After releasing their third record Modern Vintage, Los Angeles’ hard-rock trio Sixx:A.M. (comprised of Nikki Sixx, DJ Ashba, and James Michael) announced their first-ever headline tour throughout North America, including a date at The Phoenix in Toronto tonight. Before kicking off the tour earlier this month, A Music Blog, Yea? gave the band’s frontman James Michael a call to discuss classic rock jams, having three lyricists in one band, a mutual love of The Cars, and their friendship — enjoy:
AMBY: Hey James! On behalf of my site, I want to say thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
Sixx:A.M.: It’s a pleasure.
AMBY: So you recently released your third record Modern Vintage. For our readers at home, tell us a bit about the record and your experience creating this new album.
Sixx:A.M.: What we wanted to do with this record was very different from what we had done with the previous two records. Both of those were attached to books – The Heroin Diaries soundtrack basically was built around Nikki’s diary, so it had the backdrop of a story to tell so it was almost like scoring a movie. When we made This Is Gonna Hurt, it was a similar thing but we were really using the subject matter of Nikki’s photography as the inspiration. When it came time to make our third record, Modern Vintage, we knew that we didn’t want to have any peripheral thing attached to it; we wanted this record to be a stand alone. After making two records, doing some shows, and being together for seven years now, it was important to us that we not only revealed to our fans who we’ve become as a band, but reveal to ourselves who we’ve become as a band and what inspired us in the first place. We really answered the questions “why are we doing this?” and “what made us love music in the first place?”
AMBY: How did you answer those questions?
Sixx:A.M.: What we did was look back at all of the references that we cut our teeth on and the bands that inspired us when we were kids. It was bands like Queen, David Bowie, Elton John, and bands like that. We went back and looked at how those records were made, how they were written, and what was special about them. We tried to really capture that spirit when we were writing Modern Vintage. Modern Vintage reflects, really a celebration, of all of the music that the three of us loved.
AMBY: I found that those influences are very prominent on the record as there’s this great classic rock vibe that flows through the whole album. Is that where you created the title Modern Vintage – taking influence from those classic jams and putting a Sixx:A.M. spin on them?
Sixx:A.M.: That’s a good question. That was part of it. It really does spell out, sonically, what this record sounds like and feels like. I think that for the three of us, as songwriters, it had to do with the spirit of how the music from that era came about. There was such a focus on well-written songwriting and the performance of it all; everything was very performance-based when you listen to those records. Another thing we loved when we were analyzing records from that era was how from song to song, every song was dramatically different from the song before or after. That’s something that’s kind of gotten lost in recent years, especially in rock music. The whole scope of rock music has kind of narrowed and each song kind of starts sounding the same. We wanted to not only remind ourselves, but remind listeners that there is way more than one type of rock record. That’s why when I think you listen to Modern Vintage, it will take you on a journey that we hope will remind you of music of the past.
AMBY: When it came to arranging a song, what was the process like having three creative minds and lyricists coming together and spewing out ideas?
Sixx:A.M.: It’s really great between the three of us. I think an important thing to note about Sixx:A.M. is that we truly are three really, really good friends who just happen to make music together. I think that the Sixx:A.M. music is really the byproduct of a really strong friendship. Since the three of us are so busy in our “day jobs”, getting time together is a very difficult thing for us to logistically make happen. We really crave, as friends would, getting together and hanging out. When we do get together, creating music is something that happens naturally for us. It’s that dynamic and that chemistry that’s actually gotten better and better over the years. I think that a lot of the time with bands, when they make a first record, maybe one or two of the guys are the main writers. Then as the band starts to have success, the other members of the band start noticing that there’s a lot of money in the songwriting so they try to start writing song, and eventually it almost becomes a competition where band members are competition to get their songs on the record… It’s the exact opposite with us; we actually are always looking forward to seeing what the other guys’ ideas are. It’s really a dream situation.
AMBY: That’s great to hear. When I first listened to the record, I pressed play and didn’t look at the track listing or anything since I like listening to a new album with an open mind. I got half way through the record to found that you covered Drive by The Cars. I love The Cars. What inspired you to put a cover on the record, especially this new wave classic?
Sixx:A.M.: Oh, cool. I’m glad you picked that up. I hope that you liked our version [laughs].
Sixx:A.M.:It was a really exciting thing for us to do. We knew that we wanted to discover who we had become as a band on this record. One way to do that is to interporate somebody else’s song by creating your own. We knew we wanted to do a cover on this record. We had tried a couple of other songs, but then one day Nikki called me and said how he was driving to work and heard Drive by The Cars. He asked me what I thought about it, and as soon as he said that, it occurred to me that it is such a special song. There was something very Sixx:A.M. about the song. If you look at the lyrics unfolded, it’s a beautifully sad story. That’s something that we’ve kind of done throughout our careers; finding that fine line between beauty and darkness. The song Drive really exemplifies that. It seemed like an obvious choice for us and it was a really fun song to do.
AMBY: I couldn’t help but notice right before Drive you have a song titled Let’s Go, which is the title of another Cars song. Was this intentional at all?
Sixx:A.M.: It wasn’t. I love that you’re only the second person to have pointed that out.
AMBY and Sixx:A.M.: [laughs]
Sixx:A.M.: I appreciate that. It was completely coincidental. We hadn’t thought about that at all. I had that pointed out to me about a month ago. Let’s Go came about much earlier in the process before we even thought about doing a Cars cover [laughs], but it is kind of ironic.
AMBY: In support of the album, you soon kick off a new tour where you recently posted a photo stating how you’re putting together songs for your set list. With three records worth of material, what’s your process like for selecting setlist songs?
Sixx:A.M.: It’s exciting this time because we decided to use social media as a way of having an actual conversation with our fans about putting the set together. It’s been very helpful. We put it out on Twitter and Facebook asking what people want to hear. The hits always come up, but what was really exciting for us was how deep our fans knew the music. It really helped us shape this setlist for this tour.
AMBY: It’s great that you’ll be playing the hits and what the fans want to hear.
Sixx:A.M.: To be here with a fanbase that’s so incredibly supportive, it’s a real dream come true for us and we pinch ourselves every day. We can’t believe that Sixx:A.M. is at the point that we’re at. Quite frankly, we feel like we’re just scratching the surface. It really feels like we’re just starting to discover what Sixx:A.M. is.
Thank you Sixx:A.M., for giving us your answers!
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout