Nikki Sixx: “We Wanted To Make The Dirt Warts’N’All… I Don’t Know How We Survived”
Eighteen minutes and 33 seconds into our interview, Nikki Sixx is asked if Mötley Crüe have anything to fear from the #MeToo movement. Several seconds later, the voice of his publicist, monitoring the conversation, interrupts and asks that the question be struck from the record. To his credit, the leader of a group who, at least for a time, were the most reckless and sexually indiscreet in the world, says, “No, I’ll answer it,” and faces the question head-on.
Now aged 60, today Nikki Sixx is talking to Kerrang! to promote The Dirt, the Netflix feature film adaptation of the million-selling genital warts’n’all book of the same name, published in 2001. As with the book, the movie takes a hard stare at the chaotic energy of the four members of Mötley Crüe – Nikki, singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee – and in doing so declines either to blink or to look away. Alongside music that has endured into the 21st century, the biopic also chronicles scenes of domestic violence, drug overdoses, vehicular manslaughter – namely an unfortunate episode in which Razzle, the drummer of Hanoi Rocks, was killed in a car driven by a drunk Vince Neil – and the death of Vince’s daughter, Skylar, aged just four, from cancer.
Nikki Sixx is quick to point out that these days rock’n’roll doesn’t produce bands like Mötley Crüe, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The bassist also expresses surprise that neither he nor his bandmates died as a result of their years of misadventure. That they survived a decade or more of a life composed entirely of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll makes The Dirt a predictably compelling – and, less predictably, a well told – story. This, you’ll be able to see for yourself on Netflix. As for Nikki Sixx, here’s his take on it all…
Despite a dysfunctional upbringing, were you a happy child?
“I’m actually a happy person. I really struggled with shyness when I was young because we moved so much, and I also struggled with feelings of abandonment. My parents both abandoned me – my father left when I was three, and my mom left when I was six – so when I hit my teenage years, all those hormones and all that heavy metal that had been bouncing around in my head led me to become unruly, but I was still a nice guy, I believe. My friends meant a lot to me, and still do. Then again, I’ve also been very destructive in my life.”
Americans who aspire to a career in music gravitate to either New York or Los Angeles. You chose LA. Why?
“I was very lucky. I was busted at a Rolling Stones concert in Seattle for selling drugs – it was chocolate mescaline – so I fled the city. I worked on a farm while I tried to raise money, but my uncle worked for Capitol Records and he said that I could live with him, which for me was everything. He would give me records by all these bands – obviously The Beatles were one of them – and he really fed my hunger for music. So that’s how I ended up in Los Angeles. He got me a job at a record store, and that’s when I started putting bands together in LA. That was probably in 1974.”
What was it about the mile of thoroughfare that is the Sunset Strip, in Hollywood, that made it your, and in time Mötley Crüe’s, spiritual home?
“Well, when we started Mötley Crüe, we were all spread out all over the place. But we had this manager who helped us get an apartment [on the Strip], and we drew straws to see who would get their own room and wouldn’t have to share with someone else. That happened to be me, and the deal was that we would switch every month, but we never did. Anyway, it was a cool time because there was still some punk rock hanging around, and that was a big influence on us, and then there was this lingering hangover from new wave, which was very vanilla and beige. So that was a perfect setting for us. There really was no Sunset Strip scene at the time. For us, it was a real melting pot of a place in which we could just live and breathe. And if we weren’t playing a gig, all we did was rehearse. If we were gonna do a show, we would always play a new song. So if we had a gig on a Saturday at the Whisky A Go Go, we would rehearse that week before the show. And that’s how we would hone the songs. That’s really what the Sunset Strip was for us. We would hang out at the Troubadour and the Whisky and the Roxy and the Starwood, which was our favourite place. It kind of gave us our identity.”
The Strip was home to countless bands, many of whom were hopeless and are now long forgotten. Why did Mötley Crüe make it out?
