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Guns N’ Roses Guitarist DJ Ashba Talks About Working with Axl Rose, Recording with Nikki Sixx and Never Sleeping

Axl Rose and DJ Ashba of Guns N' Roses
Ian Hitchcock, Getty Images

Regardless of when you’re reading this, Guns N’ Roses and Sixx: A.M. guitarist DJ Ashba is almost certainly awake and working on something creative right now. As you’ll see in our exclusive interview, besides sketching out the legendary band’s future live and recording plans alongside Axl Rose, Ashba recently released a second album with Motley Crue‘s Nikki Sixx under the Sixx: A.M banner.

As if that’s not enough, DJ (Daren Jay, not a hip-hop nickname) also owns a design company, and he’s writing the script for an animated movie. The least you can do, after all that, is to read our interview with this talented and industrious artist:

You’re in Guns N’ Roses and Sixx: A.M., plus you have your own clothing, art and ad companies. Do you sleep?

It’s all coffee. You know what, actually, I stay up late and I get up early; I sleep about four hours a night. I’ve done that for years and years, I’ve been a work-a-holic all my life.

The first rock show you ever saw was Motley Crue, right? Did you ever see Guns N’ Roses?

I’ve never seen Guns N’ Roses live, as weird as that is. It was really difficult, living back home [in rural Illinois], to see concerts, because I was raised in a very religious family. So, the only time I could go to a concert was when I visited my real dad, over in Indiana, and the timing just happened to work out. In fact, the only one he ever took me to was Motley Crue, because it was my 16th birthday present.

But you got to see more as you got older, right?

After that, once I got a car, I’d start driving to shows, but it was still a two hour drive, from the country where I lived, and not many bands came through that area. I just watched MTV every day and listened to every record that I could. I had a paper route, so I’d treat myself, buy a little 45 every week, listen to the s–t out of it and then go get another one. Rock music was really kind of scarce where I was from.

Has your role in Sixx: A.M. changed much between the first and second albums?

I don’t think it did, not too much. The first record [2007's 'The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack'], we really didn’t even know we were making a record at the beginning. It was just one of those thing, it was three best friends, songwriters and producers, just tossing around ideas. Me and Nikki had partnered up out at Funny Farm (their recording studio), we were writing and producing for a lot of different artists. He would go out on tour, that’s when I started tinkering around with all the orchestral things in pro-tools. It was like a whole new world opened for me. I created these weird new pieces of music, like ‘Xmas in Hell’ and ‘Intermission.’ Nikki came back and heard it, he thought they were cool, and started adding these narratives on top of them, and it turned into something great.

So, what was your approach for the new Sixx: A.M. album, ‘This is Gonna Hurt?’

The first album, we were just trying to define what Sixx: A.M. was. The second record, we knew what we sounded like, and we could focus a lot more on the lyrical content and just the music part of it, and take the writing to a whole new level.

Any touring plans for Sixx: A.M.?

There’s no tour plan yet. Motley just went out on tour, and Guns N’ Roses is talking about going out at the end of the year. Nothing’s in stone yet.

Have you seen Tommy Lee’s drum roller-coaster yet?

No, not yet, but Nikki wants me to come out to the Hollywood Bowl show, so I’m gonna have Tommy throw me on it during soundcheck or something; I want to ride it.

You mentioned a Guns N’ Roses tour. Would that include North America?

Well, I mean, I don’t want to put anything out there yet, the only thing that’s in stone right now is Rock in Rio, on Oct. 2, but I know that we’re all itching to get out there, and one of our main big goals is to tour the States. When everything goes through, obviously, everyone will know about it. I’m hoping it happens; it’ll be a lot of fun.

Has Guns N’ Roses been recording any new material?

Axl has so many songs up his sleeve from the ‘Chinese Democracy’ era. He has three albums of really amazing stuff. He’s played me quite a bit of it, it’s really good. I’ve been demoing tons of stuff in my studio; I think the ultimate goal is to sit down and go through everything, and put together what he feels would be the next best thing for Guns N’ Roses. I’ll do whatever I can to help him meet that vision.

What are your favorite songs from ‘Chinese Democracy,’ and which are the most fun to play live?

Probably ‘This I Love’ is one that really hooked me, because it’s just a great song, lyrically and musically; it goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s very heartfelt, you can tell. I love playing that, but once you get out there live, stuff like ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ and ‘Chinese Democracy’ comes alive. They all really do translate live very well, they’re just high-energy and fun to play. ‘Street of Dreams’ is also great.

The band played a three-and-a-half hour show in Tokyo a while back. Was that a dare or something?

No, we were just having an absolute blast. We went, I think, almost four hours. It was one of those things where we came back [from the main set], it had been 3 hours and 16 minutes, and we had no idea.

You really didn’t notice?

Not really, because every show we’ve been doing a two-and-a-half to three-hour show; we’ve been doing some long nights. The crowd was going nuts; we kind of lost ourselves. We went back out for the encore, we were gonna do two or three songs, and we ended up doing quite a few more. By the time we got off, we realized we beat the all-time Guns N’ Roses record for longest show, which we didn’t set out to do, but it was cool.

You also own your own ad agency?

Ashba Media, it’s a graphic design agency, a creative agency. We do everything from, gosh … you name it. Right now, I’m working on an animated movie script that I wrote, and my company is designing all the characters. We’re starting to design some Guns N’ Roses merchandise; we did some of the stage design, all the art on Axl’s piano. We do a lot of work with Ovation guitars, just a lot of different things. It’s just a really cool way to tie in my love for art and my love for music.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share with the readers?

I’m excited about the new Sixx: A.M. record. I’m really happy that radio is playing the s–t out of it, that fans are really getting it. We really dumped our heart and souls into it, as we did the last time, but this one is real special to all of us. We really tried to step it up in terms of the whole overall message, to make a solid record from beginning to end. I think we did that, and it’s nice to see people are enjoying it!

Watch Guns N’ Roses Perform ‘This I Love’ Live

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