James Michael of Sixx A.M.
Following the the release of their third album, Modern Vintage, lead singer, James Michael of Sixx A.M. spoke with Soundcheck411 to discuss songs from the new album, hidden images on the album cover, production ideas for their upcoming tour, and more!
Soundcheck411: Before we get into the new album, let’s give the fans who don’t know much about Sixx A.M. an intro.
James Michael: Yeah, well, Sixx A.M. started back in, I believe 2005, when Nikki Sixx, myself and DJ Ashba, all knew each other in the music business prior, but all decided to get together and make a soundtrack to Nikki’s diaries which he had discovered in his storage space. They were diaries that documented his rise to fame and just kind of the mayhem and chaos of that time in his life and his drug addiction. Very, very compelling diaries and we thought that it was such a visually dramatic, compelling story that we would need to write a soundtrack to it. So we created a bunch of music for this soundtrack for this book [The Heroin Diaries] which was published and with no intentions of being a band at the time but ultimately ended up with a hit song with Life is Beautiful. So we really kinda stumbled into being a band; we just started off as three friends, making music together with no expectations. We all had a million things going on in our careers individually and low and behold we turned into a band and we started having success so came up with a band name and ultimately went out on tour on Cruefest back in ’07 or ’08, I think it was ’08- and that is kinda where it all began for us. Here we are 3 records later and we have finally admitted to ourselves that we are just having a blast. We really developed an incredible friendship and a unique collaborative relationship.
SC411: And not only a band- it’s a GREAT band!
JM: Well thank you very much, we’re really enjoying it.
SC411: It’s been 3 years since the last release and Modern Vintage finally came out a couple days ago. I was personally a huge fan of the last 2 albums so when you guys mentioned that Modern Vintage would be so different, I was really, really nervous!
SC411: But I listened to the album, and I was so pleasantly surprised; it was like Sixx A.M. and then some super different songs, then back to Sixx A.M. and then different songs again-
JM: Well, I’m glad and you know, that’s been a very consistent reaction. I think a lot of our fans were kinda nervous, especially when they heard the first single and they realized what a dramatically different sound it was for Sixx A.M. But that was really the point of it, you know. We just didn’t want to repeat ourselves, we didn’t want to keep making the same record over and over and I don’t think our fans would want us to do that so while I believe there is some trepidation and people don’t quite know what to expect, now we’re starting to see people are really getting it. And they are appreciating the fact that we are taking them on a new journey, opening up some new doors musically. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about our relationship with our fans, and they trust it. We’re not gonna take them some place strange and abandon them; they know that we’re gonna be consistent and stay true to what Sixx A.M. believes in.
SC411: Yeah, I definitely agree and I wanted to talk about some of the songs that were a little bit different for me, when I first heard the album. Firstly, you know I have to ask you about Before It’s Over; it has a rock-a-billy feel to it so what was the idea behind that one?
JM: Well if you listen to the lyric of that song, it’s probably the saddest song on the record, it’s very, very difficult lyric and it’s very painful and isolating and it’s about this person that has lost somebody and is just not able to let go. Usually when we lose somebody that we love, we will go through a grieving process and a mourning process and your start to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all and move on with your life. And this character in this song is unable to do that. He’s unable to pick up the pieces and move on. So it’s a really tragic story about this person who is so desperately in love with somebody that he’s lost and when you get to that point of isolation and loneliness, no matter what you do, no matter what surrounds you, you just get lonelier and lonelier and sadder and sadder and kinda compound. So that’s why we chose to have a this almost rag-time feel to the track. We wanted that rag-time feel and the happiness of the track to represent the world moving on without this guy and he knows he should be feeling better and he knows he should be moving on but he just can’t seem to do it. The contrast there of the music against the sad, dark story was a really beautiful moment for us and that’s why we intentionally made that song feel that way.
SC411: Was it a fictional type of song, the character and all, or a real experience that one of you had?
JM: Everything that we write is drawn from personal experience in some form. We’re all observers of life and while the specifics of it remain anonymous, I think there’s an element in this that everyone can attach themselves to.
SC411: Another one from the album, I’ve been playing it over and over in my car is Get Ya Some. I really like how in the beginning, it has some spanish like guitar-
SC411: And towards the chorus, I feel like it started sounding like My Chemical Romance-
JM: Oh cool!
SC411: Yeah, I think it’s the first time you heard that, right!
JM: Yeah, you know, we get a lot of references to Queen and Freddie Mercury and things like that but you know I think that My Chemical Romance does a nice job tapping into some of that Freddie Mercury vibe as well. I like that compression because it’s a very modern and cool band.
