Sixx AM: How Donald Trump inspired our new album
As New Year 2016 rolled in, Hollywood hellraisers Motley Crue said goodbye to their fans for the very last time. But unlike most bands (ahem, The Rolling Stones), their farewell was legally-binding.
Two years earlier, Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars signed a "cessation of touring agreement" forbidding them from performing together after "The Final Tour" (tagline: "All bad things must come to an end.")
The last show was eventful. Neil choked back tears during songs, while Lee got trapped upside-down in his infamous "drum roller coaster".
Sixx, who co-founded the group in 1981, was more philosophical.
"I remember standing there. I talked to the crowd and the whole place was lit up. Just for a second I took it all in and I thought: 'You know, we did it our way and we're leaving on our own terms.' Then I was ready to go."
It helped that the bassist had something to look forward to. Not just his daughter's birthday, which was the following day, but the freedom to release two albums with his other band, Sixx AM.
The first instalment, Prayers for the Damned, was finished last year and stored in stasis while Motley Crue wrapped up their tour. Despite the delay, the lyrics feel ripped from the headlines.
The closing track, Rise of the Melancholy Empire, is particularly notable. Written in response to the terror attacks in Paris and the San Bernardino last autumn, the chorus insists: "We will grow strong from this. We will not be defeated, however hard they try."
"It's not a political album," Sixx says, "but the idea behind some of the songs is: 'Now is the time to stand up. If you don't like something, say it. If there's a vote, vote. Don't just sit on your hands.
"And that's what rock music has always been about. People go to a location and rise up. They put their fists in the air and they believe in something."
On the first single, Rise, the band turn their attention to the US Presidential election, imploring listeners to defy the "status quo" and "stand up to the devil".
"People are saying 'we hate Donald Trump'," says Sixx, but there is "so much negativity coming into the system that people are running away from it.
"Our answer to that is there's never a better time to use your voice than now."
Warming to the theme, singer James Michael adds: "When you look at what's going on in the United States right now, it's one of the loudest, most volatile election years I can remember.
"There's a reason for that. There's a reason people like Donald Trump are getting so much traction. Because he's just saying things very loudly, very boldly. He's not being politically correct. And the reason people are reacting to that type of a voice is they're angry. They're scared on a global level and a personal level. It affects them right down to the dinner table.
"You have a lot of people rallying behind that campaign, who are clearly fed up, and clearly engaged and activated," Sixx adds. "But when you really look at the policies being offered to those people, they don't sync up.
"A lot of people who say 'I like Donald Trump because he speaks his mind', are following someone who's not really going to act in their best interests.
"That's what we're reacting to."
Although the album's message is pretty vague - "act now, before its too late" - protest songs are a rare breed in the current climate. So, do Sixx AM hope other artists will follow suit?
"How could people not?" marvels Sixx. "Because we are under siege. Politics has become reality television. It is ridiculous.
"We have presidential candidates not being presidential at all, saying the most ludicrous stuff and the media regurgitates it, over and over. It is nothing to be proud about. So how can people not stand up and say 'this is BS'?"
Although the subject matter is serious, Prayers For The Damned comes packaged with shiny, arena-sized choruses, inspired by Sixx's musical upbringing on bands like T-Rex and Queen.
"We really don't know how to write without a hook," he says. "Some bands are fantastic at that. They'll say, 'let's make it aggressive' and they just hit you in the face with a sledgehammer and there's no sugar attached at all.
"It's a different kind of songwriting style and we just can't do it."
Prayers for the Damned is actually Sixx AM's fourth album. The second instalment, due this autumn, will be their fifth.
Although their previous releases were critically successful, they were prevented from touring them by their day jobs - Sixx with Motley Crue, Michael as an in-demand producer and guitarist DJ Ashba as part of Guns N' Roses touring line-up.
This time around, they've cleared their diaries and are busily booking months on the road, gigging like teenagers at the start of their career.
"We're a band in reverse," laughs Sixx. "By the time you're 10 years in, you're supposed to be thinking 'we'll make a record and maybe do a couple of shows'. But that's how we started!"
The group are particularly excited by concerts they've branded "prayer sessions", where they turn up in a "random city and play to 50 people".
"We could play an hour and a half, we could play two hours," Sixx explains. "And people will get in for free."
Meanwhile, the band's first album, The Heroin Diaries, is in the process of being turned into a musical.
Based on Sixx's book of the same name, the record took an unflinching look at his drug and drink addictions, including a near-fatal overdose in 1987.
The stage version was originally planned for 2013, but Sixx insists it hasn't been cancelled.
"It's a long, long process," he says. "The book - which is like the script - is on its third draft and we're about to do a table read, then they bring in the financiers."
He hopes to cast an actor in the role of Nikki Sixx soon.
"All I care is that they're handsome. I don't care if they're talented!"
Diamond in the rough
Sixx has always been brutally honest about his addictions. His skin nearly rotted off thanks to heroin abuse, while the book paints a haunting picture of a successful millionaire hiding in his cupboard, surrounded by drug paraphernalia and wrapped in paranoid delusions.
He has now been sober for 12 years, and says he is often called by artists struggling with the same problems, hoping to find a way out.
Two years ago, when his friend Philip Seymour-Hoffman died during a relapse, Sixx posted an evocative, moving podcast discussing how addiction was "a monster" lurking "in the shadows," waiting to prey on your weaknesses.
Does he ever worry that he could sink back into addiction, too?
"I'm always very aware that it's always a possibility," he says. "I've been sober a very long time but I've got an addictive personality.
"You don't learn to drive 120 miles an hour, then get a Prius and drive down the freeway, and then switch back in a Ferrari and think you're only going to do the speed limit.
"It's that way with drugs and alcohol. That can't be introduced into my life in any way, or I'll end up being one of those stories."
Instead, he's focused on making his new band as successful as his first.
"We're willing to put in the work and build this thing gradually," he says.
"We have a very clear mission to accomplish this summer," chips in Michael. "We need to introduce Sixx AM to a lot of people who have possibly heard the name, but really don't know anything.
"What's exciting about that is we already have four records [so] the people who hear us at festivals will be able to go back and learn about us. It's an unusual position. I think it speaks to Nikki's concept that we're a band in reverse.
"We're up and coming," Sixx laughs. "We're a diamond in the rough. But we're about to shine!"