Exclusive interview for hellfest.fr: SIXX AM (Nikki Sixx and James Michael)
“Hopefully we won’t die at Hellfest!” – Nikki Sixx – Paris – 02/22/2016
We’ll start with the compulsory Mötley Crüe question, sorry about that, Nikki. So, the story is over now, are you some kind of relieved about it? You can be fully concentrated on SIXX AM from now on…
Nikki Sixx (bass): I think we’re pretty happy. We did what we said we would do. We’ve done everything on the planet as a band so it’s exciting for everybody to move so. It’s pretty cool to have gone out on our own terms and not gone out with just two guys in the band, you know? I wouldn’t have liked that.
James, what’s your favourite Mötley Crüe song, by the way?
James Michael (vocals): “Kickstart My Heart“. It has always been. One of the best pop songs and one of the best rock songs.
Nikki: It was a punk song originally.
You seem like very good friends to me. Can you recall the day you first met?
Nikki: There are two parts to this story (both laugh). One is when we first met. And when I first went to his apartment, which is bad…
James: Yes it is! (laughs) First off, I had signed a record deal with Beyond Music and Nikki was in partnership… Or Mötley Crüe had a partnership…
Nikki: Yeah, I had a record label there.
James: So we would pass each other in the halls of the label from time to time. We started talking to each other about music and stuff and, at the time, Nikki was writing what was to be the New Tatoo album from Mötley Crüe. And he asked me if I would be interested in writing with him, possibly for that. Of course, I said yes and we set this date for him to come to my apartment in Hollywood and do some writing. So really, our first actual meeting: he shows up at my house, he pulls up his car right out of my house, get out of his car and steps on this big pile of dogshit! (laughs) So we spent the first 10 minutes together with sticks, trying to get dogshit off his shoes! (both laughs)
I guess SIXX AM is very often perceived by people as a supergroup, like a side project, you know? Some famous musicians getting together on a temporary base. But I think that you personally intend to be there for a much longer term. I am right saying so?
Nikki: Yeah, it’s long term.
James: I think that their perception is easy to see. The reality of it is actually very different. What is really at the heart of SIXX AM is really the friendship between the 3 of us. The music that comes out of that is really a result of a real love and a real trust that we have for each other as people. Creatively, SIXX AM was this special place, this little outlet, for the 3 of us when we all had pretty big day jobs, you know, that kept us very busy. We were also very creative and very successful but SIXX AM became this safe place for us, where we could do what we couldn’t do in our day jobs, hat we couldn’t do musically or creatively or lyrically. And out of that grew this band eventually, the sound that I don’t think any of us really planned for (Nikki nods). But it was a real and pleasant surprised when it happened.
Was there actually a day when a click occurred like “Now is the time“ ?
Nikki: You know, it’s interesting because we were writing music for a book, the idea of a soundtrack for a book, right? The book had a tone which was the reflection of a real-life story. So the songs were being written, they were reflecting on chapters of the book, so to speak. But there were some real-life experience that started coming in. As lyricists, me and James were writing stuffs, DJ (Ashba – guitar) was bringing stuffs and it started not only to reflect that but ourselves! The sound of SIXX AM is the 3 of us, it’s not The Heroin Diaries, it’s continuous throughout. We couldn’t plan it. We couldn’t say that we tried to sound like this. We just… The way DJ plays guitar, the way we write lyrics, the way the chords structure or are put together, the way James writes melodies or produces, it’s… Natural. It’s really natural and it’s pretty fun, you know?
James: As far as moments that kind of clicked, I think that there’s been a few of them. One of them, I can remember when we were on Crüe Fest. We were very, very new and way earlier on in SIXX AM history and there was a moment when we were in Cincinnati – we actually have it captured on film – we were playing live in front of 10,000 people “Life Is Beautiful“ and it was one of the best moments. It was one of these moments when the sun is setting and the audience is amazing, hands were up in the air and people were singing “Life Is Beautiful“ back to us. Then Nikki nudges me and I really got goosebumps (laughs) – like in slow motion. That was a moment “Oh, my gash! One of the dreams I have personally had since I was a little boy just happened!” – I actually get goosebumps right now just thinking about this! (laughs) There was also that moment when “Life Is Beautiful” went to Number One: another dream realised. So there’s been a series of little moments where it clicked. I think it happened again for all of us on the Modern Vintage tour, when we all had several moments on stage where we looked at each other and thought: “This is right, whatever’s happening there! I don’t know what it is but it is right and we need to keep doing this!”. There’s been a few moments that have been OUR moments.
You’re probably intending to speed up the whole thing now that Mötley Crüe is over and that DJ is no longer with Guns N’Roses?
Nikki: Yes, exactly! It’s not that we were held back but the time was the enemy. We just didn’t have time. 2 things: one is that we didn’t have time, two is that we were a lot of times influenced by what we did live. So we played The Heroin Diaries – 43 concerts. Then that was This Is Gonna Hurt and we played 19 headlining shows on Modern Vintage – we had never played in Europe yet. The answer to that was a double album. We know we wanna do live. We only know we wanna do creatively, internally, reflective-wise but we also have a mission live. We’re very excited as we’ve got these Summer festivals: we want to be on those stages. We want to be on the underdog position. To earn our right: we haven’t earned it yet. There’s no ego involved, we have a mission, we know what to do and we have a lot of songs and we will probably lean on the heavier side in the beginning because we don’t have enough time to show the complete depth of SIXX AM. From now, we’re gonna go out and play with all these great bands. It’s a great opportunity to just do our job.
I was quite surprised when I checked your European dates: all festivals! I was wondering whether it was the most appropriate means for people to discover your music…
James: I think that in a perfect world we could create a lot of different scenarios that would be greater to introduce it but I think it’s great to do all these festivals because, ultimately, it will leave so much to discover about this band. Our mission is very clear: we have to go out and capture the imagination of a lot of people who have maybe heard the name but don’t really know this band intimately. And it’s a fun challenge for us and then, there’s so much to unfold or reveal itself. Nikki described it earlier in a great way. Today, with streaming, TV shows and stuff, you can discover TV series today that came out several years ago and then, you can do what is called “binge watching“: you watch one after the other and you can watch the whole thing. A lot of people do that. And that’s what I anticipate what could happen with SIXX AM music: any of the people who do discover us at these festivals and like what they hear, they’re gonna go binge listening to everything we’ve done until then. That will be an interesting part of the process: to watch people discover this. We’re patient and it’s going to be a great way for us to introduce who we are to people and then let them gradually get to know us.
Nikki: And we’re not stupid: we know that people are mostly there to see the Top 3. People like to have a good time and early bands don’t get to be seen very much. We’re in a nice position and we need to pay respect to the headliners, the co-headliners and we know that people can’t wait to see so and so on stage so we really need to get on stage , to get their attention and get the fuck out of stage. And we want them to say: “That fucking band was cool!“. They will get on with the rest of the festival and when they go home, they will be like “I fucking liked this guys! I really need to check them out when they’re coming back in the Fall!”. That’s our mission, there’s no ego, it’s strategy.
If you intend to conquer Europe, I guess you’ll have to tour a lot as there are not too many rock oriented radio there. Are you planning to come back after the festival season?
Nikki: We have an offer in America in the Fall, an arena tour for 2 and a half months and we have an offer in January-February-March in arenas in Europe. So we are probably going to take both. So we will be back and see what happens after that (smiles). A lot will be revealed and by then, both albums will be out…
That’s another striking point to me: you are to release 2 albums in a year, at a time where people don’t buy CDs anymore. Why such a double release in a short period of time?
Nikki: Well, we believe in rock music. We believe in a listening experience. We believe the idea that rock is growing. Right now, rock is growing. You might see album sales less than they were but streaming is up. So people forget that, they negate that, especially the old-timers: “Rock is dead, you know?!”. But it’s not dead: rock is coming up, is coming strong and it’s always been here. We believe that the streaming experience is very much like the vinyl experience or the CD experience. The album (Prayers For The Damned, Vol.1 – out 04/29/2016 – and Prayers For The Damned, Vol.2) is written and recorded and put together in a way that is meant for you to listen to the album from top to bottom. And how it ends is also how the next album begins. It is also the same concept so we think that in 6 months, you get 22 or so songs, bonus tracks, you get to see the band, see if they have a back catalogue… I think it’s serving the fans more than the idea that rock is dead. The idea of only releasing one song or such… Our belief is that the fans come before the bank account, yeah?
Are you actually really the ones who put contents on the band’s Facebook page?
I think you manage to do it quite nicely. Nevertheless, as you’re not youngsters anymore, that must still represent some kind of new technology for you to tame. Isn’t the use of it something that you consider as necessary evil?
James : It’s not evil! It’s an incredible opportunity. I think it depends on how you use the technology and how you allow it to be part of your life. For us, it’s an incredible opportunity to connect to our fans and keep a constant narrative going with our fans. And getting feedback. I mean, there could be no better situation. Use it at your advantage and be smart about it, take the good from it and be responsible so that the bad parts of it don’t become a problem!
