Sixx:A.M. is a band that is the trio of James Michael, Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe), and DJ Ashba (Guns n’ Roses) in a collaboration that is basically three friends putting out amazing music. With their first two albums being attached as a unique soundtrack, so to speak, of Nikki’s New York Times bestselling first book “The Heroin Diaries,” spawning the chart-topping “Life is Beautiful,” and their second release entitled This Is Gonna Hurt which scored at Billboard’s Top 10 and also ran parallel to Sixx’s book of the same name.
This time around, Sixx:A.M. hit the ground running with the release of their third album entitled Modern Vintage, which this time stood on it’s own without accompanying as a soundtrack to a book. And, according to my interview with singer of the band James Michael, was a true labor of love.
With a tour set to hit the road in April of 2015, Sixx:A.M. is definitely prepared to take the world by storm both now with their new album and in the future, kicking butt on the road.
I had the chance to catch up with the articulate and enchanting frontman James Michael as the album was released, and what follows is a look into the inner workings of this thought-provoking, musically relevant, lyrically hooky, band of brothers known as Sixx:A.M.
Carol Anne Szel: Tell me about the new album.
James Michael: Well it’s a very different CD for Sixx:A.M. and we’re really excited about it. Modern Vintage is our third studio record, and it’s the first record we made that did not have a book or photography to attach it to or be inspired by. We made the decision not to have a peripheral thing like a book for this record because we really wanted this record to not only reveal to our fans who we’ve become but to reveal to ourselves who we’ve become as a band. So it’s been a very exciting process for us as we sit back and look at all the great music that we’ve loved like the great rock records from the ’60s and ’70s that inspired and influenced us. And Modern Vintage is really a celebration of the music that we loved throughout our childhood and to today.
CAS: Who specifically influenced you?
JM: Well, it would be Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, T-Rex, ELO, there’s a large list of those fantastic rock bands back from the early ’70s. Just those early records that really knew how to capture your imagination and take you on a journey.
CAS: So as you said, this new CD is one that is not accompanying a book or anything, how do you take the listeners on that musical journey?
JM: Well, it’s exciting, Sixx:A.M. has always been about not really conforming to the rules, not really sticking to the boundaries and that’s exciting to us. You can’t do this carelessly; you have to do it very thoughtfully. The thing that we’ve always known and always cherished is the trust that the fans have in us. So when you take them on a journey they have to know and trust that you’re not going to abandon them somewhere. That’s the one thing that Sixx:A.M. does, we always bring it full circle. And that’s been very exciting for Sixx:A.M.. So we go out on these limbs and on these tangents and do all of these really crazy musical things, but at the end of the day you can always feel secure that you are hearing Sixx:A.M. music and it’s all going to end up making sense in the end.
CAS: How did you prepare for this new release? How did it come about?
JM: Well that’s a good question. With Sixx:A.M. it’s very important that all three of us always start the process together. All three of us in a room together. We never want it to resort to the thought of we’ll just sending emails back and forth or sending files back and forth. It’s important that we’re all in a room together. And there are a number of reasons for that. And #1 is that we’re all such good friends and we love spending time together. It’s so rare for us to get time together that making Sixx:A.M. music is the perfect excuse for us to get together. But that’s why it took us two years to make this record. Because our schedules are so crazy, as you can imagine. With DJ traveling around the world with Guns n’ Roses and the same thing with Nikki doing Motley Crue, it’s a logistical challenge for us to carve out the time. But it’s so important that we do. And then once we do and we’re together, it really is a matter of… you know, we have really found our ‘sweet spot’ as a writing team. So the process is really just the three of us hanging out, messing around with ideas and then very quickly latching onto something and seeing it through.
So the writing process itself doesn’t take that long. The reason a Sixx:A.M. record takes so long is because once it becomes time to record it, obviously there’s a lot of scheduling that has to be done.
CAS: The three of you sort of came together organically, you were friends first and then formed Sixx A.M.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. That really is true. And we’re so lucky to have the friendship that we do. And I’ve been saying this quite a bit lately and it really is true, Sixx:A.M. is three friends that were brought together by music, but we’re not held together by music. Sixx:A.M. records and Sixx:A.M. music is really a bi-product of this fantastic friendship that has developed over the years.
CAS: And what a great bi-product it’s been.
JM: (laughter) We’re all very, very proud. And we pinch ourselves ever day, and sometimes we can’t believe that we’ve created this thing and that it’s connected so beautifully with our fans. But that really has been just a blessing from the very beginning. The fans are just incredible.
