WATCH: James Michael of Sixx:A.M. is living the dream
ABOVE: Watch an interview with James Michael of rock band Sixx:A.M.
TORONTO — Like so many boys growing up in the ’70s, James Michael dreamt of becoming a rock star. He pursued his dream after high school by leaving his Michigan home and heading to Los Angeles.
Michael honed his skills and eventually became a major player in the music industry, where he worked as a songwriter, producer and musician for acts including Mötley Crüe, Meat Loaf and Papa Roach.
Since 2007, he has been the lead singer of Sixx:A.M., a group that boasts Mötley Crüe co-founder Nikki Sixx and Dj Ashba of Guns N’ Roses.
The band’s third full-length album, Modern Vintage, comes out Oct. 7.
“This is the stuff that I dreamed of as a kid,” Michael said Tuesday in Toronto. “To be able to travel around the world because of music that I made up. It’s such an incredible thing and I’m just so grateful for it every day.”
Michael, who turns 46 this week, recalled moving to L.A. with every intention of becoming the lead singer of a rock band.
“I very quickly discovered that I was more comfortable behind the scenes,” he said. “I loved the fact that if I was producing and writing for other bands I could work with 20 or 30 bands in a year and they’d go out and spend a couple of years just playing those songs and recording them and I’d be on to the next project.
“I loved how every week or so it was a fresh new career for me.”
Michael said he had put “the thought of being a front man” behind him when Sixx:A.M. was born.
“I wasn’t even planning on being the singer,” he said.
Sixx:A.M. debuted with The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack — which spawned the hit “Life Is Beautiful” — and followed in 2011 with This Is Gonna Hurt.
“Sixx:A.M.’s music has always walked that fine line between beauty and darkness, happiness and pain,” Michael explained. “A lot of Sixx:A.M.’s lyrics are pretty heavy subject matter but we always find a way to find hope in every song.”
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With the aptly-named Modern Vintage, Michael and his bandmates wanted to celebrate great rock music from the ’60s and ’70s — think Queen, ELO and David Bowie.
“We also wanted to be very bold. We didn’t want those influences to be subtle,” Michael explained. “We wanted people to be able to go, ‘oh, that sounds like an ELO harmony’ or ‘this sounds like a Freddie Mercury moment.’
“We wanted that kind of dialogue to start happening as people were listening to it.”
Among the original songs on the album is a cover of The Cars 1984 classic “Drive.” Michael said he was drawn to the message of the song.
“It’s a sad, sad story. It’s a tragic story,” he said.
Michael said he relishes the opportunities he has to tell stories in different ways through music.
“When I was a kid I was so taken by so many different types of music. I was in love with musical theatre. I loved the drama and I loved the theatrics,” he recalled. “That’s why I leaned towards bands like Queen because they were so theatrical.”
This passion is evident in the music videos Michael has made both as a solo artist (he released Inhale in 2000) and as the voice of Sixx:A.M.
“I love when I hear a song on the radio and think ‘this is a cool song’ and then maybe a month or so later I see the video and it gives me a whole new idea of what that song possibly meant,” he said, “and that’s the beauty of songs and songwriting. There never should be just one specific reaction to a song. It should always be evolving.”
The storyline of the video for “Gotta Get It Right” — the first single off Modern Vintage — includes two male characters who are clearly into each other. Was the band worried that scenes of same-sex intimacy would alienate older rock fans?
“No, not at all,” replied Michael. “We didn’t even really think about any controversy of there being two guys together. It was just part of the storyline.
“In fact, this is the first time that anybody’s even noticed that.”
Michael said the bigger risk of alienating fans was the song itself because “it’s a very different-feeling rock song … it’s more of a ’70s-style pop rock song.
“That’s where we got some push-back,” he said, “but we didn’t want to keep making the same record over and over.”
BELOW: Watch the video for “Gotta Get It Right” by Sixx:A.M.
“From the very beginning we’ve been able to have such an incredible connection with our fans because of social media,” he said. “When you can have that kind of immediate connection on a daily basis with your fans through social media, it affects your band. It affects the kinds of songs that you write. It affects how you deliver messages.
“All three of us do a lot of social media and we all do it ourselves. We want to have that personal connection with the fans.”
BELOW: Watch James Michael on Global Toronto’s The Morning Show.
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