Nikki Sixx Interview: Minnesota Vikings Inspired My Mötley Crüe Look
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Authors
Image attributed to Ryan Dorgan
Frank Feranna, Jr., later known as Nikki Sixx, was born on December 11, 1958, and was raised jointly by his mother and grandparents shortly after his father left the family. After becoming interested in music, Sixx moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17. He joined the group Sister, but was fired soon after recording a demo along with bandmate Lizzie Gray. They formed the band London, but Sixx left in 1981, and the bassist founded the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe with drummer Tommy Lee, guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil. In 2007, Sixx, along with DJ Ashba and James Michael also formed the hard rock band Sixx:A.M. The group is a combination of all of the members’ last names.
Mötley Crüe has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. They have achieved seven platinum or multi-platinum certifications, nine Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 chart, 22 Top 40 mainstream rock hits and six Top 20 pop singles. The band performed, for what was then advertised to be the last time, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, on December 31, 2015. On December 4, 2019, it was officially confirmed that Mötley Crüe would embark on the Stadium Tour with Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett the Blackhearts in the summer of 2020. Due to COVID concerns, that was rescheduled to June-September, 2021, but was postponed again to 2022.
"What would he say? Oh, he’d say, 'Good job, motherfucker!' (laughs) He’d say, 'Guess what? We made it.' Yeah. We way exceeded expectations."
The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx was published on October 19, 2021. The rock icon and three-time bestselling author tells his origin story: how Frank Feranna became Nikki Sixx. His memoir chronicles the fascinating journey from irrepressible Idaho farm boy to the man who formed the revolutionary rock group Mötley Crüe. The book is also a road map to the ways you can overcome anything and achieve all of your goals if only you put your mind to it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Nikki, how are you today?
Nikki Sixx: Fantastic!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Not getting tired of doing interviews on the book?
Nikki Sixx: No. You know what? I never get tired of them. I get tired, but I never get tired of them. When I see artists that say, “I don’t want to do interviews,” I go, “That’s great. You worked like fuck on a record. You pulled your hair out over those lyrics. You did anything and everything to make this thing great, and now you’re a diva”? (laughs) I’m like, “Come on, man. Wake up and smell the reality.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So very true. I wanted to first tell you that I also drove a Vega, if that tells you how old I am (laughs).
Nikki Sixx: Oh, man, the Vega! The death trap, yeah. I have no idea where that thing even ended up (laughs). When you’re young like that, you say, “This thing doesn’t run anymore, so give me a bus pass.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, indeed. Why did you feel the need to write about the first 21 years of your life now?
Nikki Sixx: Well, a few things happened. Quite a few years ago, my wife and I had decided we wanted to get pregnant, and we wanted to plan around what was happening. So at the time, we were on the Mötley Crüe tour, and we started talking about it. We came off the road, and we’re like, “We’ve got to make sure that when we get pregnant, I’m not going to be back on the road.” We didn’t want her to have a baby like in Detroit or somewhere (laughs). So we were planning this thing out, and I was talking to some other parents. They said, “Yeah, man. I live in Los Angeles and just bought a bulletproof backpack for my kid to go back to school.” They were young kids, maybe 10 or 12 years old.
I remember going back and talking to my wife. I have four older kids, and they’re all working and in college and out of the house. I didn’t know if I wanted to put a child through this here. We started looking and decided we were going to buy at the end of the Stadium Tour. We were going to get a house just to get out of Los Angeles full time. When COVID came, we just started looking more and more. We were in Nashville, Montana, and we looked in Idaho. We finally ended up falling in love with and buying and moving to Wyoming.
What happened in Wyoming was that I started to feel more settled. I started to feel more like not an entertainer but just a creator, a creative person, not a rock star but just a kid with a dream. I’m like, “These are all the feelings I had when I lived right over the mountain from where we lived in Idaho where I grew up.” I was way out over the end of the property looking at the gulch and the mountains, and I just thought, “Where did we go?”