“Because we were forging our own path. I don’t mean to say anything against the bands who came after us, because there were some really great ones, but we were more interested in Slade, Cheap Trick and Judas Priest than anything else. We were really meshing punk and glam, and we were young – we didn’t really think about the future. The music was the most important thing to us, and it’s the only the thing that really mattered.”
As Mötley Crüe are portrayed in The Dirt, it’s hard not to look at them and think, ‘These people are assholes.’ Is that fair?
“(Laughs) Well, yeah, I mean there is some behavioural stuff in there that is just dumb. We were stubborn and determined and wild as fuck, and there was nothing out there that was like us. We could do anything that we wanted to, because we were the new thing that was happening. It was the lifestyle – it was sex and drugs and musicianship and songwriting. It was a different time. We left to go on tour with Ozzy [Osbourne, in the U.S. in 1984] and we really never came home. And when we did come home we were in the studio. We did a cover of a Brownsville Station song [Smokin’ In The Boys Room] and Home Sweet Home, which were all over MTV, then we were out playing in arenas, and sometimes in stadiums. So people ask us about the Sunset Strip scene, and the truth is that we really didn’t know what was happening because we were kind of gone. I don’t mean any offence to the bands who were there, but to me they just seemed very samey. They gave raw, dirty rock’n’roll a bad name. And we didn’t want to be a part of that. When people say, ‘Oh, those guys were assholes, they didn’t really play fair with others,’ well, the reason for that is because we didn’t really want to play fair with others. And I know that makes me sound like an asshole, but at least I own it.”
When things got out of hand, your touring life consisted of concerts, cocaine, alcohol, pills, strip clubs and private jets. How is it possible to function like that?
“Well, it isn’t! We had to cancel a European tour because I had a bad drug problem that I had to handle. We ran out of steam and we hit the wall head-on. It was damaging to the band and it was damaging to our career. And we felt that in making the movie [The Dirt] we didn’t want to gloss over that stuff and make a film that made everyone feel good or like the band – that wouldn’t be honest film-making. We wanted to make it warts’n’all. We wanted to include Vince’s beautiful daughter losing her life. We wanted to include the accident that traumatised the band, and which killed Razzle, affected members of his band and the other drivers who were involved in the accident – there was a lot of pain from that. I don’t really understand how we survived that, other than we were just stronger than we thought.”
Do you look at the sexual aspects of the film, and of the band at the time, and think that it would be unacceptable now?
“Yeah. But, listen, if we left that stuff out it would be dishonest film-making. I was thinking about this: if there was a movie made about the Colonial period and it left out the burning of the witches, what kind of film would that be? In 2019, burning witches is obviously bad, but I think we all know that. When it comes to our movie, we understand that the way that society was at that time [in the ‘80s], girls and guys acted in different ways. It was a different time. We’ve grown up from that. But the one thing we never did, and I need to say this, is we never abused our power. That’s something that I think is important to know. Whatever we did was consensual. It was wild and it was fun – I mean, every band was going fucking crazy – but what if we omitted that because it’s not politically correct in 2019?”
Bearing all of that in mind, do Mötley Crüe have anything to fear from the #MeToo movement?
“No. Here’s the thing: if anybody was abusing power, that’s one thing. But it was a time when everyone was living a life that is very different from today’s. That was then and this is now. No, we don’t have anything to worry about. But we would have done the wrong thing if we had made a film that worried about presenting us in a way that was politically correct.”
Along with The Dirt, you also co-wrote The Heroin Diaries, which paints a much darker picture of life on the wild side…
“The Heroin Diaries is like a time capsule of a period of the band. [Co-author] Ian Gittins did an amazing job of portraying addiction, and where that addiction comes from. If you read the book and then see the movie [The Dirt] then you’ll understand some of the scenes better. It does a really great job of showing what that addiction was like. The scenes where I’m shooting up and my mom is calling me and she’s crying and I’m crying, that all came from The Heroin Diaries. If you want the fuller story of that, you have to read The Heroin Diaries, because we didn’t want to make it all about that, because it’s really four guys’ stories, not just mine.”
