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SoulMonster

1992.11.DD - Interview with Slash

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1992.11.DD - Interview with Slash

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Apr 21, 2016 5:05 am

Guitar For The Practicing Musician - November 1992
by John Stix

Slash - Guitar From The Gut


The spirit of rock 'n' roll guitar playing is spontaneous, free and rambunctious. It evokes a sense of surprise and wonder and requires just enough knowledge to get the emotion across but not so much that you can hear the music "think." This spirit has found a generational voice in such players as Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and Joe Perry. Just as Keith revered Chuck, and Joe looked up to Keith and Chuck both, so now the guitar voice of the next generation looks back and honors these past masters, acknowledging their contribution while forging ahead with its own voice in their spirit. Today's voice of dominance belongs to Slash. Via Guns N' Roses' co-headlining stadium tour with Metallica and special guest Faith No More, Slash had the opportunity to assert his guitar voice and accept his place at the top.

When you were young did you ever fantasize you were part of your favorite band? Maybe Joe Perry was sick and Aerosmith invited you to play?

No. As far as playing guns, I was just doing it because I was doing it. I wanted to do shows, and I wanted to play live. I got a huge kick out of getting in front of people, for no real reason other than it was fun. I'm very ambitious. I strive for perfection in a lot of ways, but at the same time, I don't compromise my gut feelings. I try and keep it fresh and interesting even though it's nothing different as far as notes go. But the melodies seem pretty unique compared to what's going on around town these days. For what I do, I seem to be getting a little bit more respect for guitar playing these days. That kind of stuff you described was all very fantastical. I'm not that type of a person, as far as that goes. I'm very cut and dry. Everything's in black and white. I just do things spur of the moment.

Most of us had parents that didn't want us to do something in music. You grew up with a musical family. Did your parents' acceptance of your musical career influence you?

I have no complaints as far as the average rock 'n' roll person [who] has got all kinds of rebellious runaway stories, and of having to deal with their parents. I came up completely different. When I got involved in the actual playing and quit school and started working full-time to support it, I didn't get too much flak about it. Once it was established that I was going to be a musician everything with them was cool and they were supportive.

I don't know if rock 'n' roll has to be about rebellion, but usually there's an element in there, and parental friction is strong in many cases. Do you think there is anything different about how you developed because you got the acceptance?

One thing that stems from the way that I was treated as a kid was that I wasn't intimidated by the guitar, or particularly shocked by anything going on in the music business. That had a definite effect on how I learned how to play guitar. A lot of people feel like they have to reach a certain point, and that point is always hanging over their head. They're always trying to reach it, but it's a lot more difficult. Wherever I was fine. I just kept working hard at it, but I wasn't working towards anything. It's really a naive approach to learn that way.

When you started playing, you attacked learning the guitar. you played for 12 hours a day because you wanted to get better.

It wasn't me trying so much to get better, it was trying to play whatever was in my head. So whatever it took to be able to play something and have it sound right, in my mind, was basically the direction my work was in.

Has that changed at all?

No, and I still don't like to sit down and practice for the sake of practicing. I warm up before shows because I found that it's a necessity, and I do play better during the show. I have a guitar solo section in the show now, which I always want to be as cool as possible. But the only time I ever sit down seriously with the guitar, outside of the show, is if I have something in my head that I'm writing. It's always been like that. If I have a lick in my head I have to be able to execute it and have it sound exactly the way it sounds in my head. That I don't like to compromise.

When you attack the guitar to play what's in your head, do you give yourself a specific time to get it down, a goal to reach for?

Nope. I'm a bit more spontaneous than that. If I have something that I want to play and I'm thinking maybe I'll throw it into my guitar solo that night, then I'll sit down and make sure I know it. I'll play it 15 or 20 times to make sure I don't fuck it up when I'm on stage. I'm my own worst critic, so I don't give a shit about trying to play it for anybody else and getting acceptance. I don't set any goals as far as time goes to pull it off, unless it's the night of the show and I'm learning something like that. I play themes from movies a lot.

What about the idea of setting aside time to write music?

