By: Angela Villand
At first glance, the signature leather hat, worn in true rock n roll fashion over black, stylish hair, along with the denim, leather and chains, could catch glances from across the room. Add a pair of Chuck’s (because they’re comfy and cool), a great sense of humor and you find there’s a fair amount of humility as well as fun-loving that’s undeniable. There’s lots of ink; intricate, detailed, colorful tattoos woven together that tell many stories from many years of his life adventures. He’s younger at heart than most people that have lived this life end up feeling at this point, that’s for certain.
But underneath all the glam of a rising hard-rock-guitar icon, who’s now toting Les Paul’s by the hundreds, is a man with a dream of writing and playing kick-ass guitar solos and making a difference in the world. He’s one of the most dynamic, energetic and fun performers you’ll see on a stage, and by all means, one of the most unforgettable.
Whether in an arena with GNR or in the studio with Nikki Sixx and James Michael, internationally renowned, award winning guitarist DJ Ashba takes his work very seriously, but still knows how to have fun, all while catching glances and listeners from across the globe.
Aside from a recent signature DJ Ashba guitar deal with Gibson, he has an Ovation signature guitar and many other things in the works. Having contributed both songwriting and producing with artists such as Neil Diamond, Motley Crue, Drowning Pool, Run DMC, Marion Raven, and Aimee Allen, DJ’s almost always occupied with something massively creative.
He writes, produces, co-writes, co-produces and all while maintaining his own Ashbaland Studios and Ashba Media Inc.(AMI). His creative design company, AMI, won the hearts and minds of Virgin Megastores and he’s single handedly responsible for the awesome look and feel of every VM store. Not bad for a kid that moved to LA in a van at age eighteen.
We spent some time talking about the new Sixx A.M. CD, This Is Gonna Hurt, how it’s tied to the book (and how it isn’t), producing and recording, and even about some fun Guns N Roses memories from the tours, as well as his Gibson Les Paul endorsement.
Angela Villand: How does that feel to sit there and tell me about your record becoming the # 1 album in the United States?
DJ Ashba: [Laughing] It feels good, it feels really good. I’m excited, might have to kick my dog or something.
Angela: Did you call and tell your mom already?
DJ Ashba: No I haven’t yet, I’m going to, probably – you know, my mom, she’s just really religious so she’ll probably say “Oh, well that’s good honey.” It won’t be a big deal, probably.
Angela: There’s a lot of great music coming out this year in all genres of music; Rock, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Prog Metal, Death Metal, and so on. But Sixx A.M. doesn’t really fit into any genre and that’s one of the things I really like about it. You guys have that creative license to do whatever the hell you want with your music…you can write about anything, you can make any kind of style you want.
DJ Ashba: We’re very fortunate. I mean, with Sixx A.M. it was never about creating a band or writing for radio. So basically it was just a great artistic outlet for all three of us as song writers and producers to say “You know what? This is a great opportunity to sit back with two of my best friends and create music and just be as artsy as we wanna be.”
The fact that people actually like it and it ended up on radio is just a big shock to all three of us. We’re scratching our heads, saying “Fuck, we should’ve done this years ago!” But I think that if you’re true to yourself as an artist, you know, I really think, no matter what the outcome is, if this record had never done anything, I would still be super proud of it.
Angela: With Nikki’s first book, The Heroin Diaries, the CD resounded what we read in the book; a definitive shadow of events, feelings, situations, etc. that we’d all experienced in the story Nikki wrote. Now with this new book, it’s different, it’s artistic and this time around, the Sixx A.M. CD is not a soundtrack at all, but it is inspired and very relevant to the book and also vice versa. Tell me how the music on the new CD and the new Nikki Sixx book relate to each other?
DJ Ashba: With the photography – they’ve kind of inspired each other; you know there are some pictures that inspired certain songs, like “Lies of the Beautiful People.” There are certain songs that inspired Nikki to go out and set up a photo shoot and shoot pictures around that song. I think we just kind of used one platform to inspire the other; it was kind of a mutual thing.
With Heroin Diaries, obviously, we were trying to bring Nikki’s diaries to life musically. We were also searching for the sound of Sixx A.M. because at that point, we really didn’t know what Sixx A.M. was going to be or what we were going to sound like; we were just having fun. So I think with this record, we had the opportunity to say “Ok we found the sound for Sixx A.M. and now we can focus more on songs and lyrical content and just really dive in and try to step up our performances, and really make this just all around a much better record in that aspect.”
Angela: Describe this CD in comparison to the first Sixx A.M. CD, for someone that may have heard the first one and liked it but is apprehensive, curious, and clueless about the new CD. How is it different? How is it the same?
