gives you the feeling that he trusts you and respects the artist and the music maker, which creates us to respect them for the work that they do. So far it’s just been absolutely amazing!
Now, Apocalyptica is known for their collaborations with some of the best singers in rock today. Are there any collaborations on Shadowmaker?
MS: That was the point when we changed kind of a thing. We’ve been doing, as you said, these collaborations for over 15 years now and it’s been great and we have been making amazing music when we got to meet these great singers, but we thought we need to somehow do a change. We thought that we needed to challenge ourselves to be something more and try new things and that’s when we started to think about the possibilities to having just the one singer on the album. It was quite a while for us because we are slow Finnish dudes, but we were thinking it over for a while. Then we ended up in a situation where we just have one guy [Franky Perez] singing everything and also to have that guy tour with us. So, he’s kind of like part of the band at the moment. He sings all the vocal tracks on the album and it’s great!
JM: Hey Mikko, I’ve got a bone to pick with you, man. Ever since I first heard you guys, I’ve been wondering, “What does a singer gotta do to get asked to sing on an Apocalyptica record?” (Laughs) Ever since I first heard of you guys. In fact, I was mixing a Scorpions record with Desmond Child and he’s the one who actually introduced me to you guys several years ago, and I’ve just been completely floored by everything you guys have done ever since then. I thought for sure one of these days, I’d get asked to sing. No such luck. Now, you actually got a singer, dammit! (Laughs)
MS: You need to come and sing with us when we’re on tour! Let’s make it fun!
JM: All right, man! I’m in!
With Sixx:A.M. kind of on the shelf for the past seven years, as far as touring goes, while Mötley Crüe toured and DJ Ashba was touring with Guns ‘N’ Roses, why wasn’t there any option for James Michael to do any touring of his own?
JM: You know what? It’s funny. I spend most of my time producing records and writing songs for other artists, so while Nikki and DJ are clearly out there traveling the world and making music, it’s probably really my schedule that has made it more difficult for us to do anything because I’m constantly in my cave recording things. That being said, putting together this tour and just doing the couple of shows we’ve done recently, I’ve been asking myself that too because I’ve been having so much fun getting out of the studio and actually getting some sunshine on my face and singing songs and performing again. So, I would say moving forward, I don’t know that I’d really be interested in doing solo stuff, but I would love to get out and do more performing and collaborations that are geared more towards live stuff. So, we’ll see what the future holds. I have done some recording and made videos and put stuff out there and it’s always fun. I’m always creating something. So, we’ll see what the schedule allows moving forward.
What songs from the three records can we expect to hear on this tour?
JM: Well, we went back to social media and asked our fans what they wanted to hear, and for as simple as a concept as that was, it was very exciting for us to do that. It really helped us shape the set. It was just interesting to see what songs on these records were resonating with people and there were certain ones that were just overwhelmingly consistent throughout people’s responses and other ones were a real surprise. There’s going to be some surprises on there and I think it’s going to be a great overall impression of what Sixx:A.M. music is. There’s going to a lot of songs from every single record.
MS: Can I ask what were the most requested songs?
JM: That’s a great question! Interestingly enough, I would say that one of the most requested songs is a song called “Skin,” which is just a piano ballad that was on This Is Gonna Hurt, but that song has touched a lot of people. It’s resonated with our fans in a way that surprised all of us. And also very interesting, some of the more obscure songs were the most requested, which excites us because those are also the ones that challenge us and are really what makes Sixx:A.M. what it is. Not just the radio songs, but the ones that get a little deeper into the records. When that happens it validated the blood, the sweat and the tears that you put into your records. When you’re doing it, every single moment of these records is so important to you when you’re creating them, but you never know how it’s going to touch somebody and you never know whether it’s just going to be a fleeting passing moment in their lives or if it’s going to really become the backdrop or the soundtrack to somebody’s life, and when it does become that, it’s just so rewarding. That is something that excites us about being able to go out face to face with these people that have come to us and said, “Wow, this song or that song has really affected my life.” And to just be able to make that personal connection finally and have music be the conduit, it’s just really thrilling to all of us.
One last question before I let you go. Why won’t Sixx:A.M. claim a permanent drummer already?
JM: That’s a good question. So far it’s been working for us the way we’ve been doing it. We’ve brought Dustin Steinke from Bleeker Ridge and we’ve been loving him as a drummer, so we’ll see. We’ll see what the future holds as far as a drummer goes.
Catch Sixx:A.M. and Apocalyptica with Bleeker Ridge at the sold-out Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on April 24, then with VAMPS at Best Buy Theater in NYC on April 27 and at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA on April 28. For more on Sixx:A.M., visit sixxammusic.com, and for more on Apocalyptica, go to apocalyptica.com.