Although they've been together for almost 10 years, L.A. hard rock band Sixx A.M. has been steadily overshadowed by some of its members’ other major musical projects, including bassist Nikki Sixx’s predecessor Mötley Crüe and guitarist DJ Ashba’s Guns N’ Roses. Now that the Crüe has officially retired from touring and Ashba is no longer associated with GNR, the group has been able to fully focus on developing the brand and music of this super group, which also includes vocalist and producer James Michael.
Sixx A.M. originated from the creative collaborations for a soundtrack to the film version of Sixx’s autobiography, The Heroin Diaries. Soon thereafter, a solidified partnership formed between the trio, which later produced another coined concept album following the same title as Sixx’s next book, “This Is Gonna Hurt.” A few albums and nearly a decade later, Sixx A.M. compressed their entropic, heavy guitar riffs and traditional lyricism themes of self-improvement to a darker region of the gray matter that calls for action in their fourth album, Prayers for the Damned, Vol.1. The latest full-length record came out last Friday, comprised of 11 tracks, with a follow-up “Vol. 2” due out in September.
Sixx discussed the new thematic album series and the latest single “Rise,” along with life after the Crüe, terrorism and Prince.
OC Weekly (Rachael Mattice): So Mötley Crüe isn’t touring anymore. It’s done. Does it still feel strange to think about that? Hear it out loud? You are able to devote that much more time and creativity to other things, like Sixx A.M. and Sixx Sense.
Nikki Sixx: I’m pretty compartmentalized. We (Motley Crue) had talked this over four years ago and then we put the plan together for a two-year-long tour called “The Final Tour.” Every night it was a living, breathing, emotional experience with our fans playing those songs that we built over the years. By the time we had gotten to the last night, we were excited. What a way to go out. A band that had nothing and was roaming the streets of Hollywood went to selling out three nights at the Staples Center. It was even filmed for a live DVD that will hit movie theaters. We did everything that we ever said we wanted to do. All the guys had dreams of doing other stuff.
I’ve been in Sixx A.M. with James (Michael) and DJ (Ashba) for almost 10 years now. We kind of have a head start. We started working on these two albums, Prayers for the Damned, Vol. 1 and the next record “Vol. 2” - which does have a different name and will come out in September – and it took us probably nine months. While we were touring, we were making a record. Now, our single “Rise” came out and it’s really connecting with people.
I’m very grateful. I got to be in a great band with great people in Motley Crue. Now, I get to experience this great brotherhood and musical experience with James and DJ and our touring band.
Your fourth album with Sixx: A.M., “Prayers of the Damned, Vol.1” came out on Friday, April 29th. What will the focus be of “Vol. 2” ?
We’ve always believed that our albums are a bit like concept records, and I don’t mean that in a bad sense like listeners will be thinking, “oh man, I have to try and figure it out.” What we mean is that we’ll have 10 or 11 songs on a record that are thematically written together during a time when we were experiencing things. Then, there might be songs to the left and to the right that might be similar to the song before it.
During the writing of “Prayers of the Damned, Vol. 1” and during the writing of the next record, we were going through a lot of stuff that the rest of the world is going through. I think it would make us very ignorant to ignore what is going on across the rest of the planet.
When we were writing the song “Rise,” we were just being blitzed with the media coverage over the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. It was this crazy, volatile, loud, obnoxious and sometimes moronic presidential campaign. We thought, “Look, you can say what you want about Bernie (Sanders), about (Donald) Trump, about Hillary (Clinton) and everybody else.” Nobody in Sixx A.M. wants us to be perceived as a political band, but we want to use our music as a platform for people to have a voice. If people don’t like something, they need to stand up and say something. I talked to so many people who would say, “you know what, this just sucks” or “I don’t care anymore” or “I just tune those cats out.” You have to tune them in and either vote them out or vote them in and that’s what “Rise” is about. It’s not a political record, it just inspires people to do what’s right.
Like you said, Sixx A.M. isn’t a political band, but the new song “Rise” calls for a change in movement, to think differently, to take action or to inspire others. Every American can discuss different states of unrest that they feel are in need of change, but what’s one of those areas that is closest to you?
The list is very long.
