Motley Crue on 'Girls, Girls, Girls' at 30: 'It Was Like 'Caligula''

"We loved to fight. We loved to fuck. We loved to play heavy metal," bassist Nikki Sixx says

As Motley Crue's 'Girls, Girls, Girls' turns 30, bassist Nikki Sixx looks back on the drug abuse and womanizing that defined that era for the band. Credit: Ilpo Musto/REX/Shutterstock

A little over a year has passed since Mötley Crüe threw in the towel, and the band's bassist and primary lyricist, Nikki Sixx, says he's enjoying life now. "I have a star tattooed on my face and more money than I could ever spend in my life," he says. "So I'm fuckin' happy as fuck to be in retirement."

Retirement, of course, is a relative thing for Sixx, who's driving – "in my convertible," he adds – to the studio where he records his weekday radio show, Sixx Sense. He's also reissuing his book The Heroin Diaries, developing it into a theatrical production and turning it into a graphic novel, and he's recording music with his current band Sixx:A.M. And even though Mötley Crüe are done, the band is still working on developing its seedy tell-all The Dirt into a motion picture, and – for the topic of conversation today – it's reissuing its unflinching 1987 paean to excess, Girls, Girls, Girls.

The album will be available again on Friday in a variety of formats, including CD, vinyl and cassette, and the band is offering different bundles, some of which include a drum head and a T-shirt, via Pledge Music. "It's an interesting thing being a retired band," Sixx says. "You have a band with over 35 years of skin in the game, so a lot of kids that are coming up have heard about Mötley Crüe or a song here or there, so [the reissue] is about reintroducing the band to new generations of people and going back and reliving it, because, let's face it, it was a long time ago."

For Sixx, reflecting on the Girls, Girls, Girls period means thinking about his crippling heroin addiction, his bandmates' and his copious womanizing and a time when Sixx, vocalist Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee really were the most threatening band around. But as dark as it sounds, Sixx doesn't regret a thing about that time in his life.

"Mötley was a lot of fun," he tells Rolling Stone. "Politically incorrect? Yes. Sexist? Of course. Drug addicts? For sure. Alcoholics? Oh, yeah. Dangerous? Without a doubt. I wouldn't trust any member of Mötley Crüe, except maybe Mick, in an alley at night. Tommy, Vince and me were brawlers, and we loved it. We loved to fight. We loved to fuck. We loved to play heavy metal. I remember when people were like, 'That's not cool, man,' I'd go, 'Why is that not cool?'"

What strikes you about Girls, Girls, Girls when you listen to it now?
It's an album with some real grit to it. I think it represents where we were at the time, as a young bunch of men that were extremely successful and didn't necessarily have all the tools to deal with it. The lyrics are very raw. "Wild Side," "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Five Years Dead" are great examples where I feel like I really nailed it. And "You're All I Need" is a great storytelling song that isn't as glossy and pretty as some of the other bands were trying to come off as. Of course, you don't know this until you step back.

Do you remember trying to write grittier at the time?
I think Mötley Crüe was always gritty, and that's what I love about the band. It wasn't so worked out. It wasn't choreographed or overthought. We were winging it musically, with our production, our shows and how we would present ourselves. It was running parallel to our lifestyle. We were honest. Whether you like it or hate it, Mötley Crüe wasn't trying to be another band; we were just being Mötley Crüe.

You published your journals from that time as The Heroin Diaries, which detailed your drug abuse and self-destruction. How were you able to write a record?
The two constants in my life have been writing – I was always keeping journals – and having a guitar in my hands. So whether I was high and going through turmoil or not, those two things were an anchor. Mötley Crüe was the family I never had, and whenever I was doing anything, I was always thinking about my family, and I'd call the guys with ideas. The addiction was something I had to deal with. No one was going to do that for me. I was really grateful I did have people around me who were supportive of me getting clean, because I couldn't have kept going at that time. But musically and lyrically, at least on my side, I feel like [the album] reflected some of my turmoil.

On the subject of that turmoil, how did a song like "Wild Side" come together?
Well, "Wild Side" started out as a bastardized version of the Lord's Prayer. You know, "Kneel down ye sinners to streetwise religion/Greed's been crowned the new King." We were having struggles with our record company, so that was about the record contract. Elektra Records represented everything that was bad about the music industry at that time; they took something that was honest and just threw it against the wall. Every big idea we had, they didn't want to do it. Like, they didn't understand that we wanted to change the logo on every record. They weren't on the same page as us. So I think some of those lyrics were passive-aggressive on my part.

It also has vivid descriptions of urban depression, like, "A baby cries/A cop dies/A day's pay on the wild side." What inspired those?
I used to go down to western Sunset Boulevard and I had this beautiful black Mercedes with black-tinted windows. The guys would be down there on the corners with Persian heroin in balloons that they would keep in their mouth. You'd drive up and say what you want, and they would spit it out and give it to you however much the balloons are. And that's how you would cop your dope. And I just saw a lot of shit down there, man. A lot of shit.

And again, it brings us back to the fact that I was a young kid who had a lot of family problems. I slept in parks. I surfed couches in the Seventies, and Mötley Crüe's just been my family and then there I was, the actual thing that's destroying my family, down there on the street scoring dope in a Mercedes-Benz. I think there was a line in one of the songs that referenced that – "score dope in my Mercedes-Benz" – and I think [producer] Tom Werman was like, "You can't let your fans know that you're rich." And I changed that line. I wouldn't change that now. But I remember going to work feeling like I wasn't pulling my weight. I got the job done as the bass player, but I was kind of like, "Fuck man, my demons spilled over on my 25 percent of the page on that record." So there's parts of me that doesn't like that, and then the other part of me is like, "Well, at least the album captures some of that."