Oh, that one has never worked. You write when you feel like it. It's whenever it comes to me. A lot of the time I write songs I hear in my head, and they're almost finished when I actually apply them to guitar. I don't have a diary, I just keep it in my head. It saves the trees [laughter]. I don't know how I do that, but if it's a cool melody, it sticks with me. I've written a lot of stuff which I've forgotten because I didn't have a guitar with me. Usually if I sit down and play, it might pop up, or sometimes, three months later, it'll pop up again in my head.

What's your warm-up routine before the show?

I change all the time. Currently what I've been doing is taking the guitar into the hospitality room. Me and whoever else is hanging out sit there, and I play and talk at the same time. I have a drink, watch TV, and just try and keep my fingers moving. I do fast picking, but not any particular pattern. I play the way I play, and maybe stretch my fingers a bit across the neck.

Do you play a wider neck than you're going to use in the show?

No, I'm not that complex about it.

It's more thoughtless and mechanical?

Exactly. I can't even hear the guitar. I don't plug it into an amp, which is really important.

Are you playing at the top of your game all the time?

I try to. One of the things I cannot stand is to fuck up (laughs). I mean, we all make mistakes, but we try to do our best not to. It sort of lessens the chance of screwing up an entire solo if you try and do it as best you can. I probably overdo it. I start at the top and if I'm lucky, I get even higher.

You have an eclectic listening background, including your enjoyment of Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens. Does that ever creep into the music?

Yeah, it does. I jammed with Carole King once. Just to get on stage with her was a highpoint in my career. She knows my mom and we got to be friends. I talked to her about playing on something when she gets back to the studio. Everything that I enjoy listening to I'm gonna play.

Guns N' Roses fans might be surprised that you are in awe of Carole King.

Or Chaka Khan! I think everybody'd be surprised that I like listening to classical music, and I do that a lot. My average listening is typical of what people might expect it to be as far as what we do. Listening is a really personal thing. My favorite song on a record might not necessarily be something that somebody else would like. I'm a huge fan of Stevie Wonder. I'm one of the few guys in the band, or one of the only members of the band, that's really heavily influenced by that sort of '70s brand of funk rock. I use that a lot. It has a definite effect on my playing.

Do you enjoy hearing your songs on the radio?

Yeah, when I hear them I enjoy it. I haven't had too many instances where I listened and didn't. You get so close to the material by putting it together, producing it, mixing it, and mastering it that you just don't want to know about it any more. It's impossible to be objective about it after a while. You wrote the stuff, you recorded it, and after it's all said and done, to hear it on the radio is great but you don't want to sit around listening to it.

With the passing of time can you now be objective about Appetite?

I can be, at this point, because it's years old, but I don't listen to that either. When I hear it, it sounds a little bit immature to me, in some ways. It just sounds as old as it is. It's cool. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm still proud of it because even though it's years ago, there's nothing on it that I don't like. I still think the playing on there and the attack were really cool. There's certain things in the mix on certain songs, like in "Jungle," where it wasn't heavy enough for me. I think about that. As far as the experience goes, the only nightmare that I can remember from Appetite was trying to count in that "Sweet Child O' Mine" riff (laughs).

Now that you have the spotlight, do you feel any extra responsibility to do your best? It's like the difference between high school sports and professional sports.

I have to say it is sort of a pressure, because there's a certain level of excellence that you need to have, especially in front of that many people. You can play a small club and screw around, but you can't really do that in front of 50,000 or 80,000 people. So there's a little bit of pressure, but [I'm] not that conscious [of it] at the time. It's just before you go on stage.

Can you remember when you recognized that you had a style?

No. I never gave it that much thought either. Someone had to tell me that (laughs). I know what I sound like. I know what the whole band sounds like. When I hear us playing, I know it's me and I know it's Duff, and Axl, and all that, so I never gave it much thought. And I never ripped off anybody's licks to the point where if I hear myself playing I hear somebody else.

In the guitar community you're known for your heavy, Pentatonic blues playing, but you also have the chops.

