Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interview: Nikki Sixx

The Mötley Crüe vet on addiction, wrecked Ferraris, and his new music project based on his book, The Heroin Diaries.

Few rock stars have lived up to the title with more reckless abandon than Mötley Crüe bassist (and primary songwriter) Nikki Sixx, whose triumphs with groupies and near-death battles with drug addictions fueled iconic hair metal songs like "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Live Wire" and "Kickstart My Heart."

Sixx, somehow, survived the '80s—an era that the band once dubbed Decade of Decadence. Mötley Crüe survived, too, and is planning on a new album and tour in 2008. In the meantime, Sixx embarked on a personal creative journey, writing The Heroin Diaries, a book that splices his no-holds-barred diary entries from 1987 with reactions and remembrances from bandmates, friends and even ex-lovers. Sixx:A.M.—a new band made up of Sixx, singer James Michael and guitarist DJ Ashba—have now brought the book to hard-rocking musical life.

Sixx spoke at length with ARTISTdirect about The Heroin Diaries, his harrowing experience with addiction, the secrets of the Crüe's commercial success and his personal reasons for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for at-risk youth at L.A.'s Covenant House.

How did you know that James and DJ were the right guys to accompany you on what must have been a pretty personal journey with Sixx:A.M.?

Well, first of all, we're all extremely good friends. I've always known how talented both of these guys are, and it's sort of an honor for me to be able to get their names out there. There's always a need for new talent, and these guys have both got a lot of experience and they're both songwriters and producers. James, DJ and myself basically wrote and produced this project together—three heads with one vision, inspired by the book.

And the book was entirely finished by the time any music started…

Absolutely. They digested the book and then you all came together to put the songs together?

Yeah, because we're friends, they had been around for the whole time I was putting [the book] together, talking about it, sharing my experiences and reading snippets. We'd talked about scoring a concept record. Before I met DJ, me and James originally had some conversations. Between the three of us, we've written a lot of songs with and for other artists; chemically, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Those guys are selfless, and we were able to tell the story in a selfless way—almost taking myself out of the book 20 years ago and turn it into a character. It's Quadrophenia, it's The Wall, in that there's a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

There aren't a lot of album-long narratives in the iTunes world.

That's the thing—I can't tell you how many people told me that they listened to the record from beginning to end when they got it. I've fallen into it, too—I'll hear a new song and I'll listen to it and bounce around the record. But The Heroin Diaries isn't really a "skip through the record" type of thing.

Track sequencing can be somewhat arbitrary, but it must have been an important part of your process.

Yeah, the track listing was very important to us, actually—having "Christmas In Hell" at the beginning, "Intermission" obviously in the middle, and "Life After Death" ending the journey.

Was it a grand plan from the outset that the diary would be seen by others in some form?

When they were written, they were very personal. I've kept diaries since late '79 or early '80 until now. Some of them sporadic and some of them are more focused; a lot of times when I'm on the road, I write every day, twice a day, all the time. I get home and skip a week or even a month when my life gets busy. At the time in the book, I was barricaded with my disease in my house. The pen and paper was almost like my only friend. I was going through something and I didn't know what; I didn't know how to express it to anybody, so I expressed it on paper.

Were you trying to let people into your world through what you were writing?

No, I never shared it with anybody. I don't share my diaries, and I'll tell you that I'll never publish any of my other diaries. They're personal. But there's a piece of The Heroin Diaries that I think is important for people to read, because the story ends in success. The recovery is the piece that's important to me. I'm willing to throw myself under the bus and let you see the ugly, dirty truth. To read that, people also have to read about what comes out on the other side. And it's not an evangelist or a preacher, it's not on a soapbox for anti-drugs or alcohol—it's just sharing one person's experience out of a billion people out there. If I can raise some awareness to a global epidemic and give money to a charity that deals with at-risk youth, then this year is a year of giving back—and I've had so many years of receiving.

There are so many charities that deal with so many worthy causes, and obviously a number of charities that, like Covenant House, deal with at-risk youth. What made Covenant House call out to you?

Yeah, there are some wonderful, fantastic places that deal with teenagers, from shelters all the way across to places that actually have more infrastructure. But something about Covenant House that really struck me was how the people at Covenant House have a plan for the future. They walk these kids—these adolescents, these lost souls—through the process of getting up on their own feet. The thing that we felt would be another great piece to the picture was the music program; we implemented Running Wild in the Night, which will be the music program inside Covenant House. To be a part of that has been awesome.

But they need money. We've raised about $350,000 so far for Running Wild in the Night. I know that nobody is going to help these kids unless there's an awareness. So proceeds from the book go to the charity. So many of my friends in the industry and people who own guitar and amp companies are coming forward and saying "We want to be part of this." In the end, it's really those kids that have the ability to change the future—whether it's global warming, music and arts, whatever they decide to get into and make a difference in our system. I know this: it resonated with me because that's how it started for me—I was a runaway and I was angry and I was alienated, and music saved me. These kids are on the street and Covenant House is pulling these kids off the street, and they're meeting with doctors, they're in therapy, they're in safe environments.

I read a statement where you called out the music industry for not taking responsibility for musicians who are battling addiction, instead looking the other way so long as the artist is generating profit. Was there really nobody who tried to talk you back from the ledge?

I don't really have a clear answer for that. I know that enabling is part of killing somebody, but I also know that it's very scary to confront somebody. If I had been confronted and they had said "There's no future unless you get help"—then I guess we'd have an answer to that. Would I have reacted badly? Oh, I can guarantee I would have, but that's why they have professionals that come in and do this stuff.

I just wanted to point out that if it was a united front when people are dying from something—if it was the record company, the manager, the agent, the accountant and the family—and everybody just said, "You're done. You're done because we're not going to watch you die," I think we'd have a better outcome… rather than this sort of holding hands softly and, "Oh, we've just got to get you a little help and you stay a couple days in rehab."

In my own personal life, I've had to make some very difficult decisions with people who were falling apart at the seams. It's not a phone call that we like to make. It's not a face-to-face that we want to do. We don't wake up and think "Wow, I can't wait to have some alcoholic screaming in my face with all these threats and anger and 'You'll never be my friend again'"… but you take the higher road and try to do something for that other person and be as selfless as possible. It's kind of hard to be selfless when you're making money off of somebody.

The Heroin Diaries covers this low point personally where, like you said, you're isolated on the island with your pen and paper. But it also correlates with a crest in the career of Mötley Crüe. Would the music have suffered if you pulled drugs out of the equation?

Well, you know, there's a difference in drugs and alcohol and addiction. I'm not going to tell you I did not have a lot of fun—I had a gas. I'm not going to apologize for wrecked Ferraris and destroyed hotel rooms. That's not what this is about; this about unpeeling my own onion and getting to the core issue and realizing why addiction played such a part in my life. It was a Band-Aid for something that was painful, and I didn't even know what it was. I was downward spiraling and I didn't know why. [Mötley Crüe] was climbing the ladder, but I was climbing the ladder and had a noose around my neck at the same time; if I slipped, I was definitely not going to make it. I have to take responsibility for my own actions.

In answer to your question: we did an album after Girls, Girls, Girls called Dr. Feelgood. I think the answer is pretty clear for me personally—I was on my game. That's like saying let's get Muhammad Ali in the ring and have him doped up on smack and coke—would he be a better fighter because he was blind angry? Or would he better if he was a machine? I think if you listen to The Heroin Diaries from beginning to end, you go, "This guy is lucid, he's focused, he's working with lucid, focused, talented artists, and it's an exciting record."

Now I'm not telling you that people shouldn't drink, and I'm not going to tell anybody what to do. I can tell you what's behind door number one, I can tell you what's behind door number two, and you're going to have to make your own decisions.

This is my story—it inspired a soundtrack and we're raising a lot of money and a lot of awareness for kids who don't even have a chance to get to the question of "Wouldn't it be better to be a fucked-up rock star and make great music than be a sober rock star and not make good music?" These kids can't even afford a pillow, much less a guitar pick. We choose to put ourselves in these positions sometimes, but a lot of times the choice is taken from us—that's what happens when you're young. A lot of the kids in Covenant House come from the foster care system; when they turn 18 years old, they cut 'em loose, and they have nowhere to go.

Do you think it's possible anymore for a band to get as big as Dr. Feelgood-era Mötley Crüe?