SC411: Yeah, so what inspired the idea behind that song because it’s totally different.
JM: Well number 1, that’s one of my favorite songs on the record; I really love that song, it’s a fantastic song to sing and because it’s so over the top, the lyric is just so abstract and kinda obscured and that’s what I love about it. It’s a very fun song to sing, those verse are, I’ve kinda described them as kinda this low, creepy Tom Waits type of vibe in the verses and then to me, that chorus explodes into that very Freddie Mercury-esque type of falsetto, all over the top and there’s horn sections going on and it’s just such a flamboyant song and I love it. It’s a fun one to sing and it was a fun one to record.
SC411: Yeah, I love that one. It’s one of my favorites.
JM: Cool, me too.
JM: Actually no, that’s Jeff Fabb. We tried to get Taylor, he wanted to play on some of our record but we couldn’t get our schedules to work and our original intentions was to have Jeff play on the entire record and maybe have Taylor come in. But Jeff did such an incredible job on this record and that’s him playing on that song as well as, all of the rest of the record. It was very important to us that we had a real amazing drummer come in and track this record because we were really trying to make a record in the spirit of the great rock records that we grew up with. And they were so performance, you know, when you look back at like Queen or Elton John, ELO [Electric Light Orchestra], David Bowie- all those great rock records/artists were so performance driven and that’s why we wanted to have real drum performances on this record, to really set the stage for what we were trying to do.
SC411: So whey did you guys pick that song to cover? Were there others that you had in mind?
JM: We did, we actually had a few in mind. We were actually starting off with Fooled Around & Fell in Love [Elvin Bishop] which is just such a great singer song and we actually started recording that one and it was starting to come off pretty cool but then we stumbled on Drive and it just spoke to us. If you look at the lyrics of Drive, again it’s one of those songs where lyrically, it’s so heavy, the subject matter is so sad and painful and yet, it’s set in this beautiful, kind of hopeful musical track and that really spoke to us because that’s really how Sixx A.M has always approached music. We deal with very heavy subject matters lyrically and then we try to find some hope in that lyric and always try to make the music kinda uplifting. And Drive really lent itself to that; what we did with our version of Drive is made it more of a piano ballad first so you can really focus on the lyric and pain of what this character is going through and then as the song progresses, moments of technology began to trickle in and by the end of the track, it’s exploded into a very Sixx A.M. dramatic type of musical movement and it just really fit in so well with what Sixx A.M. has always done lyrically and musically so it seemed like a perfect choice for us.
SC411: Yeah, and I was at the show the other night and I was kinda apprehensive when you guys started to play that song, I was like, I don’t know how it’s gonna sound live, but it was really great-
JM: Fantastic! It was a really fun to play.
JM: Yeah, well the album cover really represents exactly what the album represents; that’s what we loved about it. Paul Brown designed the album cover and we wanted something that told the story of Modern Vintage as the title Modern Vintage, what it means to us. It was all about going back and celebrating the great rock artists and rock records that we grew up with and inspired and influenced us and so it was about taking musical inspiration from the past and brining it into modern times and reacting to it now. And that’s what the record is about, so, the record cover itself, if you look at it, it’s this beautiful, beautiful, very pale skinned blonde woman. She almost looks angelic, yet the close you look at her, you notice that her face has these very robotic, almost futuristic imprints on them and her outfit- she looks kinda like a robot! And the close you get to look at it, you realize that her body is made out of vintage car parts. And that really told the story with kind of walking that fine line between the past and the future and when you look- at first glance, you can’t tell what parts of her are modern and what parts of her are vintage. The deeper you get into the album cover, you realize that parts that actually look very modern, are actually vintage and the things that are at first glance vintage, are actually more modern. So it was this nice melding of the two and it really told the story that I believe the music and the lyrics of Modern Vintage tell.
SC411: That’s really cool. I didn’t notice that she was actually old car parts- I figured it was just a modern robot so that’s really interesting actually.
JM: Yeah and that’s the thing; that’s what we loved about it. So you could literally live with this record for a couple of months and all of a sudden, one day be looking at the cover and make that discovery and that’s the same thing about the music. You could listen to this music- it’s not just a one time listen with this album; the more you get into it, the more you listen, the more things you’re gonna discover about it.
SC411: I definitely agree because again, I had NO idea it was a car! It’s a perfect visual representation of the album.
JM: That’s great.
SC411: The other day, you guys performed for the first time in years, at the IHeartRadio Theater and everyone sounded solid, everyone was smiling on stage and I was there singing along! Can you tell those who weren’t there a little about it?
JM: You know, it was absolutely incredible. The 3 of us are such good friends and because of our crazy schedules, we seldom get to spend any time together so it was a perfect way for us to not only be able to celebrate our friendship, but celebrate the release of this record that we are so proud of and be able to do it in Los Angeles, in our hometown, on a stage in front of fans was just a dream come true. You know, we’ve always loved the connection and the relationship that we have with our fans so to be able to do it in an intimate setting like this and bring these songs to life for the first time in many years was just a very, very memorable experience for all of us and one that we’ll cherish for a long time. Also, for us to be able to announce a tour after all of these years, to be able to finally say, “Yes, we are going out on tour, we are gonna be traveling around the country and bringing this music to life”, it’s just a thrill for all of us.
SC411: And speaking of the tour, when you finally announced that big news, DJ Ashba mentioned that the fans have only seen half of your vision. So what can you tell us about the other half, which I’m assuming is the live show and the production.
JM: Yeah, it’s really the visual element. Ever since we wrote The Heroin Diaries soundtrack, we all felt that this was a very theatrical and visual type of music. I think in all of our heads, we envisioned a very visual show that really plays on the drama and really captures the audience’s imagination. Just like all of those great artists that I’ve mentioned earlier; artists like Bowie or Queen just put on such phenomenal shows and took you on a musical journey- that’s how we’ve always envisioned our live shows and that’s what we’re planning right now.
JM: We are hoping beyond all hope that Jeff Fabb will continue to play with us because he has really just fit so beautifully into this project and personality wise, he’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever recorded in my life and ever worked with and he’s just so talented and so positive and he just feels like a member of Sixx A.M. so we’re really hoping we can take him on the road with us.
SC411: And going off of that, do you ever plan on having him or another drummer ever become a solid, permanent member of the band, or are you just trying to stick with the trio and fill in drummers?
JM: We haven’t really thought that far ahead. You know, Sixx A.M. is a very unusual project and I think sometimes we still stumble and we talk about whether we are a project or whether we are a band. But as Motley Crue begins to wind down their tour and their career, Nikki’s [Sixx] gonna have more time to bring this to the forefront of his life and so we all look forward to bringing it to the forefront of our lives and I think that, you know, the future is wide open for what Sixx A.M. is now and what we may become. We certainly have already started talking about making a fourth record and it’s just wide open at this point. I certainty would not rule out if somebody like Jeff was into it, I certainly would not rule making him a member of the band. You know, we also had some background vocalists on our performance the other night and it was so fun for us because it opened up a whole new world for us vocally and it gave us an opportunity to really reinvent some of the vocal arrangements on these songs. It was a real thrill for me personally.
SC411: It was really interesting watching them because it added a whole new element to the songs.
JM: Yeah, it was a lot of fun,
SC411: So was the process the same for this one? Did you come up with the drum parts electronically and then have Jeff do it on an acoustic set?
JM: No, actually it was very different. As I said earlier, it was very important to us on this record that we didn’t program drums and that we actually had a real drummer that came in and interoperated the songs and gave us really, really solid performances and that’s why Jeff was such a perfect fit for us. He came in, he got the songs immediately and we headed down to my recording studio in Nashville and we tracked the entire record in 4 days. He just nailed it and gave us a great starting point to build this record.
SC411: So he had total creative control over this, right?
JM: Yeah, absolutely.
SC411: Gotcha, because the first album, you programmed it on the computer?
JM: One the first record, on The Heroin Diaries I programmed the drums. On This is Gonna Hurt, it was a combination of me playing the drums and also programming the drums. But on this one he had a real drummer.
SC411: Going back to the tour, it’s going to be in April of 2015 and you’re bringing out Apoctalyptica with you. Why did you guys choose them and why are they a good fit?
JM: Well first off, we all love the band and they’re a perfect fit for the Sixx A.M. tour because they approach music in a very unusual and unique way and that’s what we all love about them. Sixx A.M. has always approached rock music in a very different and unique way and I think that because of that, it’s gonna make for an incredible night of music. I’m a huge fan of Apoctalyptica and we were just thrilled when they agreed to do this tour.
SC411: That is pretty much all I have! Thanks so much!
JM: Yeah thank you so much!
Interview by: Nicole Lemberg
See Sixx A.M. perform for the first time in years here: http://soundcheck411.com/sixx-a-m-perform-for-the-first-time-in-years-and-deliver-a-jaw-dropping-performance/
See Sixx A.M. meet their fans in Burbank, CA here: http://soundcheck411.com/sixx-a-m-meet-their-fans-in-burbank-ca/