A Conversation with Nikki Sixx
Mike Ragogna: Nikki, you good?
Nikki Sixx: I'm good.
MR: Nice. Okay, let's get right into your new book, This Is Gonna Hurt. Can you tell us about it?
NS: Well, basically, writers write, photographers shoot photos, musicians write music--that's what we do. So, I'm always writing, and a lot of people don't know how aggressive of a writer I am. I actually journal every single day, I write short stories, I write poetry, and I've always been that kind of writer. I'm always collecting information just by walking the planet, and then I kind of grab stuff and download it through my pen and paper--that's kind of how The Heroin Diaries happened. So, I decided I wanted to do a book of photography--a lot of people don't know that I've got quite a large body of photography work, and studio photography too, not just backstage stuff. A lot of the photography is so off the norm that I decided I wanted to kind of explain where I'm coming from without explaining too much because I didn't want to take the mystery away from it.
When I got done, I had five-hundred pages, and it had kind of gone all over the place. I didn't know what to do because I had two-hundred photos that I wanted to publish in an eight by ten book, and I had five hundred pages. So, I found an editor that helped me to find the places where I was repeating myself, and found the stories that really grabbed him, and the ones that weren't really well explained. It was nice to have another person help with that, and when we got done, we had two-hundred fifty pages with both the text and photography, and we felt really good about it. We designed the book ourselves, and we even designed all the paper ourselves. I worked with Paul Brown, who is an amazing photographer who rents space from me. I have two warehouses, one with just equipment, and one that is just a photography studio. This is a big passion for me--writing, writing music, photography, and it all came together in this book.
MR: Nikki, the book is laid out beautifully.
NS: Yes, I feel like I got to know myself a lot during the writing process of it, and I was meeting people during the photography process that really inspired me to become a better person too.
MR: In the book, you talk about family, addiction, and creativity, but you also discuss your relationship with your sister.
NS: First of all, for those that don't know, my sister was born with Down Syndrome, and she was institutionalized in the very early sixties. Me, being just a small boy and being shuffled around between my mother and grandparents, I never knew her. A lot of the messages that were sent to me and I was told that we couldn't ever see her and she wasn't healthy enough to have visitors, so believe it or not, you kind of forget that you have a sibling. I was like three or four years old when she was taken away, and I don't ever even remember her. But I tell you what, that stuff is impacted in your DNA, and on a cellular level, it comes out eventually. I know that I tried to find out where she was and I talk about that in the book. It was really a moment in my photography studio, where I was sitting there, writing this description of my photography, and I almost went into slow motion, where I looked around and realized that everything in that room, all of my photos, were in one way or another a way of me connecting to her.
MR: The book's vibe, and the way you tell the stories...it was almost like she was the anchor for this book.
NS: I'm finding the part that people are connecting to with this book is that bad stuff happens to good people, and that's just life. We don't like it, but what do you do with it? Whether you're Amy Purdy, who lost her legs, or Goddess Bunny and what he/she has gone through--if you see the documentaries on hulu.com, it's very revealing what these people have been through. And I've been through stuff too, and so have a lot of people who are going to hear or read this video, but the question is, what do you do with it when it's handed to you?
MR: Well, isn't it interesting that you dealt with it in this way, and you're putting a light on it with your status as Nikki Sixx. What's interesting is that society, as a whole, still doesn't seem to be able to deal with people that are less than perfect, hurt in some major way, and people that are going through unfortunate things. We really seem to want that safe, whitewashed image to fall back on, and I suppose that it's just easier than dealing with life.
NS: You know, it's interesting. People go to an animal shelter and pick a dog that's been kicked, beaten, and has lost a leg and an eye, and they'll take that dog home and give it love and support, but they don't do that with people.
MR: Nikki, beautifully said. So, let me ask you about that. Do you think society will turn the corner on that issue, or will it forever plague us?
