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  • Interview: James Michael and DJ Ashba of Sixx: AM

    Wed, 02 Jan 2008 12:15:17

    Interview: James Michael and DJ Ashba of Sixx: AM - Personal struggles and ultimate triumphs beyond the Sunset Strip

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    The '80s was a decade that came to symbolize excess, with bands like Motley Crue providing the soundtrack for the full-throttle decadence. Crue bassist Nikki Sixx lived as hard as any musician on the scene and almost didn't live to see the '90s as a result. He recently shared the pain of his struggle with addiction through his bestselling book The Heroin Diaries. The book collects a year's worth of diary entries from this time in his life, bolstered by interviews from those who knew him and illustrated with heart wrenching artwork that brings the entire testament to life.

    When Nikki decided to craft a musical soundtrack to this tale he enlisted the help of vocalist James Michael and guitarist DJ Ashba: to form the the band Sixx: A.M.. The trio developed The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack as a companion piece to the autobiography, adding a moving sonic component to the Nikki's tortured words and pictures. Enjoying unexpected success with the album, James and DJ spoke with ARTISTdirect about their involvement in the deeply personal and ultimately cathartic experience of bringing Nikki's story to life in the studio.

    "Life Is Beautiful" is totally tearing it up on the charts, you've got to feel really good about the success.

    DJ Ashba: Everything about this has surprised us, just the way that we kind of turned this into a record. We didn't know what we were going to do when we first started. We went for kind of a cool record that is going to do whatever we want to do with no rules and no expectations. We absolutely never expected it to have a radio hit. So, everyday we're getting more and more great news about how good the single is doing and things that are happening with the record, but we couldn't be happier.

    What's the second single going to be?

    James Michael: The second single is going to be "Accidents Can Happen," which is actually kind of the big ballad on the record. It went real well, just from the playbacks we saw. We shot it up at the Sepulveda Dam and I mean, what a cool setting that is, just all the cement and man-made structures, it's just all open, and we just wanted to have wide open space like the song has. It was just amazing to watch the playbacks see the different feeling it gave you about the song.

    Listening to this album, a lot of the songs are cinematic and have a grand and sweeping feel, and that song in particular. It's just a great song, and when they match up the visuals of the video, I'm sure it takes you up to the next level.

    JM: It really does, I mean, we had gone through some different concepts for this video. The obvious route of telling a story with actual characters is much to the director's credit. He felt the size of the song and felt it was important to have this huge open space with all the gear and the amps spread out so that you go for very tight in shots of the performances. These spread-out things just remind the viewer how open it is. I was just taken back by it, it's very simple but also very classic in a way, as I think the song is. It's kind of an old school, classic ballad. I never cease to be amazed by the director Paul Brown; he's just incredible.

    Have you worked with him before?

    JM: Yeah, he's actually the guy that did the "Life is Beautiful" video, which is very stylistic and had a lot of the artwork and graphics from the book warped into the video. He's also the one that did the artwork for the book.

    I felt a graphic novel vibe to the book because so much was going on around it.

    JM: Absolutely. I've said this all along, but I really believe that Paul's visual interpretation really helped mold the sound of the record. It was a neat thing to be given some of these visuals even before we started writing as well, it was not only a character in the sounds, but it was an inspiration for the way it was going to sound.

    The book is such a personal journey for Nikki, picking who he would bring along on the musical journey had to be serious process. How did he come to choose the two of you?

    DJ: I think somehow our name was in a hat….no. [laughs] We've known Nikki for a few years, James has known him for a little longer.

    JM: I would say that it wasn't much of a choice Nikki came down to. This is something that he has been conceptualizing for many many years; in fact we spoke about The Heroin Diaries about 5 or 6 years ago. He was only discovering the diaries, and we had a conversation. We were writing for other artists at the time, and we both thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to make a soundtrack to this?" Because the stories and the journal entries are so theatrical and so dramatic that it seemed like a neat idea. We had talked about that idea several years ago, and then it really wasn't until a few years later when Nikki and DJ got together that it seemed like a reality. I've said this all along, and I still believe that DJ is the missing link that turned this from a concept into a record. As soon as he came into the picture, Nikki and DJ started writing stuff. They started writing these amazing orchestral movements for what was going to be the soundtrack to the book or to the film. I don't believe that there ever was a moment when Nikki said that he could get something down.

    DJ: James and I had written some songs and we wrote and produced with other artists. One day he (Nikki) walked in with a bunch of papers, which eventually were going to be his book, and I started reading it. Then he played me a couple songs and I remember "Dead Man's Ballet," and I was really blown away by it. I've always been very much into the orchestra soundtrack music. But when I heard "Dead Man's Ballet", I realized how big we could take this thing theatrically if there weren't any guidelines that we had to follow. Nikki was really good at giving us a wide-open canvas to paint on. He kind of lived this story and also—if this was ever to become a movie—he would know every scene in the movie. He was really good when me and James were writing it; he painted a vivid picture along with words from the book to be able to write to. It made the writing process really easy.

    I know some people may have just been expecting a Motley Crue record. But you've written for artists clean across the board, and you can really hear that come out.

    DJ: See James, I told you it didn't sound like Motley Crue. We tried.

    Nikki's so honest in the book. Did you ever feel like you were hitting too close to home? Or was he just totally open and willing to explore and go through everything that was there on the page?

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