[21 August 2007]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Billboard is not in the business of supporting vanity rock star projects. This is not a vanity rock star project. This is a brilliant piece of work.
—Tamara Conniff, Executive Editor/Associate Publisher, Billboard
Usually such comments as Conniff’s, above, are preemptive defensive posturing for anything of dubious quality in desperate need of a disclaimer. Yet Conniff’s choice words were explanatory, not excusatory, as she opened the proceedings for the press conference introducing Sixx: A.M., Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx’s new band, in July of this year. Hosted by LA’s cavernous Crash Mansion club, the event drew an impressive cadre of media types who came to see Sixx unveil his latest endeavor, The Heroin Diaries book and soundtrack.
Both components are already known commodities in the realm of Crüe fans, as excerpts from the book have been circulating online for weeks, as has the video for “Life Is Beautiful”, the initial single from the album. But for those less familiar with Sixx’s project, the full-court press conference served as Sixx’s coming-out party to the generalist media, the same group entrusted with publicizing the material.
As Sixx made his way to the speakers’ table, stopping for the obligatory photo op before taking a seat next to Conniff, he presented a fascinating contrast to his image. Youthful and stylish, with a reserved demeanor, Sixx epitomizes the rocker-as-renaissance-man aesthetic and appears far removed from the out-of-control human-time-bomb persona he flaunted during Crüe’s highest (and lowest) points. If his debauched Mötley exploits had not been previously chronicled in the best-selling tell-all tome The Dirt, The Heroin Diaries might come off as fantastical fiction, penned by an aging musician with a literary flair for the absurd. But Sixx is known, to fans and casual observers alike, as much for his art as for his misdeeds, having been elevated from musician to celebrity status, much like Crüe band mate, Tommy Lee.
Yet here was Sixx, articulating his hellish spiral into addiction and his subsequent recovery, while walking everyone through the premise behind The Heroin Diaries. The book is composed of a year’s worth of Sixx’s personal journal entries, dating from Christmas 1986 through Christmas 1987, a time when he was futilely battling demons (and himself). Found in storage long after the fact, the journal was so compelling that Sixx teamed with DJ Ashba and James Michael to score the writings. The collaboration bore sufficient creative fruit to convince the three to stand united as a proper band, hence the Sixx: A.M. moniker.
Somewhat surprisingly, industry heavies are in maximum marketing overdrive with regard to the book and soundtrack. Sharing space on the makeshift dais with Sixx were representatives from MTV, Clear Channel, PocketBooks, and Covenant House. What’s surprising is that such a push would come for a story so disturbing that it reads like the subtitles for a horrific nightmare. This bodes well for Sixx’s reaching a demographic beyond his existing (and captive) Mötley audience.
Lasting just over an hour, the Sixx: A.M. press conference gave the primary player and his supporting industry cast time to share their thoughts. For the duration however, the spotlight shone squarely on Sixx as he described his troubled childhood, his more troubled adulthood, and the creative motivations behind bringing his journals to the public. He also took care to note the charity he spearheaded, Running Wild in the Night, a program affiliated with Covenant House that targets at-risk teens. A homeless runaway himself in his formative years, Sixx has earmarked 25 percent of the proceeds from The Heroin Diaries for his charity.
The significance of this point was demonstrated when a teen resident of Covenant House briefly joined the panel, discussing his life since he got off the streets and the new opportunities he currently enjoys. Shy and modest, the young man succeeded in putting a face to Sixx’s charitable efforts. For music-biz powerbrokers to unite behind anything other than amorphous global causes and expansively self-indulgent group-grope concerts says much about what The Heroin Diaries can become.
Once the press-conference formalities concluded, patient fans were admitted to join media members as Sixx, Ashba, and Michael took the stage for Sixx: A.M.’s inaugural live performance. Backed by drummer Glen Sobel and vocalist Pearl Aday, the band played a strong 30-minute set, the songs augmented by haunting silent-film footage and eerie graphic imagery from the book splashed on multiple large screens. The visuals—reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Wall—coupled with the potent lyrical content made for an impressive sensory assault. This was attributable to the inherent strength of the material, but also to Sixx’s collaborative brethren who confidently showed their skills as musicians, with Ashba laying down aggressive six-string flourishes as Michael led the way with vocals and rhythm guitar.