As far as the fall tour, we are very grateful to be part of the Five Finger Death Punch and Shinedown co-headline tour and Sixx A.M. gets to go and play arenas, including on October 29th at the Honda Center in Anaheim. We’re donating a dollar from each ticket, and each band is as well, to a charity. They have their own that they support as well. Ours is “Don’t Sell Bodies” and deals with human trafficking. The way that came up is that we were working on a song about that. We read a few articles and it really affected us. We have a friend that’s involved in that organization. So there’s so much stuff to political stuff.
My outlook on terrorism too is that you can’t run and hide and stop going to sporting events, grocery stores, restaurants and concerts. When did it become a thing to stop going to concerts? We’re going to stop going to concerts? The idea behind terrorism is to terrorize and that’s why there was a list that was put out from ISIS supposedly, that named the most random, small, targeted cities. One of them was very close to where I lived. Then you could say, “I can’t go to the grocery store.” You can’t live like that in America. I realize that we’re very fortunate here and this is a big world issue and that might sound a bit meathead, but the truth is we have to keep moving forward. Musicians have to keep making music and keep touring.
During the Paris attacks in France, I know a lot of people pulled from touring and went home. It wasn’t an option for me. I said, “No, we’re going to keep playing.” Some people were saying that they didn’t feel comfortable going to a concert. We weren’t going to be that band.
Right. I actually went to a concert the next night after the Paris attacks (Watain and Mayhem at the Observatory) and everybody in the venue was thinking about it.
Of course everyone was thinking about it and we’re probably still thinking about it. We have a song on the new record called “Rise of the Melancholy Empire.” When you listen to the song you will understand our position about this topic.
I read your open letter to Google and YouTube about unfair compensation to artists and labels. This has become an ongoing issue with other companies like Apple and Spotify too, as you know. Of course your opinions can be elaborated on, but my attention was immediately drawn to a different detail. I couldn’t help but notice the first name mentioned in the letter of artists who rose prior to the full era of streaming – was Prince. What did his music mean to you?
I fortunately knew a lot of people who were very close with Prince. My friends knew him when he was living out here in an apartment in Los Angeles when he was struggling. He made music morning, noon and night. He was his own self-made, driven, obsessed artist. He created to make art and fully be art. He turned out so much music. To think of some of our favorite artists throughout the decades is incredible, but Prince surpasses many of them. Prince put out 39 records. You can just imagine how many songs are in the vault.
He did things that paved the way for a lot of people. He even changed his name to a symbol. It’s artists like him that are really important in the big picture and sometimes it’s easy to look at them and think they are crazy, off their rocker or just odd. When people are willing to do anything and everything for the sake of what they believe in - whether they are an athlete, a photographer, poet or songwriter - you will not always be the most loved person, but you will leave a legacy. I think what we are finding with Prince is that people are realizing now more than ever before that he was such an important artist in our lifetime.
From your other recent interviews, it sounds as if the songwriting process and musical relationship between the three of you in the band is very open creatively and there’s a deeper sense of friendship in this band. Do you feel that energy is more desirable for producing the type of songs that you want for Sixx A.M. as opposed to bands that feed off of pain or negativity for their inspiration?
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I used to be the angriest human being you have ever met. I was an angry teenager. I used that as fuel to write songs such as, “Shout at the Devil,” “Bastard” and “Knock ‘Em Dead Kid.” You can look at Motley Crue’s career and witness me growing up. If you want to be fake and write about the same thing that you wrote about when you’re 19 you can. I think people get it. I’ve never been an act.
I’ve worked with a few guitarists who have really inspired me. I got to work with Mick Mars and be in a band with him for over 30 years and sit next to him for every single lick he played. Mick would pick up his guitar and make magical music to the songs I wrote (with the lyrics) such as, “Red Hot” and “Kickstart My Heart.”
DJ is one of the most talented - and not that well-known (yet) - guitar players I’ve ever met and I feel very fortunate. James is also one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met as well. He’s a crazy-talented songwriter, producer and mixer. He can put all of the lyrics and music together so well because we’re in tune with each other like a family and are really open. It’s not forced. The reason we have a double album is because we are able to leave the floodgates open.
To catch Sixx A.M. on tour in the U.S. this spring, in Europe this summer or in Orange County at the Honda Center before Halloween, visit the band’s website for venue information and ticketing. To buy a copy of the band’s fourth studio album “Prayers from the Damned, Vol. 1” along with exclusive merchandise bundles, visit here.