DJ Ashba: I would say that there are a lot of differences in it. Like I said, we really tried to up the songwriting, the production, and the lyrical content and we focused a lot harder on the overall message on this album. The Heroin Diaries showed the whole “animal” in itself, and I was doing really quirky orchestra music for it, like “Life After Death,” and “Xmas in Hell,” and “Intermission.” With this one, we started out writing some “circus-y” type stuff for it, and then when we got in the studio, we just felt like we’d been down that road. We said “You know what – we gotta do something different with this.”
The Heroin Diaries deserves to be what it was, and it’s a special album. I felt like we were kind of cheapening The Heroin Diaries if we went down the same road. So I said “Ya know what, let’s leave The Heroin Diaries as it is, that’s a special thing.” And on this one, we all decided to focus more on the songs and the song writing. Now we know that radio is accepting Sixx A.M. and the fans “get it.” Let’s dive even deeper, let’s push it musically just a little harder. I’m super proud of the record; I think it’s some of the best guitar playing I’ve ever done in my life and I’m just really proud of it.
Angela: Do you have any favorite tracks on the album, any that were especially fun to write or play? What particularly do you like about the songs that do stand out to you?
DJ Ashba: I love “Goodbye My Friend.” That song is a musical journey, it’s very theatrical sounding and it’s just a lot of fun. The guitar solo was really fun to play and the overall message is cool. There’s so many though: “Lies of the Beautiful People” is such a fun song – the riffs in it are cool. “This is Gonna Hurt” is another one where the riffs are just really fun to play. You know, that’s the thing with each one of these songs, they’re all so different, but we really (all three of us) sunk our heart and soul into each song.
I think that’s why it’s an album you can listen to, from beginning to end, and you don’t get bored. It’s just a really solid record from start to finish. That’s kind of a rare thing, usually especially, by chance, people are downloading singles, you know. The fact that we kind of focused on an overall album and a concept and were not really worried about “OK, here’s our single.” I think there are many songs on this record that could be singles.
Angela: Do you consider This Is Gonna Hurt to be a concept album in nature then?
DJ Ashba: It’s been called all kinds of things; it’s been called a soundtrack, which – I’m telling everyone, right now – it is not a soundtrack. It’s definitely married to the photography book in a way to where they complement each other, but they can both stand on their own. Nikki’s photography, obviously, is very cool and twisted and it’s a great book to go pick up and check out the pictures and there are a lot of great stories and it stands on its own. Then I think the album, since they’re calling it a soundtrack, which it isn’t, deserves a lot more than that, because it’s a really good body of songs.
Angela: Did you write music/songs based on the photographs or vice versa?
DJ Ashba: They happened both ways. We started originally writing a lot of the music when Nikki was on tour with Motley. Me and James flew out and hung out, we all sat in the hotel room and we wrote a lot of the record just sitting in a hotel room. Then I went on tour with Guns N Roses, and in between my breaks I’d come back in and get a lot done. Every song is different. You know, Sixx A.M. has never done things by the book; it’s always been – Nikki you know will, maybe, call me.
I remember he called me one time and said, “Dude, do you have a guitar close by?” I was driving down the freeway and I had a guitar in the backseat. I pulled off to the side and he was like hummin’ me a melody and I’m sittin’ there on the side of the freeway in my car with a guitar tryin’ to play. There’s been times I’ve called Nikki and goin’ “Dude, where are you at?” or “Check this fuckin lyric out,” and he’d be writing it down on a napkin at Coffee Bean.
We don’t do things conventionally at all; we don’t rush things, we build off of inspiration. You just never know when you’re gonna be inspired, and with us it’s so random. We might be at Disneyland and think “Oh my god, I’ve got the best song idea,” you know?
Angela: Let’s talk about your contributions with song writing (11 songs) with the Motley Crue album, Saints of Los Angeles . You also Co-produced the CD. What does “co-producing” mean, precisely, especially in this case, where there’s more than one person with more than one studio on the whole mix? James has his studio in TN, you have Ashbaland studios, and both were used, so tell me about the coordination and orchestration of the Motley album.
DJ Ashba: Co-producing just means you’re one of the producers and there’s more than one producer on a record. I co-produced the album with James and Nikki. We do everything from hitting the record button to getting amp sounds to scheduling studio time for the guys to come in. We were running Ashbaland Studios and we had James’ studio going.
Out of the two different studios, we did all the guitars and bass at my studio, and we went up and did the drums at Tommy’s house. Then we came back and flew in our own drum samples and stuff; we captured his live performance, and then Vince did all the vocals at James’s studio. So, we’re all running two studios together just to move the project along quicker.
Angela: You spent quite a bit of time with GNR and Axl. Did you come home with any hilarious or epic stories?
DJ Ashba: Oh, there are so many funny times. Oh my god, I’m tryin’ to think, man – with all the chaos that went on, there are so many good ones.
Angela: Did you pull pranks on each other?
DJ Ashba: Definitely, yeah we do. I remember there was a time when me and Axl got in a bar fight. We kicked the livin’ shit outta this dude. [Laughing] First of all, he snuck into this private after show party that was just held for the band and the crew. So it was this drunk, obnoxious guy, big dude. He walks in and he’s telling everyone there he’s our manager and we’re like “What the fuck is he talking about?” Anyway, he was asked to leave several times and didn’t. He actually turned around at one point and punched one of our tour managers. I saw it so I grabbed the guy by his throat and slammed him up against the wall and I said, “You need to fuckin’ leave now!”
I walked him over to the door, and he turned around and punched me in the face, so I just started unloading on him. Axl saw him hit me and flipped and jumped in, so we’re stompin’ this guy to a pulp, but it was all in good fun. Then, what was funny about it is, about three hours later we get done partyin’, went up and the guy’s a bloody mess sittin’ in the lobby. We walk up and he apologizes for being a douchebag and then he asks if he can get pictures with us and autographs. So we’re taking pictures with this guy we literally kicked the shit out of. It was all good; we all laughed about it at the end, he even laughed. He was like “Yeah, it was my fault. I was bein’ a total dick.” It was one of those things where it was just a funny moment.
Angela: Tell me about your guitars; how many do you have? How many go on the road with you? Is there something at Les Paul in the works for you?
DJ Ashba: I have well over 100 guitars and I take about 17 Les Pauls with me. I have my own signature model with Ovation, which is the Limited-Edition DJ Ashba Demented Guitar. But the cool thing is, I just got a call from Gibson and they are now working on a Signature DJ Ashba guitar. That’s really just a dream-come-true for me; it’s just a big honor to have Les Paul make a guitar for me.
Penning the description “unapologetic music enthusiast,” Angela (or “Ang”) has spent most of her adult life involved in the music scene in one fashion or another. It all started with shooting bands as a teen with a borrowed SLR Canon, sneaking backstage (dressed as the pizza delivery chic) in order to photograph a band & tell them how much their music meant to her. Not afraid to ask, not taking no for an answer, politely building a network of contacts and having fun; she only shot the bands she enjoyed, which kept things fun and exciting, never boring. In 2000, with a resume of live concert photographs & networking contacts in tow, she embarked on her own live photography business.
In 2004, after a whirlwind of summer festivals, indoor/outdoor concerts & music conventions, she laid the photog business down and chose another path. She began working with Madison Wisconsin’s Maximum Ink Music Magazine, the Midwest’s largest print magazine after a frustrating 1.5 yrs in graphic design classes. What started out as a hobby (scanning photos, helping occasionally with the calendar, etc,) became full time copy and layout editing. Eventually, she began writing cd/dvd/book reviews and that graduated to interviews with singers, songwriters, drummers, guitarists, bassists, and more. Using the network she’d created and maintained over the years as a photographer, Ang began scheduling interviews with some of the artists she’d photographed and branched off from that point to a full time job.
Her cover stories such as Alter Bridge, Zakk Wylde, and Travis Meeks of the Days of the New can be seen both in print and online.
She’s spent more time in the past years interviewing artists that are both unsigned and not in the mainstream. With her website, Hard-Rock-Reviews.com, she has created a platform where, on a weekly basis, she can tout the talents of unsigned, un-sponsored artists from all over the U.S.A. On occasion, you can find her also speaking with tour managers, booking agents, guitar and drum techs, producers, distributors and more “behind the curtain” staff & putting these interviews on her website. Dissecting the “big picture,” she maintains that interviewing more than JUST the front-man & sometimes interviewing more than one member of a band gives the fans of the entire band a real feel for how the music machine works.
In addition to supporting and promoting these artists, she’s interviewed Elias Soriano and Robb Rivera (Nonpoint), John Conolly, Morgan Rose & Clint Lowery (Sevendust), Brad Kochmit (Switched, Eye Empire), Otep Shamaya (Otep), Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage, Times of Grace), Brian Marshall (Creed, Alter Bridge), Corey Lowery (Stuck Mojo, Dark New Day, Eye Empire), Brandon Sammons (Chasing Avalanche), Will Hunt (Black Label Society, Evanescence, Dark New Day, Eye Empire), DJ Ashba (Guns N Roses, Sixx A.M.), Mike Froedge (doubleDrive, Speed X, Black Label Society), and many more.
Whether it’s behind the camera, the pen or the laptop, Angela’s main enjoyment is the music itself. While she enjoys many genres of music, her heart belongs to heavy metal, hard rock, and progressive metal. She is currently crossing names off her “interview bucket list” every 6 months like clockwork “just because it’s so much fun.”
“When I die, bury me deep
Put 2 speakers ‘tween my feet
Put my headphones on my head
Rock n Roll me when I’m dead”