Performing with his new band, Sixx was not to be confused with his sneering Mötley Crüe persona. He adopted a decidedly understated posture, while supplying ample low-end rumble. Such an obvious digression from Sixx’s more identifiable alter ego demonstrated that Sixx: A.M. is not a Mötley offshoot, but a true solo effort. And despite The Heroin Diaries detailing 12 of Sixx’s months at the height of Mötley Crüe’s success, the soundtrack is completely unCrüe-like and may possibly turn out to be Sixx’s finest creative output.
At the close of Sixx: A.M.‘s live performance, Sixx shared a few minutes with PopMatters, answering questions with the same measured candor from the earlier press conference.
How challenging was it to open up to outsiders an extremely personal and painful time in your life?
Nikki Sixx: In 1985, I wrote a song called “Home Sweet Home”; it says my heart is like an open book, for the whole world to read. I’ve always lived like that—sometimes brutally honest. So this feels natural to me, to just throw it out there. I’m not ashamed; I’m actually proud that I’ve been able to achieve what I’ve been able to achieve in my life, and I look at the mistakes that I’ve made, and I’ve learned from them.
If you make a mistake and don’t learn from it, it’s not a good thing. But if you can learn from it, it’s a good thing, and the energy from that with James, DJ, and me allowed us complete creative freedom: No boundaries, no rules; just being honest musically. When you hear the soundtrack, you’ll hear so many different styles. It’s a body of work. The album is almost epic-like, but you can break it down to singles that can be played for people, and then you can listen to the whole thing together and it really does tie into the book.
Reliving what you went through, as almost a cathartic exercise in dealing with past demons, how do you avoid the potential cliché of “just say no”?
To me, it’s very simple. It’s lead by example, and that accidents happen, mistakes happen, and you pick yourself up and move forward. I’m not a person that beats people over the head with a message. My message is, this is my life and all I’m trying to do is lead by example for somebody that it can be helpful for. If it’s not helpful for you, then that’s fine. I want people to do what they want to do in their life. I’ve always been very free like that. I don’t want to beat people up at all.
After the recent hard-charging two-year run with Mötley, was it difficult to shift gears and be so passionate about this?
No, not so much. The hardest part was going through a divorce and being able to focus on my children and this book, and being able to make sure the message was clear and say that even in the worst of my times now, I don’t have to revisit those places.
You have a built-in marketing niche with the Mötley fan base. In crafting this, how did you look toward expanding beyond that and hitting a much wider base?
Well, I mean I think if it’s good, it spreads organically, and that’s what we’re finding with this song. It’s spreading organically. Partners are coming in that want to be involved. It’s not part of a marketing plan where they’re like, you know, this is what you’ll do and this is what you’ll do. They’re coming in saying this is what we want to do, and this is how we are going to help get this out there.
And it’s certainly working to your advantage. People who know of Nikki Sixx know how notorious you were, so you’re somebody who carries some street cred.
Fans might say, Okay, this guy has been there and done that many times over, but your new project is not a lecture.
Yeah, absolutely no lectures here. You know, I’ve gone and talked to many people. Given talks at prisons and stuff, and I enjoy it. Somebody will say, would you like to come in and share your experience? And that’s all I do, share my experience.
In hearing the snippets and seeing the show, I relate it to the Who’s Quadrophenia: You’ve identified a character who is filled with angst and general fucked-upness and is struggling. The Who had a rough time translating the sophistication of the music onstage when they would take it out live. Do you envision that type of problem?
We never even planned on playing live, so it’s all kind of coming and I’m just standing here with open arms embracing whatever comes my way. We’ll see what happens down the road here.
So no type of tour set yet, or any limited gigs?
At this point no, but you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen the next week,
month, you know, two months. So maybe. Or maybe two albums from now. I know we’re a band, and that’s all I know.
With Sixx: A.M. on the front burner and his Mötley Crüe duties satisfied for the immediate future, Sixx has immersed himself in a gripping tale of self-destruction. The story is his own, and though two decades in the past, his experiences remain vivid now that he has laid them bare for all to see for themselves.