The Billboard Q&A: Nikki Sixx
Add "record label president" to the Nikki Sixx résumé, as the Motley Crue/Sixx: A.M. bassist steps in as the new chief of Eleven Seven Records.Add "record label president" to the Nikki Sixx résumé, as the Motley Crue/Sixx: A.M. bassist steps in as the new chief of Eleven Seven Records. Sixx is stoked at the opportunity, and is a hands-on label executive, working with bands in the studio and in plotting everything from their image to their touring.
"I find it very interesting to take the artist's craft, the art, the music, the image, and get it out there," he says. "It comes under the heading of 'record company president,' but it's a little more than that." Here Sixx, talks with Billboard about his newest gig, dirty rock'n'roll, and what's up with the Crue.
Also, check out an exclusive video from Chosen Son and a song stream from Trapt below.
What makes being a label president appealing to you?
Nikki Sixx: They say the music you listen to in your formative years stays with you and leaves an impression for the rest of your life. For me, the things that I fell in love with happened in the '70s, when artists were nurtured by record companies and it wasn't about singles. It was about bodies of work, an album. If you go back and look at it, artists would break on, like, the second single, third album. Bands don't have that opportunity now. You're dropped, bro. You're done by your second single, if you even make it to the second single. I understand quarterly billing, how the record companies run. I see models that are successful, and how you market the product to the fans. That's what I love about Eleven Seven [and] that's what I love about [Eleven Seven founder] Allen Kovac. It's the community of artists that work together, whether they work with the president or with each other.
It's about Buckcherry working with Marion Raven [and] having DJ Ashba working with me and James Michael and Mick Mars for stuff with Motley Crue. Me and DJ getting together with the guys in Drowning Pool or re-mixing the Trapt single. Taking the band out to dinner and saying, 'This is what I see with you guys. What if you went here?,' and then they come back excited.
Does input with bands have more credibility with artists when it's coming from an artist such as yourself?
With younger artists, it's definitely going to be an asset. Younger artists don't understand the business and when people don't understand something, they're sometimes fearful of it or overly trusting, and those are two bad things. If you're overly trusting and you're in bed with the wrong people, you're definitely gonna get f*cked. But if you're fearful and bury your head in the sand, you might sabotage your career.
I've had enough success and enough misfires in a career that's lasted over 25 years that I can go back and draw on that experience, and I think that's helpful for the artists. When I go into rehearsal rooms and meet with bands, they're genuinely excited to be with me because of what I've done as an artist, not because of anything else. There's that whole celebrity rock star thing, and artists are into artists who have been able to achieve success their way.
How important is playing live for Eleven Seven bands?
That is a big, big part of becoming a band, and what it is you're about, whether you're a new wave band like the Plimsouls or a band like AC/DC, or Motley Crue coming out of the bowels of Los Angeles. We were all playing live every single weekend. We were honing our craft and writing songs and we became totally immersed in it. [Music] has become very polished for me these days, and it seems contrived in a lot of cases. What I know about Eleven Seven is they believe in the artists being artists, making music for fans and not making it for radio. I want artists to know that that's a strong point for me -- being an artist and being smart enough to have relationships for them -- which in the end is for all of us.
You're in two bands, you're a songwriter, an author, you have the clothing line (Royal Underground) and all these other interests. How do you fit in "record label president?"
It's about infrastructure and using that infrastructure to take what it is you're working on and expanding on it. I don't need to be on every single phone call of every single aspect of tour support. At the end, I'll sit down and look at it and we'll figure out as a company what we can do to make sure a band stays on the road and how we can work with radio the best to keep the band in front of people because we believe in the band. The day-to-day stuff, the really grueling, hard, daily stuff, I don't do. It's something I know I'm not good at. I'm not good at sitting in an office. I have an office in my home, I have my weekly updates, and I work with the artists.
Are you going to wear a suit?
I'll wear a suit. I just went through a brutal divorce. I had a suit on for about a year, so I'm actually kind of comfortable in it.
Talk a little bit about working with Trapt.
I think they write really good songs. When I first started hearing a lot of songs by Trapt, one of the things me and Allen had spoken about [was], you have a band that's a really rough and tumble rock band that is leaving some of the rough and tumble ... they're losing some of the natural, inherent dirtiness. That happens with bands that have been around for a while. Sometimes you start to explore new territory, sometimes you might listen to radio, sometimes you might listen to people who say, "You know, if you just had a single that's more like this..."
And it's important for me and Allen to sit down with the band and say, "I think what you're missing is what you're really about, which is a bit of that dirt." We went in with James Michael and we added some elements and remixed a couple of songs, and they were doing more writing at the same time. I think they've done a really good record. And in the end, that's really all you can do. You don't want to go in and write the music for 'em, you just want to lead 'em down the right path and let 'em know that really who they were originally is why they were successful originally.
What about Chosen Son out of Baltimore?
That band to me has that almost adolescent, raw energy that is so missing in a lot of the bands I'm hearing on the radio right now. Hearing them for the first time I went, "Okay, I want to hear this on the radio," and I think if I do, a lot of people do. A lot of people I've played songs for say, "Where have these guys been hiding?"
Is there a sense of camaraderie around this label?
Absolutely. And that's what I was talking about in the '70s. People played on other people's records, people got together in clubs and jammed. It was a community of musicians and artists who weren't about making music for the radio. Radio was FM. FM was experiemental in a sense. It was open, very much like satellite radio is now. If you're writing a song that is about an edgy subject and you feel it, then write it. Don't worry about format. There are formats out there, whether you're heavy metal or whether you're a pop artist that wants to say something.
Is there any news on the new Motley Crue album?
It's just about finished. I've got to tell you, I've been writing songs for a long time, and there's something magical on this record. You make records, and you do the very best that you can do and you like them. And then sometimes you listen back and you go, "You know, about 50% of that album was really magical and 50% was just kinda jammin' and rock'n'rollin and it was cool." This is one of those albums that I just feel it in my stomach that something's happening with the band. There's a newfound energy in the songs. It's just a rebirth of that really dirty, rock and roll side of Motley Crue.
And when will be hearing any of this?
We're hoping June. It's gonna be a great year. I spend a lot of time with a lot of producers and songwriters, and I'm seeing a lot of bands in garages with ripped-up jeans and Marshall stacks, playing as loud as they can play, just being snotty and not caring about what anybody thinks. There's a thing happening where people are saying, "it doesn't matter what I do, it's not gonna be successful anyway 'cause the record companies are going under and radio is so controlled they won't play us this way." It's almost like it's been a blessing. Artists are going, "F*ck it, let's just f*ckin' rock, man."
When I was a kid playing in bar bands, we didn't care about any of that. We just knew that we loved Iggy & the Stooges. We liked the music that we liked and we just played it as loud as we could play it. And one day I ended up in one of the biggest bands in the world with that attitude. I think that if other artists keep doing that -- and I'm seeing it -- that's what's gonna happen. We're gonna have a lot of new, great music.