On December 23, 2011, I had the pleasure of having a chat with James Michael, lead singer of hard rock outfit, Sixx: A.M. , which also includes Nikki Sixx and DJ Ashba. The bandwas formed in 2007 as a side project for the members. It evolved into something much bigger than was originally planned, the platform to release The Heroin Diaries, an album based on the book documenting Sixx’s previous heroin addiction and recovery. Today, Sixx: A.M. has a large following of fans who are inspired by their telling and truthful lyrics and hard-hitting melodies.
James Michael has an extensive and impressive background in the music industry. Not only is he the lead vocalist of Sixx: A.M., he’s also a songwriter, engineer and producer and has worked with the likes of Mötley Crüe, Saliva, Scorpions, and Papa Roach just to name a few.
After a little talk about our mutual envy of people who get all of their Christmas shopping done in August, we get started with the interesting stuff.
Christen LaFond:So, you grew up in the Midwest. What brought you to Los Angeles originally? Do you live there now?
James Michael: I live in Nashville and Los Angeles, I have places in both. What brought me out to Los Angeles originally, I had dreams in my late teens and early 20’s of being a rock star and that seemed like the place to go. When I was about 19, I packed up my car and drove out to Los Angeles and didn’t know anyone there and just kind of started the whole process. I’ve always loved Los Angeles, I think it’s a great town, I think I’ll always have a place there, but just in the last couple of years, I had been coming to Nashville to write and record records quite a bit, and every time I was in Nashville I was just so taken by how much land there was, how much space there was, and just generally how kind the people were. So, about three years ago I got a place in Nashville and I’m spending an awful lot of time there now. But really what made me move from the Midwest out to the West Coast in the first place was just that pursuit of rock stardom. I spent the next 20 years just slugging it out there.
CL:So working with music was always something you knew you wanted to do growing up?
JM: Well, I went through phases. When I was in my teens, yes I did, and so I spent the first several years living in Los Angeles and I really struggled just like everyone does and it took actually several years before I got my first record deal. Somewhere in that process of making a record and dealing with record labels and going out and doing all of the promotion, I realized that I was actually more suited for being behind the scenes, ya know, writing songs and producing songs for other artists. And that’s really what I’ve spent most of my adult life, so far, doing out in California, writing and producing for other artists. And then when Sixx: A.M. kind of happened accidentally, Nikki and DJ and I decided to do this little side project together, we had no expectations of it ever becoming successful. So really, I had put those dreams of being in a rock band behind me and was very, very content and very happy with my career as a producer and writer. And then Sixx: A.M. came along and kind of stirred all that up again and I’ve just been having a blast being in a band again.
CL:How did you originally connect with Nikki Sixx and Mötley Crüe? Were you writing for them?
JM: Yea, when I signed my first record deal, it was a solo record deal, I signed to a company called Beyond Records which was owned by Allen Kovac who currently manages Sixx: A.M. and manages Mötley Crüe, and so what would happen is, I would be at the label at the offices and I’d pass Nikki in the hall sometimes and we’d say hello to each other because he was working with Allen at that time, and one day Nikki pulled me aside at the label and said to me, ‘Hey I’m getting ready to write another Mötley Crüe record, would you be interested in doing some writing with me?’ so we got together and just started writing songs for Mötley Crüe and became fast friends, and for the several years that followed he and I just continued to write songs together. And it was probably 5 or 6 years later that we decided- maybe even longer than that, 6 or 7 years later- that we decided that we’d do a little side project and make some music together as artists.
CL: How would you say that yours and Nikki Sixx’s writing styles are different?
JM: I think that we kind of decided over the years that we are really the yin and the yang. I bring a sense of melody and song structure to the team, and he is really great at the broad stroke conceptualizing and the visions of things. I’m always so impressed by is his ability to take an emotion that he and I have both decided to write about, his ability to take that emotion and put it into terms that the most people are gonna be able to relate to. He really is good at figuring out what it takes lyrically to connect with an audience, and not only to connect with an audience, but to convey the emotion that we’re trying to convey. And it’s really been a fun writing team because we really push each other in many directions and always facilitate each other’s desire to try something different and to push the envelope both musically and lyrically.
CL:I know that the band wasn’t created to make a record, and then tour, make an album, and then tour. I’ve heard that there’s going to be a different way to promote your new album, This Is Gonna Hurt, in a way other than touring. Any clues to what that might be?
JM: I think that we’re already experiencing a lot of it just by using the different social media outlets to spread the word and connect with our fans. But I think that the reason that Sixx: A.M. isn’t really a touring band is kind of obvious. With Nikki also having Mötley Crüe and DJ being in Guns N’ Roses, and me always being in the studio recording and producing other bands, it’s logistically a very difficult thing to do. But that being said, because of the success of both records and just seeing the amazing support and energy behind This is Gonna Hurt, we are all definitely starting to talk about how we can bring a live element to what we’ve done. So we’re not ruling out the concept of touring at all. It’s just; we want to be able to do something special with it. So, for instance, we don’t want to rehearse the song, put a lighting show together, and hit the road and do that typical thing, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not something that’s really been what motivated Sixx: A.M. So when we think about bringing this into a live setting, we’re just discussing, kind of conceptualizing, how we can make that a different experience for our fans, how we can make it something that will really stick with them, kind of like the music has. I don’t really have any specifics for it. I can tell you that we are starting to talk quite seriously about how to bring a live element to this and hopefully in the year to come we will have figured out what it is that’s going to inspire us to create a live show that the fans will think is special.
CL:The lyrics on your albums are so deep and emotional, and fit so well with the music. So, which come first? The music, or the lyrics?
JM: That’s a great question, and we get asked that a lot and the short answer to that is sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes it’s a littlebit of both. With a record like This Is Gonna Hurt, Nikki and I spent the better part of a year writing and rewriting the lyrics. Most of the music we had already written prior, but because we knew that the messages on this record were so important and were so paramount to what Sixx: A.M. is about, we really pushed each other very, very hard to make sure the lyrics were just right. So, for instance, the way it would normally happen, we’d be sitting down and we’d have our guitars and we’d kind of write a melody line, whether we were just humming a melody line or whatever it might be, just throwing out some nonsense words to get the melody happening so that we could start writing the bed of music. And then that bed of music would inspire a different emotion than what we originally started off with. So it was really a back and forth thing, and like I said, Nikki and I spent the better part of 8 months to a year writing and rewriting lyrics just to make it so that they did justice to the music that we built, and vice versa, so it was quite a process. There’s no one way that it happens. But quite often the lyrics end up being the final thing we decide on. We say, ‘okay, now this song is done.’
CL: To wrap things up, what can the fans expect in the future? Is there another album coming, or are you just playing it by ear and seeing what happens?
JM: There’s a bit of playing it by ear, but I think the one thing that we do know, is that Sixx:AM has turned into much more than we ever anticipated that it would, and it’s something that inspires the three of us so deeply, that while we don’t have any specific plans for the release of another record, I can’t imagine Sixx: A.M. not writing and recording more material. In fact, we just started talking about when we can carve out some time very soon to start writing. I think we’re all very inspired by the incredible reaction we’ve gotten to This Is Gonna Hurt, and I think that’s a motivator for us. We’re all eager to sit back down together and talk about what is gonna come next, whether it’s gonna be a record, whether it’s gonna be a tour. So I think it’s safe to say that you will hear more music from Sixx: A.M. in the future.