NS: Well, I think it's always going to plague us, but the youth really has the opportunity to change the tide. It's always been about young people and awareness, whether it was in the '60s, the '70s, or any time in recent history, people can make big statements in groups that people hear. One of the things that I'm loving at the book signings is that so many teenagers are coming up with tears and saying, "I'm inspired." I had a guy deliver a pizza to my radio show yesterday, and he came in to say, "I just want to tell you that I read your book yesterday, and this is my last day delivering pizza." I said, "Well, that's great man. What do you want to do?" He said, "No, you don't understand. My dad bought me this pizza place so I would have something to do, but it's not my passion." I just thought it was interesting, where my book is touching people, just because I'm being honest. I don't put myself on a pedestal--if anything, hopefully, I'm bringing myself down from one that other people have put me on, and saying, "Hey, check it out. We all have an opportunity to make a difference in our own life." And in the end, if you're making a difference in your own life, you're going to make a difference in someone else's life. It's very much like recovery. When the addict gets recovery, his family gets recovery, right?
MR: Of course.
NS: When we change the way our head works and we sort of readjust our perspective on life and realize that our perspective on life is our life, it's then that everyone around us is affected. Now, if you're doing this by hundreds of thousands of people, you actually change the course of history.
MR: Maybe that's the thing, keeping the fire going.
NS: I think you do have to keep the fire going. It does take someone like Bono. Bono has said the same things that a lot of people have said, but because of U2, because he's the lead singer in a rock band, and because he's been very active, he can activate people to do stuff, like other celebrities and people who are in the trenches. That's kind of what it's always been about. John Lennon is another great example.
We have political sides, we have environmentalists, we have people that are pro-people, we have people that are pro-animals, but in the end, I think everyone is really trying to do good stuff. One of the things that I'm enjoying seeing from kids is that they go, "I can look anyway I want to look, I can listen to any kind of music that I want to listen to, and I can be a great person." It's misdirected judgment from people when they say, "If you have tattoos, you're a scumbag. If you have long hair, you're a loser. If you're in a rock band, you're this, if you're a mechanic, you're that." It's this judgmental attitude we have that my book is really putting a light on and saying, "Hey man, check it out." By the way, I'm the first to tell you that I can sometimes be very judgmental too. I get judgmental of conservatives, and I've got to stop it. It's hard when you have a mouth like mine, where I just sometimes spit out whatever is in my brain. So, you have an opportunity to have a lot of fun in life, do a lot of fun things, look anyway you want to look, and do for a living anything that you want to do. But you also have an opportunity to sort of bring some awareness out, and that's what I'm digging.
MR: Yeah. I think where liberals get in trouble is that we do demonize folks like Sarah Palin, and people like Donald Trump, although they do play on peoples' ignorance. I think that's our button, and it makes us crazy.
NS: I'll be the first to tell you, I am not motivated by politics, and I'll be the first to tell you that George Bush was the worst President that we've ever had in our country. But how do I know that because I don't know anything about politics. It's the same thing as somebody saying, "Well, all rock stars are drug addicts," and I go, "Well, wait a minute, I'm not, but I was." So, it's interesting, you know, and I think it's just a little glimmer of awareness here.
MR: The interesting thing about your journey is that it's an ongoing one.
NS: It is for all of us. In the end, we're going to be a collection of short stories, so to speak, right?
NS: I was talking to some friends today, and they were saying, "You know, so many musicians have all these great stories. And then some people really know how to project into the future, maximize every opportunity, and manifest their future." And I go, "That's cool, too." But one thing that a lot of people don't do is live in the moment. I have to, every day, sit down and sort of refocus on the moment because as a creative person, I get going in an entrepreneurial sort of way, almost. If you leave me in a room long enough, I'll redecorate the room.
NS: It's really bad, and it's really annoying. Back to your original question, is this slow progress in motion? Absolutely. It is for all of us. Only in America do we not look at our elderly as the extreme wise.
MR: It's one of the worst offenses but it's not global, is it?
