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1992.03.04 - Raw Magazine - Shattering your illusions (Slash)

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1992.03.04 - Raw Magazine - Shattering your illusions (Slash)

Post by Blackstar on Fri Oct 05, 2018 11:57 am

GUNS N’ ROSES
Shattering your illusions!!!

Once upon a time GUNS N’ ROSES were the bad boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll who could do no wrong. In the last 12 months they’ve been hit by almost too much controversy for their own good, firing guitarist Izzy Stradlin’ and looking like they might split at any minute. To set the record straight as to what shape the band are in, guitarist SLASH gets on the phone and chats to PHIL ALEXANDER who discovers that beyond and above the rumours and conjecture Guns are still out there and surprisingly in control of their own destination.

It’s round about midnight in London. In LA it must be about three. By the time the phone rings it’s getting a little late and Guns N’ Roses guitarist and all-round sound geezer Slash is full of apologies.

“I’m sorry, man, I had no idea we were gonna be talking today,” he states sounding sober and genuinely sorry. “I got a fax saying to call you at 1:30 and that was at three! I guess that’s the way things are round here at the moment.”

“Round here”, as it turns out, is ‘round about Hollywood. Guns are home, having weathered the storms of the last year and waiting to head out for more road work hitting Japan first and then looking to the US and Europe once again.

Home, however, isn’t quite where Slash is. Instead he’s a hotel with about a million calls on hold and spitting round the room. Home, it would appear isn't something that the roving guitarist has been too comfortable in the last year.

“I’m not at home at the moment basically, because the pace on the road is so different, I find it really hard to adjust when it comes to coming home for a couple of weeks,” explains Slash. “I have all these animals, like snakes and lizards and shit, and since I’m not a round there’s people who are there working at my house and taking care of shit living there. I can’t just concentrate in m y house when there’s people around. I’d rather just stay in a hotel room where I can get my shit together, throw shit around the room, spit on the walls and relax a bit! I can’t spit on the walls at home, but in the hotel room... you can do anything like seeing the maid’s faces when I haven’t let them in the room for three days! (laughs) No, seriously, I’m not that bad.”

HOW BAD IS BAD?

The welcoming banter over and settling down, there’s a million and one questions to fire off at Slash. He knows it and shows a slight weariness starting off. You can’t blame him bearing in mind the turbulence that has surrounded the band in the last year.

First up came the saga of the whole double album twin set, ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘Use Your Illusion II’, the pair being preceded by the tempestuous live shows of last year where frontman W Axl Rose seemed to boast more mood swings than a proverbial merry-go-round. The tail of ’91 however suddenly culminated in the shock departure of original guitarist Izzy Stradlin’, a split which seemed to be due to an initial parting of the ways with initial manager Alan Niven back in ’90 and a personality clash with Axl. Add to this a sequence of events that includes a bunch of riots, Axl slicing his hand, former drummer Steven Adler (now in Roadcrew) trying to sue the band for forcing him to take drugs and a bunch of rumours that would do a Sun columnist proud, and it’s any wonder that in the midst of all this shit, the band stayed together.

“I guess it really is,” chuckles the softly spoken guitarist. “The thing that really amazed me looking back over the last few years is that the band got really huge and our peers – those that got to Rock star status, and I hate using that term – seemed to hide the fact that shit always happened around them. We never did. Sure, there was personal stuff that we didn’t go into because things can kill a band if they get out, but we’ve always been pretty honest about all our shit. Life with us is real, but with most of our peers all I tend to see is their public side, their MTV side, which makes them kinda hollow.

“With us it’s real blood, sweat and tears type thing. We have a great time when we’re playing and we go through a lot of hard times. Either way people know about our shit. All we want to do is get up there and play for however many hours, though. That’s what keeps us together and, to be honest, we just never saw it ever getting out of hand the way it has. It’s a great feeling being up there and being respected for being a good Rock ‘n’ Roll band. It makes it all worthwhile when we go through all the shit that we go through on a daily basis on a personal level. Sometimes I guess it’s like living in hell, though!” he chuckles.

This hell, however, seems to be something far more personal rather than an obscure concept. Is it of the band’s own making?

“I don’t think it is, but I don’t know,” continues Slash. “I think it’s just that the bigger you get the harder it is to retain any sense of normalcy, you know? What you feel you have to get on with suddenly becomes a major chore. The fact that suddenly you become recognisable in public. I’ve said it before, but I’m not complaining ‘cos it comes with the territory. The only thing that I guess you have to do in this business is keep your own sense of integrity and not let these people get to you. If you give up then that’s when they’re really gonna lay you out, you’ll be history and they’ll be right. The important strength, apart from writing good material and being a good band, is to be able to maintain what you believe in without conforming to what you think people expect. I don’t know if that makes sense but I guess it’s a hard thing to try and explain.”

PERSONALITY CRISIS

Explanations however have been rife concerning exactly where the roots of Guns N’ Roses traumas lies. Most hypotheses seem to have laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of Axl and his volatile nature.

“Well, I know Axl real well and a hell of a lot better than anyone’s gonna know him from reading the press,” begins Slash on the subject. “I know where he’s coming from and I may be a little more level-headed so I guess I get labelled as the mediator at this point. With Axl though, a lot of it comes from just unbridled sincerity. Everything about him as a performer and a singer comes from his personality, so the shit that makes him crazy or the shit that he finds hard to deal with is, at the same time, what makes his talent, you know?”

“Sure, shit goes down and I keep it together, but with me it’s pretty simple. It’s ‘Get the fuck up there and plug in that guitar and go!’. With him it isn’t that simple. There’s a lot going on part from the three hours that we spend up there and it’s that shit that affects him. I can say that really, apart from getting laid, we’ve all realized that there ain’t that much fun in the music business!” chortles Slash.

The fun element is something that Guns have perhaps found somewhat elusive. The latest casualty being Stradlin’ who simply seemed to up and leave as soon as the band’s European tour was over. His last gig with the band was in fact at Wembley Stadium last August. According to Slash, however, there’s a lot more to the situation than meets the eye.

“The whole things goes back quite a way. That goes back to the end of our first tour (which ended around late ’88). Izzy and I both went through a breakneck fuckin’ drug bout where we were both very scarey. There came a point where Izzy had to go out to Indiana and straighten himself out as well as me reaching a point where I had with the authorities in the US. I just felt it was ridiculous. The band weren’t doing anything, we’d just played the Stones dates and it was a case of trying to get it all back together again. We went to Chicago to try and do that, as you know. Izzy just didn’t show up for like three months or something. It was just then that it became increasingly obvious that he wasn’t making any effort to do it anymore.

“All this shit was going on but, like I said, I don’t go public about shit that’s that personal when it can harm us. And the shit that was going on with Matt (Sorum – current Guns drummer) and Steven (Adler) was enough to possibly destroy us. If it hadn’t been for Axl and I really holding on to what Guns N’ Roses is all about and what we had in store for the future was concerned, I’m sure that we would’ve broken up already by then. Izzy was doing nothing to keep it together. He wasn’t playing that great and when he finally showed up he hadn’t touched his guitar for like four months, he didn’t want to be in the videos and he hardly played on the records. All the songs on these records that are his are old demo tapes from years ago that we worked on.

“The bottom line is that you’re only as weak as your weakest member and that’s pretty true. When it got to the point where it was me, Matt and Duff rehearsing and trying to get ready for the European tour it didn’t look too good. When we came home after Wembley we carried on rehearsing ‘cos I wanted to hire some horn players. Izzy just wasn’t there.”

The final straw as far as Stradlin’ is concerned seemed to have more to do with the business side of things as much as the playing according to Slash.

“While I was hiring all these horn players and doing all this work Izzy didn’t seem to care about what we were doing. He showed up right at the tail end of rehearsals and it just was like ‘What the fuck is going on with this band?!’.

“The next thing we found out though was that he’d been down to the accountants to find out how much money had been spent on what, when it had nothing to do with him. Axl and I went to him and said ‘Unless you start doing such and such you’re not a full partner anymore’ (Slash’s reference to ‘partners’ here deals with the GN’R corporation which all initial members were part of to take care of business – Ed). Then, without even calling us, he resigns through the office. Axl had a talk with him on the phone and just said ‘Well, listen if you don’t want to do this anymore then that’s fine ‘cos maybe we can write together in the future’ and Izzy was cool and it was real amicable. Then he turned around and told Matt and Duff behind our backs that we’d kicked him out. That pissed Axl and me off to no end. Izzy didn’t know we knew and he went over to Axl’s and Axl just turned around and said ‘Get the fuck out of here!’. It was pretty bad,” concludes Slash honestly and with a sigh.

NEW BLOOD AND OLD WAYS

Despite this situation with Izzy where the man clearly wasn’t rehearsing with the band, another obvious omission from the practice room seems to have been Axl himself.

“Well, that’s true but we’ve never rehearsed with Axl,” explains Slash. “Since we started out that’s never happened because we’re just too loud. We rehearsed to write songs either at my house or in the real early days he’s come down and sit there in rehearsals while we played the music and he’ll come up with words even though we couldn’t hear him.

“The only thing I can say where we’ve had the odd full rehearsal thing is when we were getting something like ‘Live And Let Die’ together, otherwise we’ve always been four-piece when it comes to doing things regularly and keeping the groove going. That’s the point of our rehearsals, to get fresh ideas and keep things fresh. Not many bands work like that again but to me it still sounds really alive that way and that’s really important to us.”

The band’s lifeblood has been renewed with the arrival of former Kill For Thrills/Candy man Gilby Clarke.

“When we got Gilby to fill in it was like a Godsend – same as with Matt – because Izzy dropped out three weeks before we were meant to start the US tour. That really put me on the spot because I didn’t want to cancel any of the shows.

“Despite what everyone said, Gilby was the only one that I physically rehearsed with and it worked out great. It was real casual and he just makes the effort on stage that Izzy didn’t. I don’t know if we’re going to write with him when the tour’s over but I actually call him up and say ‘You wanna do this?’ and we hang out. With Izzy, the only time we used to do that was when we were getting stoned. That was like over three years ago,” stages Slash, pausing for a while.

“It’s kinda funny because I know a lot of people are pointing their fingers at Axl and me as being the assholes in this whole thing because they really liked Izzy. The truth of the matter is that we tried everything to keep him going and he just didn’t want to do it. It was a real shame.”

THE FINGER-POINT FACTOR

Indeed as Slash is painfully aware of the fact, Guns are very much the focus of a load of finger-pointing. It’s nothing new, but ever since they actually hauled their collective asses up onto Wembley boards, and then when they released their two double albums, there’s been a lot of acrimonious scrawlings from the press as well as what could easily be seen as a certain Guns backlash. Such is the power of prejudice.

With the current single ‘November Rain’ currently out in the racks and clocking in at eight minutes and 53 seconds, the term ‘indulgent’ is one that has once again been levelled at the band. It’s a word that over the last few months Slash has become more than familiar with.

“Yeah, indulgent, right,” he sneers. “It’s funny ‘cos I always thought music was indulgent in the first place. Putting out two double albums might be indulgent, but if you ask me we’re musicians doing exactly what the fuck we want to do and having the space to do it. We’ve never adhered to industry standards and I felt that going out there and playing those songs that no-one had heard in front of 20,000-60,000 people per night was pretty ballsy. I can’t see Bon Blow-me doing that, can you? Otherwise they’d be out there now. I don’t think we bored too many people and, in fact, as a live band I think we showed exactly where our confidence lies. No one told us to play bund of hits and I think we managed to crossover from being a band that people went to see to get fucked up to, to a band that people actually listen to, that’s cool, whatever anyone says.”

The other accusation levelled at the band is the notion that, after some five years of constant controversy, they’ve become predictable.

“Really!?” laughs the guitarist. “I think what that means is that after ‘Appetite...’ came out we were an underground band so we were cool. When we became successful we became uncool. Then we disappeared for a long time and the business, at least on the Rock ‘n’ Roll side, things went back to the same kind of slump that was there before.  The record companies went back to signing the same kind of boring bands that they’d always signed. When the new records came out we were easy targets and we’d put out two albums that didn’t sound anything like ‘Appetite...’. If that’s predictable then I guess we should’ve put out a Classical album. I guess that would’ve been interesting!” laughs Slash.

“To be honest though, nothing really hurts me when people go on about what we’re like now. I don’t spend too much time reading the press or believing in the sensationalism. I just concentrate on getting up in the morning and doing what we do on a daily basis. The thing is that really, this band is no big fuckin’ deal. It’s like a day in the life-type stuff that we do really. The only problem we have is that there are certain obstacles in this business and we do the best we can to deal with them. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t.”

MONEY BAG BLUES

Despite Slash’s carefree attitude and lack of self-sensationalism, the man is clearly on to of Guns’ current set of affairs. He’ll shrug it off, but at the same time he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t have any real free time.

“I don’t have any time of my own, I don’t even have time to go down to the liquor store most days!” he quips.

In fact, while holed up in his hotel room, the walls presumably dripping with spit, his other line rings about four times during our hour and a half chat and he seems to have about another three calls on constant hold.

It’s a far cry from the image of Slash that most seem to hold near and dear: That of a Jack-swilling bozo. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“You know, as far the business side of things go we have to be able to get up in the morning and do shit, otherwise it just flies over your head and it’s too late. I’m constantly on top of it and Axl is too on a daily basis. It never stops. It’s cool because I’m in my element and I enjoy it,” he states honestly, shattering a thousand snap-shot preconceptions.

It’s a radically different side to Guns that has never really surfaced among the habitual tales of all-out excess.

“Yeah, but normally we wouldn’t talk about it, but since we’re getting picked apart so much we might as well tell people what goes on,” affirms Slash. “It’s a huge contrast to when we’re on stage. It has nothing to do with music. I’ve always done business for the band ever since we started. It’s just the way I am. I dig the challenge of doing the business as much as I like to Rock out. I’ll take the latter over the former any day, but someone has to do. If you want something to be done you have to do it yourself. Our manager (Doug Goldstein) is great but you have to communicate what you want because his final decision may not be the right decision for what we do as a group. Financially it may be, but not as far as what you believe in as a Rock band.”

With the band possibly acquiescing to the need for a greater business awareness in an industry which would love to eat the band for breakfast and spit ‘em out by lunchtime, have Guns N’ Roses perhaps changed their initial goals and ambitions?

“Yeah, in a way we have, but a lot of people say ‘Well, now that you’re rich you can do whatever you like’. It’s just not like that,” admits Slash. “The last tour we did cost us two million dollars and we didn’t make a penny off the tour except for maybe the ‘T’-shirts that we sold. The truth is that I’m still watching my money. We put so much back into the group that we won’t really see anything until a long time down the line when we’ve sold records consistently. We haven’t even re-negotiated our contract so that might never happen. To me that means I still feel the same as I always have. I’m happy though, but it’s like that old Jimi Hendrix quote which goes ‘The more money have, the more Blues you can sing’. People like to see the glamour that surrounds bands. They like to think that that’s what it’s all about and it isn’t.”

“One of the few indulgences is getting drunk. Otherwise we’re always working. I get up in the morning, and I know this is gonna sound terrible, but I get on the fuckin’ phone to take care of business and get more dates, dealing with promoters and shit. Being on stage is great, the travelling is fine, but doing what we do is far from glamourous and I think people probably wouldn’t last five minutes doing what we do. I don’t mean that to sound bitter because it isn’t, but there’s times when we’re slaving away and we can’t even get jet-lag anymore because we just don’t sleep. At the same time people have paid to come and see us and they don’t give a shit and you’ve got to be able and deliver every night, whether you’re sick or not.  There’s no work compensation in this business. I’m not knocking people who lead regular lives because that’s their choice and they probably complain in the same way as anyone else, but we ain’t just out here living an easy life.”

Personally speaking, however, Slash is adamant that multi-Platinum status and constant media attention hasn’t quite had the disastrous effect on him that lesser mortals have succumbed to.

“I’ve got all my friends I’ve had for years who come around and I don’t feel like a Pop star apart from when I’m on my way to the airport in a fuckin’ limo! As far as living in the city goes though, I’ve known the people I know since forever and I deal with the same shit that I’ve always dealt with. I stay pretty close to the ground because I’m a pretty down to earth person. It’s hard for me to explain it because the whole success trip hasn’t really changed stuff and it’s so easy to look through the whole so-called success thing and see that it’s not that big a deal. I don’t know how to put it but that way you keep a semblance of what your natural personality that you’ve always had. You see things now as being just as real as you did all those years ago. Does that make sense? It’s hard to explain that kind of a feeling when people see us in a different way. Sometimes I start wondering about how people take their trip so seriously. I mean people like MC Hammer? That’s ridiculous. He’s dropped the MC because he’s just found out that it meant Master of Ceremonies and he thinks he’s more than a Master of Ceremonies. I don’t even want to know about people like that!”

The mention of the likes of Hammer, whose career now seems to have ground to a standstill quicker than it took off, raises the question of transience in the music business and the flavour-of-the-month aura that could’ve easily enveloped Guns a year or so back.

“Oh yeah, I know that could’ve happened but there wasn’t much we could do about it. All we were doing was doing our shit!” laughs Slash, amiably. “People out there will always find someone else to get into so you have to keep your eye on what you want to do. There’s no shocking reality in that, but people get to this situation where limos and things like that become a kind of priority. That isn’t what it’s like with us. Working with Michael Jackson was really interesting in that way. He’s as big as they get and he does live in some sort of mental Disneyland, but he’s a lot more real than he’s made out to be. He works his fuckin’ ass off. We musta done like 50 takes of this one song (‘Black & White’) before we actually went on TV. I didn’t actually play on that song although everyone else thinks I did. I only played on the beginning bit where the dad’s yelling at the kid. Then I played on another song, ‘All Together,’ which I might do a video for with him. He’s still got to put his nose to the grind tone to keep his whole trip going. That thing (Michael’s album), when it first came out, was sitting on the edge of a cliff when it came to whether it was going to happen or not. That’s how fickle things are in this business. You can’t sit around. It’s up to you to work rather than just sit there considering yourself lucky. There’s no luck back there as far as that goes.”

A QUESTION OF MUSIC

As time passes rather rapidly it suddenly dawns on us both that, despite being devoid of all the intentions of sensationalising the last two years or so and delving into speculation, we’ve missed out a crucial factor during the course of our conversation, namely the music!

“The weird thing about music when you’ve put a record out is that there is nothing to talk about!” laughs the guitarist as his other line rings once again. “Music speaks for itself. All I can say is that it’s an emotion. Any individual’s perception of a song is personal. It may not relate to everyone in that same way although they might dig it all the same. God, that must sound shallow. I have a great time hanging out with whoever and having a drink while we listen to CD after CD. That’s what music is all about. Why anyobdy would want to take anything that’s so fuckin’ primal and go through it with a fine tooth comb and analyze it is ridiculous. But there you have it, it all comes back down to the feeling. When we were doing it people around us looked at it closer than we did!”

Looking a little closer into Guns’ music and the conjecture that has emerged from it, what about this long lost Punk Rock Ep which was meant to surface after the albums and include a bunch of Punk cover tunes?

“Well, that’s not gonna come out until we finish touring with this record and there’s a lot of mileage left in this album,” states Slash. “As far as the Punk thing goes, there’s gonna be a new song on there that we didn’t finish for ‘Use Your Illusion’. It’s finished as far as all the backing tracks were done, but we didn’t finish the words. It’s called ‘Ain’t Going Down’ and it’s one of those songs that we wrote in the streets in Hollywood just walking around. Then there’s another cover that we’d like to do. It’ll probably be a Hanoi Rocks cover. Then there’s a song that I did in a band a long time ago that I used to sing that I’ve talked to Axl about but we’ll have to see. The whole thing will probably be a full record now, though.”

Elsewhere on the vinyl front there’s also the much-touted speculation concerning the fact that bassist Duff McKagan has been hard at work on so what’s the deal? Is Duff going solo?

“No, it’s not so much a solo record as a record he did working with all kinds of different people,” clarifies Slash. “It’s one of those records which came from the fact that he had a load of songs hanging around. He started recording it when me and Axl were doing guitar and vocals on the last album and he had dead time. He was just keeping busy. It’s gonna come out after the tour’s over. It sounds pretty good some of it although I haven’t heard the whole thing. There’s a song on there that I have to play on. It’s got to get finished.”

And what about the possibility of a Slash solo album?

“Ha! As far as me doing my own thing, I haven’t given it much thought because I’ve been too busy concentrating on Guns. It’s kept me pretty occupied and I can’t really look at anything other than day by day, that way I don’t get any nasty surprises when things fuck up!” he laughs. “I’ve got some plan about playing with Carole King on one of her songs. I love what she does. In fact, one of the calls I’ve got to make after we finishing talking is about that. I hope it happens.”

THANK YOU AND GOOD MORNING!

Having jawed for the best part of the evening, things look like they’re falling apart as we both begin to unwind a little. Slash has got his phone calls to make and walls to spit at, while in London it’s nearly two and it’s raining outside. Time to head home.

Before we split there’s a few final rumours to be squashed. The first is about some UK shows which have been mentioned on more than one occasion in the last two months.

“All in know is that we’re coming over to do this Freddy Mercury thing (a benefit gig which is set of Wembley Stadium on April 20 and also likely to feature Extreme and as well as Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Talyor) before we go off and do the rest of Europe. I know there’s talk of more shows but they’re all being switched around because Metallica have booked a tour and we don’t want to clash with them.”

The mention of Metallica brings us to the second tour rumour concerning a world-beating summer package in the US featuring Guns, Metallica and Skid Row.

“Well, I don’t think the Skids are gonna be on it,” states Slash. We’re talking about doing it with Nirvana but we need to see where those guys are at. Metallica, Nirvana and us sounds pretty good to me. I went and saw Nirvana last night and they’re pretty good friends of mine so hopefully that’ll help even though we’re very different bands.”

With that, it’s time to head off. As a parting shot, Slash chuckles at the thought of another rain-soaked London night.

“It’s weird, I’m just sitting here in this hotel room looking at an old neighbourhood I used to live and it’s pretty sunny and it’s kinda strange because everything in LA changes so much here. I guess somehow we have to.”

And indeed, thereby hangs a tale or two.

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