There’s a good chance you spent your teen years rocking out. Maybe not. Maybe you only listened to your sister’s New Kids tapes, or maybe you were born without ears or maybe you’re one of the guys from Mumford & Sons, who clearly never rocked out for a second of their beardy lives.
But no matter when you were a teenager, I’m willing to bet you rocked out at least part time. And as hard as you played that tennis-racket guitar, the chances of you someday sitting in with Keith Richards, Jimmy Page or Angus Young hovered so far south of zero that it wouldn’t have occurred to you to even entertain the kind of flight of fancy 8-year-olds have to be the center fielder for the Yankees.
DJ Ashba did it though. He hit gin on that fantasy. Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls was out in 1987 when Ashba was 15. He not only helped form Sixx:A.M. with Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, Ashba got to co-write the Crüe’s 2008 return-to-form Saints of Los Angeles.
Then he did it again.
In 2009, Ashba was coming off the Crüefest tour when his manager, who also represented Guns N’ Roses, called. She told him that Axl Rose was scouting new guitarists and invited him to audition. Guess what other album a 15-year-old Ashba listened to in 1987? Even better, unbeknownst to Ashba, Axl had told the manager, “If he even shows up, he’s got the gig.”
He showed up; he got the gig.
Now the newly minted Las Vegas local is resuming shows for GNR’s second go-round at The Joint, a nine-show residency that runs through June 7.
That, in fact, is even weirder than growing up to play center field for the Yankees. At least the Yankees need a new center fielder every few years. That’s like growing up, wearing Joe DiMaggio’s No. 5, getting the 56-game hit streak and doing it all in 2014. After you already spent a few years retracing Duke Snider’s steps in Brooklyn. It’s living life as one big fantasy camp.
It’s not even that Ashba got to play guitar in a band that, since the Use Your Illusion days, has had a drummer-for-Spinal Tap approach to its lineup. It’s that Ashba embodied the first 30 seconds of the “Welcome to the Jungle” video. The part where Hayseed Axl gets off a crummy bus in downtown Los Angeles before hitting the stage as a slithery, big-haired rock god.
Ashba grew up in a little nothing of a farm town in Illinois. His father was abusive before he split. His mom was religious—he only listened to “Elvis and classical music and Christmas songs” growing up. When he was finally old enough to play bars, Ashba loaded up his minivan and drove out to L.A.
If none of this is true, Ashba found the hackiest Hollywood writers to whitewash his backstory.
He played with a cover band and put out an instrumental solo record before Bang Tango’s Joe Leste came calling to form a band called Beautiful Creatures. They worked with Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo on a Ted Nugent tribute record.
Ashba met Sixx at Castillo’s funeral in 2002. The metal demimonde is small, and Sixx wanted Ashba to play in his band Brides of Destruction. Ashba turned him down. Four years later, Sixx would come calling again.
“I was about ready to sign a deal with a band called Operator on Insterscope. It had Paul [Phillips] from Puddle of Mudd in it. I worked on that, and then I remember I was at a car wash. I was like ‘Why is Nikki Sixx calling?’ He said ‘Hey, do you mind if I come down and hang out during rehearsal?’”
Maybe “fantasy-camp life” doesn’t go far enough. That session led to the creation of Sixx:A.M., which led to co-writing most of Saints, touring with Mötley Crüe and then the Guns N’ Roses gig. Ashba’s bluesy style fit well when it came time to play the Slash-esque lead parts, divvying up the rest of the guitar licks with the band’s other two axmen, Richard Fortus and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.
Ashba is the only current member of the band who hasn’t recorded with Rose, entering the fold after Chinese Democracy finally saw the light of day in 2008. Moving forward, he hopes to do for Guns what he did for Mötley on Saints—assuming another Guns record comes out before another 15 years pass.
“I didn’t join this [band] just to play guitar,” Ashba says. “I joined because I believe I can bring something to the table as a songwriter, producer. We have a lot of stuff written. I’ve written 13 or 14 songs. Whatever ends up on the record, no one knows at this point. I know everybody’s main focus is to get together as a band and put together what we feel collectively is the best Guns N’ Roses record.
“What I’ve heard that Axl has is insane stuff. I’ll be sitting in his hotel room, and he’ll just be playing his piano and singing, and I’ll be like ‘Dude, what is that?’ ‘Oh, just some shit I’m playing around with.’ And it’ll be like ‘November Rain’ shit. Like, ‘Holy shit, the world has to hear this tomorrow.’ I pray to God the world gets a chance to hear the stuff that he has up his sleeve. He has some amazing songs sitting there.”
Guns might be Ashba’s most high-profile project, but it’s not his only one. Ashba says he has two completed movie scripts waiting to be filmed. He did the score to Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (and previously scored Roth’s now-defunct Strip haunted house, Goretorium).
His Ashba Media, located off Rainbow Boulevard near Interstate 215, is home to a warehouse full of oddities. There are leftover Goretorium props and a shelf of silicone noggins, the product of his design and fabrication business. Ashba Media designed the box offices for Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana, Zumanity, The Beatles Love and Chris Angel: Believe, the latter complete with a life-size silicone Criss Angel. The company even did the clothes for the Zarkana street team.
He is also the spokesman for Bullyville.com, the Vegas-based social media website where victims of bullying post their stories. Ashba wrote how he fell down the stairs on Christmas Day when he was 3 years old. His father told him men don’t cry, and beat him.
If Bullyville is one more opportunity Vegas gave Ashba since he moved here, there’s one time Vegas tooketh away. He made headlines in August when he used a ridealong on a Las Vegas Metro helicopter to propose to girlfriend Nathalia Henao. Ashba still bristles at the resulting investigation that led to his friend who arranged the ridealong retiring in December.
“They treated me as if I’d jumped a fence at night with Capt. Dave O’Leary and stole a helicopter. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” Ashba says. “They offered the ride. I went down there. We watched the police instructional videos that were made specifically for ridealongs. We followed protocol. All the police officers were happy I was there. They all took pictures with me out by the helicopter. Everybody was aware we were going to land in a field. There was a whole proposal set up. Nobody was in the dark about anything.”
A successful business? Incredibly mild run-ins with the law? That’s the stuff of normal American life. Anyone can do that. It’s the other stuff that’s hard.
“I was in a cover band. I remember being at my aunt and uncle’s,” Ashba says. “We didn’t have much money or gear. We set up two hay-bale racks, two flatbeds, and we set up our little band out there. I remember playing ‘Patience.’ I remember trying to play ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ when I was 13 years old. If anybody told me, ‘One day you’re going to take Slash’s spot,’ or, ‘One day you’re going to be in Guns N’ Roses,’ I would’ve thought people were sniffing glue.”
Guns N’ Roses: An Evening of Destruction. No Trickery!
The Joint at the Hard Rock, May 24-25, 28, 30-31, June 4, 6-7, $49.50 and up, HardRockHotel.com.