CAS: Your fans are very dedicated.
JM: And brave also. So many of our fans came to us over the years and are brave enough to share with us how their lives feel damaged or broken or are in need of repair. And somehow Sixx:A.M. music has helped in that process of healing. It’s really incredible. And that’s inspiring as well. When you are constantly meeting people and hearing those types of stories it inspires you. It makes you feel like what you’re doing is worth something and that’s always an inspiration to keep moving forward.
CAS: The music is so heartfelt. And recognizable on radio. Did you ever think that was going to happen?
JM: No, we never in a million years thought that any of this was going to happen. Every single day when we wake up, people are reacting to our music and radio is playing our songs. It’s just a blessing, we had no idea any of this was going to happen. When we first got together we were just three guys who loved hanging out, loved making music, and thought we’d just kind of mess around with some ideas. And here we are three albums later with a beautiful career and it’s just so exciting. Every step of the way is just so thrilling for us. And none of it was expected.
CAS: You’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades musically. What do you like better, producing, recording, singing?
JM: You know, that’s a great question. My comfort zone, of course, is being in the recording studio producing. But when I get in a room with these guys or I get on stage with these guys, it’s a dream come true. So I feel like I’ve got five different careers going on and I love every single one of them.
CAS: Do they ever intertwine? I mean, they did on this CD since you also produced it.
JM: Well, they do in some ways. Obviously it’s great to get out there and bring these songs to life. The songs that you built in the studio. And then perform them in front of people and have that energy, that whole new energy and see how people interpret the songs differently. That’s incredibly exciting. But there’s also some dramatic differences between the two. You know performing live and touring is very, very different than spending you know, months and months in the recording studios striving for perfection. And when you’re out on stage and you’re out on the road, perfection goes out the window and it’s all about passion. So they’re very, very different jobs, different careers. They have their things in common, the music and the fans are what they have in common.
[pullquote_left]So many of our fans came to us over the years and are brave enough to share with us how their lives feel damaged or broken or are in need of repair. And somehow Sixx:A.M. music has helped in that process of healing.[/pullquote_left]
CAS: What do you listen to now?
JM: I listen to a lot of pop actually. I listen to a lot of old rock records. But yeah, I’m very inspired by pop music, R&B, and hip-hop and that kind of stuff. That’s always shown through in my songwriting, even in Sixx:A.M.. Even though Sixx:A.M. is a rock band we have a lot of pop influences because we all love pop music of all different eras. I love the old ’60s and ’70s pop music. But I love modern day hip-hop and rap and all of that. Anything that is honest, anything that is sincere, anything that’s real excites me.
CAS: Are you excited to get out on the road and play live?
JM: One thing that’s exciting is to get out and play live because then you do get a different perspective. You see people’s faces light up when they hear songs that mean something to them. And it really reminds me that at the end of the day we’re creating something special that means something to people. And that’s a really neat thing to experience. And it’s always important to remind yourself of that. Because there’s things that we do and sometimes we get lost in the studio and we spend months and months and months doing stuff and at some point it does get put out there and people react like it’s the first time they’ve heard it and that’s really neat.
CAS: Seeing people sing the words back to you live.
JM: Yeah and there’s nothing like that. You dream about that when you’re a kid. To write songs and be able to stand on the stage one day and have the crowd sing your song. And it’s happened on a few occasions with Sixx:A.M. and it’s just a really amazing dream come true.
CAS: Where did the name Modern Vintage come from?
JM: Well Modern Vintage really is a reflection of how we approached this record. As I said earlier, we really went back and looked at those amazing records of the ’60s and ’70s bands like Queen and ELO and Elton John. And we just loved how the listening experience was back then. We loved the way those records were performed, and sequenced, and written, and just the journey that that took you on. So we really wanted to make that kind of a rock record. In today’s rock world we feel that people’s perception of rock music has become a little bit narrow recently. And we wanted to break down those barriers and remind people that there is more than one kind of rock record. That’s what Modern Vintage is to us and that’s why we chose that name. Because it is a modern twist on a vintage spirit of making music. The vintage part is really the spirit in which those records were made back in the day.
CAS: Thank you for your time, is there anything else you’d like to say?
JM: All three of us are just so excited about the conversations we are having around this record because we’ve done something different. Modern Vintage is a very different record. It really is a rock record in the spirit of how great rock records used to be made. And we really hope to share that spirit with the people. And that it opens up their eyes. And like I said that it breaks down the barrier of what a rock record is. This is a very different but very special rock record.