DJ Ashba, lead guitarist in Sixx:A.M. talks to Jason Barnard about the magic behind Sixx:A.M.’s songs.
There’s been a fantastic response to your new album Prayers for the Blessed.
We’ve been getting an incredible response online, on radio stations and playing some of these songs live. Crowds are reacting incredibly positively to them. It’s been a great thing.
This is a double header as you released Prayers for the Dammed earlier this year.
We went in to make a double album. We took about 9 months to write and record everything. What we did want to do was write two individual albums that coexisted within each other. So we’ve released them both in the same year but gave them a little while between them so fans could soak it take it all in. As you know, the way we write them is pretty deep so we wanted people to have a little time to live with them.
I played the new album to my wife and she hadn’t heard it before. She said “This is my music.” Your songs seem to bring out a strong personal attachment with people.
That’s great. I think with our lyrics and music that we really pour our hearts and souls into these songs. What we’ve noticed is that if people take the time to listen to a couple of songs they are usually hooked. 9 times out of 10, people can think in their own problems or whatnot into these songs and connect pretty hardcore on totally on an emotional level.
We Will Not Go Quietly fits into that.
Yes, we felt that would be a good one to go out with. We started playing it live and it was similar to when we first played Life Is Beautiful 10 years ago. The crowd, immediately even before they knew the song something connected with them, the energy. They started reacting better live than some of the songs that people do know. Which is a clear sign that we were sitting on a potential hit. So we brought in Wayne Isham to do the video. The video turned out really cool and he captured what this band really is live.
The past year saw you enter a new phase playing live.
The whole reason why never really played live is that is that we never set out to be a live band. Sixx:A.M., we all had pretty successful careers. Sixx:A.M. was something that we would get together and write an album just for fun, escape the drama of our real lives. It was kinda fun, we didn’t have to write a three and a half minute song for radio, we didn’t have a label breathing down our necks to write the next single, turn in the album. It was a complete labour of love, artistic freedom that’s why Sixx:A.M. sounds like we do to this day. Thank god that we can hold on to that. That is why I believe we have magic behind the songs that we wrote because there’s no limits, no guidelines. That’s why we could write songs like Xmas in Hell, Intermission and Maybe Its Time. That’s what made it so special.
You guys seem to be doing it for the love of it.
Nothing but the love of it. (laughs)
Can I talk to you about Catacombs?
You like Catacombs? Yeah!
It was more of a warm up piece. When I’d go in to record a song on the record, just to warm up your fingers, I wrote it as a piece of music that I didn’t think would ever be heard by the public. We were getting ready to record a song, I think it was for Prayers for the Blessed. I go through my warm up and James is in the control room. He yells at me and I’m like Ok let’s start. it He captured me playing it so him and Nikki wanted to put it on the album. It’s a very fly on the wall moment.
Our last show, I finally played it live for the first time. It was very scary to do. (laughs) We were having fun.
It reminds me a bit of Eddie Van Halen. Who are your guitar heroes?
Eddy and Randy were two of my biggest. I’d have to say Eddie was my number one biggest influence. You can definitely hear that influence in Catacombs, you can also hear a little bit of Randy Rhoads. You can kinda hear all the ingredients, growing up that cut my teeth on. With all those ingredients is what created my own sound and style.
There’s a Queen feel to Riot In My Head.
Riot In My Head is very Queen influenced. Some of the background harmony parts, even the guitar solo reminiscent of modern Brian May feel. Queen is a huge influence on all three of us. Brian is obviously one of my favourite guitarists out there, Freddie is one of James’ biggest influences. We like to dive deep into that Queen world for sure. You can hear those influences throughout all our music.
So your cornerstones are 70s and 80s rock.
Everybody asks so many different questions about how and why does Sixx:A.M. sound like it does. It’s pretty simple. If you change one guy in this band it will never sound like Sixx:A.M. Sixx:A.M. sounds like we do when the three of us get in a room and that’s naturally what comes out. We are not trying to sound like anything else. Of course we all three write for other artists and we have to study them to write in the vein of them. But when we are not doing that it’s naturally coming from the heart, that is Sixx:A.M., the three of us. When we all come together and throw it a pot that’s what naturally comes out.
And are you still writing?
We head back to LA in about a week. We’re going to shoot a video of Without You, a remake we did of the Badfinger song, a beautiful song on Prayers for the Blessed. Then I’m off on vacation, we’ll all take some holidays and then we’ll go in and write a brand new album. We’re not going to waste much time, we’ll go in there and make another record. We’re excited.
But we feel there’s so many great songs on these two albums that we want to work these two records for a while. There’s a lot of songs we don’t want just to get swept under the carpet. We want people to really enjoy them and call in and request these songs on the radio.
Rise is a really good one.
Rise is one of those magical songs, it’s a very positive message. It definitely reflects what’s going on in the world. You saw that power of that message during election. Everyone did get up and use their voice for good or bad. That song again connects really well live. We play that every night and fans seem to really love it.
You have so many great songs. What are your favourite tracks to play?
It’s really hard. I could never pick a favourite song, that’s for sure. I don’t have a favourite one to play. The way we wrote them, they’re just challenging and fun. I am enjoying playing Catacombs a lot because it’s something different. I would say Stars, there’s different ones I like to play.
What else are you up to? You have a clothing line.
Ashba Clothing. I’ve been doing that since 2008. We launched a big store on the second floor of The Stratosphere in Las Vegas. If you’re online go to ashbaclothing.com. It’s catching on everywhere!
It was a lot of fun. It’s a time of my life I will never forget. It’s a credit that nobody can ever take away from me. I will always be proud of it. Axl, to share a stage with him, to have him believe in me like he did and give me a great opportunity, it was a very special time in my life. I will cherish it forever.
At the same time I couldn’t be more proud to be doing Sixx:A.M. full time. That’s the focus.
With Sixx:A.M. you wrote the songs. It must mean more personally.
Yeah. It’s just different. When you’re playing in a band where you’re playing somebody else’s songs it’s cool because you grew up on these songs. But it’s nothing like playing your own music, I mean nothing!
Sixx:A.M. kind of happened by accident. Me and Nikki met at a funeral and me and James had been working together. James was just this great producer in town that was producing a lot of big acts. He would call me in to play on a lot of records if he needed a guitar player. We became friends that way. Me and Nikki teamed up and became songwriting partners out at Funny Farm and started writing a bunch of songs for other people. That’s kind of how it started. Nikki would go on the road with Motley for 8 months. I would sit out at the studio and be writing, writing and writing. We all got together once. I remember in the beginning we just going to write some music for The Diaries.
We were just gonna put the CD on the back of the diary and put a different singer on every song. I had worked with James for many years but had no idea the guy could sing. He never mentioned it. He sent over a song, I think it was Dead Mans Ballet, with him singing on it. I remember listening to it and my fucking mouth hit the ground. I was like what the fuck? That was it. The whole quest of trying to finding a different singer for every song went right out the window. James quickly became the guy to sing everything and us three guys immediately got together. We started carving out which songs would be great for this.
How does the songwriting go, you write the music, James the lyrics…
Me and James pretty much are the geniuses! (laughs)
No, we literally three sit in a circle and write the songs together. We keep everything in house. James mixes, everything, James is the producer. I do a lot of the artwork for the band.
We have James producing because who’s going to put take the time, care and love into it that he does. I trust him 120% with these songs. You know you’re in good hands. It is a little scary because James for the first time wants to step out of the producer role for this next album. We are talking about maybe for the first time having a producer come in. We’ll see how that goes. I’d hate to be whoever does produce this next record!
It was great to speak to you DJ, thank you. All the best with the new album.
Awesome, talk to you soon.
More information on Sixx:A.M. can be found at: sixxammusic.com
Copyright © Jason Barnard and DJ Ashba, 2016. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the author.