Bless them, thank you. All that shit is more or less subconsciously important to me to be able to have it sound right. I scrutinize everybody else's playing to the point where I wouldn't make that same mistake twice. Do you know what I'm saying? When I hear a guitar, I listen to it. I listen to licks that other people are playing and go, "God, he could've hit this note and it would've been really cool." And so when I'm playing, I try to hear exactly what I want to hear and have it come out of my fingers.

In order to do that, are you aware of the chord voicings, or say, the bass adding the 7th?

No. I'm not well-schooled technically compared to guitar players these days as far as patterns and scales and things like that. I think about what I am about to do and my fingers will be on that note. I have to hear it in my head first, and then go for it. It just takes experience to know exactly what every note on the guitar sounds like so you can pull it out of the hat.

When you do a solo it's really just from the gut. You don't have any patterns, or a place that you want to get to?

Right. And also, I've only got so many years of experience. I'm not so good that when we're playing live every solo's perfect. I don't always pull it off and I don't always reach the note that I'm going for. You know, you just have to learn from that, and try and remember that if you fucked up the last time, try and get it right the next time.

So in preparing a solo, you'll think it, but then you'll have to play it, as opposed to picking the whole thing through in your head?

Yeah. I don't usually listen to a song if we're recording and think about the melody. I usually just go right in and jam it first and go for the gut feeling. Then I might listen back to it and change a couple notes so it's exactly like what I wanted to hear.

Did you hear the opening melody to "Sweet Child O' Mine" in your head?

No, "Sweet Child O' Mine" was a joke. It was a fluke. I was sitting around making funny faces and acting like an idiot and played that riff. Izzy started playing the chords that I was playing, strumming them, and all of a sudden Axl really liked it. I hated that song because it was so stupid at first (laughs). I hated the guitar part. Now I really like it because I've gotten it to the point where it sounds really good when I play it live, and I'm so used to the song so I like it a lot more. But it definitely wasn't something I hummed out in my head. It was more like me fucking around with the guitar.

On stage, you're walking around almost all the time. You're playing to the monitors as opposed to the band. It's not like the club days where you would sweat and it would hit Duff.

Yeah, (laughs). Well, that's part of the price of headlining in arenas. I don't even use the monitors. They're just vocals (laughs). I'm hearing the house and my amp, the drums, and everybody else in the band. But it's not the monitors.

Is that enough of a community spirit to make for a great show?

Yeah. When we have a magical show it's the same as playing anywhere and having a good show. It does take a little bit more work. You have to be a bit more aware of where you are at any particular time on stage. Even if you're not thinking about it and you run 50 yards one way, when you end up wherever you're going you've got to make sure that it sounds pretty cool over there.

Do you map out a "sweet spot"?

At soundcheck, because every building's different. I do try to find places where I know that I'll feel comfortable. Certain shows you just cannot get it right and it's always a drag because I cannot get it off my mind. It has an effect on my playing but you have to play the show. You can't go, "Well, I can't find the place on stage, so we'll leave it." I try to find the best possible place for certain kinds of sounds. One of my problems is I hardly ever play in front of my amps. I'm getting better at it now, but I usually don't, so to do my solo segment for the show, where it's just me, I can pretty much estimate which places are going to be cool. If it's a hard building, then I might have to adjust a little bit but I won't know until I get there.

Is there any song that's more demanding of you as a guitarist?

The songs that are more subtle are the ones where I really have to buckle down and make sure I've got it, especially if the guitar part's the main voice of the song. On songs like "Estranged" and "November Rain," I have to stop for a second and slow myself down, make sure that I hit the notes correctly so that they don't go out of tune, or the vibrato's not too hectic.

Which of the songs do you enjoy playing the most live?

I enjoy playing "Patience" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Jungle." I'm basically cool with everything. But those are the ones, probably because we've been playing them for so long, that they never intimidate me. "Estranged" is something that I like playing, but I have to concentrate, because I have to make sure those melodies are happening. I love playing "Paradise City" and "Civil War." Sometimes it's because they're comfortable and sometimes because I can put in more energy without compromising the quality of my playing. Sometimes it's a give-and-take thing.

What longtime tune has worn the best with you?

"Paradise City." I dig the groove. Always have.

How important is the guitar solo spot to you?

I never used to do that. I've never been a long soloist, which is why my solos are so inconsistent. When I'm playing by myself I'm not really inspired. Lately I've been getting better at it. My best ones are real fluid and it all fits together.

What are you thinking of during the solo spot?

I make it up every night and the only thing I have to worry about is going into "The Godfather" and what key I'm in before I do it. I play a lot of different things. I play the beginning of "Young Frankenstein," the violin piece. I play "The Godfather," I play Hendrix stuff sometimes. I have certain killer melodies which I don't mind copping because I really love that stuff, even though it's somebody else's. I play "Red House." I play "Voodoo Child" before "Civil War" all the time. I play the "Scarface" theme sometimes.

When you do your guitar solo on stage, where do you start?

The bass and drum solo before it is in G, and for a long time there I was just playing in G, to come out of their part. Lately I've been going from G to D.

Do different keys mean anything to you as a player?

I think they do to any player. There's keys that you tend to feel comfortable with. For guitar players, especially rock guitar players, it's usually E, A, D and maybe C. Those are standard. The song "Get in the Ring" is in Bb, and I had to think about it a bit more when I was writing the guitar parts than I would if I was playing it in A.

What does playing in E mean to you as a guitar player?

I have to admit it's just the standard, heaviest part of the guitar, as far as sound goes. The octave up on the neck in E is a place I'm really comfortable in. I like playing in C a lot, and I like playing in D. I like to have that Pentatonic scale, the typical scale, in a place where it's not too high on the neck, but it's just high enough so that I can make it scream. Sometimes I write songs, and I switch the keys around when I'm writing it to the point where it just sounds better. It might need to be a little lower or to be a little bit higher. Even though I was more comfortable playing it somewhere else, to get the sound right I'll change keys and work with it that way.

Who would you have in your dream band if it could include any musician, living or dead?

The guys that are in my band. That's why we do it. I really have to say we're all together because in our eyes we're the ultimate people to play with. But if I was gonna jam with somebody else, I've got to jam with Rory Gallagher on guitar, John Bonham on drums. I'm sure you hear that one a lot. I would love to jam with Jeff Beck. Duff's fine on bass (laughs). Janis Joplin on lead vocal. The Water Sisters on background vocals. Piano? Ray Charles would be a great one. Any saxophonist (laughs). I love saxophone. I can't think of anybody in particular. Oh, the guy from the Stones, though, is great. And I'd name the band "Old Aerosmith."

How did Matt, Gilby and Dizzy get introduced to the band?

Matt I found after being seriously frustrated looking for a drummer. It was a crucial period where we had to get it together if we were gonna stay together. He was playing with the Cult. I saw him a few months before I called him. I had to sit down and go, "Okay, who's the best drummer I've seen, regardless of what band he's in?" I remembered being blown away by Matt with the Cult. So I thought, "I'll just give him a call. The Cult's off the road." I called him, and he came down and we hit it off right away.

How about Gilby Clarke?

We knew Gilby when me and Axl were in Hollywood Rose, which was ages ago. He was in another band, and I met him then. He was a cool guy then and I hadn't talked to him in all these years that Guns N' Roses had been together. I discreetly went through, like, 15 guitar players trying to find somebody to do the spot because we only had three weeks before the first show. Someone mentioned Gilby and I thought, "Yeah, I know him." I talked to him on the phone. He was the only guy that I actually rehearsed.

Did you steal him from his band?

No, I don't think Kill for Thrills were doing anything at the time. But he's fit in great. He's got a great guitar sound, and he can play all the songs (laughs) and play them well.

And what about Dizzy?

Dizzy's an old friend of the band's, too. When Guns were all living in one room off of Sunset, he was in the room next door with his band. We used to have big parties in the parking lot. We always liked him. Axl thought that he was the only guy that could play like Axl enough to alleviate the pressure on Axl to have to play and sing.

Jerry Cantrell said it was actually more important that you could hang out with the guys than just being able to play music with them.

Those tow things go hand in hand. If you can play, that means you can hang (laughs). That's what it takes to be able to play well together.
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