Vocalist Nick Nowell pens surprisingly eloquent Facebook message
"The Famine never should have existed. I don’t mean that like when a jealous brother screams “I wish you were never born!” at his little sister. What I mean is that we came together as a group of married thirty-somethings with kids and small businesses. Our singer lived on the other side of the country. It was a cumbersome proposition, but we made it work. Most of you are familiar with the fire that claimed most of our equipment and the departure of our vocalist about a year ago. We should have never been able to make our last record, but we did. This brings us to the present day.
"As of this past Saturday, The Famine is no more. In my mind, bands break up because Courtney Love kills their singer or because they can’t stand each other. Neither of those circumstances is descriptive of our situation. For us, life simply got in the way, as it often does. There is a medical emergency in my family, and I’ll be moving to Los Angeles in August to care for a loved one in his final days. Mark and Andy both have families for which they are the breadwinners, and Jon has been putting off going to graduate school. Instead of trying to simultaneously satiate Mark’s drive and Andy’s inability to tour and my distance from the band and Jon’s webbed toes (sorry, Jon), we came together and decided as a group that it is time to lay The Famine to rest.
Words cannot express how thankful we all are to have had these experiences, and without those of you who are reading this right now, none of this would have been possible. So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of you for the support and kindness you have shown us for the past four years. Thank you for allowing us in to your lives, and for giving us the opportunity to connect, even though most of us have never met. You’ll see us around. You might not see the same faces or the same names, but I know that music means too much to all of us to let it die with this moniker. So, this is goodbye for now."
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How long have you been taking pictures? What initially drew you to photography?
I really started doing photography maybe twenty years ago, just carrying a camera around, shooting the band, my family, that kind of stuff. But it was about ten years ago that I really started to take it very seriously and built my own photography studio and started really pushing myself. Having that space to create is very much like when I was a kid and could write music. I could sit there for hours and play music. I think you need that as an artist—a space to create.
What kind of camera do you use?
I use a couple of different cameras. My main camera is a Nikon D3. I use a French camera from the 1800s for wet plate photography, I use a Hasselblad sometimes. But to me the camera really doesn’t matter that much. I don’t have a preference for film or digital. Wet plate is a whole different world, where you’re shooting on tin or glass—it’s a whole different world, and it’s more of a crap shoot, and I really, really enjoy that. The only down side to that is you’ll get eight to ten images in a day, where if you’re shooting with film or with digital you can do multiple setups and you’re not limited so much by light. You can create your own light. When you’re shooting wet plate, the only light that the silver nitrate will actually read is UV light. So it’s a whole different animal. It’s really exciting, I really love it, but my main camera is my Nikon D3. I use a lot of architectural lenses and I like tilt shift—I like to be able to really work with the depth of field, and light to me is everything. When I can dispose of parts of the photo, so that I can just focus on the eye and ignore the background, or maybe I just want the background and I don’t want the eye. The idea is to manipulate the actual photo without going into Photoshop, without creating something that isn’t real. For me, anyway.
The idea of doing the work in camera is the connection I see between your work and, say, photos by Joel-Peter Witkin. Who else are you inspired by as a photographer?
Well, Joel-Peter Witkin is a great example, where he does the work is with his eye. He builds the set, and the subject matter, it’s there and the lighting is there. If you’ve seen documentaries, you can look at it and go, "Yeah, there’s the photo." Now, he captures that moment, and then he does a lot of work in the darkroom, where he’ll really push the contrast and manipulate the actual print through destruction. So for me, a lot of times what I’ve done is I’ll create very much that same type of way, and then I’ll say I have something, but now I want to take the environment to another level, so I’ll actually create my own layers and I will start to layer in stuff to make it even more from another world. But it really has to be there from the get-go.
Musically, your work with Sixx A.M. seems much more personal than your work with Mötley Crüe; does Sixx A.M. represent Nikki Sixx the artist, while Mötley Crüe represents Nikki Sixx the performer?
Hm. You know, I think they’re both very personal. If you actually dissect the lyrics in Mötley Crüe, you’ll notice that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. Songs like “Primal Scream,” on the outside, you know, people hear that and they go, “Yeah, primal scream and shout.” It’s very primitive, it’s adolescent in a lot of ways, it’s huge group therapy playing it to 100,000 people who are all reacting in the same way. With “Girls, Girls, Girls,” you’re thinking it’s about girls, but it’s really about the underbelly, about what’s going on underneath. So Mötley Crüe’s more personal than you would actually think.
The autobiographical elements are there, they’re just more under the surface.
They’re a different range, for sure, but emotionally they’re the same.
