I recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with James Michael, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist (among other duties) for Sixx:A.M., about the band and their latest offering Modern Vintage. Here is how the conversation went.
Now that Modern Vintage is complete and has been released, how do you feel about it and are you satisfied with the outcome?
Michael: I really am… we all are. Basically it was a two year journey for us which is pretty typical for a Sixx:A.M. record because obviously our schedules are so nutty. This was a really important record for us and it was very important to us that we stuck to our plan. About two years ago we started writing it and we had a real clear vision of what we wanted to do. We wanted to make a record that went back and took a look at the great rock bands of the past, the bands that inspired us and made us want to make rock music in the first place. We really lived with a lot of the old Queen records as well as Elton John, E.L.O. and David Bowie and Modern Vintage really became a celebration of what we all love about those kinds of records. So to answer your question, yes we are all very proud at the way it turned out.
When you began thinking about this album and started writing did you find any pressure to try and follow up on the success of This Is Gonna Hurt?
Michael: That is a good questions and it goes all the way back to The Heroin Diaries and the song “Life Is Beautiful.” Back then we had zero expectations for Sixx:A.M. so the success of that album really took us all by surprise. Between the making of The Heroin Diaries and This Is Gonna Hurt we were faced with the questions of just what exactly Sixx:A.M. was.
When we got into working on This Is Gonna Hurt we realized we liked the idea of having something physical attached to the release like a book or Nikki’s photography. We liked having a different element to attach to us and inspire us and motivate us. When it came to making Modern Vintage we had discovered who we had really become as a band and then we just were able to explore things knowing that we were a band. It was a different experience with Modern Vintage, we have created such a strong friendship and working relationship between the three of us that the question is never really going to be what should Sixx:A.M. do because we know we are just going to explore new things, write records that inspire us, and never repeat ourselves.
Check out the song “Gotta Get It Right”
You just mentioned it and I guess I never really thought about it, but your previous releases were tied to books. So when you got to working on Modern Vintage did you find yourself feeling vulnerable or intimidated releasing it into the world on its own?
Michael: It wasn’t really intimidating and actually it was really exciting. It gave us an opportunity to really reveal to fans, and ourselves, who we have become as a band. It is a really exciting time. We were kind of taken by surprise by the success of This Is Gonna Hurt and at that point there was a lot of adjusting to try and define who we were, but by the time it came time to start this record we were very clear on what we created and the sound that we have developed. Really, more than anything the band was forged on this idea that we are not really a band in the true sense of the word so we don’t have to abide by the any of those types of rules. This allows us to constantly forge new territory because there is really no one to hold us accountable for it. Fortunately our fans have wanted to go on the journey with us. We keep doing different things and they have come to expect us to shaft gears and take them places they never thought they would go. They trust us because we are not going to take them somewhere and abandon them there; they are always going to come full circle with Sixx:A.M..
I know you guys are all incredibly busy with all of your other projects, so I was wondering what you’re writing process was like and how you go about it? Do you take advantage of technology and email parts back and forth, or are you more traditional and get into a room and bang things out together the old school way?
Michael: That is a great question and a fundamental issue with Sixx:A.M.. When we are in the process of writing new Sixx:A.M. music all three of us have to be in a room together. We have never wanted to resort to sending files back and forth through email. It is very important to Sixx:A.M., at the writing stage that the three of us are together in a room creating music. When it comes to recording it obviously becomes a problem logistically and I have had to fly all over the place, but that is a whole different challenge. But when it comes to the writing it is very important that we do carve out the time to physically get in a room and write. That has always been the case with Sixx:A.M.. The chemistry there is very important because we just love hanging out with each other, we love each other as friends so much and it is so rare for us to get that time. So that is a ground rule we have set for the band, that when we are writing Sixx:A.M. music we are all together, we are not phoning it in.
I know different bands have success writing in all different ways, but to me, I think when everyone is in a room jamming, the end result turns out more authentic, honest and organic.
Michael: Absolutely, without a doubt! It really is about the things that go on in the studio, the things that happen in the space; you know the laughter, the joking around, the intimate conversations and baring of each others souls. It is the friendship, I have said this all along and it is really true Sixx:A.M. is three guys that were brought together by music, but we are not held together by music, Sixx:A.M. records are a by product of a great friendship.
When you are writing songs do you think about how they are going to come across on stage, or do you write a song just for the song’s sake?
Michael: Well if we were smart we would think about writing for the stage, but we are not smart. We are always just pushing ourselves as hard as we can and as far as we can in the studio and then when it comes time to take those songs live we are like, “what have we done?” These songs are pretty elaborate, but it is exciting in the same sense because it becomes a whole new challenge taking these epic songs and finding out how to play them live with the same intensity. We have been having a blast putting this tour together.
What was the inspiration or catalyst for covering the old Cars’ tune “Drive”?
Michael: We knew we wanted to do a cover song on this record and it was very important to us to explore who we had become as musicians not just songwriters and in the whole spirit of Modern Vintage going back and drawing on our influences. Part of that was going back and taking a song that played a huge part in all of our lives and reinterpreting it, looking at it again and delivering it in a new way that would introduce new elements of the song, but also reveal things about the song that maybe people didn’t pay attention to on the original version.
When we started thinking about what song we should do and Nikki was humming the verses to it because he had just heard it in the car on the way to rehearsal, we thought it would be a perfect Sixx:A.M. song because, when you really look at the lyrics of the song “Drive,” they are incredibly painful and very very disturbing. It is an isolated and sad song when you just look at it lyrically, but yet the track itself has a certain beauty to it. It’s got hopefulness to it and that is really what Sixx:A.M. has always tried to do with all of our songs, try to find the balance between darkness and beauty. So “Drive” really spoke to us on that level too. Then it was trying to figure out how we could really shift the attention back to those beautiful lyrics. That is why we started off our version of “Drive” almost like a piano ballad, so you really are forced to pay attention to the message and the story of this person. It evolves from there into an epic cinematic type track and it was a real fun cover for us to do.
Check out the song “Stars”
I think it was an interesting choice too because I imagine that a lot of your fans have never heard of The Cars let alone the song “Drive.” I mean that song is at least 30 years old, right?
Michael: Isn’t that crazy? It is hard to imagine that. You are right, we have had some people Tweeting us telling us that they love our song “Drive” and they didn’t realize it wasn’t ours until somebody pointed them in the direction of the original version. I love that. It is such a neat position to be in and hopefully we do justice to such a great and we are able to bring a whole new crowd to investigate who our influences are and maybe start discovering some new old music again.
Now that Nikki is wrapping things up with Motley Crue, is Sixx:A.M. going to be ramping things up and stepping more into the spotlight?
Michael: The three of us have been talking a lot about this and we are absolutely thrilled to bring Sixx:A.M. to the forefront of all of our lives. It has been heartbreaking for us over the last few records to not be able to get out and play as much as we wanted to. We are all excited about it though. It is bittersweet too because Motley Crue is winding it down, but we are all excited though because we have a lot of things planned and we are already talking about a fourth record!