Interview: DJ Ashba of Sixx:A.M.
Mon, 06 Oct 2014 11:05:07
"James Michael and I were just discussing how we took some huge chances on this album," DJ Ashba says of Sixx:A.M.'s latest Modern Vintage. "Whether it's successful or not, it's irrelevant to us because we're sitting back going, 'You know what? I'm really proud I took the chances I did'. Every favorite band I've ever had, no album sounded the same. They always evolved, took the big chances, and never made the same album twice. That's what we're most proud about with this album. It's not The Heroin Diaries and it's not This Is Gonna Hurt, it's its own thing. It's evolved, and it has a lot of fun new surprises for people."
However, everybody is going to love those surprises. With Modern Vintage, Sixx:A.M. make a record that's not only definitive in their catalog thus far, but it's also definitive for 21st century rock 'n' roll, period. The album taps into a classic energy and transforms it into focused, fresh, and fiery ass-kicking anthems that encompass everything from sexy, swaggering rock 'n' roll, alternative expanse, blues bliss, and even a little ragtime flavor. This is what a classic rock record should sound like in 2014. This is Sixx:A.M.'s finest hour thus far!
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, DJ Ashba talks Modern Vintage, differences between Guns N' Roses and Sixx:A.M., and so much more.
Did you know you wanted to take some chances? What was the thought process going into Modern Vintage?
That was the first thing. With Sixx:A.M., because of the success of The Heroin Diaries and songs like "X-Mas In Hell" and "Life After Death", the fans have really embraced certain things we thought were truly in leftfield. It opened the palette wide open for us to paint any picture we want. Since there's no book or photography book with this album, we wanted to focus on not limiting ourselves. We wanted to push ourselves harder than we've ever pushed ourselves musically and focus on making an all-around great album. That was the main focus.
What's the story behind "Hyperventilate"?
We were at Nikki's house. We were tinkering around with some chords and things. We stumbled upon it. I remember stumbling upon this weird and bizarre riff. We wrote it right there on the spot.
Where did "Relief" come from?
It basically starts different ways. Sometimes, James will come up with a melody, I'll come up with a riff or chord pattern, or Nikki will. Something will spark an idea somewhere. Every song we've ever done just starts off with us literally picking up a couple of acoustics, strumming out some chords, and James will sing a beautiful melody. When we write songs from a musical standpoint, we get basic chord rhythms going, and we get the melody. The melody is the number one most important thing to all of us because we're all songwriters. Once we know we're locked into such a sick melody, then, almost the last thing I worry about when writing a song is the guitar parts. No matter how awesome the guitars are, if you strip any song down, it usually boils down to three or four basic chords underneath the whole. And just a solid melody. We focus on the understructure of what makes a great song. The last thing I usually do when it comes to writing, once a song's in place, is add in all the cool riffs around the vocals. It's super important for me to add to the song and not step on it. If the guitars call for it, you add a really ripping solo. All of those things are determined once the song is in place. Sometimes, a riff will inspire a song as in the case of "Let's Go". It's always different.
Which song surprised you the most?
I think one of my favorites is "Before It's Over" just because ragtime is a genre of music that I love. A lot of the young kids today haven't even heard ragtime because it's a genre that's been lost and forgotten. You don't hear many ragtime songs these days, especially for a rock band to write a song in that vein. To me, that was a challenge. It was about going back to studying that style of playing and wanting to bring to the table a cool authentic solo. I did research on all the ragtime piano riffs. It's really cool. We were able to do it and still make it sound like Sixx:A.M. I used to love listening to Van Halen records as a kid because they would throw in those surprises like "Ice Cream Man". I'm super proud of this and happy we put it last.
What does the title mean to you?
Modern Vintage is very much what it is. It's all of our favorite bands that influenced us like Queen and those types of bands from the seventies. We're taking elements of the ragtime and disco stuff, sonically, and putting more of a modern production and modern twist on them. When we finished the album, the name came up because we were trying to describe what we had created with this album because we knew it was very special. Once the name came up, we knew there was no better name to describe this record.
What guitars did you use?
Mainly, I used all Les Paul, some Gibson acoustics, and J45's. It was mainly Les Paul guitars. That's what I feel comfortable on the tone is great.
What have you been listening to lately?
It's weird. I listen to a lot of film music. I live, eat, sleep, and breathe rock 'n' roll. When I'm home, I very rarely will listen to rock 'n' roll because that's my life. I love it, and I do listen to different bands of course. To be honest, what inspires me is Danny Elfman, John Williams, Tyler Bates, and people like that. I love Christmas songs. It can be July, and it will be like Christmastime in my house. I love that type of music. It takes me back to a happy place in my life. I listen to all kinds of music. I like country. I listen to a lot of Latin music because my wife is from Colombia. We always have a bunch of things playing in the house.
What impacted your playing the most?
My very first album was called Addiction to Friction. I was very young. I recently found the album that was supposed to follow that. It's called Sunny Side Up. I found an old demo from 1996 in a drawer out in my garage. I was like, "Wow!" The whole thing was demo'ed. I didn't even know if it still played because I've been carrying it around for twenty years. I went out, bought a tape player, and found that it did work. 20 years ago, I was using four-tracks. It was all recorded in mono, and it sounded really horrible. The tape was sort of warbly. I sat down and said, "I make people's records for a living now. I should just redo this". At the time, the record company went out of business. I didn't have enough finances or knowledge to do my own record. I immediately got so inspired listening to the demo I did 20 years ago. The guitar playing was just on fire. You have that energy like, "I've got to make it in this world". Recently, I went into the studio and re-cut the entire demo from scratch in three days. James is going to mix it for me, which is cool. It was something fun and inspiring for me. It made me realize back then my inspirations were people like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. I loved Joe's playing because even though he'd do things that would make you go, "How did he do that?", but he also really stuck to melody. He did things like Surfing with the Alien, which was super melodic. That's definitely what this demo reminded me of. It was that era and genre of music. It's funny to go back. Randy Rhoads was a huge influence. The guitar players I love today are people like Zakk Wylde. There are so many greats. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan. I took bits and pieces from this guy and that guy and made my own sound and style.
How does your mindset differ between Sixx:A.M. and Guns N' Roses?
It's so different that I've almost created two personas [Laughs]. They're almost two different looks. It's funny. You would think people would put two and two together. I've been in Guns for over five years, and they're just realizing, "Holy shit! You're the guy from Sixx:A.M.!" Most people know by now, but the first two years because I came out with the stitched up hat in Guns and in Sixx:A.M., my hair is all spiked, the surprise was there. As far as playing style goes, I am who I am. My fans can tell when it's me playing. I think I definitely have my own sound. With Guns, you're trying to stay as true to the original songs as possible so you're playing somebody else's style even though it's coming from you. You're trying to stay as true to what was written before you got there. I take that very seriously. I know how important it is to the fans, and I want to stay as true to that too. I don't feel it's my place to change those solos, step on them, or try to do my own thing with them because they're classic solos and songs. With Sixx:A.M., it's me. I don't have to try play like somebody else. It's very different.
Pick up Modern Vintage at iTunes.
Are you excited for Modern Vintage?