Nikki: it’s an interesting for us as we’re able to look at the backend of a lot of streaming services as we’re given access, so that we can look at the backend of iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and it can tell us who’s listening to SIXX AM. It tells us the age, who they are listening to and it’s really interesting for us to find out that our audience is younger: it’s 18 to 34 and most of the bands they are listening to are in the same genre: Shinedown, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach… There’a a long list. There’s a long list but that was interesting for us. We were like: “Wow! We’re looked at in a newer light!” As we tour and where we play, we use that and we find out that our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that we had a younger audience. It’s a rediscovery of music, that’s exciting. Eventually, Mötley fans are into that stuff and will come around but I’m not going to throw bait in the pound to catch Mötley Crüe fans. I think that’s just disrespectful for them. I will let them come and I think they will be happy. But right now, we’re on our own mission. That’s why we’re playing festivals. Those are the bands that our fans listen to and we think that, probably, their fans would like us too. So it’s kind of exciting time. Think about it: who could have had that information, even 10 years ago?
James: Right! That’s fascinating.
So, you are to play Hellfest in a couple of weeks. Nikki, you were there twice before with Mötley Crüe. Any memories?
Nikki: Yeah, I loved it. I loved the passion there and it’s a very loud crowd too. It can be quite a noisy and aggressive crowd: you’ve got to earn it! I love festivals like that. I saw the line-up for 2016: we don’t play the same day than Rammstein unfortunately.
James: Amazing line-up! That’s killer!
Nikki: We’ll be ready!
Before we finish this off, is there anything embarrassing about each other I should be aware of? So Nikki, what about James, then?
James: What! Embarrassing about me? (laughs) Oh, man, that could be dangerous!
Nikki: Yeah, well… I don’t know… That’s bad, man… Can I go second? (both laugh) OK, something embarrassing about James… Well, it’s not embarrassing but…We’re very close but James will always do the right thing and I will always do the wrong thing. He is sometimes the voice of reason. Like we’re writing a song recently and we were having a hard time writing that song. Basically the song ended with him stabbing the girl! (laughs) And James goes “We cannot kill the girl in the song!” It’s amazing: he’s like the nicest guy in that sense! And I was “Why can’t we kill the girl?” Basically, that’s all I got.
James: That’s the interesting thing about us: not to get too serious about it. One of the things that is so special about SIXX AM is that we have such a trust in one another that it’s why it works so well. I think we’ve felt so safe especially on the creative side of things. Like we’re not going to be embarrassed if we come up with an idea. There’s this trust, there’s this sense that we’ve got each other’s back. For me, I would say not so much embarrassing. The thing that always strikes me about Nikki that most people wouldn’t know or even assume –even my first impression was this massive untouchable/ inaccessible rock star –people would be so surprised how approachable , how real, how human, how flawed he is.
Nikki: Yeah, flawed… Great! (laughs)
James: Yes, but in a sense that…
Nikki: Flawed? (laughs)
James: We spend most of our time laughing at our own issues.
Nikki: Yes, we do. And DJ… Oh, my God! We should be talking about DJ! (laughs) So we were playing a show – that’s a great DJ story – we were playing a show and it was raining. There was maybe 20,000 people there and the road manager goes “Listen, it’s raining out there: don’t go on the metal part. And if you go, be careful”. So we were like “OK”. The intro tape’s going and then DJ was starting the song. Which song was it?
James: “Pray For Me”.
Nikki: Yeah, “Pray For Me”. So he runs out, hits the metal part, slips, lands on his ass on the downbeat and starts sliding…
James: Sliding slowly to the edge of the stage! (laughs)
Nikki: In front of 20,000 people! James and me looked at each other and we turned our back on him! “We’re not going to help him!” (laughs)
James : We had this routine every day where we got out and it was happening the same way every day. It was our turn to come in and there would already be DJ. But this time, we walk out and “Where is he?”. We were like “We don’t see DJ! Where is he?”. And then we looked down and then… (looks somewhere else – laughs)
Nikki: We have this band rule: like if you fuck up your part – like there’s no look from James for support – he will just turn his back on you! No support! (laughs)
James: We always support ourselves offstage but onstage…
Nikki: No fucking support at all! (laughs) On the last tour, James goes for this high note and me and DJ look at his other and go “Now is the time!” and we ram him!
James: They sandwich me!
Nikki: His ribcage! So he’s like “AAAaaaaaa….” (laughs)
James: We have a lot of stories like that and most of them, 99%, are DJ’s.
Nikki: Nothing that we do is actually very smart because it detrimental to the show.
James: We have a blast, we have a blast…
Nikki: Yeah! We’re having fun ! And hopefully we won’t die at Hellfest! (smiles)
@Warner Music, Paris – 02/22/2016
Many thanks to Olivier and Roger (Replica)