From a young kid in Indiana whose first concert was Motley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls tour to playing Brazil’s massive Rock In Rio Festival, DJ Ashba has taken his creative talents and become an integral part of two of the most successful bands on the planet.
With a top 10 album in This Is Gonna Hurt with Sixx:A.M. earlier this year and now playing live beside one of rock’s most iconic vocalists, Axl Rose, you could say Ashba is having a pretty good 2011.
While on a day off in Paraguay, he took time to talk to us about his career and the return to the United States for the notorious Guns N’ Roses.
Growing up was there any particular guitarist that you really looked up to and studied?
I cut my teeth on guys like Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani and was so into the guitar and good, good guitarists. Stevie Ray Vaughan, of course. My aunt and uncle got me into a lot of stuff like Foghat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones and bands I never would have really listened to because I was too young at that time. They really schooled me in stuff like Meat Loaf. I just love those big, theatrical songs.
I really got into classical music because my mom plays classical piano. There was always classical music on. That tends to be why I’d like to get into movie scoring. I fell in love with it when I did the Sixx:A.M. stuff. I got a chance when I co-produced Neil Diamond’s Christmas record. Actually, for the first time I got to create all the orchestra stuff and he had the budget to bring in the orchestra. It was like, “Wow, they’re playing my stuff,” and it sounded amazing.
Now live you're a Les Paul and Ovation guy still?
Yes, I have my own collection with Ovation called the Demented collection. I’ve been with them for many, many years. Gibson has been insanely good with me. It’s really weird. I always recorded with Gibson because, as funny as it sounds, I never got the two-volume-knob thing. It was really awkward to me. I’d be turning one down and it’d still be one. The way I did it, I had them all rewired and had the three-way (pickup selector) put where the second volume was. It keeps it simple. Then I kept the two tone knobs so I could roll one back on the neck pickup for songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine." Then I just put a kill switch where the pickup selector was. Once I set them up like that, I had my dream guitar.
I’ve used Morley pedals for years. I love that you put your foot on, and it’s on, and if you take your foot off, it’s off. And it’s spring loaded so you can do really cool kick drum patterns with them. Sometimes for me, I just have to simplify things.
Sixx:A.M. has made two fantastic albums. The new record, This Is Gonna Hurt, is a phenomenal album. Is there a next phase or touring plans for the band?
There is. There is talk of us finally doing some shows and getting out there, which is exciting for everybody. Sixx: A.M. has always been a labor of love. We are a band but we are lucky as it is what music was always supposed to be about, fun. We’re not writing for radio, we’re writing for the message. It’s amazing to all of us that Walmart and Target are carrying us.
How is the Guns N’ Roses tour going thus far?
It’s going amazing. Rio was amazing. It was a big dream to do that. Argentina was outstanding. We had a nice reception at the airport from the fans at the airport.
Live, as far as the Chinese Democracy material goes, how do you and Ron (Bumblefoot) split the material?
Live, how it breaks down is that I pretty much take all the Robin [Finck] parts. Bumblefoot is the shred-master so he takes most of the Buckethead’s parts. I play a couple Bucket solos. I do more of the Robin parts. On the catalog material, I take the Slash parts and Richard [Fortus] takes the Izzy parts. All of our styles are so different. I have more of that melodic-blues type feel. Bublefoot has the “blazing saddles." He’s just insane on guitar.
Now this is the million dollar question: Is there new material in the future of Guns N’ Roses?
Absolutely! That’s our main focus. Obviously with me being a song writer and producer, when I got the phone call, I knew I could bring something to the table because I grew up on this music. I cut my teeth on guys like Slash and have the utmost respect for his guitar playing and style. I feel I get where he was coming from. No one will ever replace him, and that’s not why I’m here. I felt I could do the gig justice and stay true to the vision. That’s why I got involved. I really wanted to work with Axl and I thought I could bring something to the table. Axl has a lot of material. I’ve written a bunch of stuff for him.
I can see where having you in the band could be quite an asset. You produce material at a feverous pace. You are like having the producer, guitarist, art director and technologies in the band all at the same time.
I don’t sleep much (laughs)!