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Sixx:A.M. breaks out of Motley Crue's shadow

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Since its inception eight years ago, Sixx:A.M. has been a band that's existed by choosing its spots.

With members who have other commitments in Motley Crue (Nikki Sixx) and Guns N' Roses (Darren Jay "DJ" Ashba), and with Michigan-born frontman James Michael's busy production and songwriting schedule, Sixx:A.M. has been a tough juggle and something of a secondary concern. Nevertheless, the trio has managed to release three albums -- including last year's "Modern Vintage" -- and a couple of EPs, and this year it launched its first headlining tour, in between legs of Motley Crue's worldwide farewell trek.

"After three records we're finally admitting to ourselves that maybe we're a band," says Michael, 46 -- who hails from Holland and has worked with Motley Crue, Meat Loaf, Papa Roach, Kelly Clarkson, Halestorm and "American Idol" winner Caleb Johnson, among others -- with a laugh. "We just keep backing into these things -- 'OK, we made a record,' then the record label called us and said, 'Can you make a video?' 'But we're not really a band.' Then we made another record, and another one after that, and now we're doing a tour...

"It's truly a labor of love for the three of us."

Sixx and DJ Ashba use the exact same term, and both credit fans with convincing them to elevate Sixx:A.M. from project to band status.

"We've been hearing it for years -- 'When are you gonna make another album?' 'When are you gonna tour?' " says Sixx, 56 (real name Frank Feranna, Jr.). "I've gotta tell you, my body would probably like to say, 'OK, you're gonna be on tour with Motley Crue pretty much non-stop. Let's take this break and maybe even go on vacation.' But I just love this ('Modern Vintage') record so much and I love this band so much, I'm gonna take advantage of this time to give the fans what they want.

"And with James and DJ it's so thrilling. We have so many years together and we've created some great music together. We're really proud of the music we made, and we love how it's really connected with the fans all around the world."

Sixx:A.M. has, in fact, been a hit out of the box. Formed to create a "soundtrack" album for Sixx' 2007 memoir "The Heroin Diaries," the group watched its single "Life Is Beautiful," hit No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart and go gold. Sixx A.M. even played as the opening act on Motley Crue's Crue Fest tour in 2008, although Michael notes that at the time "we were still trying to figure out whether we were actually a band or not." The success led to a second album, 2011's "This is Gonna Hurt" -- again tied to a Sixx book -- and then to "Modern Vintage."

"Y'know, we made 'The Heroin Diaries' and...none of us anticipated it would be played on the radio or anything," Michael says. "It truly was just this little escape for all of us to do what was in our hearts or passionate about, without having to comply to any rules of the music business. So when 'Life is Beautiful' started climbing the charts and it became a hit and we've gotten to do more stuff, it's the ultimate icing on the cake."

DJ Ashba, 42, adds that, "Originally we started out bringing 'The Heroin Diaries' to life, musically, and now we get to bring the music to life visually. That's what's been so fun about this. It's been a fairytale dream over the years, like, 'Yeah, one day we're going to do this and that and put on a really cool tour and bring the stuff on stage to the people.'

"And it feels great that it wasn't just talk."

Sixx himself is quick to term Sixx:A.M. "kind of a baby band," hence the reason it's playing smaller venues rather than the arenas and amphitheaters Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses tend to inhabit. "This is a new band," he notes. "This is a different band, and it'll have a different interpretation of what a rock band is."

With Motley Crue planning to say goodbye for good in December, Sixx:A.M. will be doing that more frequently in the future, too. Michael says that the trio has "already had lots of great conversations about our next record, and the fact that Nikki's schedule will be more open means we can bring Sixx:Am>m. to the forefront of all our lives." Ashba, in fact, adds that "the goal is to write our froth studio album while we're on the road and come off the road and go immediately into the recording studio," although Sixx is headed to Australia with Motley Crue during early May, with European and North American dates to follow throughout the spring and summer.

Nevertheless, Sixx is excited about what lies ahead as Sixx:A.M. moves onto the front burner.

"We feel like this is the kind of band where there's no ceilings. There's no boundaries," Sixx says. "So if there are other projects that we could attach ourselves to or that we might create, we're gonna be open for it. But right now, being on tour, that lets us say, 'We're our rock band, a rock band in the sanest of the rock bands that influenced us. It's a really exciting time."

Sixx:A.M., Apocalyptica and Vamps

Tuesday, April 21. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St.

Tickets are $34 in advance, $40 day of show.

Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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