“A song’s not finished until we all have goose bumps…” hmv.com talks to SIXX: A.M.
For three super-successful guys with nothing left to prove, heavily inked hard-rock bruisers SIXX: AM sure are keen to have the wider world embrace their band and its latest album.
In fact, you get the sense that if Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 - out April 29th and the first of two planned releases from their same writing/recording session – isn’t a huge hit, then Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, onetime Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and singer/producer James Michael will be thoroughly bummed.
Which may explain why the affable trio is working so hard to spread the word about the project. During a recent international promo jaunt, SIXX: A.M. spoke candidly and at length about the new album, rising before dawn to appear on breakfast television shows and capping the days with informal showcase sets.
Maybe that’s because SIXX: A.M. – which began in 2007 as an ad hoc thing tasked with bringing Sixx’s Heroin Diaries autobiography to musical life – finally feels like a real band. True, Sixx, Ashba and Michael have released three previous studio albums: The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (2007), This Is Gonna Hurt (2011) and Modern Vintage (2014).
But as they explain to hmv.com, Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 is their definitive collective statement to date. It certainly rocks hard enough, and judging by the band’s exhaustive 2016 tour schedule, they aim to make good on their threat of global domination.
How does the songwriting typically work with you guys?
James Michael: “SIXX: A.M. started not as a band but as a side project, which meant we were all incredibly busy with other things. I was producing other bands, Nikki was touring with Mötley Crüe and DJ was touring with Guns N’ Roses. So we had to be very specific. It was like, ‘If we want to make a record this year, we need to find a two-week window here and another one here and write this many songs.’ We had to really plan it out which doesn’t sound very creative but actually is. Whenever we do manage to get together, we make music. We’ve had to be quite regimented throughout the 10-year lifespan of SIXX: A.M. But the starting point for a song is different every time – it could be a guitar riff or a melody or lyric – but the process revolves on the spirit of the song we are trying to capture.”
What’s the litmus test for declaring a song finished?
DJ Ashba: “You just kind of know, and it’s not finished until we all have goose bumps. It’s something you feel.”
James Michael: “From my perspective a song is never done. My dad was a painter and I’d always watch him paint these beautiful abstract paintings but because they were abstract I would never know when they were finished until he signed his name at the bottom. One time after he signed his name I said, ‘Is it done, Dad?’ And he said, ‘No it’s just beginning.’ His participation in the work was finished but now it was up to the viewer to interpret it. Same with songs. We’ve all had the situation where we’ve recorded and released something and then much later, fans tell us how it impacted them. A song is constantly being reinterpreted.”
Do you guys listen to a lot of music when you’re making music?
James Michael: “I don’t. At least not until the production part. Not in the writing part. Do we?”
Nikki Sixx: “I do if I get stuck. This may seem like a weird reference to someone reading this but I might put on a Marvin Gaye song. Or I might pick up a book and go ‘Oh, inconsistent… OK.’ And that goes into the song. We all have inner critics in our heads – ‘Is this good enough?’ You can’t do that. You just have to keep going. Another important thing with this project: we didn’t just polish a couple of turds and call it a double record (laughs). We intentionally wrote two albums knowing they would live together. This album ends where the next album begins. It was very important to us that there was no filler, and that was a lot of work given the short amount of time – nine months - we had to make this. If we couldn’t have made this a great double album, we’d rather have pulled it than put out the second album that wasn’t on par with Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1.”
DJ, tell me about the artwork which was your baby.
DJ Ashba: “Just as both of these albums stand on their own, I wanted the artwork to tell a complete story. You can see one or the other and it makes sense but when you put them together it offers a bigger picture.”
You guys keep coming back to the fact that these two albums are part of the same narrative. So why not release them together?
James Michael: “Well, 22 songs is a lot to hand to someone at once…”
Nikki Sixx: “...it’s too much.”
James Michael: “This music is incredibly heavy and very deep and requires lots of listens. Some 10 years on we have people telling us they are still discovering new elements on The Heroin Diaries. Our songs are intentionally about pulling the layers back little by little and getting more out of it the more you listen. So we didn’t just want to drop 22 songs on people and expect them to have the focus or tolerance to get through all that.”
Nikki Sixx: “I’ve had double albums from artists I love and I still haven’t got through the last half. You start to find your favourites and you go back to those. You never give the second album a chance.”
DJ Ashba: “These songs are too important to us to allow people to skip over them just because there is too much to listen to or life’s too busy. And knowing this going in, the way James produced it is so cool because I’ve never laid down more guitars in my life. These songs are layered, deep – 3D almost – and it’s different than anything I’ve ever done.”
What will success look like for you guys with these records?
James Michael: “We all have personal and business goals. SIXX: A.M. is a business and we want to build it in an effective way. But personally for all of us, I think it’s more important to make those connections, to have those moments, where fans approach us and share how much our music has made a difference in their lives. That in turn makes a huge difference in our lives. Those are always the moments that always give you goose bump and remind you you’re not doing this out of ego.”
Nikki Sixx: “SIXX: A.M. is all about confession. We’ve tackled some pretty heavy subject matter and it’s exciting, making those connections with people. We are also friends and we really enjoy each other. We always look towards solutions in our songwriting, in our friendships and in our personal lives. When we go out on tour, we have a really healthy environment. I don’t think we can have a bad day. We’re just so grateful to make music.”
James Michael: “From the beginning, SIXX: A.M. has been a by-product of this friendship, and not the other way around.”