When you look back at that aspect of your life, and you consider your sobriety now, what do you feel?
“I’m very grateful. I’m surprised that all four of us are still alive. I wake up every day and look around and see that I’m a father, and that I’m married, and that I have all these projects that I’m involved with. I’m working on a musical right now [of The Heroin Diaries]. I’m working on another book. There’s a couple of other things that I’m doing that kind of cross-pollinate with each other. So, I kind of exist in this creative bubble and I can look back [on addiction] and say, ‘That is something that will never happen again.’ I also don’t think it will happen again in rock’n’roll. You have bands who dress like bankers now, and they’re not making any money! I look at Aerosmith in 1976 and think, ‘That’s a rock’n’roll band!’ I look at the Rolling Stones when they made Some Girls [in 1978] and think, ‘That’s a rock’n’roll band!’ That kind of lifestyle is not there anymore.”
The explosion of Nirvana in 1991 did great damage to Mötley Crüe. Was it fair that you were lumped in with bands such as Poison and Warrant?
“I have to say that I don’t think that Nirvana and Pearl Jam killed the bands you mention, I think that they killed themselves. They were making copycat music. We, on the other hand, simply imploded. Forget about the lifestyle for a minute – the thing that ultimately allowed us to pull ourselves through was the music that we made, and how good we can be when we really put it together. Every great band has hills and valleys; they start at the bottom and if they’re lucky they make it to the top of the mountain. But eventually you have to go down. Very few bands are lucky enough to become popular and stay popular forever. That’s just the way music is – it changes, technology changes, fashion changes, and social outlooks change. But again, today a lot of bands are just so fucking safe.”
Do you think that Mötley Crüe’s music has been overshadowed by, shall we say, the band’s extra-curricular activities?
“One hundred per cent. One thing that we all agreed on early on was that we would be very honest about our lives. So we’d do an interview and be asked what we did the night before, and we’d answer, ‘Oh, we did some cocaine, got into a fight and fucked a prostitute.’ And they would look at us and say, ‘Who the fuck are these people?’ But there were other people who were doing that who didn’t talk about it. I won’t mention any names, but there were quite a few bands who I talked to when I was doing The Heroin Diaries who said, ‘God, please don’t let people know that we did that too.’ And that was just never Mötley’s way. We were very open lyrically and in interviews, and it kind of took off from there. And then with the book The Dirt, people were reading about us, but not really listening to the music. I mean, they’d listen to it, but all the time they’d be thinking about how wild we were. One of the things we wanted to do with the film was show the musical side, too. We wanted to relaunch our music to a new fan base, and to our old fan base, too. We wanted to do exactly what you’re talking about, which is to point the finger back at the music.”
Will these fans ever get to see Mötley Crüe play live again?
“I was actually doing an interview with Tommy [Lee, drummer] a couple of weeks ago, and we were asked if we would ever play together again. And Tommy said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe if we got into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame or something, we could dust off a couple of our old classics.’ I was, like, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Why not?’ But we don’t have any plans because we were told by the Hall Of Fame that we would never get in, because of how we’ve acted, so that’s kind of it.”
Would you ever consider touring as a band again?
“Well, I don’t know. We haven’t had that conversation. I mean, we wrapped up for a reason. I don’t know – I keep saying a hard no to that, but if something came up, like we were invited to play the Super Bowl half-time show, maybe that’d be something we’d be interested in doing. But touring has never been a conversation, and we do talk about stuff all the time.”
After all that the four members of Mötley Crüe have been through, do you remain friends?
“Erm… I think that me and Tommy and Vince are very close right now. Mick is very quiet and so we never see him. But right now there’s no problems. (Laughing) Things are fine.”
Are you happy?
“I’m so fucking happy.”
The Dirt is available to stream on Netflix now.