NS: Well, I was talking to a Japanese journalist recently and I said, "It amazes me, when I'm in your country, the amount of respect the elderly get," and she said, "The older you get, the more respect you get." That's because that means you have more experience, and experience usually equals wisdom, right?
NS: In America, from what I've seen, it's like we see age as slowing the system down instead of really milking it for what it is, which is a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience. So, I think that's kind of where I'm heading--the older I get, the wiser I would like to get.
MR: I think that, especially in the entertainment industry where youth and beauty are overly revered, I think that just perpetuates and even spreads the problem.
NS: Well, it's very interesting you bring that up because there was one woman in my life that I thought was extremely beautiful, and that was my grandmother. She had more lines on her face--it was the most unbelievable thing--and I always have had this kind of baby face. It's only in the past five to ten years that my face has started to show some bite to it, and I just love that look. When I see Keith Richards, I see a life. I do love that, and I think that we could understand that the actual perfect gloss is one version of beauty, but it's not the only version.
MR: And it's nice that your photography shows a variant of that, and it goes even further.
NS: Yeah, and I think that it's important. Some people are like, "So, you're only beautiful if you're f**ked up," and I'm like, "No, that's not the point at all." I think it's just about leveling the playing field. A beautiful model, if she is a beautiful person, is beautiful because she is a beautiful person inside. The outside is eventually going to weather and crack, hopefully--that's part of the beautiful process. But you can have an old withered man, and that doesn't mean that he's beautiful if he's evil inside. I just think it's really about trying to look inside. When I meet people, I really try to see inside you. It's hard, you know. It's hard.
MR: Nice. Going back to my question before about your journey, are James Michael and DJ Ashba with you on this journey?
NS: Absolutely, one-hundred percent. All the music was made by James, DJ, and myself. The music component to the book is equally important. They do stand on their own, independently, but they absolutely do go together.
MR: Nikki, what advice do you have for new artists?
NS: My advice for new artists is learn the legal system. If you know the legal system, it's sort of like knowing who you're getting into bed with. If you want to get in bed with sharks, at least understand what you're getting into bed with. I think that if you know the legal system, and you know how to protect yourself, the big concept for me in making music, is not one or two hits, it's twenty, thirty, forty hits, and seventy or one-hundred songs. The only way to do that is to be financially secure enough that you don't have to do things. Desperate people do desperate things. You don't want to be a desperate artist, it doesn't look good, and fans deserve more. So, understand your legal position, and know that side of the business as you're learning how to be a better songwriter and artist, and in the end, we'll have better quality art if we're not relying on the bank. If you have your own money, you're protected, and you're safe, then you make music like you did when you were a teenager, and that's just to do it because you love it.
MR: Looking back at your early Mötley Crüe days, and then looking at yourself now, what is your favorite aspect of being Nikki Sixx now over the Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe days?
NS: I'm able to be more open-minded to other artists. There was a time in my life when I had such a sneer, if you weren't one of the five bands that I loved, then you were in for my tirade. I'm not like that now, I'm very much more open-minded.
MR: And what does the immediate future hold for you?
NS: The immediate future is a book tour, the Sixx:A.M. album hitting the streets, Mötley Crüe tour, and my radio show, Sixx Sense, which happens Monday through Friday, and I have a weekend show. So, I'm a very busy man, I have four kids, I'm very lucky, very grateful, and shortly, you'll probably hear rumblings of another book because I'm working on it right now.
MR: Nice. And I'm very lucky and grateful you shared some time for an interview, Nikki. Thank you so much, good luck with everything.
NS: Thanks man, have a nice day.
Tracks: 1. This Is Gonna Hurt 2. Lies of the Beautiful People 3. Mare You With Me Now 4. Live Forever 5. Sure Feels Right 6. Deadlihood 7. Smile 8. Help Is On The Way 9. Oh My God 10. Goodbye My Dear Friends 11. Skin
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney