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SoulMonster

1993.11.DD - Interview with Duff in RIP

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1993.11.DD - Interview with Duff in RIP

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Apr 27, 2016 7:00 am

The concert in Sacramento was going exceptionally well. Guns N' Roses, in their only California appearance on the Skin N' Bones leg of their world tour, had just finished "November Rain," which usually comes two-thirds of theway through the show. As the band was preparing to go into the next song, a full bottle of Evian was thrown from the upper mezzanine and struck bassist Duff McKagan square in the face. McKagan dropped to the floor, writhing in agony. He was rushed off the stage, and the rest of the band followed. Sash came out a bit later to explain to the confused audience that, unfortunately, the show couldn't continue without Duff. What's the moral of this story?
It only takes one asshole in a crowd of 12,000 to ruin everyone's night.
Duff was taken to the hospital, x-rayed and treated. Although sore, he made the band's next scheduled appearance, wearing a T-shirt printed with a large target and the words "Don't Even Think About It."

The soft-spoken, often misunderstood bassist is one of rock 'n' roll's most genuine characters, although what you see isn't always what you get. Beneath the scruffy, devil-may-care exterior is a sensitive, intelligent soul. When he's not onstage or recording, Duff seems to be happiest water skiing or fishing. It's his way of escaping the mania that surrounds Guns N' Roses. This same mania may be what led to his occasional bouts with the vodka bottle. When his drinking began to worry those closest to him, though, Duff took it to heart. During the Skin N' Bones segment of the tour he started getting serious about getting clean. As of this writing, halfway through the European leg - appropriately called the Get In The Ring Motherf?!ker, Round II - which will end GN'R's two and a half year journey, Duff has been sober for over a month.
Sometimes underrated as a musician, McKagan will set that issue straight when his solo album, Believe In Me, hits the stores. He plays every instrument on the record - except when a few of his friends are jamming - and is scheduled to tour in support of it. He already has a band together, and one successful gig, at the Hollywood Palladium, under his belt. Though schooled in punk rock, McKagan's musical taste ranges from Prince, Parliament and Isaac Hayes to the Rolling Stones, Fear, the Ramones, and the New York Dolls. All of these influences (and many more, including GN'R) can be found on Believe In Me. If you were expecting a one-dimensional disc, you're way off base. Featuring guest appearances from Jeff Beck, Lenny Kravitz, his GN'R cohorts Slash, Matt Sorum, Dizzy Reed, and Gilby Clarke, his brother Matt McKagan, Alice In Chains' Jerry Cantrell, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach and Dave "Snake" Sabo, and other pals. Believe In Me is an eclectic collection, with the title cut, "Just Not There," "Ten Years" and "I Love You" popped straight from the mold where great songs come from.
Duff recently took some time to talk about the record, Izzy Stradlin's stint with the band in Europe, his sobriety and many other topics. It's a revealing look at a great musician and a nice guy.

RIP: Why a Duff McKagan solo record?
DUFF: Ever since I was 15, it's something I've wanted to do. I knew I could play every instrument. Prince's early records, when he played every instrument, inspired me, as did Lenny Kravitz. I didn't want to make a studio album, like a Steely Dan record. Not that I don't like Steely Dan, but I want to tour, so I have other people besides myself playing on the record. You don't say no to Jeff Beck!

RIP: With Guns N' Roses so busy, having been on the road for over two years now, when did you find the time to record?
DUFF: I recorded the bulk of it while GN'R was out on tour. We'd finish playing a gig, and I'd go right into the studio. It was very exciting doing a record on the road, and the guys in GN'R were very supportive. Depending on who I was hanging with, they'd wind up at the studio and would jam. It was hellbent on making this record, and I wasn't going to wait two years until this tour ended. I started the same day the Iraq war started, and we're still not finished. Seattle, London, San Francisco, L.A. and Denver are some of the places this was recorded at, and there's a story that goes with each place. I remember recording in Dallas after a gig, and everybody was raging. We didn't even start till like 4 a.m. Some really cool shit happened that night.

RIP: The record is different from a Guns N' Roses record. Do you expect any backlash because of that?
DUFF: I think people will dig it. I'm not out to make a Guns N' Roses record. This is from one person's heart. Each song is a true story of something that's happened in my life. It's a very personal record. "Believe In Me," the title track, kind of sums up where my head was at while I was recording. Slash played guitar on that one. "F?!ked Up Beyond Belief" is mostly an instrumental, and Jeff Beck plays lead. Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains also played on that one. "Ten Years" is about the high-school reunion I couldn't attend because we were on tour. Gilby cowrote it with me. "Lonely Tonight" is a song I wrote before I met my wife, Linda. "Man in the Meadow" is a song I wrote with West Arkeen. West played guitar on that one, and I barely even mixed it, because the feeling was so warm. I did a cover of Prince's "When You Were Mine." "Just Not There is something I wrote after we finished the Illusion records. I'd bought a big house and just finished going through a divorce with my first wife. It's kinda about dreaming about having someone, but there's nobody there. It's actually a song of hope. "I Love You" is a tune that, in the studio, I played every instrument on. That's my first single, and it's pretty self explanatory.

RIP: What sets Believe In Me apart from other albums coming out in 1993?
DUFF: There are a lot of mistakes [laughter], and I left them on because they're human. I think that adds character. It's not a perfect record, but when I was writing these songs, it wasn't a very pretty time. It's not a gloomy record or anything, just a real one.

RIP: How have you been able to maintain any sense of sanity after having been on tour for so long?
DUFF: I don't even know if I am still sane! I've made it this far, and I would never quit. You'd have to kill me first. We've grown into such a tight family on the road. Everyone helps everyone out. We've had roadies and back-line guys leave because they couldn't take it any longer. Shit, we had a band member leave!

RIP: Is that "never quit" attitude what got you through Believe In Me?
DUFF: Yeah.

RIP: Are you happy with the way it turned out?
DUFF: It came out the way it should have come out. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges, but I like it that way. I'm gonna tour for it after it comes out. I'm playing rhythm guitar and singing. Joey (Masprokalos) from Circle Of Soul is playing lead and Aaron (Brooks) from Circle Of Soul is the drummer. The bass player is this Russian guy named Sasha (Krivtson), Teddy Andreadis, who toured with Guns as a second keyboard player, is my keyboard player, and Bree Howard is playing percussion. It's gonna be a pretty intense tour. We'll be playing like four or five nights a week to get the business taken care of. It'll keep me busy after the GN'R tour ends and before we start the next Guns N' Roses album. I quit drinking, but I'd been planning to tour before that. Not that adds an extra incentive, 'cause to be sitting home, twiddling my thumbs, would drive me crazy. It's not going to be like the GN'R tour. We'll be playing clubs, which will be refreshing, and we might open for other bands. We're going to have a very small crew, and it'll be fun. I'll play anywhere, anytime. I'll play someone's backyard, because this is my thing. GN'R's gotten too big to do that now, but back in the old days we'd do things like that. Of course, when I'm doing stadiums on my own, then I can't do the backyards [laughter].

RIP: Is there any competition between your record and Izzy Stradlin's solo album?
DUFF: No, there's no competition. I'll admit I wasn't real pleased with Izzy when he left Slash and I high and dry, trying to find a guitarist three weeks before our tour started.

RIP: So what was it like doing those five shows in Europe with him replacing Gilby, who broke his wrist?
DUFF: It was fun, and Izzy had nothing to lose. The gigs were cool. I was sober, and he was sober, so we hung out a bit. Out of all of us, I still stayed in contact with Izzy, and I know how he is.

RIP: Now that Gilby's back, what's the difference between him and Izzy?
DUFF: Izzy would never pat you on the back or anything like that. If I have an anxiety attack onstage, Gilby will come up to me, put his arm around me and say, "I'm here. I'm here for you, man." and he means it. Gilby won't play until I'm better. Gilby's busting his ass right now, playing with a broken wrist. He's a great player and a great guy.

RIP: You said that making a solo record is something you've wanted to do since you were 15.
DUFF: When I was like 15 or 16, I was the drummer in the Fastbacks, but I'd never really played drums before. I was playing guitar and bass at the time, but not drums. They asked me if I could do it, and I said yes. I had three weeks to learn before my first gig, and I did. I just knew that I could. When I was like, 16, I probably could have done something like a solo demo.

RIP: What was it like doing your first solo gig at the Hollywood Palladium?
DUFF: It wasn't the smoothest, but once I got up there, it was okay. Before the gig I felt like I was gonna hurl. Now that I've got that first one under my belt, I know I can do it. I'd look over to the side of the stage and see Slash with this huge smile, this proud look on his face, and that made me feel great. I felt real comfortable up there. It's a cool feeling, and it seems you can communicate more as a singer/guitarist than as a bass player. I love playing bass, but I also love fronting a band - and it's a cool band.

RIP: Are you a family oriented person?
DUFF: Yeah. Even my friends are my family. The members of Guns N' Roses are my family. I'm the youngest of eight kids, and in the future I look forward to having kids of my own. Road temptations, like groupies, that ain't no thing. I got my wife.

RIP: What about drugs and other vices?
DUFF: We've all done them, and I'm done with all of that. It bores the f?!k out of me. Sure, I'll hang around the after the gig or whatever, but I'm trying to stay clean. I'm doing really good. How many times can someone party? I've been touring since I was 15 years old. I've seen more drugs and shit than most people. Not more than, say, the Rolling Stones, but probably more than most people my age. Even when I was drinking, though, I still always got my job done. There were a few times, like the first time we were in Europe [1986], that I f?!ked up a lot, but no one really noticed. I think I was the first person that noticed, because you can't lie to yourself. I haven't had a drink since the U.S. leg of Skin N' Bones ended. I have a solo tour coming up, and I can't let drinking interfere. Shit, I go to bed these days at midnight.

RIP: Steven Adler couldn't keep it together. Izzy Stradlin quit. How have you managed to stay in as volatile group as Guns N' Roses?
DUFF: When I was a kid, I had a baseball coach who told me, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." I know that's a silly cliché, but it's true, and it's something that's always stuck with me. The wimps go by the wayside; only the tough are gonna persevere. Also, we all support each other and help whoever it is that needs help. On the last leg Matt and I got into a fist fight. It wasn't the first time that's happened, but he called me, and we talked, and he knows I'm there for him, and I know he's there for me. I try to get along with everybody, but who knows what'll happen tomorrow. Maybe by the time this article comes out, Guns N' Roses will self-destruct. I doubt it. We're not that volatile. We've been doing this long enough. The Illusion tour is the longest in history, but we have no intention of killing ourselves over it. We know how to control the anarchy. Shit, we survived the anarchy. We survived St. Louis, we survived Montreal. Three of us got married. A war started and ended. We've seen a lot more than most people see in a whole lifetime through a completely different point of view. I've seen it in two states too - a drunken state and a sober one. I could write a book about emotions that most people haven't ever dreamed of having.

RIP: Such as?
DUFF: There's a lot that goes into the two hours that we play, and I'm not just talking about the production. I'm talking about mentally, as far as the bandmembers getting to play the show. Sometimes you have to forget that you just had a knock-down, drag-out fight with your old lady, or that one of your friends is junked out, or that you don't feel happy about yourself. You're up there onstage, and you have to block all that out. Our lives get very surreal at times. I've had anxiety attacks onstage where I couldn't breath, but I still played. There were certain times when Axl would leave the stage, but he was going through a phase where he was just so lost and confused that he couldn't help it. I'm not him, but it seems to me that he's gotten past all that now. I'm not going to say Ax was a dick for doing that, but it scared the shit out of me. I mean, I didn't know if he was coming back. What if some kid got hurt as a result of what we did? Then there were other times. After Castle Donnington I felt, and still feel, somehow responsible for the deaths of those two kids. If we wouldn't have been there playing… I never act onstage. I'm always as aggressive as I can be. If I'm not angry, I get angry onstage. We don't takeit like some bands do. I'd quit Guns N' Roses before I faked it, but we're not one of those types of bands that can take it.

RIP: When will Guns N' Roses put out a new album?
DUFF: GN'R always jams new stuff at soundcheck - when we do soundchecks [laughter] - so we have some cool riffs already. Also, we've got the punk-rock EP to release. Basically all that needs to be done on that is Axl's vocals. People are going to have to realize that it's going to be a while before our next official record comes out. We released two albums with 30 songs on them in September of '91 and were touring before the records even came out.

RIP: You guys have played some unusual places in the past few years. Why?
DUFF: Because the kids in Fargo, North Dakota, and some of the secondary markets don't always get the opportunities to see bands. Those places ain't like New York or L.A., where everybody wants to play, so they often get overlooked. We've played a lot of weird places. We played the biggest concert in the southern hemisphere. We played in Bogota, Colombia, where our lives were threatened. We escaped a coup in Venezuela by two hours, so towns like Portland, Maine, ain't too bad. We go and play and try to have the best time possible and make the kids there happy.

RIP: Guns N' Roses supports a lot of charities, but it seems that you make yourself a bit more available than some of the other guys. Why do you go out of your way to do these kind of things?
DUFF: Because I want to. When we were in Australia, Dizzy told me he was going to see some handicapped kids. I was like, "Count me in." We are a part of the Starlight Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. If that's what I can do to make a sick kid happy, then I'm gonna do whatever I can to be there. It's an honor to be asked. I hate "rock stars" and that mentality. All they care about is the pussy and the money and where the next couple of grams are coming from. I hate that shit.

RIP: Does it piss you off that you fall into the category of "rock star"?
DUFF: [Firmly] I ain't a "rock star".

RIP: Then what are you?
DUFF: I'm me. I'm Duff. I know what it's like to work construction. I've worked in a bank, and I've dug ditches. I know what it's like to starve. Guns N' Roses have earned every penny we've made through hard work. It's the "rock star" attitude that I can't stand - you know, the people that call themselves rock stars. There's a lot who do and, well, they can all suck my dick.
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