Sixx: A.M. Talk ‘Modern Vintage,’ Upcoming Tour + More
It's a brand new world for Sixx: A.M., as the group has just released their new 'Modern Vintage' album, their first effort that was not tied to one of Nikki Sixx's books. The group is planning to hit the road for a full tour in 2015, something they haven't been able to do up until now. Loudwire recently had a chance to talk with Sixx: A.M. frontman James Michael, guitarist DJ Ashba and bassist Nikki Sixx about the new album and their touring. Check out the chat below.
'Modern Vintage' finds the band working for the first time without one of Nikki's books to help guide the way. Can you talk about whether this was a more difficult or easier process for you not having that extra go-to for inspiration?
James Michael: This is going to sound strange, but this record was the easiest one to make from my perspective because I feel like this band has found its sweet spot. We're three records in, we've really discovered who we are as a band and that's an exciting thing. So, every record for us has been in some respects a blank canvas when we started. We had a very clear vision on this one.
Nikki Sixx: That really helps.
James Michael: We had a very clear vision of who we are now. It made it a very exciting and fun process, even if it did take two years to make and logistically this was probably the most difficult one to make. It just flew by because we were so focused on what our goal was with this record.
DJ Ashba: We have a great label that's not like, "Hey man your last record came out on this date. This record needs to come out on this date." They're just like, "When you guys are ready, play us the music." It's really exciting.
James Michael: It's very rare, as we were talking about a second ago, everything is so calendared in this business so to have a label that when we actually turned in the first draft it was like, "Oh my gosh, we get this! Take even more time? Explore this further!"
Nikki Sixx: Keep going. Also, talking to label and management you have those conversations -- hey we've done so much press, so much with the lyric videos, so much preparation and we've put so much into it with the videos and the photo shoots. So you kind of think, how's that looking? They go, "We don't really care, this is a two year project. Don't even worry about it, we don't care about first weeks. Let the majors worry about that, first two weeks, first three weeks." We know first weeks do pretty good. But, it changes and this is a project. This is a labor of love for us and the management company / record company. It's exciting for us that we know that all of this -- we put two years into it. They're going to put two years into it too. It's not like, "First single is out, oh first single is over. OK better get to work. We need an album out in exactly twelve months." It's not on a clock.
DJ Ashba: You know what else is interesting? About halfway through this record we started talking about our fourth record. It's almost like it's like we're building a house and this record might just be one floor. So we're already thinking of this as it's part of something bigger. That's exciting.
Nikki, I remember when you were down in Australia with Motley Crue touring, you had revealed that you were writing in the hotel room, while these guys were back in the U.S. Can you talk a little about what it's like with Nikki away and trying to put things together?
Nikki Sixx: James living in Nashville for a while, DJ's in Las Vegas. I'm here. We used to all be in L.A. DJ is out with GN'R, I'm out with Motley, James is producing nonstop. It's hard, but the music, what we do is we get together to write that music.
James Michael: It's very important to us that the writing process the three of us are together in a room because that's when the chemistry happens. We're such good friends. We love spending time together anyway and it's so rare that we get that occasion that for creating, the writing of a record very important to us. We never want to resort to one of those bands that is emailing files back and forth and Skyping in sessions. Obviously when it came to recording it, logistically it's a much more difficult task. We just don't have the luxury of all being able to pile into a studio at one time. But for the writing, it's very important that the three of us are there as friends and as mates.
One of the things you talk about is the '70s era being so influential on you. Can each of you talk about what the '70s era meant to you growing up and how it influenced this record?
DJ Ashba: I grew up in a religious family so I had my aunt and uncle outside of my mom to introduce me to bands like Queen and Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top and Michael Jackson, Elvis. So many thanks to them. But it was awesome, and I look back now and I'm so thankful that I was listening to songs that kids my age weren't introduced to. It really became a huge part of the way I play guitar these days. I learn from people like Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins, those type of players, Les Paul, whereas kids my age were listening to CC Deville. It's a completely different thing and I'm very thankful for that.