Speaking of honesty, what inspired "You're All I Need," the ballad that describes a man killing his girlfriend?
Well, I had this girlfriend, and we used to shoot dope all the time. We got a little bit clean. I was on the road, not doing dope but I was drinking, and I was calling her up wasted all the time, and I was a horrible boyfriend [laughs]. The worst-case scenario. Can you imagine Nikki Sixx is your boyfriend in the Eighties? So word got back to me that she was seeing some other guy. The premise of the song was based on killing your girlfriend. And I remember when we put the song down, Tommy played the piano, and we had a real rough version of it. I wrote the lyrics, but Vince scratched the vocal lines in there. And I took the cassette over to her apartment and I didn't say anything. I just had a little cassette player and I just played it for her, and she started crying, and I walked out the door. I was like, "Well now, that's that." [Laughs]

I'm sure she got the message.
Yeah, we never got back together.

In The Heroin Diaries, you talked about dating Vanity. Was that Vanity?
No, that was some other girl.

MTV banned that video because it depicted domestic abuse. What did you make of the controversy around that?
You know, we never thought about that back then. But I'm glad you brought it up. They also banned "Girls, Girls, Girls." My favorite part was we knew MTV was getting more conservative because they were getting advertising. We knew we wanted to shoot the "Girls, Girls, Girls" video in a bunch of strip clubs in L.A., and there were all these MTV rules and regulations. You had to send a video in and they would all sit around a boardroom smoking pipes with cardigans on and go, "Oh, I think that'll work just fine for our audience." So me, Tommy and Mick were sitting around going, "Why don't we shoot two videos? Let's shoot one where the girls are full-on, fuckin' fuck-ass naked. And then we'll shoot another where they have something on, but not a lot. We'll send the horrible one – the one MTV will say no to – and get their notes back where they say, 'We'd love to play your video if the girls had clothes on' and then send them the video we knew they would've said no to if we'd sent if first." And that's how we got that video on MTV. Later, I think it got so many complaints they took it off the air.

How did the song "Girls, Girls, Girls" come together in the first place?
Well, it's what we were doing. We were riding motorcycles and hanging out in strip clubs. We were off the road. We were young guys having fun, man. Tommy had the notes for the chorus, and I wrote this lyric like, "Friday night, and I need a fight" – kind of an AC/DC thing – and I thought it was pretty cool. Mick wasn't happy with the riff. As we were leaving rehearsal, he goes, "I'm not feeling good. I'm going to go home, get an eight-ball of cocaine and a bottle of Jack Daniel's, and I'm gonna come back tomorrow with a better riff." And he came back with the riff you hear, and it was like, "Whoa." So that's when we nicknamed him "Eight Ball" Mars. All we had to do was hand Vince the lyrics and point him in the right direction, and that Gatling gun, spitfire voice of his would put the stamp on it.

One of the song's lyrics is, "Tell me a story – you know the one I mean." Which one do you mean?
I think I couldn't come up with anything else clever.

Did the song change your groupie situation? I imagine that's why you wrote it.
Well, Mötley Crüe was like Caligula. I don't know why but no one ever told us no. Well, I guess I do – because if you told us no we would do it anyway.

We just came up with crazy shit [for groupies]. We had a hotel room that we would book under the name Justin Case, and that would be a master suite that would be on the same floor as the band, and we would keep the girls in the Justin Case room. You didn't want the girls in your hotel room because they'd steal your money, jewelry and wallet. If anybody needed us, they'd call the hotel and ask for Justin Case, and that's where the party would be.

Before the girls got to the Justin Case room, though, we had a pretty good way of tagging them in the audience, and they would be brought back to the hospitality room at the venue. Then we would walk in and say, "OK, you, you, you, not you, you, you," and go back to the Justin Case room. Well, the "hospitality room" turned into the "hostility room," because the girls would get so mad at us. And we were so young; we didn't know why they were mad. But it was because we were treating them like cattle.

Let's backtrack a second. What was your system for tagging groupies?
It's probably not that original, but we had different colored passes. Each pass would represent a band member. So it would be the "Girls, Girls, Girls" pass and if it was, let's say, yellow, it would be Vince's. So Vince's guy would be out there just tagging them. And it would be a bit competitive. There would be girls who had a Nikki, a Tommy and a Vince pass on her [laughs]. You've been tagged three times, baby. It's gonna be a fun night.

Oh, my God, if my daughter reads this interview, I'm going to be scolded, because she's borderline feminist. Look what I've done.

How many girls would be in the hostility room before the Justin Case room?
In the hundreds, of course.

Really?
And I would have friends come out on the road, and they were like, how often does this happen? And we were like, every night. We were in one of the biggest bands in the world. We had our own drug dealers. It was fucking awesome, dude. It was a great time. And if anybody ever tells you they wouldn't do it, you can fuckin' look them straight in the face and go, "You're a fuckin' liar." I don't care how "alternative" and "politically correct" you are, if you could have lived the life of Mötley Crüe, you would trade in your fucking Converse and sweater and haircut that's too short on the sides. Go fuck yourself! [Laughs]