Is there anything left to say as Mötley Crüe? Do you think there’ll be another studio album?
Yeah, I do think there’s more to say. I think what we stand for is doing things our way. We stand for independence, and sometimes it’s simple, that message—I mean, we just really love playing rock ’n’ roll. And you don’t have to go much deeper than that for Mötley Crüe. And then you can start to crack the egg open and go, “Well, actually, that new song ‘Saints of Los Angeles’ is pretty fuckin’ clever.” Yeah, there’s a song called “Motherfucker of the Year,” but kinda check the lyrics out. Check out where it’s coming from. So it’s not dumbed down, by any means. It’s just a different package.
Your partners in Sixx A.M. co-wrote a lot of the songs on the last Mötley album—does that indicate that there's some bleed-through between the two projects?
No, you know, the thing that’s amazing with Mötley Crüe is whether we’re doing a Brownsville Station cover ["Smokin' in the Boys' Room," from Theatre of Pain] or a Beatles cover ["Helter Skelter," from Shout at the Devil] or whether we’re doing songs that I just wrote or songs that are more Tommy [Lee]-influenced or it’s a full band effort, we always sound like Mötley Crüe. The songs and where they come from are not always as important as the heart of what Mötley Crüe is, which is Vince [Neil]’s voice, Mick [Mars]’s guitar, Tommy’s drums and my bass, and usually my lyrics.
How do you think your music would have been different had you been clean and sober in the ’80s?
You know, I’ve been asked that a few times, and I really don’t have an answer. I’m gonna answer a different version of that, which is, do you wish that you’d been clean and sober in the ’80s? And maybe that you’d never done drugs? And you know, it’s such a—it’s like, if my kid asks me that, of course I wish I’d never done drugs, but because I did, something really great has happened. I had an awakening that I maybe never would have had. I would never have written The Heroin Diaries—
None of this would have happened that’s created a huge growth within me and people that I work with. It creates this huge bonding experience. My family’s really extremely close, my relationships are very important to me, music and art’s very important to me, so I don’t know, would I have hit this place I’m at ten years earlier if I’d never done drugs? Or maybe I just would have sort of trudged along and not been such an extreme person. I just don’t know. My memory would probably be better.
Have you suffered any long-term physical health consequences from your addictions?
No, I’ve been very, very, very fortunate in that way. The worst thing is, I have very bad short term memory. I talked to Ozzy about that one day and we were laughing and Sharon [Osbourne] was rolling her eyes. It’s a pain in the ass. The biggest damage for me has not come from drugs or alcohol, but from playing rock ’n’ roll, and that’s been ear damage and serious knee problems from years of pounding onstage. Neck problems, et cetera. It’s physically very, very, very trying to be onstage as a performer, not unlike an athlete, for thirty years. What it does to your body—it’s a pounding. But the worst is my hearing. Dude, I am so fuckin’ deaf it’s ridiculous. I literally do that thing with my hand where I cup my left ear when somebody’s talking, and I go, “Oh, no! I’ve become that guy!” When I go to sleep, if I put my left ear down, my right ear is completely—the room’s completely quiet. It’s like I have an earplug in. It’s fucked up.
You’re 52 this year; when you wake up in the morning, are you sometimes surprised you’re still alive? How does mortality impact you creatively?
You know what? It pushes me to overcome any adversity that’s in front of me. I kinda go into everything with such a positive attitude that one of my friends goes, “Dude, you just Jedi mind fucked me,” and I say, “No, no, all I did was walked you into the successful answer instead of letting you trip and fall into the unsuccessful answer.” It’s how you look at things, it’s your perception of things. And because I do have mortality in sight, I go, “Man, I gotta maximize.” I gotta really do my best. I gotta really love to the max, I gotta make music to the max, I wanna be the best photographer I can be and leave a body of work behind, leave a body of musical work behind, as a writer I wanna write books, I’d like to maybe get into directing starting in documentaries in the next few years, and it actually is a wake-up call. You want to love unconditionally everything you do, or don’t do it. I tell people, “If you don’t wanna do it, don’t do it. Because literally no one’s holding a gun to your head.” And that’s how I am in Mötley Crüe. I want to be in Mötley Crüe. I do not need to be in Mötley Crüe. I don’t need anything. There’s things I want and I really salivate to be the very best at that I can be. And I think that’s a great example for people who get their heads screwed around and get things ass-backwards. Part of the concept for me behind my book is, look at the people I’m photographing and how wonderful they are. That’s part of the documentaries, too, is look how powerful they are and look how positive they are, and then take a look in the mirror. Maybe you could do better.
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