Thirty years after Nikki Sixx began his career recording albums and becoming a fixture on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip with Mötley Crüe, his head is still exploding with musical ideas. Sixx’s latest showing, This is Gonna Hurt (out May 3), shows his arena rock style growing more diverse, swelled with strings, epic melodies and his always-fluid, meat-and-potatoes rock bass lines.
Of course, the past few years have proved Sixx is more than a one-talent gent. He’s a Renaissance man who hosts a nationally syndicated rock radio show (Sixx Sense), writes New York Times best-selling books (2007’s The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star and the just-released This Is Gonna Hurt), fronts his own hard rock band (Sixx:A.M.), and devotes countless chunks of time to photography.
In this exclusive interview with Gibson.com, Sixx talks about what makes his new book so personal, spills details on the forthcoming album and explains why he “can’t really stand on a stage” without a Thunderbird in his hand.
I read that you put together your new book, This is Gonna Hurt, with the goal to inspire people to do something they’ve never done before. Is that right?
Absolutely. I think as an artist, we all hope, on one level or another, to inspire people with our work. I was inspired by people growing up, whether it was Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones or photographers, and fashion has always been a big inspiration for me as well. In a sense, this is giving back.
This book is filled with photos you took and passages that bleed out your thoughts and experiences. Would you say this is extremely personal?
It’s very personal, but yet I think the social commentary in it doesn’t necessarily speak from my voice. It’s speaking from what I’ve found to be true in the world, which is wonderful. I think a lot of people relate to it.
Where do you get inspiration for your photography?
I’ve always loved different things in life. Whether it was different bands or even architecture, I’ve always had an eye for stuff some would deem odd and some would say is extremely beautiful. For me, that’s where I’ve always been, and the photography that has inspired me is wide – everything from wet plate style photography in the 1800s to early 1900s to beyond. With my photography, I was able to look at what I loved as an artist and start to experiment.
Your forthcoming CD, This is Gonna Hurt, is a companion to the book. How are the emotions of the book and album intertwined?
Well, the book was originally going be a coffee table book with just the art. Having a huge body of work, I was able to look at it and try to find some consistency in it, to bring it together in one collection. I started writing a passage that would accompany the photography book, and it ended up being almost 500 pages. It really turned into a breakdown on social commentary on beauty and those messages that have been downloaded into my head and my life, and I was able to find that thread. In that moment of inspiration, the guys in Sixx:A.M. could see it, too. We had that moment where we sat together as a band and talked and they were like, “Dude, I relate to this,” or “I felt like that, as well.” So we started writing music, and that started to push me more as a photographer. It really became like one in itself.
Tell me about the making of the album documentary, which is on Hulu.com.
Well, I had a documentary crew with me filming me doing my photo sessions, and that was a personal thing for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that, and as the band started talking, we started realizing it was a bigger piece. I interviewed the band members, the subjects I photographed, and myself for the documentary. I was able to capture someone like Amy Purdy, who is a double amputee due to Neisseria Meningitis and has gone on to do great things with her life. What was missing was that moment where they get a voice, and that’s where the documentaries come into play.
What are you most proud you were able to accomplish on the album?
I’m proud of the fact we were able to be vulnerable and honest as songwriters and true to what we said we were going to do – to raise the standard of songwriting within the band and really push ourselves musically. That’s a good feeling. That honest punk rock attitude: just doing it because you love it.
You’re a big Gibson player. What make Gibson basses special?
The attention to wood is important. With the Thunderbird, for me, I feel like I can’t stand on a stage and not have a Thunderbird in my hand. It’s like my skin. It completely fits me like a glove. The way it fits in my hand and lays in my hand, the way it leans against my body, everything about it. It’s been amazing to have a relationship with Gibson and have Gibson work with me on certain types of pickups and wiring. These are just very little things that may not mean a lot to someone else, but are very personal to me.
What was important to you when helping to design your signature Blackbird and Thunderbird IV?
One of the things important to me was to be a bit subtle with the signature series. I didn’t want to call it the Nikki Sixx bass. I wanted other bass players to want to play it. That’s why we came up with the name, Blackbird. Gibson Thunderbirds are what I’ve always played, but my signature is the Blackbird. I’ve seen a lot of guys in a lot of bands play the Blackbird, because it doesn’t scream my name all over it. I think musicians want to be individual. They love a certain instrument and want to play it, but they don’t want it to be too gaudy or too much about the other guy. They want to make it their own.
Any plans for the return of Crüe Fest this year?
Well, we’re doing a headline tour with Poison and New York Dolls that will take us through August. At that point, we’re heading towards the end of summer, and I don’t know at that point what we’re going to do or whether we’re going to tour anymore or not. So right now, no plans for Crüe Fest.
On top of writing, performing, and photography, you also host a nationally syndicated rock radio show, Sixx Sense. How do you do it all?
Radio is an opportunity to say something into a microphone, and whether you play a song or say something provocative or funny, it makes people have an emotional reaction. They feel something. They feel good. They feel bad. They feel angry. They feel disappointed. You have an opportunity to change something, and for me, that’s where radio has always been a bit like magic.
When I turn on the radio, it creates a mood, and I really enjoy that. Kerri Kasem, my co-host, and I do seven shows in four days, and it’s very organized. It’s a lot of work, and it’s the most fun I’ve had outside of playing rock and roll. We laugh every day. No matter what you’re going through, you have to deliver. If you’re going through a high, you have to control that, and if you’re going through a low, you have to control that, because that part of your life is personal and you always have a responsibility to entertain them.