After more than 30 years in the music business, Nikki Sixx still gets a kick out of shocking people.
He isn’t resorting to the extremes that horrified parents and defined his band Motley Crue in the ’80s and ’90s, but his methods are still effective. Just look at how Motley Crue signing a cessation of touring agreement in January got people talking about its farewell tour. So Sixx was upholding tradition when he decided to pull a good-natured stunt at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, N.J., on Aug. 30.
Since Motley Crue was playing Holmdel, NJ, that evening, the bassist passed the morning by posing as a first-day employee at a local record store. For several hours, Sixx talked music with people and casually played it off when suspecting customers inquired about his identity, giving his name as “Larry.” Although he had worked in a record store in his youth, he wasn’t test-driving the gig as a possible career option once Motley leaves the road. No, Sixx playfully stepped behind the counter promote Modern Vintage, the new Sixx:A.M. album that arrived Oct. 7 — not surprisingly, he steered people toward the band’s catalog. (Watch video of Nikki Sixx working undercover as a record-store employee at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, here.)
Modern Vintage is yet another surprise up Sixx’s tattooed sleeve. The last two Sixx:A.M. sets doubled as soundtracks to two books Sixx wrote about his addiction and recovery, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star and This Is Gonna Hurt: Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx.
This time around, in terms of lyrical content, Modern Vintage is a freestanding entity. And today, Billboard is proud to exclusively premiere the lyric video to “Give Me a Love.” Watch it below.
Modern Vintage celebrates bands like Queen, Sweet and T. Rex that made Sixx, James Michael and DJ Ashba fall in love with music. The sound is still distinctly Sixx:A.M. — songs like “Give Me a Love” and the pick-yourself-back-up rocker “Let’s Go” are prime examples of that — but the joyful grandiose quality of Queen is apparent on “Gotta Get It Right,” and “Miracle” is a somewhat funky trip that doesn’t quite go all the way back to the ’70s. An even bigger curveball is the band’s cover of The Cars’ 1984 melancholy ballad “Drive,” which Sixx:A.M. recast with a faster-paced tempo and softly gurgling keyboards. Fans will be able to hear the songs live when Sixx:A.M. tours theater-size venues in April, bringing along Finnish group Apocalyptica as support.
Sixx chatted with Billboard about the thought process behind Modern Vintage and some of the surprising influences that shaped it. He also explained why, when it comes to music, Sixx:A.M. didn’t want to serve up the same old thing to its fans.
What did it feel like to be a record store employee again?
When I first walked in, I had this huge buzz, like the smell of the store. It took me back to when I used to work in record stores and spent all my time in record stores looking for bootlegs. There was a great store in Seattle called Cellophane Records. It had really cool bootlegs of bands, like live concerts, [David] Bowie and Elton John, Slade, all this stuff live, and we were just like, “Wow, so that’s what it sounds like live.” We were so inquisitive about music. Something about the whole experience of being in a store and just looking for music, looking at the album covers and just taking the whole experience in, hearing something new over the PA system. [It] kind of felt that when I walked back in.
It was cute how you were directing everyone to buy a Sixx:A.M. record. Watching their expressions when they realized who you were was funny.
(Laughs.) There were some moments where some people actually did not know who I was, which was perfect, and me talking about music and then them going, “Well no, I don’t really want to buy this, I don’t know if I like it,” and me being like, “Take it back, how can you not like this? It’s Sixx:A.M.”
One woman said she didn’t think she had counted her change after she gave you a $100 bill because she didn’t believe it was you. She told me she had read The Heroin Diaries. She said, “I’m in recovery, and I’ve dealt with depression. Whenever I have a bad day, I think, ‘If Nikki Sixx can get through 1987, I can get through this day.” It was interesting hearing right from a fan the impact the book had has on them.
That was the whole reason behind the book, the whole reason for sharing the story. Today’s society everybody always shares the glamour, how much we have, how great we’re doing, how big our band is. And that’s great. I think that we should celebrate life in all ways. But also you have to show the warts and all, because 100 percent of us all go through stuff and it’s that that makes the other stuff worthwhile. So I felt like sharing that in the books, parts of my story and my lyrics over the years.
It makes me feel good when I hear that story. It’s like, “Oh, that’s awesome. It gave one person a reason to step one more time,” because I’ve got those same inspirational moments from other people throughout the years, whether it’s writers or musicians or friends or just people I look up to.
While Modern Vintage is a different type of project from the first two Sixx:A.M. records, do any of its songs relate to what you’ve experienced as you’ve continued in your recovery?
There’s definitely some battle-cry moments, and the lyrics are really deep on the record. A song like “Let’s Go” … lyrically it really ties back to the first two records. It’s a song that kind of says, “Hey, let’s get up and get out of our own way. Let’s go. Let’s go through the darkness. We can make this. We can do this.” So in that sense, that one definitely does.
