DJ Ashba: my top 5 tips for guitarists
For Sixx:A.M.to finally become a full-time venture, two of the biggest names in rock needed an almighty shake-up.
The band formed in 2007 but have managed to play just a handful of shows in the nine years since, due to commitments of in-demand producer frontman James Michael, Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx.
Now, Sixx AM is the number one priority.
“We are so pleased,” Ashba says. “It’s a dream come true to finally come together and admit that we are a band! We left two of the biggest bands out there: Mötley came to an end and I retired from GN’R.”
As if to drive the point home, the band have gone the whole hog and worked up not one, but two new albums. The first half of their Prayers For The Damned two-volume set is out now, with the second to come later this year.
“We went in on a mission to make two albums that complement each other so we could come out with two huge rock arena albums.” Ashba explains. “We’re really excited, and this is our heaviest guitar material to date.”
But is this a case of the band cashing in by rushing out any old half-baked idea? Not a chance, says Ashba.
“A lot of bands will do an album and then have leftover songs and polish those up and put out a double album. We didn’t do that - we wanted to make up for lost time. We wanted to make it up to the fans that stuck by us for so many years and had been patient. With two albums under our belt, we won’t have to stop touring halfway through to work on another album.
“Honestly, we all have been very fortunate that we came into this business when you could make a great living, and we have all done very well. We all had a lot of things going on in our lives, but our love for Sixx:A.M. never died - it has always been a labour of love. We can now put the big daddies to rest, and we’re now in an incredible spot.”
Ashba joined up with GN’R back in 2009 and admits that leaving the band last summer was a gut-wrenching decision, but it all came down to a need for creativity.
“Walking away from GN’R was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. I loved sharing the stage with Axl and the guys. Axl put together such an incredible bunch of musicians, and I was proud to be part of that.
“I’ll always be thankful for Axl believing in me. But it’s not my band and it never will be. I was performing songs written before I got there. I had a blast doing it, and I will cherish it. But we did a 19-day sold-out run on the Sixx:A.M. Modern Vintage tour and it was that tour of playing my own songs - songs that came from my soul - and seeing how they connected to the fanbase, I could not put that feeling into words, and I realised that I needed to follow my heart.”
As Prayers For The Damned Vol 1 hit the stores, we asked DJ to share his top tips for guitarists, and here's what he had to say.
1. Don't rest on your laurels
“The minute you think you’ve learned it all is the minute you will never progress. I’m like a sponge. I try to wake up every day and learn something new.
“I like to go to bed and think, ‘Wow, I learned something I didn’t know this morning.’ I feel good about that. I don’t think anybody will ever know it all. You can play every day all day long for your entire life and you will never be able to learn everything there is to learn about guitar.
“Having said that, I don’t practise as much as I wish I could. But back on the farm, before I moved to LA, literally all I would do all day was play guitar.
“I would wake up and play until I went back to sleep - I would play for 15-17 hours a day. I was obsessed, and I would play until I had blisters on my fingers. Then when I got to LA and started making it, what happens is it becomes more about the business, and you find yourself less and less with a guitar in your hand. That is very frustrating.”
2. Learn the business
“Young musicians must learn the business. You need to learn about publishing, about what a manager’s role is, what an agent’s role is. You need to really understand the business.
“At the end of the day, they call it the music business for a reason, and unfortunately, if you don’t understand the business you won’t know about marketing yourself and branding your band. There is a lot more about it than just playing guitar.
“Sixx:A.M. have been talking about YouTube recently, and people think us talking about YouTube is a publicity stunt, but we are using the media; we are putting an album out and we have the media’s ear, so why not bring this to the forefront?
“We managed to build a career at a time when there was money in the industry, but a lot of people aren’t that fortunate. Google owns YouTube and is worth $500 billion, and they are paying one sixth of what Apple Music and Spotify pays artists.
“It is becoming impossible for bands to have a future in music. Bands like us need to make a stand and say that this is not right. The guys that own YouTube are worth approximately $75 billion and the whole music industry is worth $15 billion. We’re just asking YouTube to play fair and do the right thing. Just pay the artists fairly.”
3. Study songwriting
“If you’re a songwriter, I would highly suggest studying songwriting every bit as much as you study your instrument. It is an incredibly important thing to hone in on.
"You can constantly work on perfecting your songwriting skills, and that is absolutely vital.”
4. Remember it's a solo, not a look-at-me spot
“When it comes to recording, the most crucial thing as a guitar player is to always write and play for the song. Don’t play for yourself. Don’t use solos as look-at-me spots.
“I’m not trying to tell anybody how to play, but this is what I would suggest, and this is what I try to do. I believe that melody is king. You can play a million miles-an-hour and it will go over 99.5 per cent of the audience’s head. They just won’t understand it.
“But you can hit one note from the bottom of your soul and every head in the room will turn. In a solo section of a song, the responsibility that you have is to take the listener away from the singer and take them on your own little mini-journey, and then come back around and hand the song back to the singer.
“You have a lot of responsibility with your solos to take the listener on a journey that not only are they glad they went on, but also one that they can’t wait to take again.
“These skills come with experience. When you hear a seasoned player, what you are hearing is somebody not trying to show off. You are hearing someone that knows what a song actually needs and somebody that is playing for the song.”
5. Remember that live is a whole other beast
“You must always pace yourself when you’re playing live, and always breathe. The one thing about playing live is that you can rehearse and rehearse for days and days for months on end, and you’re going to learn more from one live show than all those rehearsals.
“You will hit all kinds of roadblocks in one show that you won’t get from months in a rehearsal room. When you’re playing live, you have to go in, be confident and be yourself. You need to keep your head held high and never give up, no matter what.
“I love mistakes because I learn from them, and as long as you learn from your mistakes, that is the main thing. You just go out there and play from your heart and be true to your craft. No matter how much prep you do on your first show, nothing will sound anything like it did in the rehearsal room.”