In Set List, we talk to veteran musicians about some of their most famous songs, learning about their lives and careers (and maybe hearing a good backstage anecdote or two) in the process.
The Musician: Nikki Sixx has been making music for longer than he should have even survived. Mötley Crüe’s bassist and principal songwriter has flirted with death from drug overdose, and generally lived an existence that makes the rest of us look meek. Having found a career as an author with his 2007 autobiography The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star, Sixx just released his latest book, This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography, And Life Through The Distorted Lens Of Nikki Sixx, along with an accompanying soundtrack by his industrial-metal trio Sixx: A.M.
“Live Wire” (from 1981’s Too Fast for Love)
Nikki Sixx: That song came so fast. Some of that stuff, it’s really kind of important for me to look at it and go, “It was just like writing this book, it just came out.” I didn’t edit myself, and I didn’t know that I was doing that at the time. Later, I’d learned about critics, and the worst critic of all being the one in my head. I can’t really place a time period on it, but I think for me, realizing that stream-of-consciousness is the most important way of writing—whether it’s lyrics, doing photography, writing poetry, working on books—you just have to get it out. And once you get it out, if you wanna edit it, editing is different than criticizing.
AVC: It’s like sex in that way. Sometimes you just have to let things take you over without over-thinking it.
NS: You can’t go, “Well, let’s do it in this position, because everybody says this position is the best position,” and you’re like, “I’m overthinking this.” That is like creativity. You just have to do it.
“Shout At The Devil” (from 1983’s Shout At The Devil)
AVC: You mention this song quite a bit throughout This Is Gonna Hurt, and reference how you were young and angry at no one in particular when you wrote it. When you perform it now, is there a “devil” that you’re shouting at?
NS: I think being a teenager is like walking on an earthquake. You never really feel stable. For me, that, combined with some of the stuff that happened when I was younger, I really felt unstable, and the only way for me [to escape] was, like a cobra or something, to spit venom. And it was important, and it’s still important today. It’s a part of the process. Would I be shouting at the same devil now? I’d be a liar if I said I was, I’d be fake, and that’s something I couldn’t do. It doesn’t mean I can’t play the song, it doesn’t mean Mötley Crüe isn’t valid, and it doesn’t mean that moment wasn’t true. But we couldn’t try and re-enact that, or we’d be chasing our tail.
“Helter Skelter” (from Shout At The Devil), “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” (from 1985’s Theatre Of Pain), “Anarchy In The U.K.” (from 1991’s Decade Of Decadence)
AVC: Mötley Crüe consistently re-worked songs from the ’60s and ’70s on its albums, all the way up through Decade Of Decadence. Do you think people still fail to acknowledge just how influenced by classic rock, pop, glam, and punk Mötley was?
NS: They definitely have such a big influence. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a song like “Jailhouse Rock” was just a lot of fun to play, and what I love about Mötley Crüe is, when we’re in rehearsal or live, whatever we play sounds like Mötley Crüe. It’s really amazing. Have you ever heard a band that plays another song and you go, “Wow, they played that song and it sounded just like Led Zeppelin.” Mötley Crüe can play a Led Zeppelin song, and it will sound nothing like Led Zeppelin. Maybe we’ll ruin it, but at least it will sound like us. And that’s all to do with the fact that all four individuals are so unique in their sound and their style, and I don’t know if that makes us special in a good way or a retarded way, but it definitely makes us something that I know I’ll very rarely see anymore.
“Girls, Girls, Girls” (from 1987’s Girls, Girls, Girls)
AVC: Do you ever look back on this time in your career and have mixed feelings about the content of songs like “Girls, Girls, Girls”?
NS: I have no regrets. I lived my life the way I said I’m gonna live my life, and I think that’s how we have to do it. We have to go 100 percent, even into your mistakes. It’s like when you run when you’re a kid, and you fall and you hit the pavement, and you get up and start running again. That’s all life is, a lot of failures, a lot of falling down and getting up again. Every time you get up, you get a little better and a little stronger at what you’re doing, until you get to the end, and then you fucking celebrate. In a way, “Shout At The Devil” is one of the more positive messages there is. “Stand up for yourself in seasons of wither. Stand up for yourself and shout at the devil.” I’m still doin’ it.
“Kickstart My Heart” (from 1989’s Dr. Feelgood)
AVC: Is it ever weird to you that a song that was inspired by you nearly dying from a heroin overdose has been embraced by millions as a fist-pumping party anthem?
NS: For me personally—I can’t speak for the rest of the band—it feels like a searing sneer, like I fucking walked into the biggest fist there is, the fist of death, and I got up to fight again. It’s such a celebration to me, such a positive song. “When I get high / I get high on speed / Top fuel funny car’s a drug for me.” It’s like, “Let’s maximize, let’s go for it.” Sometimes I go, “Wow, I have these repetitive patterns in my life.” I just run out of juice and I’ll fall into my old patterns and then I have to reignite the fuse and start over again, and I think that’s one of the things I saw in my book, which is, “Man, I can get dragged down in this shit, and I gotta pick myself up and go again.” And by sharing that honesty, people go, “That guy’s not any different than me. I got the same fucking problems. I got problems with my old lady, I got problems with people I work with, I got problems with this and that.” And you just keep goin’.
“Skin” (from 2011’s This is Gonna Hurt)
AVC: “Skin” is a statement about beauty without prejudice, but you’re known for dating beautiful women. How do you reconcile that?
NS: You are not your skin. You’re not just that beautiful, statuesque woman, or you’re not a multitude of other things. You’re more than that. You’re entitled to be more than that. I’ve talked to so many women who have told me they feel ugly because they’ve only ever been looked at as beautiful, as a trophy. There you have the little twist. In my head, in my heart, I can understand, because I was the outcast, and all of a sudden was voted president of the fucking club. How can I be both? How can I be the ugly misfit of society and now be a sex symbol? Maybe they didn’t ever really ever see me, ever really know me. That’s maybe what I’m trying to expose.