A lot of the songs we stripped them down musically. We’d be sitting there with just acoustic guitars or a piano, and some of the subject matter we took it all the way back to its simplest form. On a song like “Hyperventilate,” we talk about that moment when you first fall in love with somebody or something and you feel like you can’t breathe. You’re hyperventilating, and you love that feeling. It is like a drug, it’s like, “Wow, that’s what drives us.” We’re looking for that thing that takes our breath away. In a sense it’s new territory for us, but at the same time it’s kind of cultivating everything we’ve been through.
James said Sixx:A.M. had “to dare to make something that could leave us looking silly” on this album. What do you think people might perceive about this album that would have them look at you cock-eyed?
It started with our early conversations. So much stuff with Sixx:A.M. starts with conversations, sitting around with a guitar, noodling around, playing some chords, talking about something, feelings, thoughts, things that you’re observing. Then the song starts coming and then usually that part of the conversation somehow gets plugged into the song.
I remember we were outside at my house, sitting in a circle on this patio with guitars. Conversation came up like, “Let’s make a record that everybody might laugh at. Let’s talk about that.” And we all started talking about pulling from all this music that people wouldn’t expect. Nobody wants to say they listen to the Bee Gees or ABBA. Nobody wants to say that in a rock band, but let’s face it: That is stellar songwriting. That is so defined, and we like so much music, but we were talking about the ’70s in that conversation and I had been listening to a lot of the Bee Gees, and the guys started talking about stuff they liked about that genre, which was kind of a disco genre, and two songs came out. One is a bonus track called “So Beautiful, Let It Haunt You” and one’s called “Miracle.”
When “Miracle” first started you could listen to the original ideas — just guitar, a little tiny loop, James kind of singing this melody line on the bass. This does not sound like something our fans are going to understand. But we kept pushing on the idea. The core idea was how great those songs were, and we started figuring out why they were great.
I remember a friend of mine came by the house. I put on “Miracle” and he goes, “Wow, that’s like amazing. Sounds like Lenny Kravitz meets you guys meets Jack White. I don’t know, what the hell? It’s amazing. It sounds old, but it’s new.” And I said “Thanks.” So he left and I called the guys. I told them what he said and they said, “That’s what this album’s about. It’s modern vintage.” So we had to extend ourselves in faith that we were going to land on our feet, but we definitely had to pull the rug out from underneath ourselves to take a chance.
So for the record, what are your favorite Bee Gees and ABBA songs?
(Laughs.) This is the interesting part of the conversation. Earlier in interviews when I mentioned what we just talked about it would have thrown people. They would kind of go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, disco? Wait, wait, wait, ragtime? Who, what are you talking about?” We [said], “You know, it’s like what Queen did. They just embraced everything,” and that’s kind of what we’re about on this record.
We released “Gotta Get It Right” because it wasn’t exactly what people would expect from us. We wanted that moment where people would go, “Oh, whoa, no, no, no, no, no,” or “This is amazing.” We got both extremes. I didn’t get anyone that said, “Yeah, I kinda like the new Sixx:A.M.” I have people like, “This is the freshest band I’ve heard in the last five years because everything is starting to sound the same.” Other people just go, “I’m not in. Not heavy enough.” I’m like, “OK, what about Queen on ‘Killer Queen.’ Is that heavy enough for you? What about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?”
But we’re in a very strange time where everything is so formatted. You used to have FM radio, and FM was not so formatted. All genres of music on FM radio, that’s what I grew up on. I could go to a vinyl store, I could go through every genre, I could pick stuff. Sometimes I’d buy a Roxy Music album based on one song I heard and these two sexy girls on an album cover. And we knew everything about everything and the artist, and we gave the artists these huge opportunities to grow by supporting them.
What was it about bands like Queen, Bowie and T. Rex that made you love them?
I went to this sushi restaurant last night. Never been to it before. The guy [who waited on me] said, “What do you want?” I said, “Give me anything you want,” and he was excited about that … I sat there for an hour. I ate all this stuff I’d never eaten, and it was similar, it was like salmon, but it was like seared with this crazy seaweed and this interesting sauce, so it was sushi. My mouth went, “Wow.” That’s what Queen, Bowie, Slade and Sweet was for me. [When I was a teenager] I put on Sweet and I’m like, “Whoa, look at those harmonies, look at those guitars. It’s so heavy, yet it’s pop, and look at those haircuts, and where the hell do these people live?” And it went to Slade, it went to Bowie, it went to Elton John, it went on and on. It went to Aerosmith and back to the Stones. It’s all food. But it makes your mouth go, “Holy fuck, what was that?” We didn’t want to give you a f—ing California roll with Sixx:A.M.