It's no secret that 90 percent of the successful tours are done by bands that are 40-year-olds; if you look at Pollstar, most of the [chart-toppers], whether country or rock or mainstream, are established artists—they're brands and they're lifestyles. The problem has been that it's been undependable; you can't really get to know something that's so fast-moving. You get a #1 hit single, the record blows up, the band plays a little bit, and then the band comes back and no one even listens to their record—they've moved on, they've gone from McDonald's to Burger King.

Sadly, when I see Rolling Stone and I look on the cover, I go, "Who's that?" Then I read who it is and go "Oh, that's that band." I don't know their names, I don't know what they look like. We don't have the video outlets we used to have; we have channels but we have limited airplay on them—it's mostly programming and stuff leading to reality TV. It's like ADD—you can watch half of a reality show and flip to another channel. Half of this, a quarter of that, you catch every third show. It's very difficult for people to focus for some reason. I don't know why. Are there too many bands? Is life too busy now? Is it not connected with people? Is radio programming too same-same-same? I don't know. There's also the positive side—you have the Internet and you can get instant feedback about something you heard around the water cooler. You have Sirius and XM Radio where you can listen to everything from country to extreme heavy metal.

There's something about going out to an event and seeing a band play. You've spent the money for the ticket, you've spent the money on the T-shirt, you've spent the money on the parking, and you're going to watch it from beginning to end. You enjoy the whole process. The same thing with movies—you go to the movie theatre and there's an experience; very few people leave the movie unless it plain sucks.

I think it's interesting that you referred to bands functioning as lifestyles for their fans. Was that something you guys were consciously developing with Mötley Crüe?

Well, we lived it and we breathed it—it wasn't an act or a marketing campaign. It was honest and, because of that, I believe that it spread. It's very interesting—you go back before Mötley Crüe to the '70s and you go "How did this band called Led Zeppelin that played this blues-rock spread globally?" There were no multi-tiered media blitzes. It was just vinyl, and touring city to city to city. When it's good, it spreads.

Yeah, that's the hope. I don't know that it's always the case, but even with all the bands out there now, it does seem that even the bloggers gravitate to similar bands each year. Was it frustrating for you when knock-off bands came along and co-opted what you guys were doing and turned it into a marketing campaign?

Whether it was disco, new wave, heavy metal or '70s rock, there are always the ones that stick out, and then there are always the knock-offs. There's always that. That's the industry not knowing what they want. They go, "That's working, so let's do that!" I've always been of the mindset that each artist is individual. When alternative came in, I loved it. I was listening to a lot of those bands before they broke, and I really thought it was amazing. But then they came up with this slanderous title to try to wash the whole thing down the system so they could pump more "alternative" bands, and I thought that was ludicrous. But, fine, whatever it takes to flush the shit, and if we're shit, we'll get flushed, too. But the same press that was saying "Oh, hair bands are a joke, and alternative bands are politically correct," then when rap-rock came out, they were calling bands like Nirvana "shoegazers" and then when that was over, they were calling rap-rock "crap-rock"—and it's the same interviewer! Pick a side, man. When the Super Bowl is on, you gotta pick a team. You can't play the middle.

There's so much to pull from out there, moreso every decade. It lets you look at The Beatles, Elvis, the Stones, those early days, and go, "Wow!" I was able to look at Aerosmith, the Stones, the Dolls, the Ramones, Black Sabbath, all that stuff, and go, "Wow, if a band looked like the Dolls and sounded like AC/DC, it is over." But who did those bands pull from? It's absolutely mind-boggling how intuitive and ahead of the curve they were.

Shifting gears for the close: You're an important figure for my friend Randy, who dressed up as you for Halloween a few years ago, wreaked havoc in Hollywood and, lo and behold, even got the girl in the end. For anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, what do they need to pull off the tribute?

[laughs] You know, like with any human being, there are so many layers. There's the public persona of Nikki Sixx, and there's a very private side that only my very close friends and family know. What I tried to do with The Heroin Diaries was to throw out everything—you get to see what it's like now, you get to see what it was like way back when I was a kid, you get to see what it was like when it looked all glitter and gold. I think reading this book would be a very interesting process in seeing the evolution of somebody. If you want to be Nikki Sixx 1985, you know, look at the album cover. If you want to be Nikki Sixx 2005, look at the album cover. But if you want to get a little deeper, I think you have to dive into The Dirt or dive into The Heroin Diaries.



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