I’m kind of a natural-born documentarian. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. But I always, as a kid, wrote everything down. I ran inside and wrote down a couplet, and it was something like, “To my friends, it wasn’t you that got lost. It’s just once I started flying, I forgot how to stop.” That was the moment that I realized I wanted to go back and trace through other people’s voices as well as my own in those first 21 years because so much happened in those first 21 years that was what led to me doing what I do now. It was only by writing it down and documenting it and kind of finding a pattern that I realized that.
In retrospect, the book is kind of a template for how to be successful with a hell of a lot of hurdles. I always believed your life is your perspective, like that perspective of the big picture. I don’t know where I learned that being a small-town boy, but it kept me going through the lean years, through the hard years, the believer in the dream years and the kid who didn’t have any boundaries in his creativity years.
I wish that there was no piano or guitar or bass where I grew up and that I was a writer. But I was able to say, “That writer and that band and that melody line and the way that person looks are all the things that I love.” As I outgrew being in a small town and got to big towns, I started accumulating like-minded people, being a part of or joining or starting my own tribe of like-minded people, which is just what a rock band is.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You were told some negative things about your father from your mother. Did you find out whether they were true or not?
Nikki Sixx: Right up until before my mom passed, she just had her story. Her story was that I was born. She wanted to name me something else. My dad, being a proud Sicilian man, wanted me to be named after him, so that was forced on her. And then he left and abandoned me. He was never there. And it didn’t bother me for a long time because I didn’t know any better, and I was around my grandfather as a male role model.
But going back and talking to my aunt and my uncle and other people who were there, I knew I had a sister that was born with Down Syndrome. I knew that she was not supposed to live, from what my mom said, for more than six days and that she was brought home. My mom’s story was that she was just taken. What I found out was my dad did not leave when I was born. He was there. They got pregnant, and my sister was born with Down Syndrome. My dad really wanted (and I’m sure my mom wanted) to care for her, so they brought her home.
I was a toddler, and I have this little sister. All of a sudden, the sister disappears, and the dad disappears. That aligns with my mom’s story that my dad abandoned me, right? Well, come to find out, something made my dad really mad, and he never wanted to see my mom again. We believe my mom wanted my sister put in a home for whatever reason. At 19, she was young, so how is she going to take care of a toddler and a child with Down Syndrome? My dad left around that time, so we think that was the breaking point. But my mom was telling me things about my dad that made me not want to carry on his name, hence the name change. I’ve had people say to me, “Would you have written ‘Shout at the Devil,’ ‘Live Wire,’ ‘Bastard’ or ‘Looks That Kill’ if you didn’t have some of this anger?” I don’t know. I don’t know that. But it was a lot to carry around.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your mom dated Richard Pryor for a while, so did you ever speak to him about that later in life?
Nikki Sixx: No. We never crossed paths. What’s really beautiful and cool about that part of the story is my mom didn’t see color. It was 1964/1965 and a tough time for interracial relationships. It was later that my mom told me that when she dated Richard, they couldn’t really go to a restaurant. If they did, they got a lot of grief or a lot of looks. But what I remember about Richard was nothing that had to do about whether he was black or white or anything but that he was really sweet to me, really kind to me and played with me.
Richard, not unlike all the other men in my life, also disappeared. I didn’t know who Richard Pryor was. I had no idea. Then years later, I was like, “Oh, yeah, Richard Pryor.” Then at some point when I was in junior high or high school, he’s like literally a god and the funniest, most popular, breaking-down barriers comedian that blazed the trail for so many others that came behind him. What I got out of that was, we’ve got another guy who’s working his ass off for his dream and got it.
Unfortunately, Richard fell prey to some of the stuff that a lot of us fall prey to, and that is drugs and alcohol and that whole Hollywood thing that takes a lot of people out. I don’t know Richard’s history. I’ve never read his autobiography. But in my history, there’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of hurt and a lot of feeling abandoned back when I did do drugs and alcohol. I felt like, “Wow. This is like a badass Band-Aid.” But, it’s definitely not the answer. It almost killed me.