Nikki Sixx: I was fortunate to grow up in the '70s, I saw so many of these artists play small places too like The Paramount Theater. I saw KISS, Queen, T-Rex. I was young. I was really influenced by this music and as I started playing in bands it was the thing that I always remember. That's the gold standard to what a great band sounds like lyrically, melodically and visually. But when we did this record, it was different because we said -- listen to 'Jet' from 'Band on the Run.' Let's really listen to it. It's just like, flows effortlessly from the speakers but when you really get into it, that s--t is hard. The easiest to listen to songs are the hardest to write.
Songs like 'Gotta Get it Right,' they just flow, like wow -- it sounds so simple. They're not easy to write and that's what I found with this record, was the challenge was to get to that level you have to really extend yourself in faith that you might be going into some uncomfortable territory. Songs like 'Before It's Over,' we're willing to take a chance. Don't worry about the fans or the critics. Let's just take a huge chance and we did it all over the record. To me, that's the biggest growing experience I had.
James Michael: I grew up with those '70s rock and pop records as well. To me, what I was so taken by was artists like Queen or Bowie or T-Rex, Elton John. ELO, any of those bands, was just how they captured your imagination. They transported you. They, for a brief moment, allowed you to be somebody else other than who you were. I loved that. That is something that I haven't experienced much with modern music. It is out there. Those are the ones that always connect with me. Bands and artists that still feel it's important to capture the imagination.
That's what 'Modern Vintage' was to me and that's why I'm so excited about. It's one of those records that captures my imagination and I'm in the band! So it's very exciting for me to be able to listen through it and identify moments that sound like ELO or Queen. We were very bold about that. We wanted that to be very intentional and clear. We didn't want to be subtle about that. We wanted to be sitting here having conversations about our influences and we wanted fans to be doing the same thing.
Nikki Sixx: What we learned was 'Drive' is a perfect representation of what 'Modern Vintage' is all about. It really sounds like Sixx: AM. So whatever song it was that started the process or songs or vocal idea by the time the three of us were done with it, it turned into Sixx: AM. So we were willing to say that this was the T-Rex idea. But when we were done with it, it was a Sixx: AM song. Some people may not be able to hear it, some people can.
James Michael: Yeah, and that's OK. Not everyone is going to get us, but we wanted it to be there ...
Nikki Sixx: We wanted to be honest.
I loved the glam stomp stuff I'm hearing throughout the record. Another thing from that era, you mentioned Queen and Freddie Mercury. James, I'm loving your falsettos you throw in there. How much fun was that to throw in?
James Michael: It's a blast. Honestly, Nikki and DJ have been always been pushing me to do the falsetto on all of our records. On this record, we just decided to go for it. Especially with the background parts. On our last records, we never really focused on that but we all really wanted to treat the background vocals as orchestral movements. Just like Jeff Lynne used to do with ELO. I've always had a real love for the flamboyant side of Freddie Mercury and how he would deliver his vocals and there's just so much drama in it. So I had a blast on this record doing that because we really just pulled out all the stops.
DJ, some great guitar parts on here as well. Love the solo in 'Let's Go.'
DJ Ashba: It was a lot of fun and thanks to both of these guys, it's a lot of fun to get in there. I've always been listening to guitar players the most professional that I respect have always written for the song or played for the song. I think that comes with knowing when to pull back. I think that's the hardest thing to do when you're a guitar player, but it's the most professional thing to do. I think that's what this album I did with more than any other record. 'This Is Gonna Hurt' was a full on guitar record, and this one is I'm proud of it because it's a very mature record.
Nikki Sixx: Guitar wise, there's songs like 'Gotta Get It Right' where the guitar and the bass are married to the rhythm, which is a very '70s type thing. Yet, there's songs like 'Stars' and 'Let's Go' -- the guitar solos, it's like, I don't even understand how he can play those things. So, we get the heroics and that thing that we love about rock guitar but we also are able to as a band know when to say hey, this is the wrong time. Or it might be time for the vocal to shine or it might be time for the drumbeat to shine. I think that comes from being a band for a while. Everything doesn't have to be on full all the time.
DJ Ashba: I've always been about the melody instead of the shredding. A lot of guitar players just shred. I always want to leave the listener -- I always look at it like this is the part of the song where James hands a song/storyline off to me. And I take the listener on a little ride and come back around and hand it back off to him to finish the song.
Jeff Fabb came in and played drums on this album. Can you tell me about finding Jeff?
James Michael: It was very important to us on this record that we had a real drummer. We'd programmed it right, kind of cut together pieces and played some stuff on the previous records. It was very important on this one, again, going back to the spirit of those great '60s and '70s rock records. They were so performance based. So, we knew it was important to have a great drummer start that process for us and give us a foundation to build off of. I had met Jeff when I was producing another record, he was playing in another band at the time and was just so taken by his incredible skills in the studio. So, when it came down to making this record, it was an obvious choice. He did an outstanding job. He really fits into this band. We've been in rehearsals with him, he's a perfect fit for Sixx A.M.
Nikki Sixx: My worry about having other musicians around is the possibility of upsetting the apple cart. We get each other. We've been through the darkest of times and through the greatest of times together. We know each other so well and we're so close that it would take just one musician to come in and just wreck that magic, which is where all the music comes from. He's not only a great drummer, but he brings another element of fun to the situation. He fits in with us. I'm excited about him being in a tour bus with us. Or being out doing shows with us. He feels like one of the gang members.
You guys haven't really had a chance to play out as much as a live band, which gives it a little mystique. For each of you, what's a song off the new album and a song from the back catalog that you can't wait to play live for the crowds?
James Michael: I am really looking forward to playing 'Stars' live. That song has such a live feel, even on the record it feels like you're playing it in an arena. One of the real surprises for me is how great 'Lies of the Beautiful People' feels off 'This Is Gonna Hurt.' That one explodes when we're playing it live. I was worried that that one was going to be a tough one to play live. But, it just plays so naturally. It's really a powerful song, live.
Nikki Sixx: We're going to have a unique challenge for a young band in a lot of ways. We have three albums to choose from.
DJ Ashba: It's like a Christmas tree.
Nikki Sixx: Like, what are we going to do? We've already been mulling over how long is too long to play for a band?
DJ Ashba: Every one of these songs I'm like, "God I just want to play this one too." It's going to be hard to narrow it down.
Nikki Sixx: Is an hour and a half to long for a band like us? Hour and fifteen minute the right amount of time? We don't know. Two hours is getting into some crazy territory. So, we have a lot of music to chose from and we want to take people on a journey musically. We don't want to do a linear one dimensional rock show. We want to do like the bands that blew our minds when we were growing up. We want to do that. We want to take them all over the place and we don't know how long that's going to take to do it. It may take more time, less time, that's going to be a challenge.
Nikki, with Motley, you guys have done so much over-the-top production with your shows. Any thoughts on what you're doing for Sixx: A.M. stage show?
Nikki Sixx: Sixx: A.M. is its own living and breathing animal and the music will be really what leads us down whatever path we do visually.
James Michael: Our records have always been very visual. 'The Heroin Diaries' soundtrack was a very visual, theatrical album. I think that we've done that with every record, I think the music itself will determine what the visual is. As DJ has said, I think fans have only gotten half of the story with Sixx: A.M. and once we are now able to bring it live and on tour it's going to be really fun to show them the other side of it.
Nikki Sixx: When we were looking for a band to take out on tour with us, it's really important for us to find somebody that was unique. There's a lot of great bands. But the one band we really wanted was Apocalyptica. We love that band. I've heard they've been working on a new record, it was one of those things. Let's just see if they're available. One of those things was of course they're not going to be available. I got a phone call within a few days like, talk to their manager and they're in. We couldn't believe it. We feel like the two bands together will give the audience such a journey musically, and visually -- obviously. Man, that's so exciting.
Lastly, an update on each of your projects. Nikki, Motley Crue. 'The Dirt' movie. Is there a progress update?
Nikki Sixx: It will all be revealed when it's supposed to be revealed. It'll come in time.
DJ, with GN'R I realize everyone is off right now, but thoughts on next year?
DJ Ashba: We're supposed to leave in late May is what I'm hearing. That's about all I know right now.
And James, writing and recording and producing for different bands. I realize that Sixx: A.M. is the main thing right now, but any other projects we should be looking for?
James Michael: First, I'll take some time off. This has been a two year project for us but I have a band I think I'm going to look at doing in November. A band called Bleeker Ridge which I'm real excited about. Young rock band. We're really trying to make a really rootsy rock record and I'm excited about that.
Watch James Michael and DJ Ashba Talk 'Modern Vintage' Album
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