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SoulMonster

1995.02.DD - Guitar - Trigger with Attitude (Slash)

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1995.02.DD - Guitar - Trigger with Attitude (Slash)

Post by Soulmonster on Sat Apr 14, 2018 4:44 am

After a whole year of well-publicised feuds with Axl Rose, Guns N' Roses' Slash has now cut loose to record his own album with a new band Snakepit. In a startlingly frank interview with Steven Rosen, he talks about his extensive guitar collection, his friendship with Michael Jackson and the tension that just might break G N' R...
Three days after he was supposed to arrive, Slash finally shows up. And even then he is two hours late. But what you get is not what you expect. The image – a drinker who also plays guitar – is a sorry myth kept alive by the press, and one that's dispelled almost as soon as you meet him. The musical heartbeat of Guns N' Roses, Slash is a surprisingly articulate yet subdued individual who loves nothing more than to play his guitar – unless he's talking about playing his guitar. The reason he's two hours a late is because he'd driven halfway to the lntervlew when he realised he'd forgotten his Les Paul (he needs it for photos). He apologises profusely and takes ten minutes by himself to wind down.
And he has got a lot to wind down from. He's recently completed the It's Five O'Clock Somewhere album recorded with Snakeplt – a band made up of present and past members of Guns N' Roses as well Michael Inez of Alice in Chains and Eric Dover of Jellyfish. This might have been the next Guns record but Axl Rose didn't like the material. So, gathering his ego and his songs together, the G N' R guitarist compiled a group and cut the tracks. It is vintage Slash, bare-boned and bluesy and fired with emotion and turbulence.
Besides Snakepit, Slash has recently renewed his acquaintance with Michael Jackson (they share a love of animals. Slash owns 70 varieties from the roaring to the slithering), jammed with BB King and Les Paul, recorded with Carole King and built a home Studio. And then there's Guns N' Roses... A month or so back the band released their first material since The Spaghetti Incident? covers album, this time a version of the Stones' 'Sympathy For The Devil' (from the soundtrack to Interview With The Vampire). Yet all is obviously less than rosy in the Gunners camp, the rumours of a permanent split between Axl and Slash still hovering like moody stormclouds. But today, the guitarist talks music for two hours. He shies away from no question and if anything can be said about him it is that he is too honest, maybe too forthright. But read this frank Q&A session and judge for yourself...
TGM: There seems to be some unwritten law that says when a band starts to make it or has already become successful, the singer and the guitarist inevitably move apart. It's happened with Van Halen, to some extent The Rolling Stones, The Who, and a number of others...
When I was growing up I'd been around a lot of bands (both Slash's parents were in the business – his mother designed clothes and father designed album covers), and one reason I'm so calm and low key about it is because I've seen so many other bands go through it. In one way, shape or form, it's the same scenario. When you first start out, you're stuck together, you have no choice. It's you against the world and all of a sudden you're accepted. I saw it happen after our first world tour. After getting home from opening for Aerosmith, it's like, 'Buy a house, buy a house, everybody buy a house,' and then you just grow apart.
My traditional values – as far as Guns is concerned or just in general, having to do with integrity and music sense and so forth – haven't changed. Everybody grows in their own way and when we all get together in a room, we know each other very well... but you want to get to where there's a meeting of the minds. And it's like pulling teeth actually to do that. But the guys in the band and I call ourselves the "bricklayers", the guys who really do a lot of hands-on work. And then there's the lead singer who has a whole other vision of his own. You just have to deal with it. You can't, like, stress out – I have no intentions of quitting the band or anything like that – and the only reason I'm doing a solo project is just to sort of get away from that for a while because Guns doesn't have to record now or next year. They can do a record whenever.'
TGM: Did cutting 'Sympathy For The Devil' bring the band back together?
It didn't do what I was hoping it would do – let's just leave it at that. When it came down to it, there was only three of us there together and then Axl did his part on his own. And then there was another guitar player (new G N' R 'recruit' Paul Huge) that Axl wanted to use which I didn't like, I didn't like him. And Axl turned around and put him on the record as well and I was pretty pissed off about that. He (Huge) is answering my guitar solos with his guitar solos. It sounds really bad but... whatever. So, no, it didn't do the gelling process like I hoped it would.
TGM: Can you draw from Snakepit those same feelings you had when you did Appetite For Destruction?
Snakepit was fun because there were no preconceived ideas about it – I play the way I play, Matt (Sorum, drums) plays the way he plays. In fact, this is the first record Matt played on where he had a free hand. I figure out my part and we all agree on what we're doing. Everybody kicks back and has a beer and there's no pressure. There's a pressure that comes with being successful and it'll tear you to pieces if you let it.
TGM: Even being at the top of the heap there's pressure?
Oh, yeah, its worse. The bigger you get the worse it gets. Jimi Hendrix put it best: "The more money you make, somehow the more blues you can sing." But money has never been the thing with me, you know? Right here, I'm fine – I have a guitar here and I worked for that, some cigarettes and booze and I can get that from the average girl I know. Plus she'll let me shack up at her place so money's not the issue.
On the same note, I did want to say that I do enjoy the fact that there's so many people out there that appreciate the band. That's the give and take there. You deal with the bullshit in order to be able to do what you started out doing. So I do appreciate being able to play in front of 60-100,000 people. So I won't knock it, I'm not complaining.
TGM: So would you trade being able to play in front of so many people for being a brand new band?
The best thing in life is to go on living with no regrets and I have none. There are things I would like to have seen done differently but when you've got that many people together directed toward an ultimate goal, you're gonna have upheaval. So you just have to go with the flow. And you do your best to influence it in the proper direction. But, when we're on tour there are 100 of us right there, on the road. There's the band and the crew, and rock stars may not see it that way but there's an interaction between the two. You gotta have a lot of respect for the crew guys. It's an old cliché – "The bands make it rock, but the roadies make it roll" – but it's true. So there's all these people involved and business is never business, it's always affected by egos and personal goals.
I don't think about the friction or what you said earlier about a guitarist and a singer ultimately splitting apart. Probably because I try not to think about it at all. I don't look at us as being as influential as that, as those certain artists you mentioned. I just try and keep my humble standards. As far as I'm concerned we're still sort of a new LA band that happens to be pretty good. I'd rather keep that mentality and keep working at it as opposed to feeling established. I don't think Keith Richards would ever say, "Yeah, we've blown Chuck Berry away." I think there's a certain amount of respect you have to have.
TGM: Looking back at The Spaghetti Incident? in hindsight, how do you see it?
Spaghetti Incident was cool. We did songs in different places. Sometimes I would borrow somebody's guitar and rent an amp and cut a song. When we did that song 'Since I Don't Have You', we were in Boston with a day off and I got on the phone and asked for the best recording studio. I found out there are no fucking recording studios in Boston! Anyway, we finally found a place and I said, "This is Slash from Guns N' Roses," and at first they didn't believe me. Anyway, we rented some gear, I borrowed Gilby's piece-of-shit practice Tele that he has for before show warn-ups, and we just showed up and played. The whole thing was done in a way that I would like Guns N' Roses to more or less be, within the confines of the business we're in. But it was fun, it was sort of like an outlet.
The only thing that was wrong with that Guns record was that Manson song ('Look At Your Game Girl' written by cult lunatic Charles Manson). Axl is from Indiana and I don't think his upbringing relates to mine at all. I come from Los Angeles more or less and my whole family was very embedded in the whole hippie movement. Axl was from a very structured and sheltered churchgoing family in the middle of Indiana somewhere. The effects of Manson was like a smack in the face for the '60s; there was a certain realisation that the '60s were no longer. And to everybody who grew up in Los Angeles it (the 'Manson Family' and the murder of Sharon Tate) was a big deal. Axl put this song on and had some other guitar player play on it and he called me on the phone. I was mixing the record at the time and I was looking forward to it being really cool. And he calls me up and plays this thing on the phone and I said, "Yeah, whatever," and then he told me it was a Manson song. We didn't know who wrote it; we had word that Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys wrote it. I didn't want to deal with it, being the politically mild guy that I am, so I said, "Whatever" and I buried it in the mix – I put it two minutes after the last song and it's not listed. But word got out eventually and then it turned into this huge upheaval. Because you know how people love to come down on you for anything they possibly can. And so it killed the record in the States, and everybody in LA and who was 30 or older was in complete upheaval. Not to mention David Geffen (G N' R's label boss), who said, "Don't work the record." End of story.
TGM: The Spaghetti Incident? was a raw album. Are you that type of player in studio – first takes as opposed to working out parts or solos?
Yeah, I'm really into that, for good or bad. For Appetite For Destruction I was a little bit more meticulous and for Use Your Illusion we got a little bit looser and looser and just sort of like going for the moment. Now I'm at the point where I usually have a guitar solo done in the first couple takes. Maybe I'll go back and do a few little fixes but that's about it.
I jam a lot now. When Guns was first starting, I didn't go out and jam with many other bands. And now I've jammed with so many people and done so many records and I've taken all that experience. Now I go in, I hear the song, and I just play. And if it comes out good first take and there's no reason to fuckin' fix it, then I leave it. It's just a feel thing. The last song that I did where I can really remember sitting down and working with the melody was with Carole King because she's that kind of a songwriter. She taught me a lot working with her. I did a song on her latest album – it has my name on there. I just went in to this little studio where she was working and the song was more or less laid out and I just did guitar answers to vocals. But she has a very great sense of arrangement. I've been friends with her for a long time but this is the first time I've worked with her.'
TGM: You've actually played with a far greater amount of artists than people might think.
For better or worse. I recently played with Michael Jackson again. Doing any kind of Michael Jackson thing is like doing a photo shoot without approval – you have no idea what's going on. Because there are no arrangements, you just go in there and play to a click track of drum samples. And I make up my part and what he uses he uses and what he doesn't want to use he doesn't. It's a whole different scene altogether, but Michael's cool. When Mike called and asked me to do this I was sort of like, "Weeee!!". There's all this controversy going on with him but that has nothing to do with us playing together and so I went to New York and did it. He's got a record coming out of 21 Number 1 singles he's had and there are seven new songs of which I played on three... but we'll see what happens.
TGM: You aud Edward Van Halen are the only two real rock guitarists Michael has ever worked with. How do you feel about that?
I got that feeling that I was sort of "flavour of the fuckin' month". That's howl felt at first. But I've done some shows with him in Spain and Japan, a video, and I got to know him. The guy's not as naive or as innocent as anybody might think; he's a very smart, quick-witted guy, fun to hang out with but obviously he's a little different – but so am I.
When the first phone call came for me it was just a chance to go and play something different. People will read stuff about me getting involved in different stuff and give me a hard time about it. But fuck it, life is short, and if there is an opportunity to go out and do something, at least try it. I mean that's all I do. These guys are all friends of mine and where some people going out to play golf, we hang around and make a record.'
TGM: You also had the chance to hang with Jeff Beck a little bit.
Beck is amazing. We were sitting around and talking at soundcheck and he was playing at the same time and Joe Perry comes up and goes, "You've been practising," and I just gave him a look and said, "It's Jeff Beck, man." Jeff is great though, I really like him a lot. I would actually at some point like to do a record with him. I was doing a photo shoot three or four days ago and I put on Guitar Shop and there's songs on there I wish I wrote.
TGM: How do you write? Is there a specific way you like to work up your songs?
I've always been working hard towards being able to apply what I hear in my head to my hands. I don't like to over-think anything but if something comes into my head, I want to be able to play it instantly. That's what improvising is all about and that's why I go and jam a lot. Then there's improvisation in just sittin' around and practising – watching TV and playing that same lick over and over again. All of a sudden something comes to you while you've got a guitar in your hand.'
TGM: Are you a better player now than you were on Appetite For Destruction?
Yeah. It may not sound like it, but I think I have more of a grasp of where the notes I want to hit are. You know, on the Lies album there's all that punk stuff on the second side that was very spontaneous. When you're playing fast and you want to go somewhere and you hear it in your head, you have to be able to get there that quickly. It almost has to be instantaneous – from here to there. And so I think I'm better at that. I don't have any more technical knowledge now than I did in the old days. I really don't practise. I hang out with Steve Lukather a lot and I always used to think he was one of those technical, no-feel guitar players – but Luke played me his solo record at my house (Mr Candyman) when he came back from the studio one night and he'd done four or five songs that were all first takes. It was amazing. He incorporated feel with technical stuff too – I mean, you hear me and it's pentatonic forever! And maybe some minor stuff because I don't know what I'm doing.
TGM: How do you see your playing on Use Your Illusion I & II?
The ...Illusion records are sort of different because I used some 30-odd guitars. Plus, I was covering for Izzy and I ended up doing the acoustic guitars and the banjo. It was like a free-for-all for me.
TGM: You did most of the rhythm parts yourself?
Well most of them, yeah. Izzy didn't play a helluva lot on that album. He was getting away from Guns altogether. It's cool but there's so much stuff that was goin' on; if I hear it now I hear it the way somebody who was involved hears it. But at the same time, the general attack is not as aggressive as I would have liked it. It's a little over-produced but, God, we went through hell making that record! We had band member changes, we didn't have the right mixers (what no coke for yer JD? – Cocktail Ed), we were on tour in the middle of making it and we were going in different studios. It was just a mess, so if you were me, it was an achievement beyond belief. For the average kid it might seem really self-indulgent stuff, but it's all very real, there's no bullshit, it's not like we were trying to do a record to reach a certain market. We just took all our material and just recorded it.
There are some songs we used to do in the really old days – like, before the band was signed – that sound better on the demos than they do on Use Your Illusion. There's 'Back Off Bitch', 'The Garden' and '14 Years'. Because we did the songs (for the album) all at the same time, they didn't have the emotional nuances from the different periods of time when they were written. When we all had to do it together, it all sort of sounds the same; it doesn't have the dynamics.'
TGM: You mentioned these were songs you played in the pre-Guns days – were you involved in any serious bands before this one?
Not really, but I mean Guns wasn't even a serious band. I had a band with Axl called Hollywood Rose and he had a band before that called Rose with Izzy. I had a band called Roadcrew and we could never find a good singer which is why I wanted Axl. I didn't want to play with Izzy but Izzy and Axl came as a package.
TGM: So you always did like Axl as a singer?
Trust me, out of all the musicians in this town, you could find a million and one guitar players and they could all be pretty good. But you'd be lucky to find one good singer. Because guitar playing is something you can pick up. It's a physical thing but at the same time it's an instrument – unlike using your voice which comes from the heart. When we did the Snakepit album, we auditioned 40 singers, singers you'd recognise from different bands, and the guy I ended up using was Eric Dover, the guitar player who sang backup for Jellyfish! He has this spirit about him that you can hear and feel, even if it's not perfect.
I didn't want to spend a year looking for singers. I wasn't gonna try and make the next Guns N' Roses record. It's very improbable that the next Axl Rose is gonna come and join my band, you know? Eric is great, and I think the more that he does this the more he'll come into his own, because he's got that kind of voice. It was so raw and so honest I just said, "Fuck it, we're here!'"
TGM: You must have known, though, that people would compare Snakepit to Guns?
Guns is the sum of the parts and so every time somebody makes a solo record, you can all of a sudden hear where the individual's input from Guns comes from. When Duff made his record it was very Duff, Izzy's was very Izzy, and Gilby's, although he's not in the band now, was very Gilby. I'm doing one because of the situation I'm in. I just needed the outlet. I always said I would never do a solo record, I said I didn't need to – but finally I found out I certainly do. I did mine and you can hear the aspects of a good group song like 'Paradise City' and where it all comes from. You can hear it in each solo record, which is interesting. Not like the Kiss records (in 1978 the four original members of Kiss released four solo albums simultaneously – History Ed), not like that. These are all very honest and personal, sort of independent endeavours to keep sane. Just do your thing and get away from the big massive production which is Guns N' Roses.
TGM: Setup-wise, does a Snakepit session resemble one for a Guns record?
Yeah, it's a Marshall half-stack and a Las Paul – the main zebra Les Paul as opposed to the Illusion one. I did have some electric 12-string and some mandolin, but otherwise the rest of it is all one guitar. And that's the same guitar I used for Appetite...
TGM: Weren't you using a BC Rich in the early days?
A Mockingbird and I wish I still had it. It was a great-sounding guitar; it had old Bill Lawrence pickups in it. I hocked it at one point and never got it back, which is funny because I have Joe Perry's guitar which his wife hocked.
TGM: So have you stayed pretty much a devoted Gibson player?
Yeah, that's the most versatile guitar for me, but it's a matter of taste. Some kids just think it looks cool – which is why I got it, because it was the cool-looking guitar. I guess you force yourself to understand the nature of the guitar because it looks good. Some people maybe like Strats because of the bar and it's also a very versatile guitar, but it's different. There's a certain rock'n'roll element you can get out of a Strat that I'd have to use a wah-wah pedal to get on a Las Paul. But at the same time Strats are so fuckin' unpredictable. It's hard to find a good one.
I guess I got off the subject a little... I had a poster of Jimmy Page and one of Joe Perry and they were playing Les Pauls – that's what got me into Gibsons. In fact, I have the guitar that Perry is playing in that very poster. I thought that was the coolest-looking guitar and I have it, years later. It's so weird! Plus, tone-wise it's something thick and something mentally I have control of; more so than I have with Jacksons and all the Eddie Van Halen-type stuff, I just didn't feel they had any real body. But Les Pauls I'm very particular about as well; I like Standards, I don't like Customs that much.
I did play a Telecaster on 'Since I Don't Have You' and there's a song called 'Dead Horse' that I played the lead on a Strat. If it calls for a certain sound, I'll pull out a guitar because I know I have it. I do use a Strat-type guitar on some of the Snakepit stuff, a guitar built by (Hollywood luthier) Sammy Sanchez.
TGM: Can you talk a little more about Snakepit? Were these songs that wouldn't have worked with Guns?
I was hoping it would work with Guns. I was just writing at home, I built a studio, and I was experimenting. I got a 24-track Mackie board and ADATs. I got all the DBX stuff and stuff I normally use when I go in the studio. I'm not a big outboard person – I find a certain thing and stick with it. And I've got the little Yamaha NS-10s. It's a simple studio and Matt would be there to help me arrange the stuff. We used a KAT drum kit and the demos are really comparable in quality to the album. So I wrote all these songs and played the demo for Axl and he just wasn't interested. I said, "But this is really what I want Guns to do," and he wasn't into it. So I had all this material and Axl had all these lawsuits going on and he wouldn't have time to get into writing at that point anyway. So he sort of suggested I did a solo record.
So the songs are my representation of what Guns would sound like if I was at the helm. And it's probably good that I did it outside of Guns because I explored a lot of avenues I didn't normally get to. I had to write lyrics, and I had to get the melodies, and I had to get the songs into a cohesive state where they were worth showing to anybody. It's a real down to the bare bones kind of record, and I like that.
There's just two guitars, then a lead, and that's it. I've got Gilby playing on one side and me on the other – the same approach that I use for almost any Guns record. In fact I think Use Your Illusion was the most complicated I've ever gotten. I have gotten more into blending an acoustic with an electric lately, though, and there is some acoustic, some slide, some voice-box, some wah-wah pedal, some mandolin, but that's about it. I used the Les Paul, 12-string and the Martin acoustic and a Guild.
TGM: Does your style rely on having a second guitarist? Were you more influenced by Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones than by Cream and Led Zeppelin?
I started out as a one-guitar guy but I ended up being involved with a two-guitar band because I was forced to work with Izzy. Actually Izzy and I have a real natural relationship – it wasn't pre-conceived at all. It just sort of fell into place and I did my thing and Izzy did his and somehow or another we complemented each other. It wasn't supposed to be a two-guitar approach – he was on his side and I was on my side and the end result was completely different guitar players that happened to mesh. There were songs I would have done differently, like 'Welcome To The Jungle'. I really wanted it to sound a certain way and when I listen to it now, I still cringe sometimes. Because I hear this "tink tinkatink tink tinkatink" (Izzy's part) and I just want to hear the riff. For some reason there was interaction but it wasn't conscious.
And now I have Duff play the parts (in Guns) that Izzy would play; so me and Duff play the same parts to get the thickness. And in Snakepit, me and Gilby play the parts together closer than Izzy and I did, and Mike Inez (bass) plays completely off of it. It's completely different from Guns and so that's been interesting. So, because I had to work with Izzy, Guns is now a two-guitar band. Duff always goes, "What do we need another guitar player for?" and I go, "Well, because..."
TGM: So the difference between playing with Gilby and Izzy is that you work out parts more closely with Gilby?
Gilby and I probably like each other a lot more than Izzy and I did. I think that's probably it. When Gilby and I write together, if there's a riff, I learn what he's playing and I make up another version of it. In a higher key or something. It's easy because there's no conflict of interest, no ego challenge. With Izzy, I would write stuff that was too complicated for him to play; or Izzy would write a song that was so easy for me to play it was boring. But Izzy's got a natural rock feel and people talk about, "Oh, there's Izzy and there's Keith." And I'm like, "There's Keith and then there's Izzy who could be Keith if he worked at it." They do have the same approach to guitar – open chords and a lot of rhythm. But at the same time Izzy doesn't have enough of a grasp of a guitar neck to make it sound as smooth and natural as Keith does.
TGM: Your playing seems to have a very 'English' feel. Were you influenced by more English players than Americans?
Oh, yeah. The Who, Zeppelin, and then there was Mick Taylor who I think is the most underrated player... Rory Gallagher (er, rather Irish actually – Ed). Playing-wise, actual style-wise, they were mostly English guys, but as far as the aggression stuff goes, that came mostly from Aerosmith. Aggression and riffs – you hear 'Sweet Emotion' and it goes right through you. They have a real blues basis... at least they did, I'm not sure where they're at now. 'Back In The Saddle' is like an all-time great, and I actually learned Brad Whitford's solos on 'Last Child' and 'Kings And Queens' from the Draw The Line record. And from Joe, I think I just picked up slam-bam dynamics. There is a lot of shit that I like that I don't sound like but you pick up stuff from it – kind of like a fly on flypaper. I mean, I can't move my hands around on a neck with the kinds of chords Les Paul would but I can appreciate it. I'm not a jazz fan but I love blues jazz with horns. I love to sound like a saxophone.
I realise all the good shit that I like is still rock'n'roll based. There are certain Judas Priest songs which are dear to me, Motorhead, Fear, and T-Rex. As long as it has a solid, aggressive attitude and it's real or even if it has a very romantic kind of attitude, as long as the soul is there, then to me that's what rock'n'roll is all about. It all sort of ties together. There is good punk and good rock and the good stuff that you draw from still relates to rock'n'roll. The Pistols were the all-time great rock'n'roll band and they call them a punk band. Whatever. That's an attitude, an image, but the overall sound comes out in the playing and that goes way back to Gene Vincent. It's the same shit...
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