I live my life in amends and sobriety. Because of sobriety, I’m able to be a great father, I can write books, work on movies and musicals, have multiple bands and be a creative person. I enjoy it so much. So I like to expose the honesty of family issues in some of my work, including “Primal Scream” by Mötley Crüe, because I know that I’m not alone.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Mötley Crüe was formed 40 years ago. Are you guys bound by friendship or music or both?
Nikki Sixx: I don’t think anybody in this band would ever tell you that when we started out, we’d be together in 10 years. I remember when we hit 10 years, and we did Decade of Decadence, the album which was kind of a greatest hits type thing. But 10 years. I figured that was probably it, but we got a couple of more years in (laughs). I look over on stage, and there’s Mick, Vince and Tommy, and I’m like, “Wow!”
I really want to talk about luck. I had a lot of dreams and a lot of ideas. I was being a documentarian whether I was taking photos, writing or writing music. I was just doing what I was drawn to. But when I was in Jerome, Idaho, with 4,000 people, I didn’t know they were struggling. My grandparents did their very best, and who cares? I don’t care. I was a kid. I got a bicycle. I could pick up a rock and skip it on the lake. I didn’t need a new iPhone or anything else. I had my imagination.
My uncle heard from my grandparents that Frankie was crazy about music, and I was. I didn’t really understand at the time what was happening to my inquisitive brain. But writers, poets and storytellers influenced me; Bukowski, Burroughs, Ian Hunter, Jimmy Dean and Petula Clark influenced me. These random places where these stories were coming from influenced me, and I’m doing the same thing.
My uncle was the president of Capitol Records, and I didn’t even know what that meant as a kid. I didn’t even know that there was a record company. I just thought there were bands, and they were cool, and somehow they made a record (laughs). I didn’t even know what a recording studio was. I had no clue. We didn’t have access back in the 70s to stuff like that. My uncle was sending me records because he knew my mind was open, and that I was into music.
My stroke of luck was when uncle Don came to visit my grandparents and said to me, “If you’d like to come to Los Angeles, you’re welcome to. We have a guest room.” That changed my life forever because I wouldn’t know how in the hell Mötley Crüe would’ve been formed in a town of 4,000 people (laughs). Do you know what I mean? I was going to end up working on a farm. That’s what I was going to do. That was my destiny, and I would be the biggest rock fan on earth that had the biggest vinyl collection of anybody in Jerome, Idaho.
But, my uncle got me a job in a music store in Glendale, California, called Music Plus. Strokes of luck. The manager there would play Herbie Hancock, Abba and Aerosmith, and all these young people came in, young people of the 70s expressing themselves in how they looked and dressed and were into a certain type of music I was playing at the time. If my uncle had not brought me to LA, all the seeds that were planted earlier when I was a small-town boy would not have had a way to grow.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What would Nikki Sixx say to Frankie Feranna, Jr. today?
Nikki Sixx: What would he say? Oh, he’d say, “Good job, motherfucker!” (laughs) He’d say, “Guess what? We made it.” Yeah. We way exceeded expectations. The more that you get, the more you have to give. So I try to give back whether it’s through social media or tweets or answering questions or creating a music program or donating money to charity or working with young kids. I try to give back because I am one lucky dude. I mean, yes, I have the ideas and the songs and the drive. But, again, luck is such a big part of this whole thing. That’s what I mean by getting to do an interview. It’s unbelievable, and I am always going to be a fan.
What I love is when I check in with other artists. I’m like, “Man, Toys in the Attic and ‘Uncle Salty,’ that riff!” And, you’re talking to your peers, and they’re fans, right? We’re all fans. You don’t just one day grow up and become not fans. We’re fans of music that influenced us, which we then, in turn, got to pass on to our own fans.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have the guys in the band read the book?
Nikki Sixx: Not yet because I literally am just getting the book, but we’re sending them all a copy. But we’re all very supportive of each other.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is the success of the film The Dirt the only reason the band decided to reunite?
Nikki Sixx: Absolutely. When the phone call came, it was a surprise. The idea about doing arenas, for me personally, was that we’d been doing arenas, stadiums and festivals for decades. But we pulled off the road. I don’t know. I just remember hearing that Live Nation was interested in doing eight shows, and I thought, “So much work. If you do eight, you might as well do 80.” He’s like, “No. Stadiums.” That got all of our attention.
We’re like, “Well, if we’re going to come back for a second, let’s come back in a ball of fire. We thought of Def Leppard and said, “Let’s do that. Let’s ride this thing out.” Definitely Def Leppard’s been in a holding pattern same as Mötley Crüe since COVID came. We’re committed to each other to doing this tour. We do know we’re going to tour next year. The tour starts June 16. I have between now and then to start preparing for the tour but also promoting the book and the new Sixx:A.M. album and finishing up the design element. We’re going to start in Atlanta and tour through the end of September next year. So we’re a year away of ending.
We don’t know what the rest of the world’s going to look like. We don’t know where we’re going to be able to take Def Leppard and whatever package it is depending on the territory. It would be great if we could keep the same package. We’d like to keep the same one. Can we go to Europe? Can we go to South America? Can we go to the UK? For right now, we know that we can do it in America. We believe we made the right decision to not go this year. A lot of my friends went out. Some had a good experience, some not. But somebody had to go first. So next year, we’re going to go, and we don’t know what that looks like. But we’re really excited to get on the road and play.
Coronavirus gave me an opportunity to slow down and get closer to my older children, meaning spending more quality time up on the river, up on the lake skiing and spending lots of time visiting. If you come to visit me in Jackson, Wyoming, you’re trapped. You can’t just come over to dad’s house, jump in the pool, cook up some hotdogs, watch a little football and go back to your house. You’re there for a while (laughs). But Coronavirus allowed me to be able to be home with my young child, a two-year-old, to write a book and music on a greatest hits album. I’ve got all these other projects that are happening.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tell me about the music you’ve been working on for Sixx:A.M.
Nikki Sixx: There’s basically six songs, a couple are re-imagined, brand new songs on the Sixx:A.M. album. “The First 21” song, which correlates with the book, is really exciting because I talked with James and DJ in Sixx:A.M. I said, “We had a lot of success writing the soundtrack to The Heroin Diaries book.” It was really exciting for us.
DJ was telling me about growing up in Indiana, and James was talking about this and that when he was younger. We just started talking about those summer nights like riding bicycles and listening to your favorite band and getting a crush on a girl that wouldn’t give you the time of day because she was way out of your league. All of that came out in the song “The First 21.”
The bonus to all that is when talking to my family and doing the research for this book, my aunt and uncle had boxes and boxes of reels to reels that were 8mm. Lucy Dyson, who works with Paul McCartney a lot as a director, put together an amazing video for “The First 21” using that 8mm footage. If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet, check it out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: One final question, Nikki. Can we say that the Purple People Eaters actually influenced your “look” in your early career?
Nikki Sixx: Yeah, the Minnesota Vikings. A lot of people have not really connected that the reason I wear the stripes under my eyes is because I played football as a kid. The reason I played football as a kid is not only did I watch a lot of football with my mom growing up, but she was friends with Alan Page and Carl Eller. They were defensive tackles for the Purple People Eaters, the Minnesota Vikings, the most menacing, dangerous defensive team at the time in the 70s. These guys were around, and they were big. They were monsters, they were cool, and they carried me around on their shoulders.
I just remember the stripes and putting them under my eyes one night and was like, “Oh!” It was so random, and I don’t think anybody else had put stripes under their eyes. Even though it’s a football thing, they’re going to go, “That’s Nikki Sixx!” It’s just like nobody can put a star under their eye because that’s going to be Paul Stanley. And it all came from my love of football. So take the New York Dolls, throw in some Cheap Trick, throw in some football, throw in some Bukowski, throw me into a city, and there you go!
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Author Interview Mötley Crüe Musician The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx